WRITTEN BY JEFF MARTIN, EDITED BY PETE MARTIN
I was born in Old Swan, Liverpool in 1943. My father was a Sergeant Major in the Royal Artillery and my mother was a housewife who looked after her mother, my brother Brian (four years my senior) and me. Like many across the city, it was a split household: my father supported Liverpool and my mother Everton; my brother was a Liverpool fan and I was an Evertonian. Saturday evenings in our house were fun. If Liverpool won and Everton lost, my father would get his tea as it went past him – he would have to scrape it back onto his plate off the wall! I am a biased Evertonian but my mother was bigoted. Eventually my father would pray that Liverpool would lose, just for a quieter life.
My father took me to my first game when I was 7. Everton beat Liverpool 2 – 0 at Anfield. Jimmy McIntosh scored both goals. From then on, I was hooked on the Blues. The following season, Everton were relegated to Division 2 for only the second and last time in their history. Whilst in Division 2, they had a tremendous FA Cup run in season 1952/3, reaching the semi-final. I remember distinctly the fifth round game at Goodison Park against Manchester United, who were then top of Division 1. Tommy Eglington scored for the Blues, equalising an early United goal, but United were controlling the game. Just before half-time, my hero – every Evertonian’s hero at the time, Dave Hickson – clashed heads with Allenby Chilton, United’s centre half, and blood started to pour from a gash on his head, turning his blue shirt to crimson. He had to go off and, as there were no substitutes in those days, Everton had to continue with only ten men. They managed to defend manfully, but Hickson had other ideas. During the second half, the crowd gasped as Hickson appeared from the tunnel holding a blood-soaked sponge to the freshly stitched gash on his head and was beckoning to come back on. The referee ran over and was gesticulating that he should not do so. He called over Everton’s captain, Peter Farrell, to try to persuade Hickson not to come back. However, the Everton centre-forward returned to the pitch and played the hero’s role by scoring the winner. A subsequent header against the post re-opened the wound, yet Hickson soldiered on until the final whistle and, as the blood flowed from his wound, he received a standing ovation from Goodison’s packed crowd of nearly 73,000. A large Evertonian standing behind me uttered the immortal words, “If I got home tonight and found Dave Hickson in bed with my missus I would tuck him in.” Hickson was true Everton legend – a real life Roy of the Rovers.
In 1954, a year later, Everton were promoted back to Division 1 and have remained in the top division of English football ever since. A record only bettered by Arsenal. As Everton came up, Liverpool were duly relegated to Division 2 where they were to spend the next eight seasons. Happy days for my mother and me.
At the age of 11, I passed the scholarship (11+) to attend St. Edward’s College, a grammar school in Liverpool where they played rugby, not football. As I was big for my age, I was encouraged to play for the rugby team, but I did not like the game at all. To me there was no great skill in the game: you just picked up the ball and you ran. It certainly helped if you were bigger than the others and so I scored quite a few tries. At the end of one game, the games-master said to me, “You played a great game there, Martin.”
I responded, “But I haven’t touched the ball during the whole game”.
“You pushed and shoved really well,” he replied. I rest my case.
Whilst at St. Edward’s, I was fortunate to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes with the school. It was a tour organised by the Christian Brothers for many schools in the UK. One free afternoon we organised a football tournament and I played centre half. I was 14 years old; we won and it was my first experience of playing in Europe.
In 1955, Dave Hickson sadly left Everton and moved to Aston Villa and then to Huddersfield Town. After only two years away, he miraculously returned to the Toffees, where he had been greatly missed. At school we had to attend on Saturday mornings as Wednesday afternoons were reserved for sport, which we had to show up for otherwise physical punishment would be administered by the Irish Christian Brothers. One Wednesday, as rumours circulated that Hickson had been seen in Liverpool, as one, all Evertonians made their way to Goodison Park. Fans crowded around the Players’ Entrance. As the door opened, there was silence. Hickson appeared and announced, “It’s alright lads, I’ve signed on again”. Everyone cheered and we all went away happy. It was worth the punishment for missing games.
