My best teacher

19th January 2001 at 00:00
The story so far

1954 Born Scunthorpe

1973 Makes debut for Northampton. Footballing career continues with Aston Villa, Brighton, Queens Park Rangers and Derby County

1974 First child, Luisa, is born. Stewart (1977) and Isabella (1995) follow 1983 Plays for England (six caps altogether)

1998 Becomes manager of Aston Villa (after managerial positions with Portsmouth and Wycombe Wanderers)

1998-1999 Aston Villa win 12 consecutive games at the start of the season and top the Premier League until Christmas. The team ends the season sixth 1999-2000 Aston Villa become FA Cup runners-up and finish sixth in the league again

After the 11-plus I was pleased that Longsands college, the local comprehensive in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, was to be my future alongside many of my friends.

Easily my most inspirational teacher there was the head of PE, a charismatic man called Ivor Hunter. He was formidable, almost a legendary figure. A good local footballer and a big Bolton Wanderers fan, Ivor taught me in his own unique way that I really could achieve in sport.

He was a hard taskmaster who called everyone "laddy". Invariably wearing a tracksuit from college days at Loughborough, he was a vision in lilac. Ivor Hunter used to run everywhere and I would see him careering towards me saying, "Now then Gregory laddy," as bodies rapidly dispersed in all directions.

For the cost of a penny, teams could enter Ivor's Christmas four-a-side football tournament in the Old Gym. In my first year at Longsands I was asked to play in a team with footballers from the fourth year. We were favourites, but we didn't win the cup. In fact, I never won the cup, but it was a real laugh.

I vividly remember a time Ivor frightened the life out of me. Cross-country running was my second sport, as God gave me a great set of lungs and I could run for ages without tiring. One day, running the usual route, I entered the woods. Suddenly, he jumped out from nowhere and grabbed me by the arms. "Gregor laddy, you're going to win the cross-country championships," he declared, shaking me forcibly. It was a veiled threat, but it worked and it was in running that I got my first medal.

It happened when I was 13. I was racing in the senior championships against 16 and 17-year-olds. If you finished in the first three you got a medal. I was running a hard race in third, but on the last leg I could see three boys in front of me. I hit the finishing line feeling bewildered and defeated. The mystery was quickly resolved and third-place handed back to its rightful owner - me. One of the boys had been hiding in the woods and joined in at the end. The teachers caught him out. I still have the medal today.

Something I got away with at school for three months involved an unused cupboard under the stairs. Six of us would skip lessons and hide in this secret den with supplies of crisps and sweets.

We were playing truant within the school building and it felt great. We used surreptitious methods such as secret entrance procedures and we really thought no one would catch us. But one day as I headed there I discovered a teacher guarding the entrance (fortunately not Ivor): our hideout had been discovered. Maintaining our cover, we passed the secret code around the group in an instant, "Harry's been found, pass it on." Sounds like something from an old war film, but it worked and no one was caught.

My schooldays are summed up by the word "sport". First there was my love of football and running, strongly encouraged by Ivor Hunter, and secondly all the good times I had. Although, having said that, I really couldn't wait to leave, yet six months later I missed it terribly.

Returning to Longsands in 1999 for the annual presentation evening was quite an experience. Pulling into the car park and seeing the place again was strange, but standing on the main stage after 30 years really was a very nostalgic and tearful moment.

Football manager John Gregory was talking to Paula Barnett


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