Days Like These cause sleepless nights

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I once had to administer a metaphorical slap on the wrists to Duncan Holley for ruining my Sunday lunch.

This time it might be a kick in the ‘nads as the rascal has stepped up his campaign to ruin my life by depriving me of a night’s sleep.

Let me explain.

Duncan – the doyen of The Dell, the Sage of St Marys, the Chronicler of the club – once turned up at my gaff on a Sunday lunch time with a copy of one of his books.

The Sunday roast was about to be brought to board when I started idly flicking through the pages and became increasingly absorbed despite the siren call of the piping hot provender.

Needless to say, when I eventually surfaced from my armchair several hours later, the roast was ruined.

What was tender roast beef had toughened into something leathery which cobblers would nail on to the bottom of coal miners’ boots; the veg had transformed into an undefinable, gelatinous and quaking mass like something from the Quatermass Experiment and the Yorkshires had collapsed in on themselves like cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula.

This time, I least got a drink out of Duncan (not an easy task as his wallet is usually subject to 24-hour security patrols, including dogs with sharp teeth) before he handed me Instant Insomnia in book form.

I have the sleeping patterns of a bottle-nosed dolphin, in that half my brain is always awake and I sleep as lightly as a nervous dormouse on a cat litter tray, so I needed Duncan’s latest offering like a motorbike needs an ash tray.

You’ve guessed, I settled down with it around 11pm, and closed it just as I was making a breakfast cup of tea.

Days Like These is unlike any other sports book.

Sure, it follows a similar pattern to other ‘milestone’ format books, in which each day of the years marks an event in the club’s history which happened on that particular day and in fact, there is at least one other similar book on Saints.

But Days Like These is similar to those in the way that Smoky, the Blackpool beach donkey is similar to a thoroughbred like Frankel because it has four legs.

Duncan has delved deeper than the Seven Dwarves diamond mine for a collection of tales that any lover of the bizarre, arcane, esoteric and sheer bat-shit loopy will love.

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Days Like These – this is what it looks like in the shops – buy it.

These are stories about the Saints – club, officials and players – you will not have heard before and portray a history as rich, steaming, potent and powerful as a bubbling witch’s cauldron.

Be prepared for a shock, Saints fans, at a cast which resembles the progeny of a bizarre mating experiment involving characters from books by Dostoevski and Lewis Carroll and some of them should never have been allowed within a country mile of a club nicknamed The Saints after its founding church association..

Scotsman John McCoy played for Saints during the 1896-97 season and married a Southampton woman named Rose Byrne.

He moved to Scotland and on October 23 1906, aged 33, he walked into Cumnock police station and calmly told the desk sergeant he had slit his wife’s throat during the previous night.

What unfolds is a fascinating tale of troubles with drink and women, a dose of clap and  a kicking in the head from a horse.

He used the childhood shoeing from a pony in his defence which helped the jury return a verdict of ‘culpable homicide’, sparing him the ignominy of being the only Saints player to be hanged for murder.

Jimmy Dunne might have come closer to that claim had his previous life come to light.

Top scorer for Saints in the 1936-37 season, Dunne was not only a football sharpshooter but a genuine one as a member of the IRA’s notorious D Company. in the Republic’s uprising.

Read about Len Noyce, whose one outing for Saints ended after just 50 minutes through a serious knee injury. But with his football career ended, he did not sit around moping but performed a great service to mankind by turning his attentions to inventing……. the tea towel holder.

 Discover how and why in 1904 Saints walloped the French national side 6-1 at the Parc des Princes in Paris and learn how the hell Leonard Dawe, whose career as a Saints player was hampered by rain falling on his glasses, received a wreath from Adolf Hitler

The more recent events to be relived include the day Rickie Lambert ran over hot coals, the occasion a referee cheered Matthew Le Tissier on to scoring one of his greatest goals  and Sadio Mane’s record breaking hat-trick.

And, of course, there just had to be a story which resonates personally and brought a groundswell of memories to an emotional surface – thanks Duncan!

That is Ernie Pearce’s tale.

Ernie – who played five games for Saints Reserves – lived a wartime life straight out of a Boys own comic.

Captured by the Germans, his means of escaping captivity in the PoW camp was to slice his little finger off, and then to escape from the hospital.

Having done so, he spent 11 months fighting with the Czech partisans, knowing that if he was again captured by the Germans, he would be put up against a wall.

He was my dad’s best friend, and as kids we laughed and squealed with a mixture of horror and delight at Uncle Ernie’s funny little sausage finger.

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Ernie Pearce’s little sausage finger scared and delighted us as kids

Ernie was responsible for our first family holiday abroad, a trip organised through the Baddesley Arms to the exotic continental hotspot of Ostend in Belgium. Of course, it had to be a glorified pub outing.

After his amazing wartime exploits it seemed rather empty and pyrrhic that Ernie died in a car crash on the A27.  The only time I ever saw my old man cry was when he heard the news.

Ernie’s tale takes a rightful place in a book of Odyssean stories which again epitomises the determination, dedication and love that Duncan brings to all his projects about the Saints.

His 13th involvement in a book about Southampton FC is a fascinating and penetrating insight into the club’s dustier and dingier corners. Researched with the diligence of a Vatican archivist, and written with wit and humour to bring out the best in the stories, Days Like These will make you laugh, recoil in shock but crucially, hold you in thrall from first word to last.

Of course, it will make an ideal present for any Saints fan, but it is more than that, and should be on the wish list for any sports fan who revels in reading about the fascinating and outlandish menagerie of characters that populate it.

Go and buy it. If only to make my sleepless white night worthwhile.

Days Like These by Duncan Holley, published by Hagiology Publishing, price £9.99. Available in all good book stores, and some pants ones as well.

 

 

 

 

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