German bombs helped propel Christopher Backhouse into the arms of York City FC and he’s been a fan for 66 years. In the first of a new series, he recalls some of the most memorable players he’s seen. Today: Goalies wore green
Two stray German bombs which destroyed our house in Bootham in April 1943 resulted in a move to Burton Stone Lane within sight and sound of Bootham Crescent and the start of my life long love affair with York City.
I saw my first game in 1946 when, as one of a gang of urchins, I was let in free through a pair of large wooden gates opened towards the end of each game.
Clambering up to the top of the cinder slope above the terracing at the Grosvenor Road end I looked down at the green clad figure in the goal below, my first sight of a City goalie.
He was Polish, Wojczak by name, and this was the first and last time I saw him. I was reminded of him this year when reading the amazing story of Wojcek, a bear which followed the Polish Army through the war, finishing up in Scotland. They probably knew each other.
The ground was very different then, the Main Stand smaller by a third, the terraces at both ends much bigger and both uncovered. The Popular Stand had no seating but concealed a tunnel which enabled supporters of both teams to change ends, mingling happily.
There was a sign topping this stand saying “Cost defrayed by the supporters club”. It was some years before I knew the meaning of “defrayed.” A wooden fence surrounded the the pitch. A cinder running track, strangely incomplete, ran in front of the main stand.
City won and I was hooked.
The first goalie to really stick in my mind was Peter Pickering (pictured right), a big strong man, able to kick the bladder-filled, laced-up, heavy leather ball the length of the pitch. He was very good and went to Chelsea where he shone in the First Division.
He was succeeded by Jack Frost, remembered in name only, Des Thompson, smaller I recall, Harold Searson, and then my hero throughout his long career, the incomparable Tommy Forgan.
Tommy is still alive in Australia, the last survivor of the great 1954/55 cup semi final team. I see him now in my mind’s eye, green jersey, long baggy white shorts, white-topped black stockings, emerging from the tunnel carrying a cloth cap which he often wore to shield his eyes from a low sun at the Shipton Street end.
My greatest memory of Tommy is from the third round of that cup run, against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road. First Division Blackpool included several internationals, including Stanley Matthews. After Sid Storey opened the scoring and Billy Fenton ran from half way to add a second, Tommy saved a penalty towards the end to seal a famous victory.
Handsome Tommy played on with remarkable consistency until succeeded by his faithful understudy, Micky Granger, smaller, spring heeled, with a shock of blond hair. I saw Micky perform miracles to keep out Birmingham City in a 3-0 victory in front of a huge crowd – approaching 20,000 – at Bootham Crescent.
The following season he kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw against Nat Lofthouse’s Bolton Wanderers. He couldn’t stop Nat scoring in the replay at Bolton though.
I have less happy memories of Gordon Morritt, a giant, good in the air but rather easily beaten on the ground. Standing behind his goal at Chester City’s old Sealand Road ground in 1969, I saw him concede three goals, falling for each low shot as slowly as a felled forest tree.
Ron Hillyard was good but followed by Graeme Crawford, the best, I think, since Tommy Forgan. I was at Shrewsbury to see him almost unemployed and the most amazing goal scored by John Peachey hit from all of 40 yards. I was behind the flight of the ball and saw that it was going to score all the way.
I am sure that Graeme wore green but times were changing albeit slowly. Goalies becoming keepers, halves midfielders, wings wide men, and forwards strikers.
There have been some excellent keepers in more recent times. Roger Jones, Dean Kiely, now at West Brom, and Andy Warrington, still playing 13 years after leaving York for Doncaster where he is a crowd favourite to this day. I wonder if anyone else saw him snatch a cap from the head of a supporter behind the goal in time to defend a corner at the Shipton Street end?
And of course our present scintillating incumbent, Michael Ingham who may prove to be the best of all. Now he certainly doesn’t wear green.
Next time: Backs to front
- Many thanks to David Batters for kindly giving us permission to reproduce pictures from his books Images Of Sport: York City Football Club, published by Tempus, and York City: The Complete Record, published by Breedon Books and available from the York City shop and online here