Hickson eventually left to play for our local rivals, Liverpool, and then later for Tranmere Rovers. Whilst the moved had caused uproar amongst both sets of supporters, his first game for Liverpool was against Aston Villa and the Anfield Road end was packed with Evertonians in blue and white scarves paying homage to one of our greats. Liverpool won 2 – 0 and, of course, Hickson scored both goals. Future World Cup winner Roger Hunt provided the cross for the first goal, giving rise to the oft-told local quiz question: “What was the longest goal ever scored at Anfield?” The answer being, “Hickson’s from Hunt’s Cross.” (Hunts Cross being an area of Liverpool some 8 miles away from Anfield).
Looking back at his career, Hickson later remarked, “I would have broken every bone in my body for any of the teams I played for, but I would have died for Everton.”
The rugby at school made no impact on me. My brother Brian and I were crazy about football and we used to go with a few friends every Sunday to a ‘park’ – an open space with sparse grass used mainly to walk dogs and dump rubbish – where we would play for hours. I was about twelve and was by far the youngest. The eldest were a couple of Teddy Boys who were in their twenties and had completed their National Service. It certainly toughened me up!
The group gradually formed a team and we challenged other teams in the local area to matches and out of this Springfield Rovers were established. We bought some cheap shirts similar to Hibernian – green with white sleeves (this was strange as later in life I developed a liking for Heart of Midlothian, Hibs’ greatest rivals). We played on Sundays before Sunday football was recognised.
I recall travelling to Orrell Pleasure Sports Ground in Aintree regularly to play in this unofficial league. If the weather was dry the pitch would be a dustbowl as it had very little grass, yet if it rained it was a mud bath with great pools of water. With no changing facilities, we would have to put our clothes on over the mud and must have looked an incredible sight going home on the bus. And why it was ever called Orrell Pleasure, I will never know, but it was a game of football.
We were not too successful in the league, but we did enjoy one great cup run, reaching the final of an unofficial tournament. A week before the semi-final, we had to play our opponents in a league game and we lost 8 – 2. However, in the semi-final we won 2 – 1 thanks to an incredible rear guard action that would have graced Dunkirk. In the final, sadly there was no fairy-tale ending as we lost 4—2 but we were presented with medals. I still have mine to this day and I am so proud of it as it was my first.
The league grew and we kept the team going for a few years, eventually becoming official when Sunday football was finally recognised, with proper pitches and open changing rooms. One of my best goals was from this era. It was at Walton Hall Park and I ran onto a cutback and hit it as hard as I could from about thirty yards. It arrowed into the top corner and we won 1 – 0.
Just before I was 15, my mother and father would accompany a friend to Highfield Tenants and Residents’ Club, which was at the junction of Prescot Road and Queens Drive, on a Sunday evening. This club had just begun to run two football teams, one in the Zingari League and one in the Zingari Alliance, so my brother and I both signed on.
Brian was chosen to play in the first game for Highfield as he was nearly 19. I went to watch. He played inside forward and scored the only goal in 13 – 1 defeat. Despite scoring, Brian was dropped for the next game and I was picked to play left half. I could not wait for my first real open age game to come and I must have cleaned my boots every night of the week before the match. Although we lost 6 – 4, the team played much better and I scored a goal. I kept my place in the team for the next game which we drew 4 – 4 and I scored again.
As we were taking the nets and the goalposts down after the match, a man who had been watching the game asked me how old I was. He was surprised when I told him I was still only 14 and he asked me if I would like a trial for Everton. Would I? Of course I would! I said yes and was so excited waiting for the letter from the club to arrive. It did come, and I went to Bellefield, Everton’s training ground at the time, for the trial. I was given a blue shirt with the Everton badge on the front and a No. 4 on the back – Peter Farrell’s old shirt. I was so proud. My lack of experience, however, let me down. I attended a rugby playing school and had only two games of real experience under my belt. It was, however, a fantastic moment in my life and one that I will remember forever. I still treasure my letter of invitation, which co-incidentally was dated with the date of my 15th birthday – 6th May 1958.