York City through the years: Part Seven
Spearpoint

23 Mar 2013 @ 12.16 pm
| Sport

David Dunmore in action against Carlisle United in November 1953
Christopher Backhouse remembers City’s big number nines, the centre forwards


Before embarking on the last lap of this race through York City’s past, I wonder if others ever scurried across the railway bridge at the bottom of Grosvenor Terrace when City were away, along the lane behind Bootham Park Hospital, across Wiggington Road and into the home of York Wasps, the rugby league team.

A grand little ground it was, with a steep, high terrace at the Gillygate end, a lower one at the other. The main stand was long and low with metal hoops defining the space between seats. I know because I sat on one painfully one day. There was only one league in the early post war days, and no a six tackle rule. 

One team could retain possession interminably and often did. I do recall York beating Romania once! Players such as wily Riley the cunning scrum half, the Drake brothers, Vic Yorke the goal kicker, and a glamorous centre three quarter recruited from South Africa named Gillespie stick in the mind.

I digress as it is time to look at City centre forwards, those wearing number nine. We have had some good ones over the years, but none better than Alf Patrick. I last saw him four or five years ago at Bootham Crescent, still standing tall, hair still dark. He was the first City centre forward that I recall and still the best. I was thrilled to see his picture as a recipient of the Queen’s Maundy Money only last year. I wrote to Alf once, almost certainly inspired by his five goals against Rotherham in 1948.

“Dear Mr Patrick,” I wrote, “I am a big supporter of York City and I hope that you might have a spare shirt that you could send me.” I was aged 10 at the time. I received a charming reply almost by return. “I’m sorry that I can’t send you a shirt. I have only got one and I have to wash it in time for the next match. But I hope you will be pleased with my autograph.” 

I went to see Berwick Kaler’s truly excellent panto over Christmas and was thrilled to find myself sitting next to 91-year-old Alf, instantly recognisable, and it made my day to be able to chat to him. What a man! He is my centre forward in the best City team ever.

Norman Wilkinson is foiled by the Tranmere Rovers' keeper in April 1955
Norman Wilkinson is foiled by the Tranmere Rovers’ keeper in April 1955

Next on the scene was David Dunmore, a great big strong chap. I did not see him play very often but when I did he almost always scored, notably twice playing alongside another favourite, Johnny Linaker, in a high-scoring draw with Darlington. Not long afterwards he scored a hat-trick, the only one that I have seen while watching City. David went to London where he played for some years, including a spell with Spurs.

After David came another great player who I will have to squeeze into my best ever team namely Norman Wilkinson, the perfect foil for the explosive Arthur Bottom. Slightly stooping, Norman had a faintly professorial  appearance which may have lured some opponents into a false sense of security. I saw him outplay none other than Alf Ramsey in that famous 3-1 win over Spurs on a snowy pitch in the great cup semi final run. I think that few have played more times for City and fewer if any have scored more goals.

Paul Aimson would be a certainty in most best ever City teams, but having picked Alf Patrick and Norman Wilkinson already Paul would have to be content with a place on the bench. The only slight difficulty is that there were no substitutes in those early days. It was not uncommon to see a hobbling player moved up to the centre forward position, and a chant of “Come on the ten men” ring around the ground.

ted-macdougallTed MacDougall (pictured right) was another who found fame after leaving City for Bournemouth. In his second season he was joined in the forward line by Phil Boyer who was one of City’s best wingers, and together they formed a formidably talented partnership. Both of them had great success in higher leagues.

Paul Aimson returned for a second spell at about this time and Tommy Spencer, he of the very short shorts, appeared for a couple of seasons as did Terry Farmer. Neither of these made a big impression although I do recall seeing them both from time to time.

The 1980s were dominated by the late, keith-walwyngreat Keith Walwyn (pictured right) who many will remember well. A West Indian, Keith would run through a brick wall, scoring a goal for every two games. I once took my wife to her first, and as it turned out, her only game. Keith scored in the very first minute as we settled into our seats. Neither of us saw what proved to be the only goal and my wife never came again.

I have come to the end of my memories of centre forwards although some of the later incumbents were among my favourites, Paul Barnes in particular, Keith Houchen, of Arsenal penalty fame, and Neil Tolson, scorer at Everton as I watched. I have also come to the end of my rambling through memory lane of York City.  All that remains is my fantasy match between York City’s all-time best eleven and a team picked (by me, with Arthurites help) from the best opposing players to have appeared at Bootham Crescent.