December 12 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, September 19, 2013
In 2011 reporter PETER WALSH appealed for people from Norwich with memories of former Canaries star Justin Fashanu to come forward as part of a new book. Their contributions helped author Nick Baker create Forbidden Forward, a candid insight into the tragically short life of Britain’s first million pound black footballer and the first to come out as being gay.
But in his early days at Norwich Fashanu had a problem with parking tickets and spent much of his time away from the football pitch taking part in cricket matches in the Norfolk countrysdide, which he should not have done under the terms of his Carrow Road contract.
When he first started playing regularly for the Norwich first team, Fashanu was reportedly earning around £500 a week. That was big bucks for an 18-year-old. With that kind of cash flowing into his pockets, it wasn’t long before he moved out of Flint House and rented a small apartment in the centre of town. The newfound freedom suited him. With more money than he’d ever possessed before, Fashanu decked out his wardrobe with an array of designer clothes and as soon as he’d passed his driving test bought a sports car. Les Hammond says the footballer looked extremely proud the day he rolled up to Flint House in a gleaming, spanking new orange MGB GT. When Hammond asked Fashanu to take him for a spin, however, he would live to regret it. As they were speeding down a country lane half an hour later, one of Fashanu’s Cuban heels got stuck under the accelerator. As the car hurtled towards a sharp bend in the road, only quick thinking from Hammond prevented the car, and perhaps its passengers, from being obliterated. Yanking on the handbrake and pulling the keys from the ignition, the car came to a stop just in the nick of time. Hammond soon discovered that Fashanu’s driving skills were definitely not on par with his football ones and the MGB was soon covered with all kinds of dents. Fashanu blamed other drivers but Hammond knew better.
Fashanu also seemed to have a problem with parking tickets. In short, he never paid them. The footballer seemed to believe that because he was now a local celebrity he could park his car wherever he liked. As the tickets started piling up, only a few choice words from Fashanu’s mentor Ronnie Brooks seemed to get through to him and he finally paid up. As someone who was renowned for being polite and respectful his compulsion to disregard the law seems at odds with his character. Like many young people who came into money, Fashanu was only having a good time with it but along with that he adopted a level of irresponsibility. Parking fines and refusing to pay them is something that would hound him for the rest of his life and it shows the complexity of his character. Money and holding on to it is something else that would cause him strife.
Brooks was not only a football scout but also a local magistrate, and one of the few people who Justin listened to. After Fashanu signed for Norwich City the two became instantly close and Fashanu regularly turned up at the Brooks’ house unannounced. Ronnie’s wife Stephanie didn’t mind. She adored Fashanu just as much as her husband. Brooks was one of a number of men in Justin’s life who would become a father figure of sorts. Before Brooks it had been Gordon Holmes. Brooks understood football inside out and realised the pressures Fashanu faced. He was often a good sounding board in times of stress. The same service was extended to John Fashanu who was also close to him. Despite having a loving foster family, it seems that Justin was not able to get over his own father leaving. Looking for a father figure to replace his dad would be a reoccurring theme throughout his life.
Failure to comply with the country’s parking regulations is not the only thing Brooks assisted the footballer with. Training was another area. He regularly volunteered his time to help Fashanu practice his shooting skills, but if the striker was late for a session then Brooks went ballistic. He dedicated hours of his time throwing footballs over Justin’s shoulder and getting the striker to turn and volley them against the gym wall with both feet. There’s no doubt that these sessions really helped the footballer develop. Fashanu was naturally right-footed but was soon equally proficient with his left. Brooks acknowledged: ‘Justin was the biggest find of my life. One can’t hope that that type of youngster will come again in a lifetime.’ No kidding.
John Bond didn’t know it but while Fashanu was signed as a Canary he sometimes played club cricket too, Les Hammond first introducing him to the game. Hammond played for Attleborough Cricket Club and if he ever found himself short of players then he’d ask Fashanu to make up the numbers. Contractually, as a Norwich City player, Justin was banned from taking part in any other sports, but he always did Hammond this favour provided no photographs were taken. The last thing he needed was for Bond to see him in a local newspaper holding a bat. Not that he had much impact on the cricket field, however. It was the one sport where his skills were greatly lacking, his versatility with his feet failing to translate well into cricket. Whenever Fashanu was placed near the boundary, instead of stopping the ball with his hands and throwing it directly to the wicket keeper he’d stop the ball with his feet and try to flick it up. Wasted seconds meant more runs for the opposition.
Like all good amateur cricket teams, Attleborough usually started every game by warming up with a pint or three at the local pub. One Sunday morning the team was playing an away match at a small village just outside Norwich. As Hammond ordered a round of drinks at the bar he heard loud giggles coming from the adjoining room. Going in to investigate there was a group of people standing around Fashanu who was flicking pickled onions off the bar with his foot and catching them on the back of his head. As usual, the youngster was revelling in the attention.
Indeed, bizarre incidents seemed to follow Fashanu wherever he played cricket, like the time he and Hammond were on the way to a match in Felthorpe. The two men were being driven by a teammate in an old Vauxhall Viva van when they got hopelessly lost. Spotting an elderly couple at the side of the country lane ahead, Hammond instructed Fashanu to ask them for directions. Once the van had stopped the footballer thrust open the rear doors and jumped out. But before he could utter a word the couple had turned on their heels and ran. In quiet, rural Felthorpe, the older couple didn’t recognise one of the UK’s rising football starts, thinking instead they were about to be abducted. True to form, Fashanu thought it was hilarious.
To see the story behind how Fashanu became Britain’s first million pound black player, see tomorrow’s pap
Forbidden Forward, which is published by Reid publishing, is out now and available at Waterstones or via www.justinfashanustory.com for £14.99.