Sir Alex Ferguson once said Norman Rimmington was more famous than himself. Leon Wobschall meets the Oakwell legend.
NORMAN RIMMINGTON does not like fuss. Suffice to say, he is going to have to put up with a lot of it for the next few days...
Ninety years young today and his Barnsley brogue still permeates the corridors of his beloved Oakwell, where you will find him most days helping out in the club laundry after a Reds association spanning almost seven decades.
He also finds time to pass on his views to Barnsley players whenever they filter out of the nearby dressing rooms onto the training pitch.
The exchange of banter between modern-day player and seen-it-all, done-it-all club legend is a joy to behold. It is usually ‘Rimmo’ who has the final word.
There is not much Rimmington has not done for Barnsley. From goalkeeper to coach and assistant-manager and later to groundsman, physio and kit manager.
He has also been an unofficial odd-job man. Even a part-time pest control officer on occasion.
Last Saturday, Rimmington – who signed for the Reds in 1945 – attended a gathering at Oakwell where he was joined by family, friends and football figures including ex-Reds managers Allan Clarke and Danny Wilson.
Tomorrow, Rimmington is guest of honour for the Reds home game with Birmingham City, with the match programme dedicated to him.
A presentation will also take place and he will walk onto the pitch at half-time with his 10 great-grandchildren.
There has even been talk of him leading the team out – although Rimmington has a view on that.
He said: “They (club) keep saying to me, ‘You’ll have to lead the team out.’ I just say, ‘They will have to bloody walk slow.’
“I’m not used to all this. I like to do my job and keep out of the way... apart from when I was coaching and had quite a lot to say.”
He added: “Barnsley is my life. I was born in Barnsley, have lived here and love Barnsley. I’ve had chances to leave; Allan Clarke begged me to go with him to Leeds, but I said no.”
An Oakwell institution and someone whom Sir Alex Ferguson once quipped was more famous than him, Rimmington retired from playing in 1957, with his huge bucket-sized hands providing ample evidence he was once a sturdy last line of defence in goal.
Rimmington found his true vocation in coaching, sharing wisecracks and imparting knowledge with the great and the good, including the revered ‘Boot Room’ quartet of Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Moran.
All working-class heroes like Rimmington, who, like Shankly, started working life down the pit.
Recollecting his playing days and progression into coaching, Rimmington said: “A scout called Ernest Plant watched me and thought I’d signed for Huddersfield. But I hadn’t. I was a fitter at North Gawber pit and was then invited to Barnsley in 1945 and the manager then was Angus Seed.
“He said, ‘We’ll sign you, how much are you on?’ I said, ‘If I am not signing pro, then I don’t want to bother’. They said they’d give me six games and I only played two and they signed me pro.
“I remember when I eventually left that the manager said Hartlepool wanted me. I didn’t even know where it was. I was there when Tommy Taylor was at Barnsley. I spoke to Tommy quite a lot as he was a local lad and he actually wanted to stay at Barnsley and hid at the back of the school wall there. He didn’t want to go to Manchester United.
“I eventually ended at Denaby and broke my little finger and I just said to the wife, ‘That’s enough’. I had eight fractures in my career and was fed up.”
Seed’s replacement, Tim Ward, handed Rimmington his coaching break before his successor, Johnny Steele, named him first-team coach where he rubbed shoulders with many of the game’s icons.
He added: “I remember Bill was manager of Huddersfield and Denis Law was playing for them in the Northern Intermediate League. I was playing hell about Denis getting stuck into people and I said to one of our players, ‘Get him sorted out’. Bill said, ‘You have no chance, don’t let his looks deceive you’.”
For the majority of the Sixties and Seventies, Barnsley were a club who had seen better days and it took the arrival of Clarke to rejuvenate the Reds, with Rimmington at his side, memorably in the late Seventies.
Rimmington also had a faithful companion next to him throughout the Clarke years and beyond, a cat called Snowy, and just as the man nicknamed Sniffer in Clarke had an acute sense for scoring goals, Snowy had his own gift.
Rimmington said: “I had a cat for 15 years and it used to follow me around like a dog.
“I came back one night and a bloke said he’d seen all these rabbits up the Spion Kop. I remember I leaned on the wall to get a good aim with a shotgun and I hit one and then the cat jumped on my neck. I nearly had a heart attack.
“It also used to catch rats and lay them next to Allan’s door and he used to play hell... We were infested with them at one time.”
He added: “Allan was outstanding to me. When he came, I was the groundsman and he just said, ‘I’d love you to be my physio’. I said, ‘You don’t know me, do you?’ He just said, ‘I’ve heard of you’ and said I’d been recommended.
“I said to him that I enjoyed being the groundsman with all the fresh air. But between him and the chairman at the time, Ernest Dennis, they persuaded me. I worked very closely with Allan. He hadn’t been in management before and I helped him a lot.
“In his first year (78-79), we got promotion. Our gates were around 5,000 and we hadn’t much money, but they shot up to 20,000.
“He was a very good manager and had learned a lot from Don Revie.”
From the mid-Eighties, unable to ‘belt around the pitch’ like he used to be able to, Rimmington became kit man and it was at Eric Winstanley’s testimonial in 2001 that the most successful modern-day successful manager in Ferguson even attested to his cult status.
He said: “Eric said to Sir Alex, ‘Do you know this fella?’ He said, ‘Oh aye, he’s better known than me...’ I spoke to Sir Alex quite a bit after that as I had his brother Martin here as a player once.”
A football man to the core like Rimmington, you suspect renowned wine connoisseur Ferguson would gladly raise a glass of something befitting to mark Barnsley’s best on his big day.