Some sixteen or seventeen years ago I used to frequent an ale house on Stokesley High Street. It wasn’t a particularly great pub, and its range of ales left much to be desired, but it was quiet (at the times that I went in) and the landlord was a good bloke.
The landlord, a big unit, was one of those guys that you sort of recognised but didn’t like to ask.
I’d often pop in on my way home from games – often resplendent in ‘blue and white’ and our conversations increasingly focussed on football, and then Pools.
After some weeks he says, in passing, ‘of course, when I played for Pools…….’
‘Thought I recognised you’, I stuttered, ‘you’re…….’
He went on to tell an amazing story of how, once he’d started getting a regular game (back in one of the ‘Billy Horner eras’) he started scoring and attracting the attention of some bigger clubs. This obviously had an effect on his feeling of self-worth and so, part way through his second season, without permission, he went off on honeymoon with his new wife (well, I guess you wouldn’t go on honeymoon with anyone else………..).
He told the story that on his return he was confronted by Billy Horner who, incandescent with rage, had him banned sine die. And that was an early end to his career.
Now I’m not naming the guy as he may have been ‘having me on’ – or my memory (which regular readers will already know is unreliable) may be playing games with me – but he did play three dozen times over parts of two seasons and put in some powerful performances.
I remember going home and trying to check out his story – my recollection being that he had been released by John Bird rather than Billy Horner – and I’d never heard the phrase sine die. I went back to his pub – quite often – but never challenged his version of this interesting and unusual tale.
Years later and I’ve tried to check this story and have been disappointed to read most Pools experts writing that he was ‘simply released’ and may even have gone on to play for various local non-league teams – but I must admit that I preferred his story.
But what gets me onto this tale and the concept of sine die in particular?
Sine die is suspension from all football. This can be can be for non-payment of fines or a serious case of misconduct.
Most cases of sine die bans appear to be temporary and for non-payment of fines but, back in 2004, another former Poolie fell foul of this punishment…..
Paul Conlon played in fifteen matches for Pools at the end of the 1995/96 season, scoring four goals – a former youth trainee, he broke into the first team when he was only 18. He was thought to have a huge future in the game when Sunderland boss Peter Reid pinched him from Hartlepool in July 1996, after a mix-up over his contract.
Having left Pools – where he’d been nurtured and given a tremendous opportunity – he never made the Sunderland first team and, after a spell on loan at Gateshead, he was released in the summer of 1997. Is this a subtle message to those who have recently walked out on Pools?
But his career was over completely by 2004 when, at the age of only 26, he kicked Herrington referee Jackie Hall while playing Sunday soccer for Plains Farm in Sunderland.
“Paul Conlon has been banned sine die with a rider that there should be no review considered for five years,” confirmed Durham FA official John Topping. “He was also fined £250.
“The incident happened on September 14 and his case was heard the following month when he was found guilty of assault, causing or attempting to cause bodily harm. The period of appeal has passed.”
Topping added: “Discipline in football is a problem and we have one or two cases like that of Conlon every season.
“An offence that is on the increase is improper behaviour towards match officials. That includes incidents like ripping the card out of the referee’s hand or adopting a threatening manner.
“Football has to address such things but in reality the problem is much greater. It’s a problem rooted in society itself.”
This story highlights several issues; obviously that larger clubs have always stolen ‘young talent’ from smaller clubs, that youngsters are often better served by staying with ‘smaller clubs’, that misbehaviour has always been an issue within football, and that the available punishments are possibly under-used.
Should Roy Keane have been banned sine die from all parts of football when he admitted his intentions over that Alf-Inge Haaland tackle?
Could sine die be used to control the behaviour of certain ‘agents’?
Could it be used as a quick way to ban directors who somehow managed to pass the ‘fit and proper’ test and who were then found ‘wanting’?
Wouldn’t it be a perfect way to stop youngsters from walking out on clubs who have spent large amounts of money on nurturing their talents, educating them, developing them and so on?
For Pools to have lost (potentially) three ‘young starlets’ during the course of the last few weeks is so wrong on so many levels. And I hate that phrase ‘starlet’ – why can’t the poor little darlings be called ‘trainees’ or ‘apprentices’? And, whilst I’m on this rant, I saw someone writing on a website last week that it is wrong for the Mail to call all Pools players ‘stars’: he does have a point!
Anyway, back to sine die. One of the few, relatively well known stories relates to one-time Glasgow Rangers’ captain William ‘Willie’ Woodburn.
Willie Woodburn is a footballer who will forever be associated with the term sine die. A player, who amassed only four red cards in his career, was made an example of by the parochial Scottish Football Association when they suspended him for life.
To understand the circumstances behind Woodburn’s sine die ban, let us take a look back at the man’s career and ask how he came to be banned for life. Born in Edinburgh on 8 August 1919, Willie or ‘Big Ben’ as he was known to his teammates, was a 6 ft centre-half, who signed for Rangers from Musselburgh Athletic in October 1937, making his debut the following year in a 2-2 draw in a league game against Motherwell.
