Bring back the Claret cafe where I was reunited with my former pupil who went on to play for my favourite team/Dave Thomas
Once upon a time there used to be a half decent café that was part of the gym block at the back of the Turf Moor car park
Gone now, it never made any money but did some decent scran..
I was in there one day, years ago, having coffee and a bacon bap (what else) whilst the players, back in Stan Ternent’s day, were in the gym because Gawthorpe was frozen solid.
Normally the café was sprinkled with OAPs in for a warm, hangers-on who loved to be near footballers, schoolkids in the holidays, or an occasional player who had sneaked out of the treatment room for a brew. I was in there waiting for someone to chat to in connection with a book I was doing.
So, there was I, minding my own business, munching my bap, when in trooped a bunch of sweating, weary looking (some of them near exhausted) blokes in black training gear. They were puffing and panting on their way out of the gym and looked like SAS rejects. Close-up, they looked quite ordinary with hairy legs and knobbly knees, just like the rest of us.
Anyway, to my surprise I saw a familiar face, well half familiar I suppose, because most of it was buried beneath a bobble hat. The face beamed and called out with a look of great surprise.
“Mr Thomas, is it Mr Thomas?”
“Dean West?" I called back, really surprised.
And yes, it was the lad I used to teach at Thorpe School on the edge of Leeds and the last time I saw him he could only just see over the desk lid. Over he came with a grin like a Cheshire Cat, friendly, good natured, modest and sociable.
“Can you believe it?" he said to Gareth Taylor, “this is Mr Thomas, my old teacher.”
Well, well, well I thought, this was the lad, the only lad out of years and years of doing school football on wet Saturday mornings or freezing Friday afternoons after school, that made it into professional football. The lad that more or less singlehandedly won us second place in a league of over a dozen teams in the Wakefield area, all of them twice or even three times the size of my little village school.
Choosing a team was tough, the school was so small and we even had a girl playing in goals long before women’s football became popular. Boy, did I get some strange looks from other teachers when they saw the goalkeeper.
In fact, some wondered if it was against the rules, usually when we’d won. She was no slouch either and soon took the smiles off the other teams’ faces.
One game in particular was against a team of giants from the murk of deepest Wakefield, and believe me there is real murk in Wakefield. Dean kicked them mercilessly for the full 80 minutes, you didn’t play a full 90, in a game that he dominated from start to finish.
Afterwards, I said to him and his dad, jokingly, that I’d get him a trial at Burnley one day. Both of them grimaced.
Neither he nor his dad were impressed, both were staunch Leeds supporters, which is where he went initially.
We’ve communicated several times since that chance meeting, and even now he will only call me Mr
Thomas. “I can’t call you anything else.”
Meanwhile: I still miss that café; it was a very handy place. So: memo to Alan Pace. Why not re-open the Claret Café and I’ll treat you to a bacon bap?