When ‘Honest’ John McKenna started the search for a manager that could land Liverpool the first division title, he only had one man in mind, the best in the business. That man was Tom Watson the Sunderland manager. Newcastle born Watson was the leading light in the game at the time, having led Sunderland to three league titles. It was to be an inspired move.
Watson’s first game in charge was also the first game in which Liverpool FC wore their famous red shirts. Progress was swift and after a near miss in 1899, the reds finally claimed their first of 18 league titles when they pipped Watson’s old club Sunderland by two points in 1901. After the reds shock relegation in 1904, the club bounced back to win the second division title at the first attempt, and duly delivered the first division title for the second time the following season (1906) thus becoming the first club to win the second division and first division titles in successive seasons.
So Liverpool FC’s longest serving manager Tom Watson had the distinction of winning the first division title with two different clubs. Three league titles with Sunderland and two with Liverpool. He was also the first Liverpool manager to lead the club to an FA Cup final, sadly the reds succumbed to the challenge of Burnley at the Crystal Palace venue. Watson was also responsible for the signatures of Liverpool legends such as Elisha Scott, Alex Raisbeck and Liverpool’s oldest ever player Ned Doig. Tom Watson’s achievements at Liverpool were set to continue as he reached his 19th year in charge of the Anfield outfit. Sadly it wasn’t to be, Watson died on 6th May 1915 at the age of just 56.
The turnout at his funeral demonstrated the popularity of the man; Doig and Raisbeck were amongst the pallbearers as Watson was laid to rest at Anfield Cemetery. The Liverpool Echo reported: ‘The number of wreaths, including tributes from the Liverpool and Everton clubs, was more than one hundred, and represented all the leading football associations.’ It was a fitting farewell to a Liverpool FC and football legend.
Tom Watson (left) You would like to think that the man who delivered our first league title would have a fitting final resting place. A place of pilgrimage for all Liverpool FC fans to pay their respects to the great man. After all, the grave is a stone’s throw away from Anfield. Sadly this is not the case. Tom Watson rests in Anfield Cemetery, but sadly, it’s in an unmarked grave. Not only that, only a few feet from Watson’s grave lies Ned Doig, Watson’s goalkeeper at Sunderland and Liverpool, also in an unmarked grave. It’s not sure if the unmarked status of the graves was always the case, but it’s quite possible that the graves would have been forgotten in time if it wasn’t for the persistence of Steve Bainbridge, a local researcher, and Ned Doigs grandson, Eric Doig, who assisted Steve in discovering the plots in 2010.
Commenting in an article on www.clickliverpool.com by Richard Buxton in 2010, Eric Doig said; “Tom was Liverpool’s first successful manager, leading his sides to two first division and one second division championship. He has been buried for nearly 95 years unrecognised in an unmarked grave in Anfield Cemetery.”
Speaking about his grandfather Ned, Eric continued; “My grandfather Ted Doig also lies in an unmarked grave a few yards from his manager and mentor Watson. It is sad that neither of them have headstones, and we cannot be sure whether they ever did, but it would be fitting for the last resting places of two great men to properly identified be marked with suitable memorials.”
In the same article Peter Lupson the football historian and author of the excellent ‘Across the Park’ and ‘Thank God for Football’ said: “It is sad that the graves of Tom Watson and Ned Doig are unmarked. They were two very great figures in the early years. Now that they have been traced, it is clearly important that their final resting places are honoured and given the recognition they deserve. “It would be excellent if the graves can be fitted with headstones worthy of their contribution to the history of Liverpool FC.”
Recently I received an article from Kjell Hanssens excellent website detailing the Liverpool Echo’s coverage of Tom Watson’s funeral in 1915. Underneath the report, an updated picture of Watsons grave shocked me. There it was, a stick in the ground with a piece of cardboard attached stating: “Tom Watson – LFC Manager 1896-1915. Died May 6th 1915 Aged 56. A puff of wind and it would be blown over, unmarked once more. It made me wonder what had happened in the two years since the graves were uncovered, was there any movement since?
So just two weeks ago I got in touch with the ever helpful Peter Lupson. Peter informed me that Eric Doig and Tom Watson’s grandson had met at the recent Stoke City game at Anfield. One email later to Eric and the good news is that the wheels seem to have been set in motion. Eric informed me that Watson’s great-grandson Gerald Jensen had travelled all the way from Detroit for the Stoke game and that both men had a positive meeting with Liverpool’s Managing Director Ian Ayre. It will come as no surprise that plans came to an abrupt halt in the reign of the ‘cowboy’s’ Hicks and Gillett.
