Birtles and Burns shine at The Approach..

It was advertised as an Evening with Garry Birtles and Kenny Burns at The Approach, but it rapidly became ‘The Kenny Burns Show’ as the legendary former-Reds centreback took centre stage for the evening, much to the amusement and entertainment of all present.  That said, Birtles was good value on the night too, and whilst I often find myself fretting before these nights that I’ll just hear the same old stories – yet again I left with a few more that I’d not heard before.

Just a few examples; Birtles recalled when he was kicked out the team bus on Wilford Lane – on their way to Heathrow to fly to Dubai as he was injured and had complained to Brian Clough about his inclusion on the trip.  Rather than leave his injured striker stranded, Clough flagged down a passing motorist and requested that he take Birtles back to the City Ground.  Amusingly after an abortive take-off, the nervous-flyer Clough insisted the cabin crew let them off the plane and none of them made it to Dubai!

One thing I definitely discovered was to never accept a lift from either Birtles or Burns should they offer.  First Garry recounted a tale of a night when he had perhaps been a little less mindful of how much he’d been drinking, and fell asleep at the wheel of his TVR on Toton Hill, on the way to drop his mate off.  He ended up hitting a lamp-post and writing off the car – taking refuge at a nearby house.

At his refuge he apparently helped himself to their lunch for the following day – cheese and lettuce (presumably either in already, or in the process of being made into sandwiches), as well as wolfing down water.  His mate, who wasn’t buckled in, had a broken nose from headbutting the windscreen and was being tended by the good samaritans.

When the Police arrived, Birtles was breathalised and came out ‘borderline’ and was let off; the moral of the story?  Cheese and lettuce is apparently a cure for being over the limit!  Or possibly agreeing to autograph a programme for the police officer can work wonders if you’ve won a couple of European Cups.  Kudos goes to a passing journalist though, who passed the scene, photographed it and had the headline “Birtles hits the post, again!” in the next day’s papers – this was during his infamous goal drought whilst at Manchester United.

But don’t think it’s any better to accept a lift from Kenny Burns, because he apparently once crashed a car through a hedge and onto a bowling green, where he promptly panicked and fled leaving the car sat there; I presume it wasn’t during a game!

Kenny Burns also has a fairly colourful past.  He was signed by Forest to replace Sammy Chapman, according to the man himself.  Peter Taylor used to stalk him at a dog track where he spent an inordinate amount of time (and money!), where there were initially concerns over his character that Taylor eventually was able to assure Brian Clough was – whilst not impeccable – more than suitable for his needs.

Kenny’s career could have been a very short one – he described how Forest’s mere ten days of preseason suited his schedule much better than at other clubs, whose rigours before a season began tended to be more demanding.  During his first preseason on a tour he imbibed rather too freely in a beer tent and came within a few yards of being sick on Brian Clough’s wife, Barbara.  A timely apology to both Brian and Barbara Clough at breakfast the following day could well have saved his Forest career!

He told amusing tales of Trevor Francis not wanting to wear shinpads because ‘they made his legs look bulky’, whilst claiming himself and Larry Lloyd had phone books stuffed down their socks.  When Francis was eventually forced to wear shinpads he used to peel the foam lining from them to make them as thin as possible to minimise this effect of making him look too butch!

The thing that most people will remember (or read about in the case of folks like me too young to have seen him play) about Burns was that he was one of footballs hard men – back when the game was somewhat more violent than it is now.  He was fairly renowned for sticking the boot, the fist, the head, or whatever he could in on his opponents where required – as well as taking a bit in return.

He claims he’s probably the most fined player in Forest’s history; he recounted tales of psyching out Kevin Keegan in the tunnel before Forest played Hamburg in the European cup final – utilising nothing more than a missing tooth, a fierce expression and a piece of red chewing gum.  Of course, during the game he went on to completely take him out, and we all know how that game ended.

In a high profile gaffe in the build-up to a freekick at Highbury, having cased out the linesman and the referee weren’t looking, he decided to ‘sneeze’ (as he put it!) which caused his head to propel itself forward into the back of Frank Stapleton’s head.  Unfortunately he hadn’t clocked the camera capturing the moment for posterity!  He was even fined for attempting a raking pass to John Robertson which went awry and almost cost us a goal against Manchester City as Shilton was uncharacteristically off his line.

Imagine if our players were fined for shit passes that cost us goals!

My favourite story was a Clough one, I love it when I hear a Cloughie story I’ve never heard before.  This one involved Wimbledon in the crazy gang years.  They arrived at the City Ground and were infamous for having a loud ghetto blaster usually under the custodianship of Vinnie Jones.  The noise from this was grating on Clough, who despatched Alan Hill to the away dressing room to request it be turned down.

Alan Hill knocks on the door, Jones answers “Could you turn that down?” asks Hill, “Yeah, sure” says Jones – and does so.  No sooner does Hill return to the home dressing room, it’s turned back up again.  Hill is despatched again to remedy the situation, this time being ordered to say please when he makes his request.  He does so, he gets the same result – an initial turn-down, followed by resumption of services.

“Right!” says Clough, “I’ll go and ask him!”, he promptly knocks on the dressing room door, barges into the away dressing room and puts his foot through the ghetto blaster, simply saying “You can send me the bill!”.  Quality!  There was lots more on the night, and poor Kelvin got a bit of a panning during the auction which I thought was a little harsh, both seemed very supportive of Forest moving stadiums, and both spoke supportively of the current chairman (Burns more cagily than Birtles, it has to be said).

But since it made me chuckle, I’ll end with another Clough story told by Burns.  This one involved Calvin Plummer, I didn’t catch where it was – but he had been out either to warm up or train and had come back into the dressing room, clearly aggrieved.  “What’s wrong, son?” asked Clough.  “They’re throwing things at me, gaffer” replied Plummer.  “What things?” asked Clough.  “Bananas” he responded.  “Great, go and get me one!” Brian Clough responded.

What a way to diffuse a horrible situation!  Keep an eye out for more evenings like this at The Approach, as there should be more of them coming up over the coming months, and I’ve yet to see a bad one.  Apparently Kenny is forging a career on the after-dinner circuit, on this performance I’d highly recommend him as a thoroughly entertaining, witty and amusing speaker!

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