A NOTE: IF you did not receive Episode 122 there is a reason. I felt it was just too brutal for your tender ears.
A subjective decision. The topic includes a letter from my good friend Robert Root who was forced to visit
the hog killing floor at the St. Clair slaughter house when he was about my age. It is awful reading. So I applied
censorship. If you want the story, let me know.
This Episode (#123) continues the violent theme but is terribly self centred for which I apologize. Hope a few of
you are left handed and therefore more understanding.
EPISODE 123 VIOLENCE A BROKEN LITTLE FINGER CHANGED MY LIFE…FOOTBALL IS VIOLENT (part one)
Take a close look at this LEFT HAND. See the little finger. Look closely and you will see it is crooked. When that finger was wired
back together my whole life changed. Big changes happen often from small events. Keep that finger in mind.
(Now I know you will not believe this. I asked Marjorie to proof read the story and she broke out laughing reading the first
sentence. I had photographed my right hand…not my left. I still do not know the difference.)
“Did Someone say turn left?” Take a look at my hands…I am touching my left little finger…and that
is what this story is all about. You may not realize that until the very end of Part One.
There, among the miscellany of our children’s old room,…there rests the team picture from 1954. I checked today and notice
it is gone. (Sept. 20, 2020)
Hidden away in our cellar are the trophies that were once so important in my life but are now forgotten. Take the Wildman Trophy
for instance. I was very proud of this award. That was once a huge trophy in Humberside C.I., sat in the front hall all on its own.
Now gone somewhere. Chuck Wildman was killed at Queen’s University in his first year when doing a prank climbing an electric
pole to the transformer. His father was an organizer of our annual football dinner…father and sons.
“OH, ALAN, I know these boys from Lawrence Park Collegiate,” I asked Marjorie to proof read this story and it turns out she knows the enemies
very well. She had a bad crush on one of them. I think she could have done better looking over our guys at Humberside.
Take a close look. Look at faded #7, Roger Pugh, the boy who took a kick in the face to prevent a kicker from booting the ball downfield.
That’s coach Burford on the left…beside him in plain clothes is Jim Romaniuk, my friend, and beside Jim I am crouched. See # 13 That
is Rich Mermer the best Athlete i have ever seen. And a nice guy as well. On his right is co captain, Gord Nicholls #12, who along with Gary Logan (left of
#13) organizes our annual luncheons … yes, some of us still meet even though now in our 80’s. Like Garth Spencer in front of Jim Romaniuk. That’s
Ken Takasaki behind Rich Mermer who I suspect was the son of a Canadian Japanese family pushed out of British Columbia in World
War II…their fishing boats confiscated. Maybe so. And look at #54 on the right, that’s “Jarring Jack Osmond”, suspended from school
a year later for bringing beer in s violin cast to a night football game. Rob Wildman, top row #25, whose brother was electrocuted by accident and
whose family donated the Wildman trophy in Chuck’s honour. And Jeff Scott with whom I share emails each week. So many freinds.
On the far right is our principal, W. E. Taylor who had to contend with
the anti-football lobby of teachers at Humberside. Not everyone loved the game..
Here is a document from the 1956 season with all the boys names. Why would you be interested? 1) Because your name might be there 2) Because the lists reveal just how deep the football culture
of the 1950’s had penetrated the high school culture. Today only a fragment of that culture remains. Most schools do not play football any more.
Football may seem to have little to do with violence … I mean nasty violence.
I feel, however, that this short football story might find a few interested readers.
Football scared me at first. Not the violence although that was a little frightening.
LEFT HANDED HANDICAP…BIG TIME
In Grade 9 I nearly joined the Bantam football team at Humberside Collegiate but was rather
startled by the knowledge base required. And also by the fact that football used
words like ’left’ and ’right’ a lot more than I could handle. I am left handed. No big
deal to most of you and even to most left handers. My problem is that I do not know
the difference between left and right. Really. If someone asks me to turn left I
immediately move my fingers to touch my broken baby finger on my left hand. I know
that is left. The finger was broken and operated on when I was a senior student
at Humberside. That BABY FINGER CHANGED MY LIFE.
Why do I have this trouble? Back in elementary school at Kent Public School there
was a concerted effort to ‘break’ left handed kids. To make them right handed.
