John Tondeur - The Wonder Years (aka 101 great throw-ins)

Cod Almighty | Article

by Tony Butcher

28 March 2024

Approaching the twentieth anniversary of the Thundercliffe interviews, and just after the announcement of the end of the Tondeur era, we asked Sir John to sit down with our match reporter and break some bread (actually in reality a big plate of chocolate hobnobs brought in by Mrs T).

John opened the door, John duly sat down in a very comfy chair, and John talked for a couple of hours. There’s gold in these black and white remembered hills but first, as an hors d’oeuvre, a little précis from Tony about his audience with Mr T.

Thursday 21 March 2024. A normal day, on a normal road, in a normal house but an extraordinary opportunity to speak with Mr John Tondeur, an omnipresent aural presence in all our Mariners lives. John's been the only voice of Town for anyone under 50, those lucky youngsters who never experienced the Dave Gibbons Flying Circus, or Charles Ekberg's proto-Fast Show ramblings: "Today I shall mostly be talking about Watmough's biscuit factory!" Yes Charles, but was Wiggy offside when he headed it in at the far post?

Don't get him started on the 'legend' of Charles Ekberg...

Other eulogies have gone through the same old things as if John only existed from 1984 and then only in our ears. But there's much, much more to the voice of Town than sighing when the third Wrexham goal goes in or asking Hursty/Sladey/Woodsy/Buckley-ey for their thoughts. He's been places, he's done things, he's seen (and heard) things you people wouldn't believe.

And boy did we roam around the region, the times, the places, the people and, you know, we just kept coming back to the old adage: you're only one degree of separation from anybody in Grimsby. Or Cleethorpes.

Those two hours have been filleted to remove (most of) my blitherings and blatherings, for this is about John, not about me. We've broken it down into three parts – and even taken out some of the more recherché musings, such as his first encounter with a tipsy Paul Thundercliffe ("You're John Tondeur!"); not listening to that Notts County play-off game whilst sat in his car in an industrial estate somewhere in Luton; the egregious misdeeds of the modern footballer, particularly foul throws and time wasting; Archie Benton and his Triumph Spitfire; his sadness at the dementia epidemic in old footballers; and pathetic performative fandom and social media meltdowns.

We also realised there were near misses in real life as we both attended the same school (Yes, there were still outside toilets at Welholme in the late 70s, John); Mrs T almost taught me (she's just a little too young and missed me by a couple of years); and he almost certainly gave a penalty to Humberston County when I was 'tripped' in the penalty area away at Strand in 1975 (I admit now it was an enhanced tumble over a gawky knee). That's just idle chit-chat of passing interest to a handful of people, so that isn't in the final version.

This is about John, remember.

We wanted to explore the real John, human being, from boy to broadcaster. Was he any good as a footballer? Who has he taught? Is he a fan of Rush? (he gave the correct answer) What gets his footballing goat? Just like players on away trips, did he have to share a room with Burnsy? And what about all those managers and the fraughtness of the Fridge Magnate Years?

So many questions, so many interesting and surprising answers. There's a theme running through John's life and this interview like a stick of Grimsby rock – what it all means. What we had, what we lost and what we're trying to get back. And who is doing it. It's about football, but it's more than that, it's about life in our northern town.

But there is stuff you definitely do want to know. There were three things John was particularly keen to bring to your attention as WORLD EXCLUSIVES (ish) being…you'll just have to read the interviews, won't you.

Oh, OK then, one little teaser. Dear and sometimes gentle readers, we'll bring you the TRUTH! FACT! Stand by for the fullest story yet of the liberation struggle of 2022. When a shadowy band of beer-drinking brothers led the Defentystration of the ancien regime.

So we'll know who to put in The Burghers of Blundell Park, the modernist sculpture to be erected outside the Ticket Office, or perhaps atop the Main Stand, just above the Press Box – depicting some men in a Zoom meeting over the inscription "Who's Alex May?"

I went to John's and came back with some songs and laughter and jokes old and new. I hope this entertains you. No, we know this will entertain you – a lived life that went from Heneage Road to the heights of Wembley and back via Tooting and, unfortunately, occasionally through Barrow. John Tondeur's been there, done that and got Rod's autograph on the way, by the way. Oh yes, and something about a local Rod too. One degree of separation again.

But you're not here for me to prattle on in a faux poetic style, you want to read what John says. And that's why we've used a simple question and answer format. Just the facts.

There we have it, the wry and dry Mr JT is Columbo, gently probing without prodding, getting to the point without unnecessary needling.

I never knew there was so much in the radio times of John Tonduer.

And just one more thing…

Don't it always seem to go you don't know what you've got till it's gone. I think we do, don't we. John Tondeur: no fuss, no favours, no showing off, just does the job.

Thanks for the memories.

And there it is, starting next Friday: John Tondeur – the Wonder Years.