Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Football’s First Lord (NZ237490)

In the little village of Edmondsley, a mile or so north of Sacriston, was born the first professional footballer to become a Member of the House of Lords. He began life as Thomas Burlison in 1936, and ended it as Baron Burlison of Rowlands Gill in 2008.

Our man’s extraordinary rise to prominence began in humble enough fashion – as a panel beater, in fact – before exploiting his footballing skills as a pro at Lincoln City, Hartlepool and Darlington during 1953-1965 as a wing half. When playing for Hartlepool, they were once thrashed 10-1 by Wrexham, and Burlison would later joke: “That was the day when I knew I would never play for England.”

Never far from his working class roots, he then became a regional officer at the General & Municipal Workers’ Union (later the GMB) – and eventually regional secretary in 1978. From then until deep into the 1990s he operated at the highest levels within this powerful union, but never quite reached the post of general secretary. He was a quiet man, maintaining a low-profile, but became known as ‘The Fixer’ on account of his sprawling network of contacts and wide general influence.

He served as treasurer to the Labour Party during 1992-96, was northern region chairman of the TUC and helped many prominent politicians on their way to the top – Tony Blair included. He was vital in the formulation of ‘New Labour’, having spent much of his political career countering the radical activities of the left.

By then a resident of Rowlands Gill, he was created a life peer in 1997 and moved into the House of Lords as ‘Baron Burlison of Rowlands Gill’. ‘Hurlyburly Burlison’, as he was known, was married with two children, and died in Gateshead in 2008.

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