How I nearly got Ken Loach and Richard Littlejohn in the same team

I think I'll give up following football. Or at least give up telling people I follow football. Last week I was so shanned. That's a Carlisle expression, one I've never heard used elsewhere. But once you say it, people say, oh, my grannie in Cambuslang always said shanned, or, my nan in Dublin used it all the time, or, in downtown Gaberone it's common parlance. It means ashamed, shown up, embarrassed, and can be active or passive, transitive or intransitive, not that I know the difference. So an embarrassing situation will be a "queer shan", and you yourself will be "shanned to deeth".

Months ago, I had my arm twisted to take part in a Barnardo's football quiz. It's an annual event, apparently, very popular, raises lots of money for Barnardo's, usually around £20,000, and is good fun all round, allegedly. This year, it was taking place at White Hart Lane, home of the famous Spurs. I didn't really know what it meant, though I do know about Barnardo's, which 98 per cent of the population don't. In the 1930s, there were 188 Barnardo's homes. Now there are how many? Go on, guess. The answer is none. Barnardo's today is huge, with 5,000 full-time staff, but they're into projects not homes.

Then I forgot about it, thinking 21 March would never come. About a month ago, I was reminded that I'd promised not just to take part, but to raise a team of five people who like football. Oh no. Who do I know? Where do I go? So I sat down, sucked my pencil.

I wrote to eight people, hoping four would sign up. There was Alastair Campbell, who's always going on about Burnley, and Melvyn Bragg, my Cumbrian chum, who supports Arsenal. Then Richard Littlejohn of the Sun and Matthew Norman of the Guardian, who both support Spurs. Then Brian Viner of the Independent, who's an Everton fan, and Jim White of the Guardian, who supports Man Utd. I also asked my neighbour Ken Loach, the film-maker, who's been a director of Bath City. We live in back-to-back houses. I use his outside lav and he keeps his coal in my bath. No, I mean his lovely house backs on to my lovely house.

I also wrote to Pat Jennings, thinking I needed a real celeb. Melvyn said sorry, he'd be away on holiday in Egypt with his wife. That was interesting. He doesn't normally like going on foreign hols. Alastair Campbell and Matthew Norman never replied - but I'm not fingering them, they probably never got the letter, as they do lead such busy lives. The other five all said yes, at once, which was good. When I told Ken Loach, he said he wasn't all that keen to meet Littlejohn, not caring for some of his political views. I said Littlejohn's a nice bloke, got a lovely wife. Then, fortunately, Littlejohn decided he liked the idea of the quiz so much that he'd set up his own team. Phew.

I gave Ken a lift to Spurs and learnt that his latest film, Sweet Sixteen, which he's now dubbing, has a football connection. It's about a boy of 16 in Greenock with a mum in prison. All the people in the film are real people, with no acting experience. By chance, the boy they looked at for the lead part was also applying for something else at the same time - to be a professional footballer. And got both. He now plays for Greenock Morton, and stars in the film. Martin Compston, he's called. If he does well at both, I wonder which he'll choose, in the years ahead.

We got to Spurs, to one of their hospitality places, and it was heaving, with about 200 people. I'd expected sweaty England shirts, big beer bellies, but they were mostly office types, many from the City, who'd got together an office team. The team at the next table to us was called Baddiel Utd, featuring David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. The latter did the auction at half-time, and was excellent, funny without ever being rude or obscene. What an achievement. There was utter concentration as Eleanor Oldroyd of BBC Radio started to read out the questions. I was convinced I'd do well, having spent half my life watching football.

"I was born on 11 September 1945 and first played for my country in 1965 - who am I?" That question earned five points, if you got it right, without any other clues. Bloody hell. Who can possibly know that? The answer was Franz Beckenbauer.

There was another equally hard one. "I was born in Sacriston in 1933 and my first team was Langley Park." The answer was Bobby Robson. Ken got that right, amazingly. Back in l973, he shot a film, Days of Hope, in Langley Park, and Bobby Robson's father had a part.

"Steve Hodge has kept it in a bank vault for many years and it is now worth £100,000 - what is it?" The answer was Maradona's Hand of God shirt, which both Brian Viner and Jim White knew. Well, their brains are young. Thanks to them, our team did quite well, coming about halfway, but I was hopeless.

Though I cheered up when there was a 1966 World Cup Final question. "Hurst got his hat-trick with his right foot, his left foot and his head, true or false?" I'll answer this, I said, no probs, I was there, wasn't I, and I also watched a film of the match only the other week. Trust me. I could see in my mind two of his shots, but I couldn't remember his header, so I wrote down "False". And got it wrong. Oh gawd. What a shan.

Pat Jennings didn't turn up in the end, though he sent a pair of his gloves, which were auctioned for £250. I'd boasted that he was coming, so people kept coming to our table for his autograph, which was a bit embarrassing. What with that and my appalling ignorance, I'd have to say the evening was a big success for Barnardo's, but for me I'd have to call it a double shan.

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