By Ian Brown.
Saturday 30th May 1970 at the Café Royal in London. The annual general meeting of the Football League, with Avenue having to apply for re-election for a 4th consecutive season. Since the resumption of football after World War 2, only 2 sides had failed to be re-elected to the league, New Brighton in 1951 & Gateshead in 1960.
At 1967’s AGM, Avenue had received 42 votes & in 1968 that figure increased to 44. The vote fell to 38 in 1969, but that was 11 more than Newport County & 22 more than Cambridge United, the most successful of the non-league applicants. Newport also had to apply again in 1970, along with Hartlepool & Darlington. Chairman Herbert Metcalfe, vice-chairman George Sutcliffe, manager Frank Tomlinson & trainer/coach Ron Lewin arrived at the AGM with a degree of cautious optimism.
But when the votes were counted, there were only 17 in favour of Avenue. Southern League Cambridge United polled 31 votes & were elected along with existing members Darlington (47 votes), Hartlepool (42) & Newport County (31). Even Northern Premier League runners-up Wigan Athletic received more votes than Avenue, with 18 – Avenue’s 52-year membership of the Football League was over
Metcalfe was “dreadfully disappointed”. He admitted that what he referred to as “the rumpus last October” (when he’d insisted on picking the team, despite not having seen them play, provoking manager Laurie Brown to resign & virtually the entire playing staff to ask for transfers) “played a big part”, but he maintained that hestill thought that he’d been right. The future of the club would be decided at a board meeting on Monday.
Monday 1st June: The Telegraph & Argus led with the headline “Avenue face ‘go on or quit’ dilemma” – was the club going to go out of business, or would it apply to continue in the Northern Premier League? George Sutcliffe clearly favoured the latter option & Peter Swales of Altrincham, spokesman for the NPL, made it known that Avenue would be welcome to join.
Sutcliffe indicated that changes would need to be made to the club’s existing set-up to cope with the potential loss of revenue. Stanley Pearson speculated that the club would be unable to afford to run 3 sides as it had done previously & that the current playing staff of 16 full-timers, 1 part-timer & 2 apprentices might have to be significantly reduced.
Perhaps ground down by having covered Avenue’s failing fortunes since 1966, Pearson said “my own view is that the sensible way would be to pack up now”. In an editorial in the same issue headlined “Club that died of shame”, he penned what proved to be a rather premature obituary.
In Tuesday’s paper, Pearson reported that the Monday night board meeting had started promptly at 6pm. At 6.40, Ron Lewin emerged & invited Supporters Club secretary George Hudson to join the meeting. After another 30 minutes, Lewin re-emerged & before driving to his home in the north-east explained that he’d been fired, as the club could no longer afford him.
When the meeting ended, Metcalfe announced that due in great part to George Hudson’s assurances that the Supporters Club would continue to back them, Avenue proposed to carry on & apply to join the NPL. “We are all pulling together, trying to make this not our Waterloo, but our Dunkirk” he said, before advising that the players would be spoken to later in the week. Any not wishing to remain would be allowed to leave, he said.
On 5th June, Pearson reported “another shock” as development manager Denis Marshall resigned, saying that he & his assistant Stuart Thorp (a former Avenue junior) were to join another club “not far from here” from 1st July. Most of the players met with the manager & chairman on the same day, with a statement on the outcome expected later. Pearson speculated that the club would aim to employ only about 6 full-time professionals, with the rest of the playing staff being made up of part-timers. On the following day, Avenue applied to join the NPL & were accepted at its AGM in Leeds.
On 15th June it was announced that Avenue’s reserve team would play in the Yorkshire League in 1970/71. Arsenal were rumoured to be interested in signing Terry Dolan, but 3 days later, the T&A reported that he had committed to stay with Avenue. Also staying were Trevor Atkinson & Tommy Henderson, all 3 players remaining on full-time terms.
Fred Eyre had re-signed as a part-timer but wouldn’t be taking charge of the youth team as had previously been the case. 2 youngsters, forward Alan Brown, who’d made a goalscoring debut in the West Riding Senior Cup match against Huddersfield Town the previous April, & defender Phil McCaffery were signed as part-time professionals. Hartlepool had been given permission to talk to Ralph Wright, who would be allowed to leave on a free transfer.
There was more bad news for English football fans that week – Sunday 14th saw West Germany beat England 3-2 after extra time in the World Cup quarter-final in Mexico. Then on Friday 19th we opened our copy of Soccer Star to find that it was the last ever issue – a brief statement said it was being merged with its sister publication World Soccer – the end of another era.