Thankfully we are in a new era now, and judging by the recent Anfield stadium announcement, it’s one that wants to recognise the great history of our club. Great news, but Eric informs me it won’t be a quick solution as issues such as whether the plots are public or privately owned will affect matters and this takes time. But it’s a start. Eric is keen for this story to be told to as many reds as possible so that they are aware of the situation surrounding two of the clubs great servants, so that someday very soon we may be able to read all about Tom Watson and Ned Doigs achievements on their very own headstones in Anfield Cemetery.
Since this article was first published in RAOTL last season – Eric Doig was delighted to inform me that the grave of Ned Doig now has a headstone. But as yet, despite the club having the information over the wording and costs, Tom Watsons resting place remains unmarked.
On Saturday September 7th , the day after Ireland lock horns with Sweden in a vital World Cup qualifier, the Donegal village of Kerrykeel will pay homage to one of Ireland’s greatest ever footballers, William Balintrae Gillespie. Born in Kerrykeel on 6th August 1891, Gillespie went on to become the most famous Irish footballer of his generation, the highlight of which came in 1925, when he was the first Irishman to captain an English FA Cup winning team, leading his Sheffield United team to victory over Cardiff in the Wembley final.
William Ballintrae became known as “Billy” and his father was Robert Gillepsie who was stationed as a sergeant at the RIC Barracks in Kerrykeel (Carrowkeel) in the early 1890’s. Billy’s mother was Eliya Gillespie (formerly Blair) and his birth was officially registered in the Registrar’s District of Milford on 1st September 1891. Indeed the wall steads of the police barracks where Billy Gillespie was born remain to this day along with old adjoining stables. Ironically Gillepsie’s homestead is just a stones throw from Drury Park, the football field that served the community of Kerrykeel for over 50 years until very recently.
Information compiled by Billy’s father, Robert Gillespie, in his role as sergeant in September 1893, notes that the population of Kerrykeel at the time was 146, with Fair Days on the 8th of every month. The barracks also served as the local Post Office, Savings Bank and Money Order Office – And from these humble beginnings at a remote location in Kerrykeel, Donegal, Billy Gillespie arose to become a legend of the beautiful game.
One can only wonder what standing he would have in the modern era considering what he achieved as a player with Sheffield United and on the international arena with Ireland. Milestones such as the FA Cup victory mentioned in the opening paragraph – A victory in which he played a major part, his performance described as follows by the football writers of the day “Sheffield United played wonderfully well but special praise is due to Gillespie, the man who waves a wand and whose influence has played such a vital part in United’s capture of the Cup.”
The Blades captain was equally influential for his country, scoring two goals on his international debut against England in 1913 as the Irish defeated England for the very first time. He repeated the feat the year after, notching another two against the English as the Irish destroyed the home side at Ayresome Park Middlesbrough, the boys in green running out 3-0 winners.
He even played his part in BBC Radio history – On January 22, 1927, the BBC broadcasted a league match for the very first time – a game between Arsenal and Sheffield United. Gillespie scored United’s goal in a 1-1 draw at Highbury.
On returning home from Sheffield to manage Irish League side Derry City in 1932, Gillespie was required to take a red and white team strip with him as part of the deal. These colours of course would be adapted by Derry City, the candy-stripes we see them wear to this day. He had a successful stint in Derry, leading them to two City Cup triumphs and on four successive occasions they finished runners up in the Irish League. When Gillespie left Derry City in 1941 he relocated to Bexley in Kent, where he died a month short of his ninetieth birthday in July 1981.
It is hoped that local football enthusiasts from the North West and beyond will converge on the village on Saturday week as representatives from Sheffield United FC, the FAI, IFA, Derry City, Institute FC and Billy’s own relatives pay tribute to one of our own legends, William Ballintrae Gillespie.
