Wearside Echoes: On the ball for Sunderland visit

PICTURE THIS: Tommy, front and holding a paintbrush, with his celebrity pals as they get their King's Road boutique ready for opening.
PICTURE THIS: Tommy, front and holding a paintbrush, with his celebrity pals as they get their King's Road boutique ready for opening.
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A FORMER footballer scored a hat-trick of happy memories after returning to his old school.

Tommy Baldwin played for Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United after leaving St Aidan’s in 1959, later opening a King’s Road boutique with celebrity pals in the Swinging Sixties.

But he never forgot his roots and, during a visit to the North East last week, Tommy was taken on an emotional trip down memory lane by retired sports teacher Mick Winter.

“We gave him a tour of the school, showed him his shirt in our Hall of Fame and arranged for him to met up with an old pal. It brought back lots of happy memories for him,” said Mick.

“He was really proud to have been a pupil, and told me to keep banging the drum for St Aidan’s. Coming from him, a man who has been so successful, it means something very special.”

Tommy was born in Gateshead in 1945 and, after passing his 11-plus exam, he won a place at St Aidan’s Grammar School in 1956. The next few years saw him commuting to Wearside.

“The school drew its pupils from a wide catchment area, from the Tyne to the Tees to County Durham. Tommy still recalls making the daily bus trip into Sunderland,” said Mick.

“While at St Aidan’s he tried his hand at most sports including rugby, cricket, cross-country and athletics. He excelled at high-jump and recalls taking a hat-trick in a cricket match. He also played football, of course, and was a member of the school team. He still has fond memories of Brother Williams, who coached the boys, and saw him as a mentor.”

Tommy did not, however, spend all his time playing sport. Indeed, he was a keen member of the school choir, and during his recent visit met up with fellow chorister Tony Watson.

“It was the first time they had met in 53 years,” said Mick. “We all went for a pint after visiting the school, and Tony and Tommy were swapping stories about the old days.”

A career as an apprentice fitter and turner awaited Tommy after he left St Aidan’s in July 1959, although he continued his sporting activities with a place on Wrekenton Juniors team.

“He was doing ship repair works at a yard in Dunston at the time, but being watched by several professional clubs. Eventually he signed for Arsenal for £20 a week wages,” said Mick.

Tommy made his league debut in a 3-0 defeat over Birmingham City in April 1965 and, in September 1966, he scored Arsenal’s first ever goal in the League Cup competition.

“Shortly after this he left Arsenal for Chelsea, in an exchange involving George Graham. George was later to become a legendary manager for Arsenal,” said Mick.

Tommy went on to score 17 goals in his first Chelsea season, including one on his debut against Manchester City, and also played in the 1967 FA Cup Final – which Chelsea lost.

“He was a front runner whose high work rate was rewarded with two England Under-23 caps, when he played against Italy and Germany on a 1968 summer tour,” said Mick.

“Although he was on the losing side in the 1967 FA Cup Final, he was successful just a few years later, when Chelsea beat Leeds United 2-1 in a replay to win the cup in 1970.

“And he was also part of the team which beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the European Cup Winners Cup final replay in Athens the following year.”

However, thigh and achilles tendon trouble, combined with a loss of form and disagreements with the club manager, saw Tommy’s playing opportunities reduced over the next season.

After spells on loan at Manchester United, Millwall and non-league Gravesend & Northfleet, Tommy eventually joined the coaching staff at Brentford.

“He made 239 appearances for Chelsea, scoring 91 goals,” said Mick. “After retiring from English football he played for Seattle Sounders in the North American Soccer League.

“But Tommy wasn’t just a footballer, he was also part of the Swinging Sixties scene, when the King’s Road in Chelsea was at the centre of the fashion world.

“He joined forces with friends including Cathy McGowan of Ready Steady Go, Chelsea’s Charlie Cook and Gabriel Lewis, the ex-wife of Michael Crawford, to open a boutique there.”

Tommy went on to run a pub at Hampton Court and is today retired and living in Brighton. He is still a regular at Chelsea matches, however, and keeps fit playing golf.

“It was great to welcome him back to St Aidan’s,” said Mick. “He thought it had changed a lot since his time, but he really enjoyed coming back.”

** Wearside Echoes (@WearsideEchoes) will be taking a closer look at the people named in the St Aidan’s Hall of Fame over the next few weeks.