22nd June saw the publication of the NPL fixture list; the season would begin on 15th August, at home to Netherfield. On 24th June, Ralph Wright, whose time at Avenue had been plagued by injury, signed for Hartlepool.
At the well-attended Supporters Club AGM, Mr Metcalfe received an enthusiastic reception & the club was presented with a cheque for £500. He in turn expressed his thanks to the supporters & reiterated his intention to guide the club back into the Football League. He said that unsettled players would only be allowed to leave if it was in the club’s best interests. Arthur Birdsall was appointed as the new development fund organiser. No mention was made of the presentation of the Player of the Year award – Graham Carr, the recipient of that slightly dubious honour, had refused to re-sign, so wasn’t there.
On 26th June the T&A reported that 30-year-old Tony Leighton, surprisingly freed by Bradford City at the end of 1969/70 had been interviewed for the post of Avenue player/coach, with a decision expected soon.
On 29th June, a new bonus scheme for the first 30 games of the new season was unveiled. Players would get £8 for a win & £4 for a draw; £100 for winning the league & £100 for winning the non-league cup. The list of full-time players who had re-signed for Avenue was now Atkinson, Beanland, Brannan, Campbell, Dolan, Henderson, Rafferty, Roberts, Walker & Woolmer. Yet to sign were Brodie, Carr, Hardie, Hudson & Tewley. Though Terry Dolan had been given permission to attend pre-season training / trials at Arsenal.
In his Yorkshire Sports column on 1st July, Andrew Callaway, who had taken over Avenue reporting duties from Stanley Pearson, had good news of 2 players – Dolan had returned early from his spell at Arsenal citing homesickness & the club’s longest serving player, John Hardie was to re-sign as a part-time professional.
On 6th July, Avenue were elected to the North-West Floodlit League & the following day, Tony Leighton’s appointment as player/coach was confirmed, effective from Monday 13th, when pre-season training began. With more than 400 senior appearances for City, Huddersfield Town, Barnsley & Doncaster Rovers, the signing of Leighton was a clear statement of Avenue’s intent to meet the challenge of returning to the Football League at the first time of asking head on. Meanwhile, recently freed Avenue centre forward Ray Charnley had signed for Morecambe, from where he’d joined Blackpool back in 1957.
Unusually, there appears to be no pre-season team photograph for 1970/71. On 13th July, the T&A included a picture of Leighton addressing 14 of his full-time playing staff. Back row: Tony Woolmer, Terry Dolan, Tommy Henderson, Alan Roberts, Tony Beanland, John Brodie, Danny Campbell, Trevor Atkinson & Gary Hudson; Front row: Gary Crampton, Bernard Rafferty, Mick Walker, Peter Brannan, Alan Tewley.
Missing from the picture were Graham Carr & John Hardie, as neither had yet re-signed & apprentice Harry Preece. Unlike most first days of pre-season, there was only one newcomer to the group, Leighton himself.
In the following Saturday’s edition of Yorkshire Sports, Andrew Callaway sounded a note of caution. With smaller crowds & lower income expected, could Avenue sustain a full-time staff of 12, the largest of any in the NPL? That figure of 12 was made up of the players pictured above, excluding Crampton (apprentice) & Gary Hudson, who didn’t re-sign until 27th July, on which day Hardie also signed his new part-time terms.
On 20th July, it was reported that Avenue would enter the 1970/71 FA Cup campaign in the 4th qualifying round. On 22nd July, the club suspended Graham Carr for 14 days for refusing to sign the forms that would allow him to play in the NPL. Carr had repeatedly written to the club asking to be released from his contract & was transfer listed at £1,200. He was training alone to prepare for the coming season. In Yorkshire Sports on the 25th, Callaway urged the club & Carr to settle their differences. Carr was said to be content with the terms offered but was hoping to stay in the Football League. Just a few days later, on the 29th, Avenue released Carr & the following week he signed for Altrincham, re-joining his former boss, Laurie Brown.
A report on the 29th that Dolan was wanted by Huddersfield Town was quickly followed on the 31st by one which said they were no longer interested in him.
Saturday 1st August saw Avenue open their campaign with a home friendly against Cheshire League side Buxton. Terry Dolan scored in the first half & 2 goals each from Henderson & Tewley rounded off a 5-0 win. On 11th August, the T&A introduced the reporters who’d be covering local sides. Stanley Pearson would report on Huddersfield Town, who were back in the First Division after 11 years. His replacement as Avenue correspondent, Andrew Callaway, was the only one of the reporters not to merit a photo. This proved an early indicator of the reduced press coverage the club itself could expect to receive with the loss of Football League status.