Red All Over The Land – Issue 189
Last season Red All Over The Land highlighted that Liverpool FC’s longest serving and first title winning manager, Tom Watson, and his goalkeeper at the time Ned Doig are buried in Anfield Cemetery – but their remains lay in unmarked graves. Ned Doig’s grandson, Eric, took up the mantle to gain some recognition for two of Liverpool FC’s earliest legends and after a brief conversation with Eric over the weekend he had some good news to tell us. “I am very pleased to say, that I have a stone placed on my grandfather Teddy Doigs’ grave as from last Friday” (Aug 2nd). So now LFC fans can go along to Anfield Cemetery to pay their respects to one of our great characters. Sadly news on Watson’s situation wasn’t as good. Eric informed me that the club has all the information and costs but are dragging their heels at this moment in time. Maybe the release of the new kit took precedence over Watson who had the distinction of winning the first division title with two different clubs. Three league titles with Sunderland and two with Liverpool. He was also the first Liverpool manager to lead the club to an FA Cup final and responsible for the signatures of Liverpool legends such as Elisha Scott, Alex Raisbeck and Liverpool’s oldest ever player the aforementioned Ned Doig. Watson remains Liverpool Football Clubs longest serving manager. Not bad eh? Sort it out LFC.
Margaret Aspinall Receives Award in Cork
On July 30th Margaret Aspinall was in Cork to recieve the “Mother Jones Award”
as part of the Mother Jones Festival, honouring the life of Margaret Harris,
a Corkwoman who was a key figure in the American Trade Union movement. Margaret spoke passionately about the cover-up of what really happened that day and the continuing fight for justice. Margaret gave a passionate speech to the crowd which included both veteran Liverpool supporters and people from all walks of life. She told the gathering about how officialdom had conspired against the families of the 96 victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and outlined long struggle of the families for the truth, a campaign which continues to this day. Accompanied by another Hillsborough relative, Sue Rogers, Margaret impressed the audience with her honesty and no-nonsense manner. The Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2013 was presented to Margaret and the session ended fittingly with a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.
It’s finally here folks, the first day of the season and starting with a home game makes it all the sweeter. Maybe we can go top for a few hours although Stokes recent league record at Anfield is pretty good. Should we fail to win we won’t have a fixture for 7 days which now is an eternity in internet and twitterland. No doubt, Brendan will be under the cosh should things not go to plan. Although I must admit I am looking forward to the Moyes backlash should/when he messes up down the M62.
|Remember the days in the not too distant past when there was a mid-week game to follow the opening fixture. It was a great chance to bounce back should the first day result not go to plan. First day jitters happened against Wolves twice in the 80’s, the reigning European Champions going down 1-0 at Molineux in 1981 and two years later we could only draw 1-1 before putting it right a few days later with a first league victory.
More recently we have had to put up with International games in the week of the start of the premiership. I remember Dirk running riot for Holland in Dublin just before he signed for us and an all action substitute debut at home to West Ham. (The Agger Goal Game). Thankfully the crazy August international fixtures are being phased out, but i wonder what else is up FIFA’s sleeve?
So bring it on – enjoy the hopefully many ups and not so many downs over the next 9 months.
Saturday July 13th – it’s a special date in modern history – For it was in 1985, for those old enough to remember (I guess most buying this fanzine are in that age group) that the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium and across the Atlantic at the JFK stadium Philadelphia took place. I’d say there is a few reading this that would also love to aim a Geldof “Give us your f**king money” at FSG as we try to compete with the megabuck clubs currently occupying the Four Top(s) spots at the moment. (Turns out Geldof never uttered those words at all – another myth that puts even SKY’S transfer deadline day rumours to shame – well those with Simple Minds etc)
It goes without saying that 2013-14 is a big season for Brendan Rodgers and his men. Last season, mistakes were certainly made in the August transfer window and the clubs transfer policy seemed to be in Dire Straits. Andy Carroll was let go by the club with no suitable replacement forthcoming. In January we fared much better as the Liverpool FC transfer committee delivered Daniel Sturridge and the outstanding Philippe Coutinho as the club enjoyed a solid second half to the season. Apart that is from the Oldham debacle in the FA Cup, The Who, I hear you say, yes indeed Oldham, and the lowest point in the season surely, even one of The Smiths weighed in with two goals for the home side.
