Omtrent samtidig som 19 år gamle Matt Richards ankom på lå fra Wycombe ut sesongen leser jeg om en annen Richards, forsvarsspilleren Pedro som var i Notts County fra 1974 til 85 og spilte tilsammen nærmere 500 kamper for klubben. Jeg var faktisk ikke klar over, eller så var det fortrengt, at han gikk bort i realtivt ung alder. Kom over en artikkel i The Times om Pedro Richards som er vel verdt å lese om man tar seg tid til det:
Article on the death of footballing hero, Pedro Richards. The Times, 9th March 2002
Pedro Richards played at the top level of English football less than 20 years ago, but never left a Nottingham council estate. He died aged 45. Mark Hodkinson tells a story far removed from the glamour of today's game.
Sunday morning, the world half-asleep. An elderly man shuffles towards the newsagents in his slippers. He coughs and it sounds like a small jar of nails being rattled. Two men peer through the windows of the Poet's Corner pub. They are early, it doesn't open until noon. Furious, one of them kicks out at a metal grille covering a supermarket window: Good morning, the Meadows. The Meadows is a vast estate of pale-bricked houses and maisonettes close to Nottingham town centre. It routinely provides those terse two and three-word captions on newsagents' billboards: "Gun Crime Soars", "Drugs Den Bust", "Man Critical". There are good souls, too, amid the dissolution. A family makes its way towards the Bridgeway Hall Methodist Mission, the kids skipping ahead, their skin scrubbed and glowing like sunlight.
The Poets Corner is now open. Posters advertise Bingo on Thursdays and Karaoke on Saturdays. It is large and open-plan with bench seats against the walls and a mismatch of chairs jammed under tables. An old lady asks her husband for a Bacardi and lemonade. He comes back from the bar: "I didn't want ice, you berk," she scolds. The barmaid scoops them out. This time, his wife calls him "love" when he hands it over. They open a newspaper and study the horse racing form. She is extremely knowledgeable, quoting odds from long-gone races. Looking around, the room filling with smoke and bawdy bonhomie, she might like to proffer odds on someone famous, someone from a glamorous other-world, walking through the swing-doors and making himself at home: 10,000 to one perhaps, a million to one?
Until a few months ago, the Poet's Corner and other pubs dotted around the estate had such a visitor on a regular basis. Pedro Richards was a member of the Notts County team that spent three seasons in the top flight of English football from 1981 to 1984. An assured defender, he played almost 500 games for County during a 12-year spell and is thought to be the first black player to captain an English professional club. After Match of the Day and a life less ordinary, he was back on home ground; unassuming, in and out of work, but still King of the Meadows. Then he was gone, dead at 45.
Although he stopped playing just 15 years ago, Richards' story embodies the seismic cultural and economic shift in the professional game. A footballer can now sign a one-year deal with a Premiership club and be financially secure for the rest of his life. He will also have advisers and mentors and a posh car on a posh estate, miles away from places like the Meadows.
Richards had none of these, though whether he would have wanted them is another matter. His was an enigmatic story and a personality to match. Even in death, nothing was straightforward. He died the day before Christmas Eve last year, after being injured three weeks earlier. The Poet's Corner had hosted a wake for Shantelle Porter, a 17-year-old girl who had died after a road accident. At the end of a long day of drinking and reminiscing, Pedro slipped away on his own. Soon afterwards he was found nearby, clutching his chest. Rumour quickly wafted through the estate's maze of walkways and side streets: Pedro Richards had been attacked. The most outlandish version had him set upon by drug dealers and left badly beaten.
Such was his status in the estate's folklore, his half-brother, Colin Ellery, had to refute quickly the gossip and would do so again a few weeks later, this time at his funeral. "Names were being banded about and I was worried there might be reprisals and someone getting hurt. We heard so much stuff that was supposed to have happened to Pedro. I think the only thing we didn't hear was that aliens had picked him up," he said. The police decided to investigate. "We were hearing that he'd been beaten up," Detective Inspector Tony Webster said. "We couldn't find anyone who'd seen this happen and Pedro and his brother said the injuries had resulted from a fall. It's the sort of place where this kind of rumour is rife." He confirmed that Pedro had never been involved in trouble with the police. "I used to see him out and about in clubs when I was a young detective. He kept himself to himself and was a nice, approachable bloke."
These days footballers rarely live in the town of the club they represent, but Richards was fiercely intertwined with the community that formed Notts County's support. The Meadows is yards from County's ground and for many years his family owned a shop selling washing machines literally across the road from Meadow Lane. As proof of his standing, when his teenage son's bike was stolen and word got round who it belonged to, it was found back in its original place within hours. "Pedro was their hero," his long-term partner, Lorna Kennedy, said. "He had a hell of a lot of respect from the local lads and they looked up to him. No one would hear a bad word said about him. They were all like brothers, one big family."
X-rays revealed that Pedro had two broken ribs. He was also taking antibiotics for a chest infection. The cough grew worse and he was admitted to hospital where doctors discovered a shadow the size of a 50p piece on his lungs. He had pneumonia. The disease took hold and within a few days he was critically ill. "They called us in and I knew straight away from the doctor's face that he probably wasn't going to make it," Colin said. "They told us that only two or three people a year in the whole country got this type of pneumonia." Pedro Richards died in his sleep.
