Imagine sitting, say, on a train or in a pub. You’re having a relaxing chat about football with one of your best mates. He’s brought along a couple of other people, you’re introduced and get on really well with them. The conversation and the beer flows, a good time is had by all. It’s a familiar enough story for most of us, one of the pleasures of being a fan, and something we share with long-time Spurs fan Morris Keston. The only difference is that he’s sitting next to Bobby Moore, who’s brought along half the 1966 World Cup squad for company.
Since he began supporting Tottenham Hotspur in the mid forties, Morris Keston has watched them nearly 3000 times. He’s followed them all over the world, whether it be a major final or a meaningless friendly, not that any Spurs match is meaningless for Morris. He curses his triple by-pass operation because it broke his run of watching every home game since the early fifties, but he missed just the one game. Not only that, during this period he’s known most of the Spurs and England players and counts everyone from Moore, Greaves and Hurst through to Jennings, Venables and Crooks as personal friends. You name them, he name-drops. The book’s title is no publisher’s hyperbole – Superfan he most certainly is.
Most Spurs fans of my generation have probably heard of Keston. Often interviewed over the years, he’s featured in the Glory Game, Hunter Davies’ classic inside story of the club’s season in the mid 70s, where he incurs the wrath of the board because the players chose to attend his ’67 Cup Final celebration party rather than the club’s official function. I always regarded him with a mixture of envy and resentment. Although I’d kill for the chance to mix freely with my heroes, as an equal, I begrudged the wealth that bought the travel, the parties and, frankly, access to the club. The reality is somewhat different. Keston is indeed a successful businessman but he started from nothing. Brought up in the Jewish community of the East End, he was evacuated during the war but suffered from malnutrition because the care he received was so poor, a not untypical story that remains largely hidden because it is at odds with the myths of Britain in wartime. His mother figured he would be safer in the comfort of his family, despite the rigours of the Blitz, so he spent the rest of the war in London, earning a scholarship and beginning a lifelong obsession with football. Leaving school at 14, he was sacked from his first job in a barber’s after he refused to work on Saturday afternoons. Eventually he got into the schmutter business, schelpping around the country for a fortnight at a time, taking in third division reserve games and any football that he could, and co-ordinating his return to London with the home fixture list.
There’s little more about these fascinating early years here, a shame in my view but then again that’s not the story. Or rather stories: this book is a series of entertaining tales and anecdotes about Keston’s relationship with football and the people in the game. They are mostly Spurs related but not all. He knew directors and players at other clubs clubs including Chelsea and Stoke, and was personal friends with almost all the Boys of ’66. Oh, and for good measure Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali. As you do.
Some remind me of those speech bubbles in Roy of the Rovers, where they begin by summarising the plot in case you missed last week’s episode- Voice in the Crowd – ‘Melchester have to win this 3-0 after the bruising encounter in Poland where Blackie was butchered then sent off’. Second Voice: ‘Yes, and the club will go bust if we don’t reach the next round and Roy’s girlfriend was run over by the team bus’. But never fear – like any good storyteller Keston is quickly off and running. It’s an easy, pleasant read that rattles along, and will undoubtedly carry you along with it.
His access was astounding. Moore, Hurst, Greaves and others regularly popped in for a for a cup of tea during the 1966 tournament. He stayed in the same hotels and travelled on the same planes when Spurs and England went abroad, and could get a seat in the director’s box for most games, the only exception being at the Lane, where the Wale family who ran the club in the 60s and 70s regarded him with suspicion. He sat alongside Terry Venables (Uncle Terry to his children), holding a seven figure cheque as they waited in vain for a call that would have transferred ownership of the club from Irving Scholar. Business and financial advice to a legion of players, chairing testimonial committees, negotiating transfers, all in a day’s work. And those parties.
Perhaps the most telling anecdote comes not from the author himself but from Graham Souness, who Keston helped out as a cocky 16 year old tyro. Now Morris had nothing to gain from that, no prestige or kudos. No one knew who the hell this anonymous apprentice was. He did so because he wanted to, because he cared about the club and the young players. And yes, the parties, but the players came round for a cuppa and a slice of his long-suffering wife’s apple crumble. He entertained in his home, with home-made cooking, and although it’s not acknowledged specifically here, that’s the real secret of his appeal. He emerges not as a glory hunter but as a homespun, friendly and generous bloke, often a little star-struck, who is deeply in love with football and Tottenham in particular.
It will appeal more to the older Spurs fan and it’s great fun. There’s little analysis of how the game has changed over the years – that’s not the aim of the book. However, ultimately it’s a tale of a bygone, arguably better era, where you could turn up on the turnstile and get in, where players were open and willing to chat rather than be surrounded by a forcefield of PR and agents, where players understood that they and the fans are one and the same, not a different class.
The Amazing Life of Morris Keston – Superfan by Morris Keston and Nick Hawkins Published by Vision Sports Publishing.
Look out for book signings with Venables, Jennings, Hurst and others in and around London