Birmingham news Gary Newbon: Our little Italian job was turned into a bestseller! PremierLeague-News.Com
PremierLeague-News.Com - Heady days of Midland Soccer Writers get-togethers at Lorenzo's
PremierLeague-News.Com - Breaking Sport Transfer News ! In the mid-seventies with Midlands football so strong we still had to travel to London, Manchester, the North East or Scotland for Football Writers events. Sitting in my favourite restaurant – the now vanished Lorenzo’s restaurant in Birmingham’s Park Street – I bounced my idea of forming the Midland Soccer Writers off my great friend Lorenzo Ferrari. Would his restaurant stage regular luncheons for the would-be members if we brought in the game’s big names? And, of course, at a special price? Football mad Lorenzo jumped at the idea. So I approached Jeff Farmer (then of The Daily Mail but in 1981 he became part of my new team at Central TV) and we formed the first committee. I said I would be secretary because I had a loyal PA in Olivia Fondyga who would do the administration. Alan Williams of The Daily Express was invited to be chairman and Hugh Jamieson of The Sun was the fourth member. The problem was how to get subscriptions out of the other writers who probably did not want to fork out any money –harsh but true. I suggested we spread the word but kept it exclusive, gambling – successfully – that the other writers would be miffed that they had not been asked. The membership rapidly increased! After a few lunches in the good old days when business did not watch the clock we were a little short of money for our ambitions. Farmer came up with a good idea which I initially opposed but the others voted for, namely we would charge the businessmen who attended the lunches five times the journalist’s subs of a fiver! It worked a treat. Mind you, why would not any one not want to attend these bashes at Lorenzo’s? The cast list of speakers included the England manager Don Revie, Barcelona’s Johan Cruyff, Brian Clough, Bill Shankly, The Times famous football correspondent Geoffrey Green, Tommy Docherty and Graham Taylor. Then in November 1976 the Villa manager Ron Saunders suggested we organise a trip to Rome for the Italy-England World Cup qualification match – a 24-hour break so the region’s managers would be back for training. I contacted Derby’s Stuart Webb, who had Lonsdale Travel, and he got his number two John Cheadle to run it for us… £85 for the trip, match ticket and one night bed and breakfast at the outstanding Cavalieri Hilton over looking Rome. As it turned only one manager came on the trip – Lincoln City’s Graham Taylor who insisted on paying himself even though his accompanying chairman had said the club would. Taylor was always a man of principle. Several other chairmen joined the 94-strong trip from Birmingham airport – Sir John Smith from Liverpool and Sir Doug Ellis from Aston Villa. I took my father Jack to make sure with all these writers that I did not drink too much and get into trouble. Of course, I knew my Dad would love it.
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. Before we left the hotel Ellis called us all together to give us a lecture. “You have to watch these Italians. Hold on to your money and watches. There will be pick pockets in the stadium.” In fairness, one person was a victim at the ground: Doug Ellis! When we arrived at the stadium all our seats were taken so we had to stand for the first half as the people in them refused to move. The stewards did not want to know. As it turned out our places had been taken by vendors – ice creams, drinks, food etc – so we did get them back at half-time! Lorenzo and his Italian mate organised the dinner but it was at a place two hours out of Rome. Not good! In the end to appease everyone, Lorenzo paid for crates of wine. A young comedian, my great friend Jasper Carrott, rescued the night by giving a great funny speech. So much wine was drunk that the trip organiser John Cheadle fell asleep at the back of the returning coach and no-one noticed. So poor John spent the night in a lock-up garage in the coach instead of the luxury of the five-star Hilton. My Dad and I went straight to bed. What happened next with most of the others, as they say, stays on tour! Jasper wrote a book afterward called ‘A Little Zit on the Side’ with one chapter called ‘The Italian Job’. It sold well helped by lots on the trip buying many copies in Birmingham so that wives and girlfriends never read that particular chapter! In those days there were no replica shirts. So on one lunch, knowing Lorenzo was a huge Blues fan, Birmingham City let Trevor Francis present him with his Blues number 8 shirt. What happened at that lunch and how I progressed the lunches into an annual Televised Awards Dinner Show at ATV with managers, players and writers will be in next week’s Sunday Mercury. Please try and join me on Tuesday with Utilita Energy for my column in both the Birmingham Mail and Coventry Telegraph.
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