The Axis Part One

In my time punting regularly on course, I had regular involvement with a lot of people, most of them Yorkshire hard nuts like H ‘Sonny’ Lownsborough who I mentioned in an earlier column. However there were three wise(ish) old men who I had more interaction with than most, and probably had the most fun with.

The first one, was Bob Burns, no one knew snooker tables like Bob, he & his brother did the repairs & upgrades on most of the working mens club snooker tables between Sunderland and Doncaster & he was well known on the local snooker scene.

Bob used to come in my shop at New Marske near Redcar, when me & my business partner Tommy Beech had a couple of shops and we always used to talk osses before he’d stick his £1.00 each way (wanker) Lucky15 on & go watch the racing, or he’d call in on his way to whatever local meeting was on. 

Bob was a funny little fucker to look at, if you imagine Ronnie Corbett with bright white hair, curled tight like a barristers wig & a couple of stone heavier set than the lesser one of the Two Ronnie. Always well turned out, blazer & Farah ‘slacks’ topping off gleaming loafers & usually topped with a panama in the summer or crusty trilby on cooler days. He also had a penchant for fast cars, possessing at one point a very nifty Honda Prelude in which he seemed to enjoy trying to meet himself coming back on his trips to the races (often with me in the passenger seat) down the A19 to York or the A1 to Doncaster.

One of the things Bob didnt enjoy was attention & being bothered at the races by people asking for tips, which was something I tended to get a lot of, given the yard I was associated with & there was one particular whiny voiced pesterer who always seemed to pop up like clockwork at York, whenever a fancied runner from Freemason Lodge was declared. Now for so long, Bob put up with this bloke, I just used to fob him off really, the usual thing “should run ok, have a bit on the place” etc, but on Yorkshire Cup Day 1994 Shareek had run more or less as expected in his warm up race, the Jockey Club Stakes at the Guineas meeting & we were all pretty confident he would eat the opposition in what was at the time the feature of the Dante Meeting, at least until those marketing the Derby made the Dante itself the be all & end all ‘trial’ for the big one at Epsom

We were expecting a real good day actually, as we had two other fancied horses (Foyer in the Glasgow Stakes & Knaves Ash in a handicap) both of which were due to run before the Cup. I had an arrangement with Billy Day, former Middlesbrough footballer turned bookie, who used to get most of my money on for me in those days & with Foyer running in the first we aimed to get to see Billy (who bet in the centre of the track) before racing, so he could shift the money back to the ring as late as possible.
Foyer managed to win the first at a good price & Knave’s Ash landed the double under Muis Roberts in the handicap. By the time the stalls opened for the first, we were back over the ‘proper’ side of the track & heading for the winners enclosure as Foyer came in, it was a close thing & Wally stopped as he brought the horse in the old way off the track heading for the old weighing room, to look at the tv screen.  I was quite close & shouted to him he’d won, then we caught sight of ‘Old Faithful’ bearing down on us for a tip, so we ducked into the paddock & stayed there till the runners were going to post for the Cup, I wanted to see this cos there was a trixie rolling & in my head ? of it was already spent. Sure enough between us & the stands, there’s this prick bearing down on us again. Now the theory was that you never ever got any luck wherever this cunt was, so as well as being a nuisance, he was also a Jona.

“Leave this to me” says Bob.

Bob  then beckoned the bloke forward, as he got close, Bob told him that we’d had SOLID INFORMATION from the Moffat yard that his horse (Key to my Heart outsider of the 7 at 20/1) was in the form of it’s life & he should get as much on it as he could stomach

“That’s him done with” says Bob as we headed for the stands, needless to say we were quite chipped as Key to my Heart sets off like he’s pulling a gun carriage, and looks certain to collapse about 4 furlongs out, but we were less happy when he kept going all the way up the straight to win by about 4 lengths
Bob couldn’t breathe & I wasn’t much better, we decided to get off the course asap before Fucknut came round looking for us, so we cut across the track just past the winning post (we used to park next to the knacker cart), we were halfway across when we heard a familiar voice shouting “lads  lads”