Saturday July 13th 2013 and it’s the start of pre-season action and no better place to begin than at Deepdale and a game against Bill Shanklys old side Preston North End. It’s an early start for the Motley Crue from the North-West of Ireland to catch the 7am flight from Dublin – but the excitement of the first game of the season meant sleep was at a minimum anyway. After landing at John Lennon it was straight to the city and the train to Preston. Everyone was in fine fettle even with the news that rail-works meant a detour through Ormskirk. But it didn’t dampen what was Beach Boys weather. The reds are out in full force and it’s great to see so many kids making the journey with their families – at least it’s affordable.
It’s always great to meet up with fellow reds after the summer break and today is no exception as stories are swapped and requests for the Celtic friendly dealt with. A few too many pints near the ground and the carnival atmosphere inside the stadium reminds me of the Wigan game last season. New Preston signing Kevin Davis gets introduced to the home crowd; they could have done with him today as Preston didn’t offer anything to trouble our new Number One Simon Mignolet in the away goal. Didn’t hear the Mignolet song, no doubt the KOP’S very own Style Council choir will come up with something even better than the Sunderland ditty. At the time of press it’s looking like Pepe has taken his leave and re-joined Rafa who’s taken over at Napoli. Best of luck Pepe, thanks for the great memories and the equally great goal celebrations but the writing was on the wall the moment Mignolet signed on the dotted line. Welcome Simon, our first Belgian redman!
The old chants get an airing as ex red John Welsh helps us on our way with a trip on Coutinho and he dispatches the penno with a cheekiness we are becoming so used to. Give him a contract extension quick! The Preston hordes join in on the ‘Shankly’ chant before the familiar ‘Dalglish’ and not to make him feel left out in any way; ‘There’s only one Brendan Rodgers’ gets a blast from the away end. Jordon Ibe fires in from long range as he impresses the red mass. Further goals from Sterling (set up by new signing Alberto) and a shot from Iago Aspas settles the issue. A nice first day out for all as the great man’s grand-daughter Karen Gill presents the Shankly Shield to Daniel Agger. First trophy of the season – i used to count the Charity Shield as one in the bag when we were Kings – it’s laughed at now of course. What Brendan would do for a cup this season, it’s certainly something we should and will be aiming for with no European football to contend with this season. Kind draws please. Roll on August 17th
The tour of Indonesia and Australia is on as I write – the scenes in both places have been magnificent and very humbling for the players as well I hope. Please can we get that Anne Williams Iron Lady waver over to Anfield, well done to all concerned.
LFC’s SECOND RATE INFORMATION ‘HEIGHWAY’ – RAOTL ISSUE 185
So the WBA game has been moved to Monday February 11th. No complaints, we are due to play a Monday night game at some stage. Strange one though as we play in the Europa League that week, but the fixture change was announced before our successful trip to Udine. You work that one out! But why oh why is the official Liverpool FC website so slow in releasing news on fixture changes amongst other things. It’s been happening time and time again for the past number of years; so much so that’s it’s now the last place I look when it comes to any fixture news relating to Liverpool Football Club.
It really used to get on my nerves when we frequented the Champions League, whether it was the day of the group or knock-out phase draw (great days). The main talking point was would we be playing Tuesday or Wednesday, a choice we don’t have for Europa League Thursdays of course. Meanwhile all the airlines, train companies and hotels are busy putting up fares as we waited on confirmation of the match date. Luckily I knew a guy that works with UEFA and he was able to email me details as soon as he knew the dates were known, again, well before the website gave out the information. Saved me a fortune at times. Still, most fans didn’t have that luxury.
Sadly the situation doesn’t seem to be improving any time soon – pity we can’t take a lead from other clubs. The news of the game change seemed to take top priority for the powers of be within WBA, along I might add with the welfare of their traveling support. WBA had tweeted that their game against Liverpool had been re-scheduled at 11am on Tuesday 4th December. It was on their official site ten minutes later. Yet for one of the best supported teams in world football we had to wait another two hours for Liverpool FC to announce the very same news on their website – And it didn’t end there. The FA Cup live games were also announced on the same day, Liverpool were picked for the 4pm slot on Sunday 6th January and once more the ‘offy’ was more than an hour late with the news. Shameful when you consider the multi-media outlets available to us nowadays.
It shouldn’t be this way; it’s not as if the fixture changes are announced without the club having any prior knowledge. We know that clubs are consulted by the TV companies and local police about re-arranged TV games. I don’t profess to know how long they would have known about the changes, but I’m guessing it’s the day before at the very least. As usual it’s the fans that lose out. Why wait to relay the news to fans. At least give them a chance to get one over on the train and plane companies before the usual price hikes.
