OPINION: A combined sports contest would strengthen county links

Kings Lynn - boys playing a game of conkers - pic taken 13th oct 1969 m12527-41a - pic to be used in

King's Lynn boys playing a game of conkers in 1969 - the sport would be prefect for a Norfolk v Suffolk games, says Keith - Credit: Archant

Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft have savoured countless flirtations despite obvious rivalries and occasional spats over important matters like football, fishing and ratings on the More-Fashionable-for-Tourists ladder.

The latest bout of “Yartoft” philandering features a bold campaign to join forces in search of UK City of Culture status in 2027. It may be hard to see how two towns can combine for a “city” honour – but I note Cornwall and Isles of Scilly are also partners on a list of contenders.

A race for a year-long place in the publicity sun was set in motion to build on Liverpool’s selection as European Capital of Culture in 2008 with economic and social benefits flowing across the Mersey.

Derry, in Northern Ireland, claimed the inaugural City of Culture crown in 2013, when Norwich made the shortlist, with Hull taking the honours four years later and Coventry currently relishing a spell in the spotlight.

While our coastal cohorts continue to lobby for shared recognition, I would like to float another adventurous idea to enhance Norfolk-Suffolk links beyond relish for excellent breweries, dialect delights, suspicion of newcomers and memories of Paul Lambert.


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Time for my special Olympic-me-up. The most celebrated sports festival in the world must be prepared for an overhaul, a new set of values, a fresh series of events in which ordinary mortals like you and I can excel.

Don’t worry if the only floor exercise you can manage is scrubbing the kitchen tiles and individual foil means preparing the chicken for Sunday dinner. Or synchronised diving takes over when you open an expensive box of chocolates.

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Perhaps a three-day event is a binge that leaves you with a Monday hangover and the hundred metres is your idea of a good working title for a gasman’s memoirs. Our “Norfsuff” Olympiad will be right up your lane, based on belief that taking part is more important than winning.

There’s no shortage of suitable venues in both counties and scope for stretching blindfold relay races and cross-country skateboarding across the Waveney border, especially as Suffolk could be invited to foot the bill for this entire extravaganza.

Nelson’s County must stage traditional competitions deemed worthy of keeping, like caber tossing at Wood Rising, 1500 metres at Mileham, rowing at Sculthorpe , long-distance walking at Limpenhoe and chicken-plucking at Great Moulton.

Suffolk specialities ought to include welly-whanging at Worlingham, obstacle race at Blundeston, baseball at Letheringham , angling at Codenham, floodlit plunging at Dunwich and metal-detecting at Sutton Hoo.

Village cricketers, obviously, hope their favourite sport will be on the menu. It was included in the 1900 Olympic Games but has not been invited to bat an eyelid since. Croquet came and went with no hoop of more invitations. Now, if Hunstanton gets the nod, that charming sport could return.

The tug-of-war made its mark in 1908. The United States team then complained that Liverpool Police were wearing illegal boots with spikes. Reedham, eight miles from Great Yarmouth, is the natural setting for a muscle-bulging revival. Reedham Vikings pulled in plenty of backing not long ago.

So, that old-fashioned local spirit will be on draught -- but the big breakthrough should come in the shape of cheerful winners we have known and loved since childhood. Conkers, marbles, hopscotch, flicking cigarette cards, spinning the top, bowling the hoop, sliding in hobnail boots, three-legged race, cheese rolling, sword dancing – ideal material for the Homely Games.

Riches as well for a fringe festival of demonstration events with rural winners like bowling for the coypu, drenching the wench, pinning tail on the donkey, tossing pancakes, leaping the ditch, hunting for your glasses and getting out of the washing-up.

Morris dancing, darts, cribbage, phat, whist and dwile- flonking must earn backing, but ferrets down the trousers for scratch competitors and a four-horse hunnycart race for fully paid-up members of the Boadicea Woadrunners Club could face opposition from purists and health-and-safety sticklers.

Same applies to synchronised slimming, underwater fencing, bypass bartering, roadworks dodging, knockin’ and toppin’, sensitive hedge cutting, all-day drinking, burning bridges, random incinerating and Greco-Roman wrestling under a full moon at Caistor St Edmund on St George’s Day.

It remains to be seen if and when a firm bid goes ahead to put on the first parochial – powered sporting spectacular. If Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft can successfully transform themselves into a cultural city, the Homely Games are bound to clear all hurdles.

Spike Milligan

Spike Milligan - Credit: PA

Skip's Aside: There’s a grain of eccentricity within us all. The trick is to let it ripen into the gloriously outlandish without trampling on every accepted standard of behaviour.

Perhaps the best eccentrics are those who amuse as much as amaze. Fairly gentle souls who provoke a feeling of envy among their audience. “Oh, I wish I had the courage to say something like that!” or “How on earth do they get away with it?” are common coinage as a select few dispense their liberated largesse.

Good comedians can easily turn into bad judges of human nature through one insult too many , one profanity too far, so breaking that bond of affection and trust they had carefully nurtured.

Some eccentrics do drift towards the spotlight but the majority of acts stick to the real world blissfully unaware in many cases they are offering an alternative to long-accepted conventions .

“If he knew he was an eccentric, he would stop being one” is a tantalising summary I stored away after a childhood meeting with a Norfolk gentleman of the road – “a milestone inspector” said my father – as he passed through the village.

It didn’t occur to me to ask if choice or circumstance dictated his way of life. He was free, uninhibited and worthy of attention. He quoted long passages from the Old Testament, wore a red rose in his buttonhole and acknowledged everyone he met. We admired rather than pitied as he marched on his cheerful way, probably to the next workhouse.

I tried to interview Spike Milligan on the wireless several years back. He elevated eccentricity to an art form and made a lucrative living from it … although he admitted to suffering long periods of depression.

His firecracker mind sparked Goon Show scripts into zany life. “That must have been a wonderful experience” I enthused. “NO!” he bellowed. “It was sheer bloody murder! Sitting in a room trying to come up with funny lines week after week is no way to earn a living”.

That line has come back to haunt me now and again.

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