For their own good because they must live in s world where 90% are right handed.
Tools, for instance, are made for right handed people. Scissors, stoves, washing machines,
watches, car controls (i.e. signals, headlights) are made for right handed people.
So it was a noble plan to make left handers in right handers. Maybe it was Grade 4
where the attempt was made at first. That made me feel like I was some kind of
freak. Then the policy was changed. It suddenly all right to be left handed if I might
say it this way. (i.e. the right means correct…if that is so then what does the word
left mean? Left is sinister…wrong, dangerous, threatening, odd, etc.)
Sports were for right handed people I came to believe. In baseball I was usually
assigned to centre field and feared when the ball was hit my way. “Please do
not hit a high fly to me,” I prayed. When that happened I had to try and
catch the ball with my left handed mitt…then transfer the ball to my right hand…
then throw off the right handed mitt…then transfer the ball to my left hand…then
throw the ball . By that time the runner was heading for third base and even
If choosing players for a team, I would not be chosen…at least not chosen
first. Maybe alone at the last.
In Grade Ten, things changed. I did join the junior football team at high school.
Why? My brother, right handed, had joined the Bantams was one reason. The
other reason was that I came to believe that girls like football. And I liked girls a lot.
I know now that
this chauvinistic belief was false. Girls do not give a sweet goddamn about football.
They do however like boys, especially when boys reach Grade Ten and are not longer
considered fools. The best way to see and meet boys was to cheer the football team.
Well that is an overstatement but is something i came to believe.
Our coach, Fred Burford, was a born leader of men. He was tough and knew where
each man (boy) could serve the team best. What would he do with me?
“Skeoch, you will be a left guard.”
(Perfect, he knows my handicap).
“Second String left guard.:
(Perfect, I will sit on the bench sidelines for the game but still be on the team.)
Every game we played that year I was nervous. Afraid that coach Burford would
send me forward into the offensive huddle. Afraid i would fail him in some way
or other. I was not alone on the second string bench. Jim Romaniuk, my good
friend, set beside me. He was the second or third string quartrerback and also
fine on the bench.
Then one game…A real game against another high school…there was a need
for a second string left guard. The coach turned around. Jim Romaiuk pointed at me…
Coach Burford said, “You Skeoch, get on the field” God, I wished I had not
been chosen as I flip flopped my way to the huddle. Flip flopped because my
football shoes (called Spikes, because they had aluminum stubs on the soles…spikes)
..my football shoes were the last handed out. The worst in other words. Split in
half between heel and sole.
Once in the huddle I hope and prayed the fullback would dive into the right side
of the line. And most often he did. Right wins more than left. Thankfully.
I know this is all Greek to those of you who have never played football. Let me
just point out that the boys (men) on the line have a job to do. They must
use their strength to punch a hole in the line that the ball carrier can run
through…usually squeeze through…before the defensive players can bring him
down to ground like a wild steer at a rodeo.
Yes, football is a violent game. Boys and men flinging themselves at each other.
Force against force. A victor and a loser.
“Your job is to delay the attackers…give the halfback or fullback a chance to
make some yardage. That means putting your body in between the ball carrier
and the attacking team. Now, listen closely, this is what you must do.”
And coach Burford had precise instructions which I remember now clearly
nearly 70 years later.
Marjorie has set aside a football corner in our farm house…in jeopardy of being taken over
1) Drop into a three point stance. Hand in front, both legs bent.
Legs must be bent to give you the force necessary. Straight legs
are useless. No leverage.
2) When ball is snapped you launch your body. Raise your hand to
your chest so that your shoulder is as large as possible. Do that fast.
So doing increases the impact.
3) Point your head into the hole. Very important to do this. Your
head should be in the hole. Less chance of attacker getting around you.
4) Keep legs bent … use short choppy steps to get as much force
5) Do not grab the attacker. No holding. But try to push him aside.
6) Spearing! Do not spear with your head. That also applies to
tackling when you play defence. Never hit with your head. Use
The coach spent more time with the backfield and particularly the
quarterback who was the brain central of the team. But everyone
had a role. Even the lowly left guard like me. I was part of the
team. My task was clear. I was on the left. My job was to knock
people down or, at the very least, stop them from getting our
quarterback, fullback or halfback.