As an OOT this causes untold travel heartache, not only to overseas supporters but to Reds living and working throughout the UK. Train fares from London are sometimes more expensive than a flight from say Ireland. Of course you book flights/boats/trains at your own risk, that’s a given and in reality supporters should wait until the game is confirmed. Yes, in a perfect world that is true, but us fans are always looking out for a bargain and we can’t resist the cheap flight/train fare whenever it’s presented to us.
All we are asking is for the official site to get up to speed with the rest of the league clubs; surely it can’t be that hard for the club to delegate someone to upload important fixture news when it first becomes available.
A tribute to Phil Taylor, a former player and manager of Liverpool Football Club was due to take place at the Aston Villa game recently and there’s a fitting tribute inside this issue. Bristol born Phil died on December 1st at the age of 95 and had served Liverpool FC as captain and manager for a total of 23 years. At the time of his death Taylor was Liverpool’s and England’s oldest international. After a bit of searching and advice from historian Jonny Stokkeland we believe the honour of the oldest surviving Liverpool player now rests with Sammy Smyth who is now 87 years old.
Born in Belfast on 25 February 1925, Smyth played for his hometown club Linfield before moving to Wolves in July 1947 for whom Smyth scored a goal in the 1949 FA Cup final. Smyth was moved on to Stoke for a fee of £25,000 where he remained for one season when Liverpool came calling. Bizarrely he made his debut straight away when Liverpool visited the club he had just signed from but Stoke came out on top 3-1 as the reds struggled to remain in the top flight. Smyth more than played his part, scoring 7 goals as the reds stayed afloat. It wasn’t to last.
Sadly a year later he couldn’t prevent the reds suffering relegation despite scoring 13 from 26 games. The pull of his native Belfast was too strong and Sammy returned to play with Bangor in 1955 where he was a bookmaker and opened a sports shop business. With a scoring rate of 20 goals in just 44 appearances Sammy Smyth certainly made a lasting impression at Anfield in his brief spell at the club, a scoring record many would be proud of in the modern game. @dmoenlfc
Liverpool at home to West Ham on Grand National weekend – sadly we don’t play on the actual race day or morning of the national anymore. Shame really as it was the ideal start to what is a great sporting spectacle. Wonder how Channel 4 will do with its coverage? What has the BBC left, Bowls from Preston and Snooker oh and Match of the Day. Sad days indeed for the BEEB. Anyway this weekend’s fixture takes me back to the last time we played at home on Grand National day, it was my first time on the KOP.
Liverpool FC Vs Ipswich Town, April 9th 1994. That was the game I had earmarked to finally experience the KOP atmosphere for the first time. Although I had been at Anfield before, I had yet to stand on the famed terrace for a game. I did venture onto the terrace the year before after the 4-0 demolition of Coventry City (which avenged a 5-1 score line in favour of the sky blues earlier in the season). This was due to a kind steward who let me onto the KOP despite the crowds going the opposite way down the stairwell. Somehow I think it wouldn’t happen nowadays. Travel agents (remember them) had been visited a month beforehand and the flights departing from Dublin with Manx Airlines were booked for myself and my mate Adrian. We were ready to go. Accommodation could wait until we got there, I don’t think a Commodore computer could do much in those days in regards to booking hotels and the like. The only function that PC had was to ruin my fingers whilst competing against Daley Thompson in the decathlon PC game. I furiously pounded the keyboard to make to go as fast as possible. In fact I can readily claim to have Repetitive Strain Injury long before it became almost fashionable!
Once we arrived in Liverpool on the propeller powered plane (at least this particular Manx had a tail) it was straight to the search for accommodation. We headed to the usual haunts. The Lord Nelson Hotel, all the hotels on Mount Pleasant Street, even The Moat House was tried (as if I could afford it). Everywhere FULL UP!! All I could hear from my mate was something about it being a huge weekend in the city and horse-racing. Was nothing for it, a few bevies was needed and quick, after three Red Rums we headed to Lime Street where there was always an assortment of B&B’s. The fact that many of these establishments were available on this the Grand National weekend should have been a clue to our abode, not that I cared too much. We were relieved to get anywhere to put our heads down for the next two nights, and at ₤12 a night we shouldn’t have expected too much. Although a light bulb would have made the weekend extra special we thought. I hadn’t rummaged around in the dark drunk since the previous summer in a tent at a summer rock/pop festival back home. I do recall a young Kylie Minogue being well down the bill, well she was never heard of again anyway!