On Saturday 15th August there were 2 new faces on Avenue’s team sheet for the NPL opener – Leighton in the number 9 shirt & Alan Brown on the right wing. Other than Brown, the team comprised a full complement of players with Football League experience. Kendal based Netherfield had finished the previous season in 10th place & Avenue might have been expected to win quite comfortably, but a respectable crowd of 2,216 saw the visitors take home the points, the final score 0-2. “The same old Avenue story” said the T&A headline.
There was a shock in store on Monday 17th, with the news that First Division Crystal Palace wanted John Hardie as back-up to their first-choice keeper John Jackson. Hardie had recently started a joinery business with Don McCalman, but the offer from Palace was too good to refuse & he signed on the dotted line. A fee of £2,000 was quoted in the T&A, though the Rothmans Football Yearbook later recorded it as £5,000. The T&A speculated that Hardie’s weekly wage could be as much as £80 if he appeared in Palace’s first team. However, Jackson was a consistent performer, who was rarely injured – he was ever-present in Palace’s league team for 5 seasons between 1967 & 1972, so Hardie’s appearances were restricted to reserve games.
Manager Frank Tomlinson turned to neighbours City, hoping to re-sign Pat Liney to replace Hardie, as the only other keeper on Avenue’s books was junior Alan Dean. City refused, as a player/exchange deal with Preston involving Bobby Ham & Preston keeper Gerry Stewart had fallen through. Dean was expected to make his debut in the Wednesday night game at Wigan Athletic. Another debutant would be Allan Ham, brother of Bobby, who had just been signed as a part-timer from Guiseley.
On the day of the Wigan game a new goalkeeper emerged – Alan Aubrey, a 22-year-old printer from Leeds had impressed for the reserves the previous night & had been signed on part-time terms. His previous experience included spending the 1969/70 season with Cork Hibernians in the League of Ireland. Tomlinson invited another keeper, Weymouth’s 21-year-old Terry Hawke for a month’s trial. Hawke played a few reserve games before being released.
Wigan won the Wednesday night encounter 3-0, all the goals scored by Geoff Davies, 1 of a remarkable 7 hat-tricks he notched up that season. Wigan had spent £4,000 on former Everton & England winger Derek Temple from Preston, & he tormented the Avenue defence, which was missing skipper Atkinson with a thigh strain. There was praise for Alan Aubrey’s display, though he took a blow to the head which affected his second-half performance.
Atkinson was still unfit for the Saturday trip to South Liverpool, but Peter Brannan had recovered from a similar injury & returned in place of Alan Brown. Danny Campbell, who had worn the number 9 shirt at Wigan switched places with centre-half Dolan. Avenue went a goal down after 5 minutes, but the game was one which they dominated, with Tony Beanland outstanding in midfield. But despite creating several good chances, they only had Tony Leighton’s equaliser to show for it. They very nearly lost, with the home side hitting the post & Dolan clearing off the line in the late stages. 1-1, a goal & a point on the board at last.
Frank Tomlinson rang the changes for the following Wednesday’s trip to Gainsborough Trinity for the NPL Cup qualifying round game. Out went Roberts, Ham & Henderson, replaced by Gary Hudson, Tony Woolmer (his first appearance of the season) & Manchester youngster Nigel Lester, recently signed as a part-timer. Woolmer was rumoured to be the subject of interest from a 3rd Division side.
The performance proved to be one of Avenue’s best of the season & resulted in their first away win since February 1968 at Bradford City. A performance of “fire & determination” said Callaway. Goals from Brannan, Woolmer & Tewley put Avenue 3 up & although Trinity pulled 2 back after Leighton went off injured, Avenue were resilient & a 2nd from Woolmer secured a 2-4 victory & a home tie with Kirkby Town. Everyone played well, but Woolmer (“outstanding”), Beanland, Leighton & Tewley were singled out for praise by Callaway. Scouts from Crewe, Rochdale, York & Everton (!) were said to have been at the game.
The T&A reported that Avenue could receive a payment of £1,000 if Kenny Hibbitt made his full debut for Wolves at Nottingham Forest on the coming Saturday. In the event, Kenny wasn’t picked, but he did make a goalscoring start against Chelsea a fortnight later.
