A few weeks back I did a piece on here about the fiftieth anniversary of our last match in the old First Division (it was at Villa on 1 May 1962) and since then I’ve been in fairly regular touch with Adrian Pickrell the son of Tony Pickrell who was City’s left winger that evening in what was the last match he played before being forced to retire through tuberculosis at the age on just nineteen,
Tony has kindly passed on a couple of his memories from the period when he was with City in the late 50’s and early 60’s and is happy for them to be published on here while Adrian has written them up – hopefully, there will be more to follow in the future.
The smoke train
“City were playing away. When City played away in those days there were no coaches travelling smoothly across the motorways let alone private jets whizzing to nearby airports. Nope, there was just the train. But it was first class travelling for the City players and staff and the old trains were a delight to travel on in those days.
Tony was sitting in the compartment along with some of the other boys. After the usual banter and chatting many of the lads were grumbling about a smoking ban that Bill Jones had imposed on the team earlier in the week. After a while things quietened down and Tony nodded off.
A short time later he woke up to find Bill Jones standing in front of him.
“Where are they?” growled Jones “Where the ‘ell are they?”
Tony looked around. There was only a similarly bemused Peter King and himself left in the entire compartment.
“I have no idea Mr Jones, honest!” said Tony and Peter nodded in agreement.
Bill Jones stormed off looking for his lost sheep. Minutes later Jones returned.
“I have found them.” He said. “Tony, Peter, come with me and look at this”
Bill marched off and the two young players obediently followed. Bill halted where two first class wagons joined themselves and pointed to the wooden door of the wagon’s toilet.
A could of blue grey smoke was casually drifting out from under the toilet door and dispersing in the draughty area between the wagons.
Bill knocked on the door. “Open up I know you’re in there!!” he yelled.
Slowly the door opened. The shocked and guilty faces of seven City players peered at the Manager through the smog, all with their cigarettes either still in their mouths or in their hands. Franticly, they began waving the smoke away with their hands and throwing the cigarette stubs out of the toilet window, then they all trooped out past Jones like convicts who had been caught digging a tunnel.
Tony remembers that City won that day, and a good thing to, because the smoking incident was forgotten. Everyone knew that if we had lost it would have been a hard, smoke free Sunday training session the next day.”
”After training Tony always had to catch the train back to Neath (where he lived and still lives today) and when training ran late he usually had to wait a few hours for the later train, so, when this happened he usually killed time by going to the Cinema in Cardiff to watch whatever film was doing the rounds. There was usually only one new film a week in those days and not ten like today. One week when Tony was just an apprentice at City (about 1958), the training was so intensive that he was forced to watch Elvis Presley in “Loving you” five times in a week!.
Any way a few years later Tony was in the first team and still catching trains to Neath.
Mel Charles approached Tony one afternoon after training.
“What are you rushing about for Tony?” inquired Mel.
“Got to get the train to Neath” said Tony.
“Calm down boy.” said Mel. “I have bought a new car and I will be driving toSwanseathis afternoon so I can drop you off in Neath all right?”
In the car park Mel showed Tony his brand new convertible (Tony cannot remember which make it was) but it was beautiful and Tony was very much looking forward to a ride to Neath in such a car. Mel jumped in, turned the key and proudly pressed the button which activated the soft top. The convertible soft top opened and closed automatically – a sensation in those days. Mel opened and closed the top about five times, enjoying every minute of it and Tony was impressed too.
Off they went through the streets of Cardiff, open topped of course, until Mel parked in very narrow street on the outskirts of Cardiff next to a bakery where he wanted to get a sandwich to eat. Tony remained in the car. When Mel returned about fifteen people had gathered around the car and were admiring it. Mel beamed with joy, jumped in and shouted to the watching hordes “Look at this!”
He opened and closed the roof using the automatic electronic control about forty times and within ten minutes a crowd of cheering worshipers had recognized him and, even in the days before Face-book and Flash mobs, the crowd had now grown to about a hundred admirers all clapping and cheering his presence and that of his convertible.
Inevitably the forces of the law turned up to see what the fuss was about and a helmeted constable asked Mel and his car to move on and let the crowd disperse. Mel, who was thoroughly enjoying himself, asked the policeman “Do you know who I am?” The Policeman replied politely, “Of course I do Mr. Charles but you cannot block half the City with your car!”
Mel continued to discuss the situation with the police whilst still opening and closing the cars top, the fans continued to cheer and clap and Tony got smaller and smaller in the passengers seat. Eventually the crowd was dispersed; Mel and Tony drove off to Neath and the next day Tony was happy to take the train again.”
Thanks very much to Tony and Adrian for providing some great memories.