It was always a tradition for Liverpool or Everton to play their home game on Grand National Saturday as an early K.O. (11.30) so the locals can attend the great racing spectacle later in the afternoon. So after waiting until dawn (so we could avail of daylight in the room) we got ready for the game. We had to get there early, as The KOP was not all-ticket and cash was being taken at the turnstiles. Even so a large crowd had gathered to get in early to get their usual spec. Plenty of Out Of Towner’s like us were in the vicinity but I was in and that’s all that mattered. AT LAST I was on the KOP for a game, and there would only be two other games after this for the Standing KOP as well….what a close shave I was thinking. The banter was as I had expected it to be, we weren’t setting the world alight that season but Ipswich Town were having a downright awful season and would finish bottom that year. The singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” took on that extra bit of significance for this supporter. I was used to holding my scarf up and singing towards the KOP but now I was ONE of them, A KOPITE, one small part of the most famous terrace in world football. Nothing can describe that feeling. I can remember it as if it was just last week.
Liverpool won the toss, another good omen; we would be attacking the KOP in the second half, yippee!!! I was sure there would be goals galore in the second half and I would be there to suck the ball in along with the rest of the famous Kopites. The last two games of the Standing Kop were against Newcastle United, which was a tough assignment, and on April 30th Ipswich Town’s East Anglican neighbours Norwich City were sure to roll over and succumb to the atmosphere and celebrations that would take place that day. Lucky sods!! Or so I thought at the time.
Well what a dire affair my game turned out to be, not only that, but it was a very cold April morning. We had snow, hail and rain and it was freezing. This was despite being surrounded by my fellow supporters as well. I shudder to think what the Paddock and Anny Road end would have been like on that particular day.
After a forgettable first half and equally forgettable second it was looking bleak for a breakthrough goal until Don Hutchison who had replaced Robbie Fowler was bundled over in the box in the 75th minute. The referee pointed to the spot much to the crowds delight. “Knock it in Don” I roared, only for Julian Dicks to amble forward and grab the ball, a few gasps from the KOP was heard. Just drive it down the middle Dicks (which incidentally he never managed to do as a golf professional a few years later, no claret jug for Julian I’m afraid). Nevertheless, today he had delivered, bang, straight down the middle it went. Get in there!! It was the last meaningful action in the game to be fair, but I was happy enough, I got my goal at my end, and the three points were in the bag. Wonder which Liverpool player will forever be remembered as the last to score in front of the standing KOP I thought, not knowing then that I had just seen him.
We made our way down to the players entrance for a few photo opportunities, the players seemed to have got changed in record time as there was a race meeting to go to now. There’s an idea, why not go to Aintree for the afternoon. A photo or two of the players in shoulder padded suits with John Barnes the winner or make that the loser in the fashion steaks, a pin stripped getup that was influenced by an American Football Umpire and before we knew it we were in a taxi across to Aintree racecourse.
This was the year after the false start fiasco at the National which led to much merriment inside the racecourse as the race approached. Having as much knowledge of horseracing as Everton has of European Cup victories I was in need of inspiration. Local comic Freddie Starr was on the TV monitor and I overheard a few punters saying he had a runner in the big one. That’ll do for me, so it was Freddie Starr’s horse Miinehoma at £20 on the nose (I was an expert now you see) and back to the ale until the race started. Of course he romped home in style and it was only when I went to collect the winnings that I even bothered to look at the odds, a cool 16/1 he was. This betting lark was a doddle. It was great collecting the winnings, I was even sure I had seen the Queen on one of the notes smirking at me as I stuffed the notes into my pocket. Then again my mate and me were well bladdered at this stage and remained so for the duration of the night in town.
What a night in town we had after that, we drank most of winnings of course as we partied up and down Matthew Street. But I did treat myself to a little something, a spanking new 100 watt light bulb.
Well I might as well splash out……
“And Fairclough is onside, this now could be interesting, FAIRCLOUGH, Super Sub strikes again.”
