Believe it or not, there are people in this world who don’t like football.
Naturally, they are to be avoided, never to be trusted and certainly not allowed anywhere near round, blunt instruments.
But what is even stranger are those who hold their nose at the beautiful game, yet make a living out of it.
There have been a few over the years. Pat Nevin, David Batty, Benoît Assou-Ekotto, Paul Telfer…even our very own Ben Foster once admitted he never watched Match Of The Day.
There is a chance the current Albion custodian has maybe never even heard of Mark Lawrenson. Imagine that.
So it comes as no surprise to learn that another great goalkeeper of this parish was also less than enthused by the beautiful game.
John Osborne was the man charged with keeping Everton at bay in the 1968 FA Cup. And he did so with some distinction.
Yet, according to his cup winning team-mate Doug Fraser, the East Midlander didn’t care much for football.
Training yes – that was ok – but football matches less so.
Osborne, it would seem, was more of a thinking man’s goalkeeper.
While most footballers of the 60s listened to the record player or drank stout during the black and white years, our man ‘Ossie’ was busy brushing up on his general knowledge in preparation for his appearance on Quizball. What ball, we hear you ask? This was a BBC quiz of two teams, consisting of players and managers from top flight football clubs, including a celebrity supporter. They played out a football match in the form of a general knowledge quiz. The team with the most ‘goals’, won. Sounds familiar.
And Osborne was pretty good at it.
Paying tribute to his colleague 50 years on, Fraser recalls happy times.
“Ossie was one hell of a bloke – he was a thinker, an intellectual,” said Fraser, who made more than 250 appearances as a full-back between the early 1960s and 1971.
“He had an opinion on everything and had a lot of things to say – he spoke so much sense too. He was always able to enjoy discussions, contribute to conversations.
“But John was a strange one. He loved training but didn’t like matches because he couldn’t stand football. I thought: ‘this guy is a nutter…he has the best job in the world and he doesn’t even like football’.
“And then we had Quizball, which I remember was presented by David Coleman. Ossie knew all the answers – he knew everything.
“The only thing I’d have got right was my name and date of birth…but John was superb. We had a few laughs over that.”
Brian Glanville, the legendary football writer once penned a wonderful book called ‘Goalkeepers Are Different’. It was a fictional account, but the title resonates.
Think of Bruce Grobbelaar and his jelly knees in the European Cup Final, Jorge Campos and his bright jerseys, Rene Higuita and his scorpion kick clearances, Giuliano Terraneo removing his gloves before facing penalties…goalkeepers, what goes on inside their heads?
And then there was ‘Ossie’, who would indulge in a habit of ill-repute during lulls in play.
Yes kids, don’t be fooled – cigarettes are bad for your health. But here was the Albion goalkeeper thinking nothing more than enjoying a cheeky puff or two during the game.
And, oddly, it added to the character, the personality, the legend.
Fraser recalls a colleague who had an immense presence of confidence.
“He loved a cigarette – aye, Ossie often had one during the game,” added Fraser.
“Quite often during the games the supporters would lean over and give him a fag. That was an eye opener – to see a team-mate who was clever and would enjoy a cigarette during the game. Imagine that now?
“I thought he was the best goalkeeper Albion have ever had.
“We always felt comfortable with him behind us. Sometimes he would sit down before a game and he would say confidently, ‘these guys are not going to score’ and they wouldn’t.
“Mind you he didn’t always get it right… I can laugh about it now, but blimey at the time I wasn’t so happy.
“We played Leicester at Hillsborough in the FA Cup semi-final in 1969 and we conceded the only goal four minutes from the end.
“John dived and you could have driven a double decker under his body. I was trying to challenge Allan Clarke at the time and he ended up scoring so it was as much my fault as his – I can’t repeat what we both said after that moment. We still have 1968…and not many have.”
Rewind 11 months. Osborne did something no goalkeeper had managed for seven years at Wembley in 1968. He kept a clean sheet in an FA Cup Final.
Fraser added: “1969 at Hillsborough was one of those days…but Ossie didn’t have many of those. He was the best. He actually played really well in the final against Everton. You look around a dressing room and people are quiet. They don’t say much, they are just looking at one another awkwardly. It’s a strange experience. It’s the worst place to lose and the best place to win. That plays on your mind.
“Yet Ossie was never nervous. He was always calm and relatively confident. He made a few good saves in that game, especially in the first half. You get confidence from each other and he gave us more hope and confidence because he was so assertive in that game.
“He played a big big part that day. We owe him a lot.”