Optimism was high after the win at Gainsborough as Avenue headed west to Fleetwood on 29th August. They were missing the injured Alan Tewley, but Trevor Atkinson was fit again & replaced him. Avenue were a penalty goal down at half-time & then collapsed to a 5-0 defeat – a debacle, said Callaway, noting that there was a large contingent of disappointed away supporters in the crowd of 1,135 – “had they played till midnight the ball wouldn’t have gone in the net”.
A home game against Matlock Town the following Monday saw Hudson & Lester omitted, with Roberts & Bernard Rafferty (his first appearance of the season) replacing them. It was a memorable night for Rafferty who scored a hat-trick in a 4-1win. Peter Brannan netted the fourth & Callaway described it as “a display of fine football”.
There was another trip to the west coast the following Saturday, this time with Morecambe the destination. In an unchanged side, Peter Brannan stood out, he was brought down for a penalty, which Atkinson converted & scored with a 25-yard effort near the end. It finished 0-2 – a much happier journey home than the previous weekend.
The games were coming thick & fast. Next up leaders Wigan at home on Tuesday 8th September, with Avenue unchanged again. Brannan hit the bar & Alan Roberts went close, but Wigan went ahead when Aubrey fumbled a corner & their main marksman Davies headed in. With many of the crowd of 3,387 making their way out, Tommy Henderson went on a cross-field run before blasting home from 30 yards to save a point. Callaway’s verdict – a result that was well deserved for the team’s sustained effort.
Huddersfield Town were reported to have renewed their interest in Terry Dolan & Tony Woolmer was said to be on the radar of both York City & Rochdale. The chairman announced that “no player considered good enough for the first team will be transferred unless the financial situation becomes so grim that it demands it” – how prophetic those words would prove to be.
Allan Ham was restored to the team in place of Rafferty for the 1st round proper NPL Cup match at home to Kirkby Town. The performance was disappointing, though Brannan (twice) & Henderson had shots cleared off the line before Henderson scored from an acute angle to give Avenue a 1-0 win. With better finishing, Callaway thought they could have netted 6 or 7.
In correspondence, the chairman revealed that the club had been looking at centre-forwards, including former Manchester United striker Alex Dawson. The £7,000 fee quoted by Brighton was too high though. In other correspondence, he admitted that reports suggested that 2 of the youngsters signed at the start of the season, Brown & Lester, had not progressed as well as had been hoped.
On 15th September, Avenue announced that estate agent Stanley Yeadon had been co-opted onto the board & goalkeeper Alan Aubrey had been upgraded from part-time to full-time terms. Alan Tewley was expected to start training again soon after 2 weeks out with a septic ankle. Defender Alan Roberts had been filling in for him in midfield competently enough, but Callaway thought Roberts never really seemed comfortable there.
Tommy Henderson was again on the scoresheet in a Thursday night game at Matlock, this time netting after only 2 minutes. Opposing centre-forward McArthur equalised almost straight away, & those were the only goals, though Woolmer came close to grabbing a late winner.
Callaway was full of praise for the next performance, a 2-1 win against South Shields at home on 19th September. Henderson, who scored the 1st goal was man of the match, with Brannan a close second. Brodie & Dolan were outstanding in defence. Trevor Atkinson netted the winner from the spot after Brannan had been fouled.
The chairman appealed to local businessmen for financial assistance – he asked for loans totalling £10,000 to tide the club over a “temporary shortage”, otherwise players would have to be sold. Lancashire cricketer Barry Wood was training with the club to keep fit during the winter. He was later signed on part-time terms on a short-term contract.
At 2-0 down with 10 minutes to go, it looked as though Avenue had made a fruitless trip to Great Harwood on 26th September. Then came, in Andrew Callaway’s words a “dramatic transformation”. Leighton pulled a goal back on 81 minutes, Henderson netted from close range 2 minutes later & Woolmer got the winner with 2 minutes left.
The following Monday, Avenue faced table-topping Macclesfield Town at home, with the T&A predicting a crowd of 4,000. In fact, 3,713 turned out to see Avenue’s unbeaten run of 7 games come to an end, the visitors winning 0-1. Callaway thought Avenue the better side, more skilful & imaginative, but they couldn’t take their chances.
Across the Pennines, former Avenue player/manager Laurie Brown resigned from his role at Altrincham after some poor results. News of injured players – Alan Tewley would return as substitute against Runcorn on 3rd October, but Gary Hudson was to see a specialist about the knee from which a cartilage had been removed last season.
