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The legacy of Spit Nolan

As a child I wasn’t an avid reader. But there was one book that stuck in my mind, and in particular one character from that book.


it may well be that many of you cannot recall a book called The Goalkeeper’s Revenge and Other Stories by Bill Naughton. It was a series of short stories set in post-war England, and a book I read over and over again.


Whist all the stories were good, the one that stands out to me was Spit Nolan. Spit was a young boy with one lung, who became trolley racing champion in his group of friends called the Cotton Pocket Gang. One Sunday, they decided to race down a steep hill called Cemetery Brew.


The description given by Naughton in the build up to a big race is, in my opinion, one of the best written in a book for young boys. The excellent descripion captivated me more as the race got under way.


Dead level they sped into the final stretch. Spit’s slight figure was poised fearlessly on his trolley, drawing the extremes of speed from her. Thundering beside him, anxious but determined, came Leslie. He was actually drawing ahead—and forcing his way to the top of the camber. On they came like two charioteers—Spit delicately edging to the side, to gain inches by the extra downward momentum. I kept my eyes fastened clean across the road as they came belting past the winning-post.


It was then that the accident happened. Spit’s trolley hit a pot hole, and then a car coming up the hill.


The first time I read that story, I was in shock. Until that point I had wanted to be Spit Nolan. Then the tears came when Spit was killed.

I know I reread that story time after time again.

Why did he not think that a car could be travelling on the road?


How did he not see the pot hole?


In my young mind, I was in effect doing my first accident investigation.


Spit Nolan was a fictional character, but Naughton’s story of him, and of his success and demise, with his excellent descriptions, probably laid some of the early seeds of what eventually became my career in health and safety.


Thank you Spit. Maybe I am your legacy. And thank you Bill Naughton, for bringing his story into my life.


  • The Goalkeeper’s Revenge and Other Stories by Bill Naughton is available on Amazon and Kindle, and other booksellers. ISBN 978-1448204434




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