Stockport County (part 1).

Stockport County 1964/5 Season.

Having arrived back in England, after a four month stint in the Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League where I  played for Toronto Italia, I found a message waiting for me which asked me to contact Ray Wood (ex, Manchester United and Huddersfield Town goalkeeper).   Ray had recommended me to Trevor Porteous, the Player/Manager of Stockport County, and Porteous offered me an initial month’s contract to join them.

Ex Manchester United and Huddersfield Keeper; Ray Wood recommended me to Stockport.

Living in Yorkshire made the daily journey to Cheshire for training, quite burdensome, but until Stockport could offer me a longer term contract, I had to put up with the travel if I wanted to stay in football.   Ironically, within days of signing for Stockport, Willie Watson the Manager of Halifax Town, contacted me and asked me to join his club.   This would have made things much easier for me, regarding the travel, as Halifax was only a matter of a few miles from where I lived in Haworth.

willie watson 1willie watson 2

Former Huddersfield Town /Sunderland footballer and Yorkshire/England cricketer; Willie Watson tried to sign me. 

I had to wait for several weeks before I made my league debut for Stockport; an evening fixture at Notts County.   After starting the game very confidently and making some creative passes and telling tackles, disaster struck; I went into a tackle and felt the ligaments in my ankle sprain with the impact.   With the ankle strapped I carried on playing (no substitutes in those days) but I was a passenger for the rest of the game.   It was to be almost three months before I was fit to play again and by this time I had much to make up in the way of match fitness.

Badly injured in my first game.

A much worse disaster befell the club the week following my injury.   Returning to his home in Sheffield after a match in Newport, John Nibloe, one of the club’s strikers, crashed his car and was killed instantly.   John had joined the club from Sheffield United, and although I didn’t know him very well, he was very popular with teammates and supporters alike.

This tragedy seemed to galvanise the players, who had struggled to win games in the Forth Division, but now went on the most prolific FA Cup run in the club’s history.   Bristol Rovers were dealt with after a replay, Grimsby Town were also beaten at Edgley Park but these results paled in comparison to the mighty challenge when the draw for the fourth round of the cup was announced; Liverpool at Anfield.   The gap between the teams couldn’t be greater, Liverpool were top of the First Division and challenging for the European Cup, Stockport were sitting rock bottom of the Fourth Division.

Pouring champagne for my teammates after an FA Cup victory.

By this time I had recovered from my injury and had played in several reserve team games, prompting Trevor Poteous to give me a belated chance to make the Liverpool game by starting me in the line-up against Chesterfield, on the Saturday prior to the Cup match.   Unfortunately for me he played me out of position, on the right wing, and I couldn’t make a good enough impression to be included in the team for Anfield.

The week prior to the Liverpool match was spent training at the seaside town of Blackpool, where we shared the stately Norbeck Hotel with none other than the illustrious Manchester United.   Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law and Nobby Stiles were at the pinnacle of their careers at this time; a young George Best wandered around the Hotel, usually on his own, but always with a smile on his face.  We watched United in training on several occasions, observing that Dennis Law would often go through routines on his own, which we presumed that he learned from his time in Italy.

Dennis Law.

In the early nineteen sixties the substitute rule had not yet been introduced into the English Football League, therefore, only the eleven players in the starting line-up were taken to Liverpool. Disappointingly for me I had to return to Stockport to bolster the reserve team and was unable to witness the historic result which my teammates achieved.   A 1-1 draw in front of a sixty thousand crowd shook the English football public to its foundations, most of the sportswriter and pundits had been predicting a record score in Liverpool’s favour, even eclipsing the 13-0 defeat which Tottenham had dished out to Crewe Alexander several years previously.   The replay at Stockport, on the following Wednesday evening, was predictably, a sell-out, with up to twenty five thousand cramming into Edgely Park hoping to witness another upset.   However, Liverpool took control of the game in the early stages and ran out comfortable winners by 0-3.

At last, I was able to justify the faith which Trevor Porteous had placed in me, and not long after the Liverpool game I was able to gain a regular spot in the starting eleven for the rest of the season.   Despite that we were always in the bottom four positions of the league table; we had good support from the Stockport fans, with our crowd support seldom falling below five thousand, reaching more than ten thousand for the first match in an Easter double header against Brighton.

Stockport County 1964/65 season.

The attraction for our supporters was that we were a very young team and were prepared to battle against the odds on every occasion.   John Collins, Colin Parry, Ian Sandiford, Derek Hodgkinson, Ken Mulhearn, Tommy Roberts and me were all twenty years or younger, with Ean Cuthbert, Frank Beaumont and Peter Phoenix in their mid to late twenties.   The catalyst for much of our appeal to the local public was Len White, who arrived from Huddersfield Town not long after me.   By this time Len was in his late thirties and one would have been excused for saying ‘over the hill,’ but this was far from the case.   Having played in two FA Cup Finals in his Newcastle days, and having had a distinguished career in the First Division, Len could have been excused for ‘coasting’ in the lower reaches of the fourth division.   Just the opposite, both on and off the field he gave everything for the team and we youngsters responded to his leadership.   In our Huddersfield Town days I didn’t have much contact with him, but we began car-pooling from Huddersfield to Stockport, on a daily basis, therefore, I got to know him really well as a genuine down to earth and very humorous individual.

Len white 2

Former Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town striker; Len White .

Frank Beaumont was another of the ‘characters’ in the team; Frank had begun his career at his local club, Barnsley and played for several seasons in the Second Division with Bury, before joining Stockport.   I got the impression that Frank was underestimated by the supporters, but he was the sort of player that other players appreciate.  He was always available to receive the ball, even when things were going wrong for him, he took a lot of responsibility in order to create and make things happen for the team.   Our keeper, Ken Mulhearn, was the youngster who ‘pushed on’ to the big time, playing several seasons for Manchester City.   An ex Evertonian, Ken had the physique, agility and class which made one wonder why Everton had released him.

Frank Beaumont was one of the ‘characters’ at Stockport County.

At this time changes were also being made at the boardroom level of Stockport County, with the introduction of television personality Victor Bernard into an influential role.   Victor recruited another illustrious football name into the club in the figure of former Manchester City great, Bert Trautmann.   Bert was appointed in a managerial capacity which had little to do with the day to day coaching of the team, but in hindsight, his appointment spelled problems, further down the track, for Trevor Porteous.

trautmann_2622244b

Former Manchester City ‘great’ Bert Trautmann.

The 1964/65 season concluded with Stockport County having to seek re-election back into the Fourth Division of the Football League.   I had made plans to return to Canada for the summer to re-join Toronto Italia, but the Manager, Trevor Porteous, persuaded me that Stockport County was a club “going places,” so I decided that my immediate future remained in Cheshire……