MATCH PREVIEW: Rothbury v Wallington – Mark Bruce Memorial Trophy
It’s a big claim, I know, but Micky Hutchison and I invented Footgolf back in about 1983. It’s nothing new. We were teeing off down a long par five in the back field behind our estate with a penny floater, or a caser with the bladder popping out, long before anyone made it official. And with two Jack Russell terriers running around beside us, there were more hazards than just a bit of water.
Mind, to get rid of the dogs, you just had to poke in the grass by a hedgerow and say ‘What’s that?’ in an excitable voice. You’d come back past two hours later on the way home for tea and they’d have dug a hole two foot deep, soil blackening their faces, barking at nowt.
The back field was also great for the winter sport of placcy bagging when there had been a bit snow. A big old yellow fertilizer bag could pick up a fair rate of knots before you slammed into the bottom fence just before the main road.
We used our jumpers as the holes. You would run down and curl it in place it before we decided the par. A three might be a lofted chip then a dink through the rough. You got a drop if it landed in a fresh cow pat. What kids have to remember today is that the graphics on our computer games were nothing like FIFA now. It was Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, Skool Daze and Manic Miner on the ZX Spectrum. The games were on tape and took ages to load up. You could wait 20 minutes only for it to crash and have to start again. The graphics were just blocks. So you had to get out and make your own fun.
Playing on the back field was invariably on our way down to Armstrong Park to watch Rothbury. The likes of Nick Gutherson and Rex Ballantyne from the side that dominated the NNFL in the 1970s were just coming towards the end of their careers and a number of younger players were lining up in the team. Big Edward Sutton, the all-action striker. The ball players Graham Foggon, Kevin Proudlock and Keith Storey; a young Kevin Coe, the MacKenzie and Appleby brothers, John Kidd, Gordon ‘Baegie’ Turnbull, Tom Dixon and Neville Laidler in nets. And there was a tricky, skilful young player out on the wing with blonde hair and a cheeky, knowing smirk. Mark Bruce. He tied defenders in knots with the ball at his feet, could let fly with either foot and was one of those players that mesmerised with his touch and ability.
Brucey was almost unplayable back then. Deceptively quick over a couple of yards and with the dribbling ability to beat three and four men and deliver an inch-perfect cross. He was class. That whole team was packed with talent looking back.
I recall going to Cup Finals on a bus over the Alnwick moors, standing behind a goal with the Arkle brothers and Richie from Silverton Terrace, Bewsy and Phil Arkle from the Woodlands, Lawsy from up the valley and the rest of the Addycombe boys to watch them, always expecting Brucey to pull off some moment of magic.
I think back to our games of Footgolf in the sloping cattle field, the Olympics that we held on the then-disused bowling green, our bike rides and games of cricket up at Whitton. And I think back to watching Mark Bruce play.
It’s a fitting tribute to Mark that Rothbury and Wallington meet again in his Memorial Cup at Armstrong Park this Saturday. Go down and discuss your own memories of a great football character. There are plenty of stories to tell and they’ll all make you grin and laugh.
Words: Jon Tait