My brother became a right end. He could race down the field and
possibly receive a pass from the quarterback. He had one of the
glory positions. To any observer I was likely invisible. Part of the
great pileup of bodies that happened on every play. Fine by me.
I was part of the team. I had a team sweater….#55 for my whole
PUTTING ME IN MY PLACE…NEAR THE BOTTOM
A crisis developed at one game. The quarterback had forgotten
his spikes…his football shoes. Coach Bruford called us all together.
“Boys, I need a volunteer, a person to give up his spikes so our
quarterback can play.” For the good of the team I raised my hand.
“Not yours, Skeoch, they are split in two.” A grand gesture, spurned.
And on another occasion when I was very nervous I began to whistle.
“Who is whistling?” asked the Coach. I raised my hand. “Come over here and stand up
on the bench.” He pointed at me standing there. “This boy was whistling.
He was showing overconfidence. That is how we could lose games.
There will be no whistling on this team.” I was mortified…humiliated in
front of all the boys. Later, when I got to know Coach Bruford well
I realized he was looking for a way to get the team pepped up for the game.
My whistling was the way. Not a good experience for me. I still
whistle when in trouble.
MY BEST FRIENDS
Most of my best friends through life have been members of the
various football teams to which I belonged. Most of them were
linemen like me. Here I think of Russ Vanstone, Eddie Jackman,
Gord Sanford, Jim Romaniuk. The glory boys of the early teams
did not even know our names. But we knew each other.
By Grades 11, 12 and 13, I made first string left guard.
In high school I was nervous before each game. I wondered
how the other boys felt. Most seemed confident…free from nerves.
Nervousness was not a bad thing. I took the games very
seriously lest i let Coach Burford down. Not that I was sure
he noticed me…or even knew my first name. I was Skeoch, Left Guard.
THE STORY OF ‘WRONG WAY CUSH’
Tension was part of the game. But there was always humour as well such
as the case of ‘Wrong way Cush’. He got that nickname for a reason.
Cush intercepted a pass from the enemy quarterback which should have
made him into a hero. Had Cush run the right way…i.e. towards the other
team’s goal posts, he would have been cheered. But he did not. He got confused
and ran towards our goal posts. “Wrong Way Cush” could have scored a
touchdown against his own team. Everyone on the bench screamed “Wrong
Way, Cush!” as loud as they could. He thought they were cheering. I don’t
remember how he was stopped…perhaps tackled to the ground by our own
players. He got that nickname, however, and that name stuck.’Wrong Way
Cush’. Wouldn’t it be nice if he read this story. Still famous after 65 years.
BOYS DO GET HURT…BADLY
Players get hurt in the game. Some injuries do not surface until
later in life. Some surface right away. Like the concussion that
caused Don Phillips to suddenly go into convulsions one lunch hour
while we were in a team chalk talk with coach Burford. During football
season the team met every launch hour in Coach Burford’s room
to plan our attacks on other schools. Very intense meetings. Piles
of special mimeographed plays studied such as the famous ‘double reverse’.
When Don Phillips started to pound his desk I turned around
shocked that he would interrupt Coach Burford. What I saw was
shocking. His body was twitching. His mouth foaming and head rolling.
Involuntary muscles working at cross purposes.
“Stand back, boys”, and Coach Burford put a ruler across Donnie’s
mouth so he would not bite his tongue i reasoned. We never
saw Don again. Word was spread that the fit was caused by
a pre-existing condition. I never really believed that.. Don used
his head in tackling practice I seemed to remember.
There was a tendency not to blame the sport for the injuries. Shy?
Reflected poorly on the game.
ERIC SKEOCH…MUD SPIKE IN CALF MUSCLE
Another injury that upset me was when we were playing s game
in the mud in the east end. To get better purchase on muddy ground
some boys changed their spikes. Unscrewed the nubs of aluminum
and replaced them with longer stiletto spikes. That gave them more purchase
in the mud. Mud spikes became illegal later
but not until after Eric, my brother, got spiked at Millen Stadium.
