THE death of Queen Elizabeth touches us all in many ways.
Memories of our own lives go hand-in-hand with hers because her reign was so long.
I remember the street parties for the Coronation in 1953. London’s East End was still recovering from the ravages of World War Two.
Rationing had been a huge part of my childhood. The taste of the jam sandwiches we had that day still lingers. To us kids in Poplar, it felt like we were in heaven.
My wife Sandra and I shall be watching the funeral on Monday with a heavy touch of sadness. We are royalists and believe in the monarchy.
Throughout my working life in football, I have been fortunate enough to meet quite a number of our Royal Family.
My memories are fuzzy but I think we tried to stage a late comeback for the boys — but believe we lost. Then again, Arsenal were untouchable in those days.
It’s an honour to have made the acquaintance of Prince Charles through the Prince’s Trust, Camilla too. I also met Princess Anne as a part of her valuable work with the disabled.
When you work in top-level football it can lead to occasions like that, rubbing shoulders with royals. And I found them all extremely charming.
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The Queen will always be remembered for her passion for horse racing. That was her sport.
It remains mine too. And it led to some surprise consequences when I spent time in the company of Princess Beatrice, Prince Andrew’s elder daughter.
At the time I was manager of Queens Park Rangers. One night I was staying in London at a hotel and my son Jamie called to ask if I fancied joining him and a few of his pals for dinner.
I joined the crowd at the table and it was a lovely evening. A young lady was sitting next to me and she struck up a conversation.
She mentioned my well-known passion for horse racing, so of course I went off on one — like a thoroughbred out of the stalls.
I told her all about my upbringing, how my nan was a bookie’s runner back in the old days.
At the time, gambling was illegal other than at a racecourse. But my nan Maggie Brown collected scraps of paper from all the other old ladies on the estate, with their wagers scribbled down. The papers were folded up and my nan would drop them into Cyril the paper boy’s bag.
I say boy, he was about sixty! He used to walk the streets calling out, ‘Star, News And Standard’ to sell copies.
Cyril wore a shirt and a tie and always had immaculately polished black shoes. Anyway, I hope you can picture the scene.
From time to time the police would have to do their duty and my nan would get arrested.
Every so often she was carted off in a Black Maria — a police van.
At Poplar nick she would get a slap on the wrist and then be released to come straight back out on the streets and resume her little sideline.
So I was telling all my shady family secrets to this young girl and she said, ‘Oh, my grandmother loves horse racing too’.
She added, ‘When she won the Gold Cup a couple of years ago, she was absolutely delighted’.
This instantly rang alarm bells in my brain and I traced back through my increasingly suspect memory, thinking, ‘What on Earth had she meant?’
People win ON the Gold Cup but to win THE Gold Cup is something else entirely. I sifted back through time and remembered a couple of years previously the Queen had won the Gold Cup.
It was then that it finally dawned on me that I was sitting in a London restaurant telling tales from my murky past to a pretty senior member of our Royal Family.
If I am honest, I still wasn’t sure what her name was or who she was directly related to, but I knew it was time to up the level of my conversation!
So we chatted on about racing — and by now I had more of an idea that I was sitting next to a major figure of the British establishment.
I left the young ones to it a bit later on, left the restaurant and went back to the hotel.
The next morning Jamie rang me and said, ‘You still have no clue who that was you were talking to last night, do you?’
Of course I knew she was a relative of the Queen — but it still needed my son to provide me with a name. I was pretty embarrassed, for sure.
The Queen never missed Ascot, it was a huge part of her life — and it will take horse racing some time to get over her loss.
I feel it, like much of the country does.
But we should maintain our traditions here in Great Britain, we have so much to be proud of.