Leslie Welch was born in Edmonton and educated at The Latymer School where he was an excellent student who was addicted to sport and spent much of his free time studying sports almanacs such as Wisden and Ruffs Guide to the Turf.
During World War Two he served with the Eighth Army in the Western Desert and it was here that his encyclopaedic knowledge of sport was recognised and was signed up by ENSA.
After demobilisation he became popular on radio shows such as Variety Playhouse and In Town Tonight and made many London Palladium performances.
For his act he simply stood on the stage and talked sport before accepting “challenges” from the audience who would call out all kinds of questions which he would normally answer immediately as well as adding a few more facts and figures.
Welch never considered himself to be special and he once said: “It’s my belief that everyone is born with a perfect memory but by the time they are 21 thanks to the invention of pen and paper they are only using a fifth of it, the other four-fifths has gone dormant like a muscle not being used.”
That paragraph could just as easily have been written to describe my great friend Ray Simpson.
For example, if I asked Ray a question about where somebody like Billy Fox or Joe Sherrington went to school he would give me the answer and then tell me who they married, where they worked and lived and which teams they had played for.
Like Lesley Welch, Ray never considered himself to be special but he was and I know that future photographs will have a lot more question marks in them because of Ray’s passing but the thing I will miss most is just listening to that encyclopaedic mind click into gear with such clarity.
Ray was a great friend, ever reliable and a font of knowledge, quite irreplaceable because good friends are like stars, you don’t always see them but they are always there.
Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain, it isn’t something you learn at school but it is having someone like Ray come into your life.
Ray Simpson was one of the most recognisable people in Lancaster when he drove a huge, yellow JCB for Joe Johnson. His friends would either wave or sound their car horns as they passed him and they were always greeted with a friendly smile as he returned the greeting.
His skill with that piece of machinery was legendary and his boss would say that Ray could scratch your nose with the giant bucket and you wouldn’t feel a thing.
Ray was born in March 1936 at number 7 Denny Beck Cottages just on the outskirts of Lancaster.
The family moved into Lancaster on Moorgate and Ray went to Christ Church School and then on to the Boys’ National School which was always called the “Nashy” and was then situated on Alfred Street before it moved to Ashton Road and became Ripley St Thomas.
His great love was football and the photograph of him with his team bears testament to that.
We all remember our days at primary school and waiting for the golden moment in the day known as “playtime” – well, I will put the memories, facts and wonderful anecdotes of Ray into that magical box called “playtime”.
Season 1950-51 proved to be an outstanding year for the senior football team as they won the Mail Cup, the League Cup and the William Smith Festival Shield with Ray playing his part.
This success had been well earned when the oft repeated cry was “where can we practice” and the answer to this was either on the asphalt playground at the school or making the trek over Skerton Bridge to the overworked pitch on Acrelands.
He would remain friends with all of his team mates throughout his life and many of the boys in the photograph went on to play senior football in the North Lancs League.
Once again Ray recalls that the colours were either black and white halves or dark blue and white halves but not content with giving me most of the names he told me that the second pitch on the Far Moor was often neglected by the city council to such an extent that clumps of tall grass and reeds covered the playing surface.
Terry Denwood was a good friend so Terry said: “I’ll have a word with my dad and he’ll sort it out Ray.”
Terry’s dad was Charlie Denwood, a future mayor of Lancaster, and true to his word the pitch was mown and marked out to perfection.