His first of four championship medals followed in 1939, just before World War II broke out. The war took six years off Woodburn’s career as he was mainly consigned to Ranger’s second string team (Rangers, along with other bigger clubs, were allowed to field two teams during the war).
After the war, Willie initially struggled to break into the Rangers first team on a regular basis but still managed to appear in the first ever Scottish League Cup Final in 1947, which saw Rangers beat Aberdeen 4-0. 1947 was also the year Woodburn received a 14-day ban for a clash with Motherwell’s Dave Mathie.
After serving his suspension Woodburn returned to the Rangers first team and became part of the defence which was known, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s along with Bobby Brown, George Young, Jock Shaw, Ian McColl and Sammy Cox, as the Iron Curtain. Woodburn helped Rangers to four Scottish League titles, four Scottish Cups and two League Cups, including a domestic treble in 1948/49.
In 1953, Woodburn received a 21-day ban for punching Clyde striker Billy McPhil. Later that same year Woodburn was sent off for the third time in his career against Stirling Albion. The clubs were to meet again in 1954, in a League Cup tie with disastrous consequences for Woodburn. Woodburn, playing with a knee injury, took exception to a challenge and retaliated by head-butting a Stirling player.
What happened next was unprecedented; the SFA convened a disciplinary hearing the following month, and the panel decided, taking just four minutes, to suspend Woodburn sine die. While many in the Scottish game at the time expected a lengthy ban, no one was prepared for a sine die suspension. The decision was only reached with the casting vote by the chairman of the referee’s committee, John Robbie of Aberdeen.
Supported by the Scottish Player’s Union, Woodburn had the option to take his case to the courts but declined to do so, mistakenly believing the SFA would rescind the ban. They did eventually rescind the ban, but not until three years had passed, by that time Woodburn was 37-years old and perhaps having lost some of his passion for game, decided to retire.
Woodburn was known as a hard player, who could certainly tackle with force but always did so fairly. He was a player whose skills as a ball-playing centre-half, who when under pressure would prefer to play his way out of trouble rather than kick his way out, were recognised and respected.
His fierce temper was the issue, albeit that it was usually directed at his teammates, particularly goalkeeper, Bobby Brown, when a goal was conceded. It is telling that none of his bans were for bad tackles, but rather for Woodburn failing to control his temper
The SFA clearly wanted to make an example of Woodburn, perhaps to scare other players into cleaning up their act, but there is no doubt Woodburn’s draconian punishment was harsh.
Woodburn ended his career having made 216 league appearances for Rangers, scoring twice, while he also turned out for Scotland on 24 occasions.
Now, I’ve read that, since Woodburn’s sine die, no other professional footballer has had to suffer the infamy of being banned for life. Which brings into question that story that I was told in Stokesley all those years ago, but……can anyone help me with this story – or, indeed, does anyone know of any other sine die punishments within the professional game?
Looking at the on-field behaviour during the most recent ‘Old Firm’ derby, I again wonder if this punishment should not be brought into more regular use….
And this gets me to my quick-fire final points:
1. A big shout out to Mark Goodman of HUST – not just for his great work in the wider community but for his sense of humour! I cracked when I read his suggestion for the fancy dress at the final away game…..
2. 7 April last year saw this crew beaten by Solihull Moors at Fortress Vic….
1 Scott Loach
18 Lewis Hawkins Booked 90+5′: Now at Spennymoor United
23 Louis Laing Now at Blyth Spartans
24 Conor Newton Replaced 68′
3 Blair Adams Now at South Shields
2 Carl Magnay
4 Nicky Featherstone
15 Josh Hawkes
14 Michael Woods Booked 87′: Now at Harrogate
9 Jake Cassidy Booked 74′: Now at Maidstone
11 Rhys Oates Replaced 68′: Now at Morecambe
13 Ryan Catterick Still hasn’t started a game.
7 Ryan Donaldson On from 68′
8 Jack Munns Now at Dagenham & Redbridge
21 Devante Rodney On from 68′: Now at Salford City (Halifax Town)
31 Jacob Owen A youngster who left Pools for Marske United last Summer….
Funny how none have moved on to greater things – other than, perhaps, Rhys…
3. John’s football website of the week – Heed Army – I’ve mentioned this site before as a good place to keep up to speed with the ongoing developments at our near neighbours. My views on the ‘owners and associates’ are well-known and all I can add is the question – surely the FA need to step in? Sine die for Cala?
4. Remember, there is no pleasure worth forgoing just for another three years in the geriatric ward.
5. BWFC survived another winding up order on Wednesday (the case being adjourned until May) and the prospective new owner attended Court. The individual, who was banned from holding a position of authority at an English Football League club for three years in 2013 for alleged financial misconduct, was driven away from the court in a white Rolls-Royce. I say no more. Will fans be allowed in to the ground on Saturday?
6. Try to read this piece about the Wrexham FC Trust – interesting in that it re-emphasises the need to have a strong Trust, even if you think the owners of your club are OK – and that the Trust must continue to raise significant sums – just in case – as if anything could go wrong it surely will – In Conversation with Wrexham Trust.
Right, how can I donate to the Trust?