Tommy Henderson continued his goalscoring run with a hat-trick against Runcorn, a home game which Avenue won 3-1. Also impressing was the fit again Tewley, on as substitute. He returned to the starting eleven for the first North West Floodlit League game of the season at home to Chorley on the following Monday, when Callaway rated him the best player on view. Avenue won that by a single goal, with Woolmer scoring from the rebound after a header from Danny Campbell had hit the bar.
Saturday 10th October saw a 3rd consecutive home game, with Altrincham the visitors. There were some familiar names on the visitors’ team-sheet – Graham Carr, Charlie Rackstraw (ex-City) & David Shawcross (ex-Halifax Town). It was a real game of 2 halves; Callaway described Avenue as “playing as badly as at any time last season” in the first half. Altrincham were 1 up through a deflected shot at half-time, but 10 minutes into the second half, Tewley replaced Ham & Leighton moved up front. Goals from Dolan, Leighton, Henderson & Tewley saw Avenue to a 4-1 win; Tewley was the catalyst for the turnaround.
The 2nd NW Floodlit League game was away at Macclesfield on Wednesday 14th. The home side was dominant & ran out 3-0 winners, including 1 scored by future Avenue player Frank Beaumont. There was worse news when an x-ray revealed a hairline fracture across the bridge of Trevor Atkinson’s right foot; he was expected to be in plaster for 6 weeks.
For the trip to Netherfield, Gary Hudson replaced Atkinson & Tewley started in place of Ham, with Barry Wood on the bench. Netherfield went ahead through an own goal by Dolan, but Avenue hit back through Henderson just before the interval & took the lead through Woolmer just after. Netherfield were awarded a penalty when Hudson handled on the line, but it was blasted high & wide. Tewley made the game safe in the dying minutes with a beautifully taken goal. 1-3 to Avenue, revenge for the opening day defeat; they were 6th in the table with 17 points, just 5 behind leaders Macclesfield.
Neither Leighton (groin strain) nor Hudson (knee ligaments) was fit to play at Hyde United in the Floodlit League game on Monday 19th. Peter Brannan was switched to left back, with Danny Campbell & Barry Wood, who had made his debut as substitute at Netherfield, coming in. Avenue lost 3-2, with Tony Woolmer, the scorer of an early goal, sent off 5 minutes before the interval for abusive language towards the referee. Hyde were 3-1 up by then, but Terry Dolan pulled a goal back & Tewley twice hit the woodwork near the end.
20th October – the chairman was appealing for funds again, this time to pay a £1,000 rates bill. He claimed that if the money wasn’t raised within 3 weeks, the club might fold. Admission prices were being increased for the next home match with adults having to pay 5 shillings. In the T&A, Callaway noted that Metcalfe had not only invested money in the club, but also considerable time & effort, which had affected his health & led to his doctor warning him to take a complete rest – advice which, it seems, went unheeded.
George Hudson said that the supporters’ club could do no more – it was already handing over £50 a week towards players’ wages & funding the production of the programme. He felt that the club’s wage bill was far too high – the reserve team had contained 8 paid players in its most recent game, which had been lost 0-2. Metcalfe, on his way to Scotland on a scouting trip, seemingly forgetting his recent appeals for support, countered “if you have a successful side, no wage bill is too high in my view”.
Hudson & Leighton hadn’t recovered from injury, so Campbell & Wood were retained for the trip to Lancaster City on 24th October, with Allan Ham on the bench. On the morning of the match, there was shocking news – Herbert Metcalfe, who had stopped off in Glasgow on his way to see a game in Aberdeen, had died overnight in his hotel room; he was 63. Almost a year to the day since his interference in team selection had provoked “the rumpus”, the chairman was in the headlines again. This time, though, could the club recover from the loss of his financial support?
On the field, Avenue came away from Lancaster with both points in a 0-1 win, which moved them up to 4th in the table. Barry Wood got the goal with a fine header from Tewley’s pin-point delivery. It could have been more: Beanland hit the post & had a 30-yard free kick well saved, a header from Campbell was cleared off the line & Henderson twice hit the side netting.
Despite this on-field success, the club was in a state of shock – & financial instability. Ironically, on Monday 26th October, the T&A included an advertisement prepared by Herbert Metcalfe, appealing for support & for another director (or 2), optimistically headed “Do you want First Division Football in Bradford?”