We looked up the track & leaning over the railings, is this prick, with a breeze block of notes in each mit, shouting “great info lads, thanks ever so much”
The FUCK OFF Bob shouted back accompanied with a HarVey Smith special was about the only time I heard Bob swear on a racecourse…

My phone rang one night in the Spring of 1988, it was just after the World Snooker Championship & Bob was full of moans, he’d been under a contract for a while with Riley tables & as a result he’d often copped for looking after certain professionals when they did exhibitions for Riley in the North. This one was the one he’d been dreading however, Alex Higgins, fresh from his 1st round exit at Sheffield, was coming up North for a ‘couple of nights’ & Bob was looking after him!!

“You’re gonna have to come with me” says Bob, “I don’t know what the hell to do with him, he’s a maniac isn’t he?” To be honest this did not fill me with joy, I’ve met a few famous sports people in my time, Alex was probably my snooker hero at the time, but given the reputation, I was in two minds about the benefits of meeting him?

Anyways, we had to pick him up at Middlesbrough station, take him to the Dragonara Hotel to freshen up, then take him to Thornaby for his exhibition that night.

At first, we thought he’d missed the train, but after all the other travellers had got off, The Hurricane appeared from the door closest to the back of the train, bedecked in a full length overcoat that looked like it would wrap round him twice,  in animated conversation with the guard. He looked round, spotted us, gave us a wave & carried on his conversation with the guard, who seemed to be trying to get away from him?
Eventually the guard went back inside the train & the Hurricane made his was towards us

“Afternoon Boys, better late than never eh”

Bob introduced us & explained the itinerary
“Mmm, slight problem with that” says Alex, there’s some night racing on and I want to get a bet on 

Bob got the death stare from me when he told Alex I had a couple of betting shops & would be able to sort his bets out for him while he was with us, but I understood where he was coming from in his quest to keep the snooker wildman under control for 48 hours, so I rocked along with it.

“That’s smashing babes, I’ll keep a running total & settle up when I go back to Blackburn” (yeah right I’m thinking) 

Anyways, Alex had 2 or 3 hundred on a selection of runners that night & we headed for the Dragonara. I was struck with how light he was travelling, cos when Bob asked where his luggage was he said “you’re looking at it” & he only had a cue case & a small holdall.

As we entered the hotel, the first amber light went on, Alex didn’t want to check in immediately & suggested we have a “lite ale” in the bar & he’d check in after the exhibition. Obviously Alex hadnt had his fee for the exhibition, so Bob was in the chair for the drinks, two cokes, a large vodka & a lite ale, the last two were for Alex. We’d had four rounds & were getting ready to head for Thornaby when a man came up to the bar & looked across, immediately recognising the 1982 World Champion

“Yes, it is, it’s me, have a fucking good look” says Alex out of nowhere, the bloke looked quite apologetic & as though he was going to explain himself, but he didnt get chance.

“No you fucking cunts are all the same, I cant get any peace from you” said Alex as he was getting up from his barstool, at which point I stepped in between em and said we’d be off now as Bob breathed a sigh of relief

Alex had not eaten since that morning & wanted to stop off en route to Thornaby for some chips, but wasn’t pleased when Bob declined the request because we’d be late. There was then a bit of a carry on at the venue, when Alex sent someone out for some chips, and wouldn’t start the exhibition until the lad returned with the chips, which he munched intermittently during the first frame. He’d lost the first two frames & I was thinking he was too pissed to play, however, after a couple more large vodkas & an incident with a member of the public in the third frame. he found his stride & even knocked in a couple of centuries as he won every other frame.

He then insisted we take him to the casino & by that time we were so fed up, we agreed without any argument. It was no surprise he wasn’t at the hotel the next day when we called to pick him up to take him to the final exhibition, but by then we couldn’t have cared less. Bob lost his contract with Rileys shortly after that, but I think he would have rather had a kidney out than gone through that again. I never got the bet money & Bob never got sorted with the drinks bill.

You should never meet your heroes 

One thought on “The Axis Part One

  1. Every time I think I’ve read your best piece, another comes along to blow it out of the water.

    Very interesting to hear you were a bookie in a former life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *