Mick did it his way

August 26th, 2022 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

I was looking back over some old columns the other day. It’s inadvisable because there are bound to be a few slips, a few omissions, an old joke that may not have been quite as funny as you thought at the time.

Going way back, I wrote that I’d like I Apologise by Billy Eckstine played at my funeral. I think it was my reaction to the news that My Way was the runaway leader in that particular competition. Choosing My Way is tantamount to saying that, when it really comes down to it and leaving aside the odd blip here and there (those away days in Billericay long ago), you were pretty much a good ol’ boy. Which may well be true, of course, but it’s for others to say so.

Apparently My Way has now been overtaken by You’ll Never Walk Alone  –  and not only in Liverpool. The Gerry and the Pacemakers version is some way ahead and I’m all for that. A good bloke, Gerry Marsden, Scouser through and through, married his childhood sweetheart and never wanted to be anywhere else. When the Beatles entered their psychedelic phase and were off seeing the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Gerry was presenting the Sooty and Sweep Show. Not an ounce of ‘side’ to him and a sad loss.

People can be quite imaginative when it comes to funeral music. Admittedly you have to wait for exactly the right moment to play Cheek to Cheek by Fred Astaire but it opens with the words: ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven’, which may be optimistic but certainly cheers those who arrived with heavy heart. It’s good news for risk-takers, as well. ‘And the cares that hung around me through the week, seem to vanish like a gambler’s lucky streak’, etc.

l went to a humanist service this week for an old family friend, Barbara, who made it to 95 and who’d lived in the same house in Winchester Road, Southampton for 62 years. Her husband Bob passed 17 years ago. They ended each day listening to Sailing By, the gentle melody used by Radio 4 before the late-night shipping forecast. Hearing it again at the funeral, you could imagine that, bleak as things may seem, all will be well in the end. The glow lasts for a short time.

Quite a year, 1963. The death of a president, the Great Train Robbery, John Profumo’s ill-advised dalliance with Christine Keeler, the Saints reaching the FA Cup semi-finals as a Second Division team and Ronald Binge composing Sailing By.

I wandered down to the old Floating Bridge area, though the Woolston Ferry signed off many years ago, its place taken by the spanking new Itchen Bridge. Woolston is a quiet suburb these days but played a vital part in World War II when just about every able-bodied man and woman in Southampton helped on the Spitfire production line. It was remiss of me, in an earlier piece, not to mention that R G Mitchell not only designed the Spitfire but did so while suffering from a terminal illness. He saw through Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric long before most people and acted accordingly.

I wrote several pieces about Liverpool and if I neglected to mention that Hitler’s half-brother Alois lived there for a while it was probably because I couldn’t quite believe it. It’s true, though. He may have been on the run to avoid conscription and some accounts have him down as a petty criminal but he and his Irish bride Bridget Dowling lived on Stanhope Street; indeed, they had a son, William Patrick Hitler, while they were there. History does not record whether the boy was known as Paddy.

Quite a few at the funeral were my sort of age and all had favourite Mick Channon memories. He had an Archers Road, a Milton Road, a Koeman, a Le Tiss and, of course, a Woolston Ferry on the strength at one time or another and he will always be a hero in these parts. Even so, I think retirement is probably not far off now.

He was an outstanding footballer with 46 England caps and remains a talented trainer, though he will tell you straight out that his friend Richard Hannon senior has forgotten more about training racehorses than he himself will ever know. In his own disarmingly honest way, he leaves the distinct impression that he feels there should have been more than a sprinkling of Royal Ascot winners, an Irish 1,000  Guineas and Youmzain’s famous three Arc seconds. He made that much quite clear in a typically well-structured piece by Peter Thomas, who must surely be named racing’s Writer of the Year at some point, in a recent Racing Post.

The main problem is the loss of powerful owners, most notably Jaber Abdullah. Suddenly his inmates are mostly ‘Monday to Thursday types, not headline makers. There is no financial compulsion to continue down that path.

You can’t achieve what Mick Channon has achieved in two major sports without some iron in the soul. His life has been touched by tragedy and serious illness more than once and he’s fought back. He’s not a hard man but a very direct one. Most of the old Saints players I’ve interviewed over the years praised his undoubted ability but added that you soon knew all about it at half-time if the service wasn’t right. That’s why things didn’t work out at Manchester City, of course. ‘Great players but every time they got the ball they’d do their own little bit, like a cameo’, he told me one day. ‘That’s no good to me, I’ve got to have it delivered fast. Lawrie McMenemy sold me for £300,000 and got me back for £100,000!’

There are only eight days between us and I’ve followed Mick’s every move since he started out wide on the left at 17 against Bristol City in 1966. I hasten to add I’ve no inside information, but in George Materna’s box at Goodwood the other day (Mick trains Wonderful World for George) his son Jack spoke about starting up with a team ‘of no more than sixty’ and also mentioned his passion for greyhound racing, which might mean operating out of Hall Green in Birmingham if he takes it all the way. There’s also no guarantee that the Southampton connection, ownership wise, will endure so even sixty may be a tall order. Interesting times ahead at West Ilsley. Or wherever.


A note from Rebecca

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