The following day, director Stanley Yeadon proposed a fund-raising scheme whereby supporters would be able to buy a square-foot portion of the Park Avenue pitch for a charge of £1, estimating that this could raise as much as £160,000. A local conveyancing expert suggested that this might raise legal issues, with the possible costs involved being £9 per transaction. Later that week, Yeadon said he had received 140 provisional orders.
Meanwhile, a player exodus began with Terry Dolan joining Huddersfield Town for £2,000 & leading scorer Tommy Henderson starting a 2-month trial with York City. 4 other first-teamers, Alan Tewley, John Brodie, Peter Brannan & Danny Campbell were to travel to Crewe for talks with a view to transferring there. Only Tewley did sign, a few days later, for an undisclosed (though small) fee. Crewe agreed to pay Avenue 50% of any future transfer fee received for Tewley, but that came to nothing, as he was freed after 2 seasons.
The board announced more staff redundancies, with the services of trainer George Stabb, groundsman Maurice Garside, chief scout Wilf Gledhill, assistant trainer Bob Wood & laundress Sheila Keating all being dispensed with. For former player Stabb it brought a sad end to his 34-year association with the club.
Director Mark Brown described the next Saturday’s home match against Morecambe as going a long way towards deciding “which way the club goes”. A good attendance was hoped for. With Atkinson & Hudson both sidelined, young amateur Peter Balmforth made his debut at right-back, with Allan Ham returning for the departed Tewley, Campbell replacing Dolan & Alan Brown, out of the first team picture since the second game of the season, on the bench.
A crowd of 2,416 saw Avenue make a dream start, a pinpoint pass from Tony Beanland setting up Tony Woolmer for the opening goal. An enthusiastic performance should have brought more; a thunderbolt from Beanland was deflected onto the roof of the stand, Ham nearly netted direct from a corner & Woolmer hooked a shot just wide. In the second half, they were rewarded for their efforts, with Ham pressuring Tomlinson into an own goal & goals from Woolmer again & Leighton. Callaway rated Roberts & Wood the outstanding performers in the 4-0 win, but the whole team was deserving of the ovation it received at the end. A collection organised by the supporters’ club raised £57.
On Monday 2nd November, Avenue held a board meeting chaired by George Sutcliffe. Manager Frank Tomlinson would put forward his plan for a revised playing staff with a reduced number of full-timers (perhaps only about 6, speculated Callaway). Tomlinson had previously suggested this in the close season but had been overruled by Metcalfe. Delighted with the performance against Morecambe, Tomlinson singled out the part-timers for praise, saying “it is these players to whom we will have to give more responsibility in future”.
On the Tuesday, the remaining players met with the management & pledged their support to the club. The board expressed its intention to retain a strong playing staff to progress in both league & cup competitions. A further public meeting would be held to update supporters on the state of the club following Herbert Metcalfe’s demise. Part of the outstanding rates bill had been paid & development fund manager Arthur Birdsall had agreed to go part-time, with assistant secretary Len Padgett taking over his role. Elsewhere former Avenue keeper David Lawson had made a “brilliant” debut for Huddersfield Town in their West Riding Senior Cup semi-final against Bradford City.
On 4th November Tony Woolmer became the 4th player to leave the club in the past week, when he was transferred to Scunthorpe United for a small fee. Part-timer Fred Eyre, who had made his sole league appearance against Swansea in March 1970 had his contract cancelled by mutual consent.
3 days later, Avenue travelled to Wearside League club Washington for an FA Cup 4th qualifying round game. Skipper Trevor Atkinson had recovered from the broken bone in his foot more quickly than expected & replaced Balmforth at right-back. Alan Brown returned to the starting line-up for the first time since August in place of Woolmer.
To the relief of all concerned, Avenue ran out 0-3 winners, with Allan Ham scoring a hat-trick. Callaway’s praise was mainly for the defence though, in which Atkinson, Campbell & Roberts stood out. Inevitably, he said, the forward line was missing the experience of the departed Henderson, Tewley & Woolmer. The reward for the win was a trip to Third Division Barnsley in the 1st round proper.
The following Tuesday, Avenue travelled to Chorley for a NW Floodlit League match in a “mudbath” coming away 0-3 winners, Brannan with 2 & Rafferty on the scoresheet.
A public meeting was held in St George’s Hall on Friday 13th November & around 800 people attended. The T&A reported that through various donations & fund-raising initiatives, the club was now £427 better off. George Sutcliffe, who became chairman, said he believed that Avenue could progress & prosper; he announced the club’s intention to apply for re-election to the Football League at the end of the current season.