That goal in 1977 sealed victory for Liverpool over St Eitenne and would go down in Anfield folklore. A magical moment in the clubs history, as they advanced to the semi-final and then final to claim their first European Cup. Just 9 years after ‘that’ goal and ‘that’ celebration as he ran arms outstretched in front of a heaving KOP, Supersub himself, David Fairclough, was rumoured to be on his way to my local club, Finn Harps F.C. For a 14 year old Liverpool fanatic living in Donegal, Ireland, this news was hard to believe. It was the last days of summer, 1986.
Ask any football fan to name an Irish side from the North West of Ireland and they’ll more than likely come up with Derry City. After withdrawing from the Northern Irish League in the mid 70’s the club languished in junior ranks until 1985 when they entered the southern League of Ireland to great fanfare. Starved of senior football for over a decade the people of Derry got behind the club in great numbers with crowds hitting the 12,000 mark. To the ailing League of Ireland they were a breath of fresh air. For my club, Finn Harps F.C. and their supporters it would mean much more. Ballybofey based Finn Harps were located just 25 miles away from Derry. Up to this point in our history we only had one so-called ‘derby’ game and that was against Sligo Rovers, a mere 80 miles away. Now we had local derbies to look forward to and we may have a flame haired striker in our ranks to boost our chances of success. I just needed convincing the proposed arrival of Fairclough wasn’t a rumour to combat the Derry City bandwagon.
The club badly needed something to cheer about; I was too young to remember the 1970’s, when it was commonplace for crowds to exceed 3,000 every fortnight at Finn Park. There was an FAI Cup success in 1974, along with UEFA Cup adventures against the likes of Aberdeen, Derby County and Everton. But by the mid-80s only a few hundred spectators would enter through the turnstiles as the crowds were lured away from the domestic game by the live broadcasts of English League games on TV. Let’s face it, a cold and frosty Sunday afternoon at Finn Park didn’t have much chance against the likes of Rush, Dalglish, Robson and Hoddle on the box in front of a cosy fire.
Clubs had to attract spectators and with the Irish obsession with the game cross-channel, the signing of ‘stars’ on a game to game basis began to take off with Irish clubs. This was nothing new, Dixie Dean made a number of appearances for Sligo Rovers in 1939. Whilst the 1970’s saw George Best, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, Rodney Marsh and former German international Uwe Steeler lining out for various Irish clubs. That trend was set to continue and Liverpool’s own Terry McDermott and Ian Callaghan lined out for Cork, Denis Tueart and Alan Sunderland had just signed for Derry and then it was our turn. The rumour was true. I couldn’t believe my eyes; a small heading in the Irish Independent confirmed it. ‘Super-Sub for Harps’ – David Fairclough could be playing for my club, hell, he was playing with Dalglish and Hansen just a few years before. I can vaguely remember listening to BBC Radio 2 when he scored a hat-trick against Norwich in the famous Justin Fashanu ‘Goal of the Season’ game in 1980. Now he could be a few feet away from me at Finn Park in a few weeks’ time.
The news spread quickly and the local press were all over the impending transfer coup. It turned out that Harps had tried to secure the signature of Fairclough the season before. They kept that well hidden from me! Speaking at the time, club chairman Fran Fields said;
“We wanted a big name player for the cup last season and we had more or less agreed to bring Fairclough over for a month. But Oldham pulled out at the last minute and insisted we take the player for six months. But we kept in touch with David over the summer and being a free agent this season he has agreed to join us. But there will be no monthly contracts this time, with promotion in mind we hope to have him here for the season.”
Now that was a statement of intent – so this wasn’t to be a PR stunt to get spectators through the turnstiles. It seemed Fairclough would be here for the coming season and he was only 29. It didn’t matter if he was 49 to me, this was David Fairclough. Surely it was just a matter of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. However, the next David Fairclough to Finn Harps story sent a shiver down my spine.
The Donegal Democrat newspaper stated that David was coming over to Finn Park to see the set-up and if he is impressed he may sign. “IF HE’S IMPRESSED?” What Finn Harps should have done is travel to Merseyside, sign him and only then show him his new surroundings. He couldn’t back down then! You see, Finn Park, like a lot of grounds in Ireland in the 1980’s left a lot to be desired. It was basic to say the least; Everton had to change in a hotel 12 miles away when they played Harps in the UEFA Cup in 1978. It wasn’t the clubs fault, improvements had been made but you need people to come through the gates as well. I was sure David would not be impressed. But the Finn Harps manager Tommy McConville was upbeat. Speaking to the newspaper, he said;
“David Fairclough has played at the highest level and would be a big asset to us. He is also a big name and would take some of the limelight off Derry City. He is a proven goalscorer and is still in his prime.”
