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Gaywood's Peter Mendham tells of the good and bad times




He was the local boy made good. A Gaywood lad who went to the big city and became a footballing star.

But as his autobiography In His Own Words, Peter Mendham, On The Inside, recounts those good times have been more than counterbalanced by the not-so-good, culminating in him being sent to prison for a terrible knife attack on his girlfriend that nearly killed her.

So we hear about his early life here in Lynn in the 60s and 70s, how he signed up for Norwich City and eventually got his big break eventually ending with him playing in a Wembley cup final for them.

Peter Mendham Life on the Inside (21191364)
Peter Mendham Life on the Inside (21191364)

His career is cut short by injury but he bounces back playing for a short time for the Linnets before making another Wembley appearance with the FA Vase-winning Diss Town team in 1994 and then by becoming the public face of the East Anglian Air Ambulance, for whom he raised millions of pounds.

But disaster was awaiting him in October 2006 when he attacked his girlfriend and he was charged with attempted murder.

It all started here in Lynn and Gaywood in particular is still a place that he feels has formed him.

"If you ask a Gaywood man or woman if they're from Lynn, they'll look at you in a funny way and say,'No, I'm from Gaywood'," Mendham says at the start of this book.

Carrow Road, home of Norwich City FC. (21196727)
Carrow Road, home of Norwich City FC. (21196727)

Slightly confusingly though, wherever his parents Bill and Molly originated, he actually spent his early years in the heart of Lynn in Regent Street and then the family moved to the Grange Estate in South Wootton. His connection to Gaywood is through schooling as he father insisted he go to Gaywood Park School.

He writes: "Our new house was in the catchment area of a local secondary modern school known as Alderman Catleugh, but unlike all of my mates on my road, I didn't go there and wouldn't have done even if I'd wanted to. No, my fate was to go to the notorious Gaywood Park school, locally renowned for being just about the toughest school with the hardest, meanest and most streetwise intake you could think of. And that was just the teachers. No seriously, Gaywood Park did have a reputation at the time for being the school where all the local hard nuts went, or at least the school where they were meant to be if they weren't bunking off and hanging out in the town centre. I knew that I was, like all of my mates, meant to be going along to Alderman Catleugh school when I was 11 but was told by my dad, who I'm sure had gone in to have a quiet word with the school's headmaster, that, regardless of the fact we weren't in his school's catchment area, we were a Gaywood family and I'd therefore be going to a Gaywood school. It might also, of course, have had something to do with the fact that Dad thought I needed toughening up a bit and if he was thinking that I would, like him, end up working at King's Lynn docks, then it wasn't so much an academic education that I needed as one that would leave me streetwise and able to look after myself."

So off to Gaywood Park he was packed despite the fact it catered for the Fairstead Estate, which Mendham recalls "unfortunately housed a few undesirables, many of them were reputedly set there by assorted London councils keen to get them off their hands and make them someone else's problem ... given the choice then, most local families would have sent their children to Alderman Catleugh. But not my dad, it was Gaywood Park for me and that was the end of it".

Mendham is at pains to paint a good picture of his dad and that he loved him.

But at the very least, he seems a bit of a challenging parent. A working class product of his times who would never allow his wife to work, he was handy with his leather belt, as Mendham recalls and Mendham admits he was often reduced to cowering under the table as his father and his older brother fought.

And he recounts an extraordinary tale about the death of his beloved grandmother, who had taken him to The Walks when he was young to watch the Linnets.

Excitedly arriving back in Lynn after time away training with Norwich after he signed, he told his dad that he was off to see his grandparents to tell them all about it.

He writes: "He then broke the news to me that my grandmother had passed away, but not only that, they'd already had the funeral."

Mendham gives him (and his mother I guess) the benefit of the doubt but it seemed cruel to me. He was only a phone call and a bus ride away in Norwich.

But the worst thing that Mendham recounts is the abuse he had suffered with a friend of his father's away on camping trips at Heacham.

What effect this continued to have down the years can't be said but his loss of control years later when he nearly killed his girlfriend surely had some origins in the unresolved anger he felt over that abuse. His abuser was never confronted. Worse to please his father, Mendham actually visits the man on his death bed to day goodbye (although he does mention almost in passing that shortly before his father's death he did tell him about the abuse and "he was glad that I told him").

This book splits into three really. His early years, which from a Lynn perspective are quite interesting. His footballing years, which are rather standard footballing autobiography fare about matches won and lost, although Mendham does seem to have pre-empted the modern-day Premier League players of today by having a bit of an obsession with what he was paid compared to others (his fury at Mike Phelan coming in on a higher wage from Fourth Division Burnley still rankles clearly).

And then finally the attack on his girlfriend and his time in jail, which is all dealt with rather briefly in the last 25 pages of what is a short book anyway (244 pages).

I think Mendham gives an honest enough account from his viewpoint; he acknowledges the crime he committed against his girlfriend, although the court of public opinion will probably hold that he was lucky not in the end to be charged with attempted murder but was instead jailed for wounding with intent. His seven-and-a-half year sentence was reduced on appeal to five,which he at least seems to think was fair, although his girlfriend who lost a kidney in the attack may feel different.

His account of how he came to be sent back to jail after coming out on licence for contacting the victim was not what I remembered was reported at the time, but who am I to say.

On the whole, despite the horror of the attack, Mendham comes over as rather hapless. Things seem to go wrong quite often, usually not through any fault of his (injury ends his professional career at 28; when he returns to his home town club of King's Lynn, they run out of money and he has to leave as he hasn't got paid).

But although often the victim of circumstance, he doesn't always seem to help himself and is easily swayed. A brief 'strike' over his perceived poor pay at the Canaries sees him cave in when manager Ken Brown tells him that the boys are missing him. Perhaps he was always trying to please that father figure.

Written with writer Edward Couzens-Lake, I can't help feeling the book occasionally needed a third voice to comment and contextualise what Mendham writes (yes,I know it is an autobiography, but Couzens-Lake does chip in from time to time with fan-like comments).

This would have helped particularly in the part of the book about the stabbing of his girlfriend, which gets rather less analysis than earlier bits did about South-East Counties League form of the 1970s.

As much of the book is a straightforward gallop through Mendham's footballing career with hardly anything said about his adult private life (a first wife is mentioned and then declared an ex-wife without any proper explanation of what went wrong). It seems odd not to include a stats section detailing his playing career (267 first-team games for Norwich). Surely that's de rigeur in this sort of book.

The prose about the football will obviously appeal to City fans most but rarely gets beyond the superficial. Everyone is a good bloke and a great player, and if they're not (Martin Chivers is described as being "uncomfortable" at Carrow Road) no explanation is given for the problems.

But that is more a criticism of the genre really and why I rarely wholly enjoy autobiographies, particularly sporting ones.

Having said that, there is plenty to be taken from the book, and fans of Norwich City will certainly enjoy much of the nostalgia invoked by the names from an earlier era which now seems a thousand years ago. But it is certainly a story with a twist in the tale.

In His OwnWords; Life on the Inside by Peter Mendham with Edward Couzens-Lake is published by Pitch Publishing and sells for £19.99.



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