The next day Avenue played a home friendly against Matlock Town. Callaway reported that “it turned into a battle in the mud, as players on both sides found it easier to kick each other rather than a ball that bobbled on the heavy surface”. Beanland & Leighton were missing through injury & junior Ogden tried hard to cover Beanland’s role. Allan Ham & Danny Campbell got Avenue’s goals in a 2-3 defeat. Barry Wood was sent off for “handing off Brandon in true rugby fashion”. Aubrey had a day to forget & Campbell was the only Avenue player to emerge with any credit.
There was an improvement in the Monday night Floodlit League match at home to Macclesfield, which Avenue won 1-0 with a Rafferty goal. Beanland was back from injury, Aubrey back on form & Atkinson & Roberts were singled out for praise, as was Allan Ham – “his best match to date”.
Part-timers Brown, Ham & Wood joined in with full-time training in the week leading up to the FA Cup tie at Barnsley. With Brannan unfit because of 4 stitches in a gashed knee picked up against Macclesfield, Brown retained his place in the starting line-up. Barnsley were on a poor run of form, with 2 draws & 5 defeats in their last 7 games. “One good win, I am sure, would work wonders” said their manager Johnny Steele in his programme notes – but he cautioned that Avenue would be “no pushover. They have lost only one of their last 15 matches”.
A decent crowd of 7,189 turned out to see Steele’s team get the win he hoped for; 1-0 thanks to a Norman Dean penalty after a hand ball by Leighton. Dean thought he’d scored a second, but it was disallowed for a foul on Aubrey. Callaway judged it a wholehearted performance, with especially good displays from Aubrey, Atkinson, Brodie & Campbell, the latter “a tower of strength at centre half”. Avenue could have equalised at the end, as a cross from Brown “floated across an empty goal with no-one on hand to turn it home”.
Surprisingly, in view of the club’s ailing finances, the following week brought a new signing, ex-Bradford City forward Charlie Rackstraw, 32, from Altrincham. Laurie Brown had signed him for Altrincham the previous January, but he still lived in Bradford & travelled 3 times a week for training. Brown’s successor John Davies seemed keen to end this arrangement. No fee was involved, but it was suggested that Avenue winger Alan Brown might make the reverse trip (in the event, he didn’t). It was hoped that Rackstraw, with more than 400 senior appearances & 100 goals for City, Gillingham & Chesterfield, would add some experience & firepower to Avenue’s depleted forward line.
Rackstraw went straight into the Avenue team for the Floodlit League encounter at Witton Albion which, despite an outstanding display from Aubrey, saw the home side take the points in a 3-2 win. Walker & Rafferty were the Avenue scorers.
Kenny Hibbitt, now with 14 first team appearances for Wolves, was called into the England Under-23 squad, with the possibility of a further £1,000 instalment of his transfer fee if selected. (Kenny’s sole Under-23 international appearance came as sub for Mick Channon against Wales Under-23s on 2nd December 1970).
There was less positive news of another young midfielder, 17-year-old apprentice Gary Crampton, who hadn’t progressed to the senior team since signing from Everton in January 1970. He had been released from his contract & had “given up ideas about a career in football”. There was a departure from the boardroom as well, with recently appointed director Stanley Yeadon resigning for personal reasons.
The next NPL game was away at Northwich Victoria. Bernard Rafferty had picked up an ankle injury at Witton & was replaced by fit again Peter Brannan. John Brodie hadn’t fully recovered from a similar injury, so part-timer Phil McCaffery would make his senior debut at left back. Brodie was however, fit enough to be named as substitute. Avenue found themselves 2-0 down by half-time, with Atkinson off injured & replaced by Brodie. The final score was 3-0, a lacklustre performance, one of the worst of the season in Callaway’s view; it was McCaffery’s only senior appearance.
Team changes abounded for the Tuesday night trip to Fleetwood for an NPL Cup tie. Brodie replaced McCaffery, though neither he nor his full back partner Atkinson were fully fit. Campbell was also not 100% fit, but would play; Roberts, Rafferty & Wood were all out injured & Rackstraw was cup-tied. Alan Brown came in for Rackstraw, Mick Walker would play in the unfamiliar role of centre forward & youngster Jimmy Williams would make his debut in the number 10 shirt. Another youngster, amateur Steve Thornton from Heckmondwike, formerly with Ossett Albion, who had only 3 reserve games under his belt, was named as substitute.
