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Rambling Boys

Colin Payne looks at old film footage of how they did pre-season training in 1964


Sometimes it is all too easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of yellow-YouTube reminiscing. Too damn easy. You start by looking up Gerard Deulofeu’s sublime goal on a pristine pitch at Wembley – just to remind yourself that six sky-blue goals wasn’t the whole story of that campaign – and before you know it you’re following that Smith’s of Tring coach along Wembley Way in 1984. From there you find yourself immersed in the thick mud and straw that clung to the boots of Barry Endean as he headed home against Liverpool in 1970, and forward once more, to Deeney’s goal, it always takes in Deeney’s goal, against Leicester. You pause, you have to, before watching it again, this time with Three Counties Radio providing the commentary. You’ve done the obligatory, this is where you choose whether you take the cake marked ‘Eat Me’ – where you go from here depends on that.

For the truly fortunate, the journey will always lead to Furphy-land. Because that is the best place to visit. There are two clips readily available, and both will delight. One is set in a Jersey hotel as Ken briefs his troops before a cup-clash against Matt Busby’s Manchester United, reeling off the names of world-class internationals, Best, Law, Charlton… as his players look increasingly ill at ease in front of the cameras. It’s a great insight into another world long gone. And then there is one of the best bits of film ever featuring Watford…

Pat Molloy walks among ridge tents, yodelling at some ungodly early hour, to wake men from what must have been, at best, a fitful night’s sleep. He’s like a grizzled old army veteran (because he was a grizzled old army veteran), calling his charges to battle, as the narrator in his clipped BBC tones informs us that this is a group of young men from Watford preparing to embark on the 1964/65 season. The black and white footage is from a five-minute BBC clip filmed when Ken Furphy took his Watford side to the Lake District. It’s a delight.

We see the players laughing as they attempt to bathe and shave in an ice-cold stream. Then running up steep inclines, and then stumbling down again, as Furphy casually recounts they are on a four-and-a-half-hour run/hike that takes in Carling Knot, a rather unforgiving hill, as part of a 13-mile circuit. We see a young Dennis Bond and John Williams enjoying a cup of tea. An interview with a very matter-of-fact Cliff Holton (“known as the king to the other players”), who says one thing, but his body language lets us know a completely different tale, as he states that the week long trip is “good for team-spirit, and although bathing in a stream is ridiculous, it’s good fun”. Holton’s chiselled face says it’s not.

It was clearly something that the players at Workington had benefitted from when Furphy had taken them there whilst manager, as Ken mentions it twice, but one does wonder how his squad really felt about being beasted in such fashion; let alone how the likes of Roberto and Gerard from today’s breed of men would feel about it. However, it definitely had some effect, as we see Ron Crisp and George Harris leading the team in a rendition of ‘Rambling Boy’ (imagine what a song called Rambling Boy would sound like – that’s it!) prior to ‘turning in’ for the 11 o’clock curfew. They look genuinely happy, at ease, and a team. As the camera pans out, to the strains of Crisp and Harris’s acoustic guitars, we see the rugged skyline being enveloped by the darkness. The narrator finishes with the words, “This could possibly be the fittest and happiest football club in England.”

He may have been right.