Although I was only 15, by the end of my first full season at Highfield I was made captain; a great honour as I was by far the youngest player.  My weekends were totally centred around sport. I played rugby for the school on Saturday morning, played for Highfield on Saturday afternoon and then played for Springfield Rovers on Sunday morning. The only person who complained was my mother who had three lots of muddy kits to wash.

My brother Brian had been playing on Saturdays for the Catholic Ramblers in the Central Amateur Leagues of Liverpool so he persuaded me to sign for them when I was 17. I had two very happy seasons with them. My most memorable goal for them was a back-heeled half volley from the edge of the penalty area which zoomed into the top corner of the goal.  I just managed to see it go in as I had been facing the other way. If only it had been filmed like they are these days.

I remember every goal I scored in my career as I mostly played either centre half or right back.  I recall the great Brian Clough being interviewed and when he was asked what the most memorable goal he had ever scored was – and there were many of them – he replied, “Every one of them, from the tap-ins to the ones from distance. That’s what I got paid to do and that’s what I enjoyed doing. I remember every one.” I did not score that many goals over the years but I also remember every one.

Playing for the Catholic Ramblers was a pleasure and we used to play two ‘friendlies’ each season against a priests’ training college at Church Stretton in Shropshire. These were incredibly competitive matches and no quarter was asked or given. Some of the language from the opposition was quite choice and it was always surprising to see the opponents after the match in their priestly garments. 

In between leaving school in 1961 and moving into Teacher Training College, I taught as an unqualified teacher at a secondary school in Huyton. I ran the Under 12s team and we were unbeaten all season.  Everyone of that team was a brilliant footballer and I was sure that they could all have made it into the professional ranks. However, only one did. He was a lot taller than the others and I played him on the right wing. When he got the ball he would just ran past the opposition, cut in and score. He made it look so easy. The boy, John McAlle, went on to have a long and distinguished career as a centre half with Wolves. Some years later my father, who worked as a Commissionaire on the Players Entrance at both Everton and Liverpool, met John and asked him if he remembered me from his days at school.  John told him he certainly did and that it was me who had given him the confidence to play. He was a great lad and a great professional and his outstanding service was recognised by being voted into Wolves’ Hall of Fame in 2015.

When I was 19, I attended C.F. Mott Teacher Training College in Prescot (on the outskirts of Liverpool) to commence my training to become a primary school teacher. I was delighted to find out that the college ran two football teams that played fixtures against other such colleges and universities throughout the North of England and North Wales. My first game was for the second team but I was promoted immediately into the first team. I was delighted and honoured to be appointed captain at the beginning of my second year. It was a great experience playing for the college as the facilities were fantastic. One of the students, Ron Ladd, had an old G.P.O. van, which we would pile into, sitting upon cushions in the back going to places such as Chester, Crewe, Leeds and Manchester. Ladd had a wicked sense of humour. He always carried a filled water pistol and took great delight at firing it at the windscreens of cars whilst we were driving through the Mersey Tunnel just to see the look of horror on the faces of the drivers who must have thought that the tunnel was leaking!

The only time we travelled by coach was when we played away at Bangor College and we shared the expenses with the rugby teams. Our P.E. lecturer, Ken Hassall, had been an instructor in the R.A.F. alongside Bangor’s head of P.E, so it was a fierce rivalry. These games were extremely competitive and we played for a trophy over the home and away legs. It was a marvellous drive home if you had won the trophy, but a long way back if you had lost.

The Scottish connection

At the end of my first year at college, I applied for and got a job as a Butlins Redcoat at the holiday camp in Ayr, Scotland. I had a wonderful ten weeks of really hard work – 7.30 am to 11.45 pm six days a week. I became pally with a guy named George McGilvary. I was his best man two years after Butlins and we have been great friends ever since we met.

My day off was Saturday and when the football season started I travelled into Edinburgh with George to watch Heart of Midlothian. My favourite footballer of all time, Alex Young, had played for them as had other great players such as Dave MacKay. I fell in love with Hearts and have followed them ever since. I am an Evertonian by birth right and a Jambo by adoption.

Everton had a great team in the late 50s and into the 60s. My three favourite players once Dave Hickson had left were all Scots: Alex Young, Alex Parker and Tommy Ring.  Alex Young, known as the Golden Vision, was a joy to watch. He played over 200 games for the Toffees between 1960 and 1968. He floated over the ground and could even outjump players several inches taller than him. Much later in life, I had the great honour of being on the same table as him in the Alex Young Suite at Goodison Park. A lovely person and a gentleman; he was so humble and could not understand all the adulation given to him.

Alex Parker was probably the best right back I ever saw. He played a similar amount of games for Everton as Young did between 1958 and 1965 and was a stalwart of the side that won the league championship in 1962/63. I based my style on him and I also had the pleasure of meeting him when he ran a pub in Carlisle. 

Everton has always had a great Scottish connection and they brought out coffee mugs to commemorate this connection. I purchased three, one for each of my heroes. I presented two of them: to Alex Young and to Alex Parker, but unfortunately Tommy Ring had died before I could track him down.

