Camille McMillan wasn’t like other kids growing up in the seventies. He liked pro-cycling rather than football. And his favourite pro of the era, Didi Thurau, wasn’t a conventional hero either.
When I was a kid in the 70’s wrestling was big. Saturday afternoon TV was wrestling. And the biggest star was “Big Daddy”. Big Daddy and wrestling then was as British as Austin Allegro’s, gurning and Birds Custard. It was warm and real. It was straight from the musical hall tradition. Many rainy Saturday afternoons were spent in safety watching British wrestling.
At that time the school playground was full of kids pretending to be on strike or playing British Bulldog. Or chanting football names like Liverpool (Kenny Dalglish was the best at the time) or Ipswich. Football was the thing in Britain. “What team do you support?“ was the general icebreaker when meeting new kids. My usual answer of “Ti Raleigh“ normally met with a bemused face or a punch in the chops. Luckily I was good at scrapping. I liked it. Like Big Daddy (who’s real name was Shirley Crabtree) and Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” I had a girl’s name. And kids being kids…
But there was a special place where my name wasn’t just for girls. Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg combined are known as Benelux. Benelux was accessible, just across the sea, via hovercraft. In my eyes it was cool. The Bike races in Benelux had that feel of Saturday afternoon TV in Britain. It was always sort of cold and a bit damp. But despite that there was genuine warmth there, which I loved. Traditional and a bit crap but wonderful. In the UK kids were wearing football scarf around there wrists. Here they wore wool cycling hats, proudly, with loft. Big blokes with friendly faces smelling of fags and beer with names like Brik, Jann or Camille. At 10, I was sold.
Everything was under the umbrella of Eddy Merckx. It was like Merckx was master of all he surveyed. And all racing there was underneath his ruler ship. Merckx never really was of interest to me. With stars like Walter Godefroot, Freddy Maertens, Hennie Kuiper to follow who needed Merckx? I liked the fast ones. The ones I would see in the 6’s like Patrick Sercu and Didi Thurau.
Later on as the eighties dawned Puch joined the scene. My new favourite team was Puch-Campagnolo. In my eyes they had a great jersey, a great bike with great kit and great riders. They were underdogs to Ti Rally and their director was a man called Jean de Gribaldy. Their roster included “hard as nails” 40-year-old tough men Joaquim Agostinho and the German star Didi Thurau.
Didi was it for me. The ace! He looked so good on a bicycle and was lightening fast. Even better he was a 6-day man as well as a roadie. He had it all. And listening into the adult conversations (between passionate spectators at the races) I found out he was “dodgy” too. I loved dodgy! He was what a pro bike rider should be. He was my new Big Daddy.
Today kids are into wrestling. But it’s World wrestling and its big business. In the 1970’s after a big bout you knew Big Daddy would go back to his dressing room to have a cup of tea and a slice of sponge cake. Now you have the feeling that on the way back to the dressing room modern wrestlers will sell some evil energy drink to the kids, slap on a massive testosterone patch and maybe shag a porn-star. Granted it’s appealing. But there’s not the same warmth there.
My Puch is Saturday afternoon in the late seventies. When the world was cool and the world was simple.