The performance against Fleetwood showed considerable improvement, but some defensive lapses helped the home side to a 3-1win, with Walker netting for Avenue after a perfectly judged run at a corner. Tony Leighton was upbeat about his side’s losing run: “It’s a phase, & I think we shall come out of it just as suddenly as we fell into it” he said prior to the weekend home game with Kirkby Town.
The day before the Kirkby game (4th December) came the surprise announcement that manager Frank Tomlinson had been sacked, with Leighton promoted to player/manager. George Sutcliffe gave the reason as “purely on the grounds of economy…we cannot afford to have both a manager & a player coach”. The departing manager was resigned to his fate: “it has not come as a great surprise to me. I am not bitter about this at all. I have enjoyed every minute of my time at Park Avenue….”
Some felt that Tomlinson, having been out of the game for years & with no managerial experience, had been appointed by Metcalfe as his “puppet”. Interviewed by Jeremy Charnock in “Diary of a Lost Cause” Ralph Wright claimed that he couldn’t remember much about Tomlinson, but felt that he was being manipulated by the chairman. Another interviewee, Peter Brannan, couldn’t recall Tomlinson having any involvement with training, which was presumably left for Ron Lewin, then Leighton to look after. On a more positive note, Andrew Callaway thought the departing manager had made a significant contribution towards rebuilding team spirit after the failure to achieve re-election.
Following his sending off against Matlock, Barry Wood was suspended for 2 weeks from 14th December & fined £5, though he was injured & in plaster anyway. Jimmy Williams retained his place in the team against Kirkby & there was a last-minute change in goal, with Yorkshire colt cricketer Rod Smith making his debut as Aubrey had twisted his ankle in training. Kirkby took the lead, but Atkinson equalised from the spot after a defender was adjudged to have handled on the line. Allan Ham scored a second half winner, Williams could have had a hat-trick & Smith made a competent debut.
Because of his new position, Tony Leighton resigned from the Professional Footballers Association management committee. Alan Roberts & Wood both returned to light training after injury. But there were more injuries after a home friendly against Barrow, which the visitors won 1-3. Ham, who had scored inside the first 2 minutes, went off with damaged ankle ligaments & Leighton was badly concussed in a collision with Barrow’s Jim Irvine. Irvine was carried off, but Leighton continued after lengthy treatment. He later said he didn’t remember playing the rest of the game. Rackstraw & Beanland were Avenue’s best performers on the day.
Alan Aubrey returned to the starting line-up for the trip to Bangor City on 19th December. Leighton dropping himself to substitute & Alan Roberts replaced him. There was a full debut for Steve Thornton & a first outing of the season for fellow amateur Eric Fitzsimons, whose only previous senior appearance had been as Avenue’s last Football League debutant in the penultimate game of 1969/70 at Chesterfield.
Bangor went ahead through Conde on 23 minutes, but Jimmy Williams, in his third (and final) first team appearance, equalised 6 minutes later with a header from close range. Bangor took the lead with 12 minutes to go, & it took a wonder save from their keeper Phil Tottey to deny Brannan after Leighton, on as second half sub for Walker had hit the post. It finished 2-1 to the Welshmen.
There was little pre-Christmas cheer on 22nd December, as the club announced a loss of £38,354 in its accounts for the year ended 31st May 1970. Chairman George Sutcliffe remained upbeat however, pointing out that many costs had been cut since his predecessor’s demise.
On the following day, Leighton was appearing at a disciplinary hearing in Manchester on behalf of former striker Tony Woolmer, sent off for using abusive language in the Floodlit League game against Hyde while at Avenue & Alan Roberts, who had amassed 4 bookings. Leighton appealed against Roberts’ booking for fighting against Netherfield, but the outcome wasn’t as hoped for. Roberts was banned for 14 days & fined £10, with a further 21 day suspended ban for the other 3 bookings. Woolmer was banned for 14 days as well, with a £25 fine. Meanwhile, Graham Carr, who had earlier been dismissed by Altrincham for disciplinary reasons, joined Telford United, managed by his former Northampton Town team-mate Ron Flowers.
There was a quick opportunity to take revenge for the previous defeat, as Bangor were the Boxing Day visitors to Park Avenue. In the T&A Brian Horsfall reported that it was “a real Christmas cracker of a game”. The visitors went 2-0 up, but 2 fine goals from Peter Brannan levelled the match. Leighton hit the bar & Beanland hit the post, but it finished 2-2. So ended an eventful 1970.
To be continued…
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