Chairman Fields continued to express his delight on the impending capture of the Liverpool legend.
“I have always wanted to get him and I am hoping that he will like the set-up here and make up his mind to join us. We are going to have a lot of talking to do this weekend but I am hopeful that it will be successful”
Even Super-Sub himself was quoted, it was getting ever closer.
“I am looking forward to coming over and I am very pleased that people are willing to ask about me and enquire about me. Although I have been to Dublin many times and have relatives in Termonfeckin outside Drogheda I don’t know where Ballybofey is so I am looking forward to visiting it. I am a free agent at present and although I have talked to one or two clubs in England I have not found anything suitable.”
Although I was only 14 years of age that last line was like a dagger to the heart “Although I have talked to one or two clubs in England I have not found anything suitable.” Now unless Roman Abramovich had an uncle sipping vodka around the town in the mid 80’s there was no way Finn Harps would have the finance to pull this deal off. But at least Fairclough was coming to have a look and he was rumoured to be playing in the pre-season friendly against the Northern Irish League side, Larne, on the day he arrived.
The press exposure certainly worked and a large crowd turned up for the game to see the superstar from Liverpool. And he didn’t disappoint either, making an impressive ‘home début and of course scoring in a 3-2 victory for the home side. Maybe he was impressed with the gentle surroundings of Ballybofey and was willing to give it a go in Ireland. Promotion here we come, and then watch out Europe.
Much to my dismay it just wasn’t to be for Finn Harps and Fairclough. I’m quite sure the Finn Harps board tried their utmost to persuade the striker that his future lay in Donegal, but Belgian side FC Beveren finally secured his signature. He spent two successful years in the Belgium league before returning home to Tranmere Rovers and Wigan to finish a successful playing career.
Who would Finn Harps turn to now? A few weeks later the club finally got their big name. Former Southampton and England striker Mike Channon was on his way to the Ballybofey outfit. How many times would we see the famous windmill goal celebration that season? Sadly it never materialised at all. It was to be a very short-lived affair, the contract was on a match to match basis but it really should have been a minute to minute basis, he lasted only 49 minutes and retired injured, never to play again. Maybe it was the Finn Harps experience that was the final straw for Channon to throw his lot into becoming a successful racehorse trainer.
Over the next decade Finn Harps remained in the lower reaches of the league before finally gaining promotion to the top flight in 1996. Since then they have become somewhat of a yo-yo club but with a new stadium on the horizon, there is much optimism around the town for a return to the top flight and once more challenging for top honours.
Surprisingly the Finn Harps/David Fairclough story became something of an urban myth around the Donegal region. I would mention it every so often and struggled to convince fellow fans; well it was nearly 30 years ago. My biggest regret was not having a camera at the time to take a picture of the man in action. It seemed everyone had forgotten about the day Supersub lined out for the Harps, until last year that is. Whilst attending a league game one supporter came up to me with the ‘golden shot’. There he was, in the back row, one David Fairclough, chest pumped, ready to give his all in a pre-season friendly game in a town he had never heard of just days before.
I obtained a copy of the picture and just weeks later it appeared along with a brief article in the Liverpool FC fanzine, Red All Over The Land. Being a regular at Anfield I would see David walking around the ground to take up his position in the commentary box before most games. Getting to the ground early before a league game in 2012, I managed to get a word with him about his brief stay in Donegal. He was puzzled at first, I’ll put that down to my accent, but when I produced the picture he remembered some details about the occasion. “It was raining wasn’t it?” Well it was the North West of Ireland, it’s always raining. “And I scored one?” He remembered that anyway, once a goalscorer always a goalscorer and off he went with a smile on his face.
Of course it wasn’t as important a strike as any of the 55 he scored in the red of Liverpool. But for a 14 year old lad to witness one of Liverpool FC’s great icons score for my local club he will always be David Fairclough, League and European Cup winner and one-time Finn Harps centre forward.
Press Art – Courtesy Barclay Ramsey, Finn Harps Club Historian