I had the pleasure of watching Tommy Ring’s first game for the Blues. It was against Nottingham Forest and Everton won 6 -1. Ring had a fantastic game on the left wing. He only played for a short while for Everton, less than one season, as he broke his leg and so did not reach his potential as an Everton player, yet he left wonderful memories for those that did see him.

Long after Alex Young had retired, he was asked who had been the best manager he had played under. He answered, surprisingly, Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool manager. The occasion had been a charity match in which Everton’s and Liverpool’s Scottish players played against their English counterparts. Bill Shankly managed the Scottish team and Harry Catterick the English. Shankly had told Young how great he was and how he wished he was playing for him at Anfield. This was the type of encouragement that he had never received from Catterick who hadn’t appreciated his silky skills.

Whilst playing for my college team, I played with some really great players, notably Frankie Jevons and Brian Carpenter, who had both played for Liverpool Reserves. In the summer of 1965, Jevons and I went on holiday to Lido de Jesolo in Italy and on our coach were a group of lads who played for a Sunday league team in Manchester. It appeared that when they went on holiday they would try to organise a football match against another local team. However, in their organisation of the match in Jesolo, something got lost in translation. Posters suddenly appeared all around the town declaring that AC Jesolo were to play Manchester Juniors in a pre-season friendly; AC Jesolo were a semi-professional team. To say that the Mancunians were shocked was an understatement. Jevons and I were co-opted into the team and we were offered training facilities at the stadium but four days of lazing on the beach during the day and drinking beer at night was not the best preparation. It was a fantastic experience as we were announced individually onto the pitch over the tannoy system and we were feted afterwards with a post-match reception and champagne. We lost 7 -1 but our team was presented with a rather nice trophy – probably on display in a pub somewhere in darkest Manchester to this day.

Whilst studying at college, I followed an F.A. coaching course and I also qualified as an F.A. referee.  So on Saturdays I would play football and on Sundays I would referee in the Liverpool Sunday League which was of a very high standard. My experience helped me considerably in running the school football team. In my first year of teaching, my school team were unbeaten, winning both the league and the cup. The year was 1966 when both Everton won the F.A. Cup and England won the World Cup, but the success of my school team was just as sweet.

During the World Cup of that year, I had the privilege of watching some of the best footballers of all time play at Goodison Park, which hosted a number of games: from Pele of Brazil to Florian Albert of Hungary to the player who perhaps is the best footballer I have ever seen – Eusebio of Portugal. I also saw Georgi Asparoukhov of Bulgaria, an incredible footballer who was sadly killed in a car crash at the peak of his career aged just 28 and still thought of a Bulgaria’s greatest ever player.

I also saw one of the best games of football I have ever seen, Brazil against Hungary, and in it one of the best goals I have ever seen. It was Hungary’s second goal in a 3 – 1 win, scored by János Farkas with a tremendous volley from Ferenc Bene’s cross.

The father of one of my pupils played for Prescot Cables and he soon signed me up and I was then playing in the County Combination League. It was a tough league, a step up in class to anything I had played in before but I coped quite well, playing mostly at right back. After just one season with the Cables, I moved on to play for Guinness Exports in the same league. I teamed up again with Jevons and a character called Alan Bermingham. The latter was a tremendously talented sportsman who went on to play professionally for Wrexham, then in the Football League. He had also played for Skelmersdale United at Wembley in the F.A. Amateur Cup Final and played county cricket for Glamorgan.

Guinness Exports had superb facilities up in Aughton near Ormskirk – a superb pitch, great changing facilities and a fantastic social club where we all socialised after the match. Playing for Guinness at that time were also great lads such as Alan Wolfe, Richie Wade and Alan Mansley, the latter going on to play for Brentford as a professional.

On Sundays, half of the Guinness team played for the Melrose Abbey pub team and the other half played for the Kirkdale Royal – two of the best teams in the Liverpool Sunday League.  I was still refereeing on Sundays in that league and at the end of that season I was adjudged to be one of the three best referees in the league, thus I was appointed as linesman in the Cup Final which was to be played between …Kirkdale Royal and The Melrose! A torrid experience for me, knowing one set of teammates would be unhappy with my decisions.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing for Guinness Exports but I was unlucky to go down with quinsy – an advanced form of tonsillitis – which necessitated eight days in isolation at Fazakerley Hospital.  When I left hospital, I was told to take things easy for six months which meant I wasn’t able to train nor play my beloved football.

As soon as I was fit to play again, I was invited by my cousin Steve Bannon to play in the West Cheshire League for Bebington Hawks. I played a whole season for them. Yet it was a hassle travelling to Birkenhead for training and all over the Wirral for the games so I decided not to sign on for the following season. As I had got married and was planning a family, I decided then, at the ripe old age of 25, to sign on for my school Old Boys team to just play for a few years to finish off my playing career. Little did I know that I would play for them for another twenty-three years and also go on to manage them.

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