I remember that gruesome spike hole in his calf filled to the top
with mud. Actually made me feel weak. Rather than revenge I
wanted to sit down. We finished the game. No one knew how bad
Eric was hurt until Dr. Greenaway cleaned out the hole that
evening. The wound was so serious that the doctor gave me instrictions
“Take this needle. If Eric goes into a spell tonight then ram
in the needle.” It was a huge thing. And I would have to face
the thing and ram it in then push the valve. Never had to do it
though. Eric did not get a serous infection and a couple of
weeks later he was back with the team battling our way to
ROGER PUGH…KICK IN THE FACE
Roger Pugh did something I found problematic. He took the full force
of the enemy kicker full in his face. Part of our job on defence was to try
and get the kicker before he got the kick away. Roger did this by placing
his face in direct line with the ascending foot of the kicker. He got a
kick in the face. And he got a reward. Coach Burford congratulated Roger
as if he was a war hero placing his life in jeopardy for the sake of his country.
I thought this was more an accident than deliberate. Coach Burford
praised it as a deliberate act that we might try to replicate. If I got a kick in the
face it would certainly be an accident. Then, a year or so later, I pulled a
‘Roger Pugh’ by making an excellent shoe string tackle with one hand in
a cast and my finger held together by wire and pins. Coach Burford was
as surprised as I was. He gave me a compliment. “Nice Tackle, Skeoch’.
Why was I even on the field in such condition? Because I wanted to be there
with the team. Why did Coach Burford allow me on the field? Because he did not’
know about my operation. But he also knew that heroics
burned very deep in the teen-age mind. I guess.
I really hoped a couple of girls were watching. They were not.
MOM…ELSIE SKEOCH…TOLD ERIC’S HEAD WAS NOW LOBSIDED
We, Eric and I, developed a kind of sick humour playing football.
Like the time we came home from a game with Russ Vanstone driving
his father’s magnificent 1954 Chevrolet.
Normally a football helmet is perfectly round. Designed to cradle a human skull. A face mask
it attached to prevent facial injuries.
Now imagine this helmet split in two … only held together by the face mask. Think of yourself as our mother, Elsie Skeoch,
when she was told Eric had been hurt in a football game. Would you scream? A bad joke.
“Let’s have some fun with Mom, Eric. You come upstairs later than me.”
“How was the game, boys?” mom greeted me.
“Eric had an accident.”
Whereupon I rolled his smashed helmet across the stair landing…it was cracked
open and oblong rather than smooth and round. Russ had backed his car
over Eric’s helmet after the game.
“OH, DEAR” mom screamed. Which we thought was hilarious. Of course, mom
could have had a heart attack. That would not be funny. Unlikely though, mom
had a tough constitution and expected some rough spots in life. After all, she loved
a husband who was unpredictable at the best of times. Sometimes truth was difficult
to ascertain. Her boys had that same tendency.
THIS LEADS TO THE INJURY THAT CHANGED MY LIFE…MY LITTLE FINGER
Coach Burford taught all the lineman another way to take out an attacker. It was
called the ‘cross body block’ which involved throwing your body at right angles
to an outside corner backer who was about to tackle your ball carrying half back.
The block amounted to nearly six feet of a lineman’s body blunting the attack by
a corner backer. Very effective. I enjoyed doing cross body blocks and got very
good at it. Always got close enough that it was my hip that knocked down the corner
linebacker. Great fun.
Then things went terribly wrong. Such a silly injury but bad enough to change my life
irrevocably. When throwing a cross body block I always landed spread eagled on the
ground. No problem, we were padded from head to toe. Except for our hands.
On that particular day I landed, perhaps in pile with the outside corner backer.
My hand was on the ground and our own fullback ran over it. Crushed it sort of.
The tip of my little left finger was broken.
To those of you reading this story that injury must seem minor, especially after
reading about Donnie Phillips concussion and Eric Skeoch’s torn and mud filled
calf muscle. Or Roger Pugh’s kick in the face. Or even the horror story we told mother about Eric’s imaginary
Minor Indeed! That ilttle finger injury changed my life in so many ways
which I will describe in Part Two.
Suffice to say that I could now know the difference between right ant left.
When someone says “Look over on your left” or “Turn left here” or “look
at that girl over on the left side of the street”. i immediately touch my
little broken finger. That is my left. There is still a bit of a time lag but nothing
like there used to be.
This is my left hand. I know that now because I can touch where it was broken.
(Alan Skeoch — firstname.lastname@example.org)