The grief among the football fraternity was deep and heartfelt. County supporters flooded websites with eulogies. He had been a loyal, talented clubman and had played the game sportingly. Some hinted, in compassionate, rueful tones, that Pedro's later years had not been becoming of a football hero: the game hadn't treated Richards as well as he had treated it. Most of all, he was adored because he was seen as "one of them." He lived among them, walked the same streets. He was the local boy made good, an irony since he was anything but local.
Until the age of 11, Pedro had lived in Laguardia, a walled town in the Basque region of Northern Spain. Set in the mountains of Cantabria, the area is famous for its Rioja wine. It is now a busy town, but when Pedro was a boy it was the rural Spain of legend -donkeys used in farming; bulls let loose through the narrow passageways during fiesta time. He had been sent to Spain to live with his grandparents by his mother, Maria Pecina Torres. Maria had earlier left Spain to work as a domestic in England where she met Pedro's father, an Afro-Caribbean with whom Pedro was to have minimal contact during his life. Spanish became Pedro's first language and, like his friends, he wanted to be a matador.
He left the country at the age of 11 to live with his mother who had now settled with Eddie Ellery, a Nottingham man. Although he had seldom kicked a ball before, Pedro was a prodigiously talented footballer. He played for the top local youth side, Clifton All Whites, and was selected for Nottingham Boys. In both teams, he played alongside Viv Anderson, later to win the European Cup with Nottingham Forest. He signed for Notts County and made his first-team debut within days of his 18th birthday. He was to remain there for the next 12 years.
"I first met Pedro when he was a kid on the groundstaff," Don Masson, his former captain, said. "I thought he had a tremendous future. He was skilful, fast, a good reader of the game but I don't think he ever fulfilled his potential." Anyone who played alongside Richards, or watched him, feels the same. Soon after breaking into the professional ranks, he found himself viewed -in the terms of the time -as a "bit of a lad", a "rebel". Richards did not follow protocol. He spoke his mind. He was a footballer who didn't act or think like a footballer. Already the contradictory nature of his personality was evident. He was happy-go-lucky but sensitive, straight-ahead but complex. He didn't stop to think what was best for his career. He went ahead and said it, or did it. Glad-handing and duplicity was an anathema. He grumbled soon after joining County that he'd been signed to provide succour to another black player, his good friend Tristan Benjamin.
Later, he declined an invitation to join an England get-together called by Don Revie; he felt there was a bias towards southern-based players. His views seemed unusually insular for a man of such a cosmopolitan background. "Pedro felt settled in the Meadows. He had offers from other clubs, but he wasn't one for moving around. When he left Spain he was only a kid and didn't really have much say in the matter," Lorna said.
Away from the pitch, he further challenged the stereotype. He claimed a love of gardening and was photographed in a match programme pruning roses. They were his step-dad's really; that was the joke. He didn't drive, though if he had, he would probably have received a sponsored car. He did buy an expensive semi-detached house in the relatively upmarket Wilford, but after it had been decorated he declined to move in and stayed on the estate. "You've got to understand that Pedro wasn't at all materialistic. I don't think he was ever comfortable with that side of football," Colin Ellery said. "I remember being with him once when he was asked to sign an autograph. You could just tell he felt awkward about it."
In February 1985, Notts County granted Richards a testimonial match against Nottingham Forest. It was played at short notice and only 1,345 fans attended. Richards received £800, a paltry amount compared with the colossal sums testimonials now generate. He left County at 29 and drifted into semi-professional football and then out of the game completely.
He did not adapt easily to a life outside the sport. He was out of work for long spells and reluctant to claim unemployment benefit. He worked intermittently on building sites, but was considered down on his luck by some County fans. "The last time I saw him he was sitting alone in a rather seedy pub called The Cremorne in the Meadows one Sunday lunchtime some years ago," Mick West said. "He was very scruffily dressed in a tatty old sweater and sat there drinking on his own the entire time I was there, though he did occasionally speak to people he knew behind the bar." Pedro's family says this was unlikely. They say he liked to dress casual, but smart.
Although more than 400 people attended his funeral, including ex-players and staff, he was no longer in regular contact with many from the football world. Asked about Pedro, they all say how much they enjoyed his company, then add that they had not seen him for years. "Pedro wasn't one to moan, but I think, deep down, he might have been upset because he felt forgotten," Colin said. Notts County staged a minute's silence recently, but three of its staff declined to co-operate with research for this article, without saying why.
Meanwhile, Pedro's son, 14-year-old Antonio, is a member of County's School of Excellence. He has another son, Jordan, aged 4, both from his relationship with Lorna Kennedy. If Antonio progresses to the first-team, the lifestyle and rewards are likely to be much different than those that came his father's way.
* A Trust Fund has been set up to support Pedro's sons and to purchase a headstone for his grave. An auction of football memorabilia and a charity night is also planned.