Sunday, 23 October 2016

Season Review 1955/56

After a series of fine performances on a pre-season tour of South America, Roy Race and Blackie Gray are thrust into first-team action on the opening day of the First Division calendar. Elbury Wanderers are Melchester Rovers' formidable opponents, with England international Arty Hedlow at inside-right expected to cause trouble for the defence.

In a thrilling encounter Roy scores twice adding to a goal from inside-left Jim Hallett, but Hedlow inspires the Wanderers who battle to a 3-3 draw. It was a fantastic opening to an eventful first season of top level football for Race and Gray.

Manager Ben Galloway was more than impressed with the performance of Roy, yet his lingering doubts over Blackie's quality led to a surprise transfer. With Hedlow's powerful display fresh in his memory the Rovers boss jumped at the chance the sign a proven internationalist, splashing out £10,000 to sign up the classy inside-right.

Melchester Rovers vs Cobdale United 1955/56Of course Blackie was disappointed, but even at this early stage his dedication to the Rovers was evident. He buckled down and set about starring for the reserves, the aim to put pressure on the new big money signing, Hedlow.

Hedlow proved a natural leader, his attacking plans complimenting the midfield and defensive abilities of skipper Andy McDonald. Debuting against Cobdale United, Hedlow and Roy combined effectively on the field, but the eager Race had trouble accepting Hedlow's criticisms. The pair almost came to blows at half-time, but it was Roy's bravery that set up Hedlow's second and the Rovers winner.

Fortune favours the brave and Blackie's bravery in taking care of the new Rovers mascot, Billy the Goat, led to his fortunate recall to the first team. Billy escaped Gray's grasp, butting Hedlow, the resultant injury preventing Arty from taking his place in the number 8 jersey for the local derby match versus Hamville.

Blackie took his chance and on a snowy field scored twice to give Rovers the two points. Galloway was satisfied and Gray had secured his place as Rovers inside-right, one he would not give up for some time!

The season came to a close with Rovers unable to make an impact at the top of the table or the Cup. However Hedlow's return to from injury created more headaches for our hero pair of Race and Gray. The traditional end of season floodlit challenge match with Cliffport United was the catalyst for a series of bizarre events surrounding Arty Hedlow and the special medals gilded for the winners of the friendly. Attempts to frame Blackie as thief of the precious medals were fruitless, however on the field, playing in place of the injured McDonald at centre-half, Hedlow's tricky display made Gray out to be useless.
Cliffport United vs Melchester Rovers 1955/56

Over-hit, under-hit and spinning passes caused Blackie to miscontrol and lose possession constantly. And Cliffport surged into a two goal lead. At half-time, Roy having noticed Arty's foul play, confronted the brash midfielder, who promptly fled onto the roof of the main stand. Blackie and Roy talked him down and with quick forgiveness given the Rovers were all set for a second-half comeback.

Hedlow settled into the game, creating the goals that would give Rovers a 3-2 victory.

1955/56 Melchester Rovers stats, opponents, line-ups, scorers


1955/56 Melchester Rovers line-up

1 - Len Dolland 
2 - Dave Williams 
3 - Doug Roberts 
4 - Hughie Griffiths 
5 - Andy McDonald (c) 
6 - Buster Brown 
7 - Charlie King 
8 - Blackie Gray/Artie Hedlow 
9 - Roy Race 
10 - Jim Hallett 
11 - Tom Dawson 

Reserves: Porky Jones (LB), Allan, Blake, Riley, Sam Higby (RW), Bill Biggs, Pete Crowley (RH) 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Opponents No.16 - Highborough United

Highboro' United, affectionately known by football fans as "The Toffs" are the sleeping giants of English football. United made their name in the mid-50s becoming the most famous club in football. Seven F.A. Cup wins between 1948 and 1967. A first league title for many years in 1968/69. A European Cup win 1970. Highboro' United were a force to be reckoned with.

Their inspiration? A gypsy boy named Raven! Towards the end of the 1967/68 season, Baldy Hagen's United were in serious danger of relegation to the Second Division. Yet Hagen discovered one of English football's great natural talents. Barefoot, scraggy hair and a thick oikish accent, Raven found a permanent home on the United left wing.
Legendary manager Baldy Hagen with Raven

The youngster's raw talent was enough to save Highboro' from the drop, as Seaford Athletic were overtaken on the final day of the season. Raven's flair and direct running was the perfect compliment to the classy Clive Manning at centre-forward.

Manning, as captain, found Raven's ways a little strange, he was reluctant to have a ruffian representing the Toffs. However, Hagen was trusted, other stars like Eric Barlow in midfield, Gerald Thompsett at the back and athletic goalie Lionel Jeeps, were more willing to mix it with such a character and a Championship winning side was forged.

United returned to what they saw as their rightful place at the top, winning the title in 1968/69. Raven's displays earning him an England cap against Spain.

Hagen's strengthened his side, signing England international centre-half Reg Munger. Munger's sterling defensive work set Raven, Manning and new forward signing Larry Vincent free. Highboro' were unstoppable in the European Cup, defeating French champions Toulonge, Atletico Bulbao of Spain on the way to the Final, where Scots Glenkirk Rangers were brushed aside.
Larry Vincent of Highboro' United

Off-field issues had always created conflicts within the Toffs dressing room. Early in the 1971/72 season, the unthinkable happened as Raven was sold to Carford City. The boy wonder soon returned to United and the balance was restored to The Toffs eleven.

A British Inter-Cities Cup win was the highlight of 72/73 season, as two-time European Champions Glenburn of Scotland were defeated on the road to the final. Jeeps loses form and his place in goal to Spider Mulford (a gypsy friend of Raven) and is sold before the final to United's opponents, Welsh side Cambroke City.

However the turbulence off the field was back, Hagen had resigned early in the 72/73 season, but returned. Boardroom influences had created a tense atmosphere behind the scenes and Raven was out. Without Raven, United scrapped to avoid relegation. But were not so lucky the next year as they were relegated to the Second Division for the first time.

The old Toffs were no more as Highboro' finally adapted to the modern game of the late 70s. Promotion to the First Division was secured as Champions at the end of the 1980/81 season and United were back!
Highboro' United vs Melchester Rovers 1981 Pre Season

While never challenging for honours the early 80s saw United secure their place in the First Division. By the late 80s, the Toffs were again upsetting the majority working class fanbase of English football. Alan Greaves had taken charge and was splashing the cash. In 1988/89 Greaves snapped up athletic forward Henry Barrington from Enford Town for a record fee. Tough and reliable John Carter partnered England international Ray Barret in the centre of a defence that allowed United to become genuine high-fliers.
Highboro United vs Enford Town 1989

But Greaves could not deliver the title the Toffs board demanded and was replaced with Glen Talbot in 1990. Talbot too was unable to bring the desired trophies and Highboro' drifted down the table. Relegation and years of gloom followed, as Highboro' United once the greatest team in England were left slumbering in the second tier.