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GUY HENDERSON: We need a Norman in the camp

By Herald Express  |  Posted: May 30, 2014

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They raised their hats in black and white delight when Sweden scored a goal. The men in collars and ties blew great clouds of cigarette smoke into the air and cheered wildly. Women in headscarves bit their nails as Brazil attacked, and held their heads in their hands as Pele scored.

It was the television discovery of the week, and if it comes on again before the 2014 World Cup begins a fortnight today, I will probably watch it again.

The official film of the 1958 World Cup tournament in Sweden was on TV the other evening.

We weren't going to bother watching it, but after a couple of minutes we were hooked.

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The official FIFA World Cup films are great, because they feature the kind of match action footage you only ever used to see in the little newsreel round-ups they showed in the cinema before the feature film.

They feature commentary that says things like: "...and there goes Garrincha, flying down the wing. And it's one in the eye for the defender as Zagalo scores once more."

It's pure gold.

Once upon a time the Herald Express was the leading newspaper in the country for access into the England camp.

This is true, and here's why.

At the time of the 1990 World Cup in Italy a gentleman called Norman Medhurst was the England physio, the man who ran on with a bucket and sponge when one of the players went down hurt.

Norman was also the Torquay United physio at the time, and equally adept at treating the tweaked calf of a Daral Pugh or a Mark Loram as he was at drying Gazza's tears or making sure Gary Lineker's sharp-shooting feet were in proper sharp-shooting nick.

Norman, being a splendid and always-approachable bloke, spoke to us at length before the squad jetted off to Italy for the tournament. We quizzed him about his job and about the England squad, about what it was like to work with the great manager Bobby Robson.

We joked about the differences between roaming the touchline on a rain-lashed night at Darlington in his capacity as Gulls physio and the comfy seats at pitchside at the Maracana or some other such huge international arena.

Then, when Norman went to Italy with the team, he said he would ring us for a chat from time to time, to add some colour to our World Cup coverage.

There were no mobile phones to be had in 1990, so we had to rely on Norman calling the newsroom, and we guessed that however much he wanted to speak to his local newspaper, his schedule would unavoidably mean that he wouldn't be able to do this.

Surprise and delight all round, then, when the phone rang the afternoon before England's opening match against the Republic of Ireland in Cagliari, and it turned out to be Mr Medhurst himself, calling from the payphone in the lobby of the team hotel.

He sounded as if he was speaking from just down the road, and we chatted about training, accommodation, food and the long leisure hours the players had to fill with ping-pong, Len Deighton novels and dips in the hotel pool.

We touched on team selection, but we weren't expecting any exclusives, or at least we weren't until we asked Norman if he thought Wolves striker Steve Bull might get a game.

"He'll be on the bench," said Norman. "We've just had a training game, with the starting eleven and the subs wearing different coloured bibs."

It was then just a small step until we had the confirmed starting line-up and subs for the following evening's match. Paul Gascoigne would be fit to play, which answered the question the whole nation was asking.

It was the kind of inside information the national newspapers would have killed for, and we guessed Norman quite relished the fact that his local newspaper had the exclusive everyone else was chasing. The internet was far in the future then, and there was nothing we could do with the red-hot information we had just acquired, which is probably another reason why it was so freely given.

Norman's inside track on the 1990 World Cup continued right through to the semi-finals, which is where England's campaign ended with Gazza's bitter tears.

I was chatting to him one day when he asked if I wanted to speak to any of the players.

Of course, I said, if there was any chance.

"No problem," said Norman, followed by the sound of a man looking around the hotel lobby. "Hang on, Chris Waddle's here. Have a chat with him."

And so another exclusive was born, thanks to our man embedded in the England camp.

I can't imagine such things would be possible now, with media access strictly controlled and players hidden away beneath their big plastic headphones at all times.

But wouldn't it be great to have a Norman in the camp this time around?

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