What tradition?

Cod Almighty | Article

by Various

1 March 2006

Some Town fans are currently deriding the team's style of play under Russell Slade, arguing that the 'direct' approach is a betrayal of the club's traditions of passing football. The Mariners were well known for their attractive style under Alan Buckley - but does this 'tradition' date back any further than Buckley's arrival in 1988? Many Town fans old enough to remember the early 70s are fond of telling younger supporters how great Lawrie McMenemy's side was, but did the players pass the ball about? And what about other Town managers' teams?

Cod Almighty asked a group of fans for their impressions on Town's passing 'tradition'. Have a read and then let us know what you reckon as well.

Mike Harrison

For purist football the Dave Booth/Chris Nicholl era had some of the classiest players. Drinkell, Wilkinson, Ford and Lund were all good enough that year to be first division and Nicholl was superb at centre-half. Watching them was like watching the Buckley system but with urgency and penetration.

Going back beyond that, McMenemy's team only played with style after he signed Lew Chatterley. Before that they relied on the breakaway and the key player was Stuart Brace, a kind of 70s Michael Reddy but a better finisher. In the 60s an often forgotten manager was Jimmy McGuigan. It was he who paired Tees and Green and made a footballing midfield with Bobby Ross and Ron Foster and later Billy Rudd.

Another manager who liked football on the ground was Tim Ward. His was the team that included Don Donovan, Keith Jobling, Mick Cullen, Ron Cockerill, Johnny Scott, Jimmy Fell, Ron Rafferty and a big lump called Ralph Hunt who scored no end of goals with Rafferty. That team just failed to win promotion to Division Two but comprehensively beat champions Southampton including Terry Paine on a memorable night at Blundell Park in 1960. Rafferty had another good partnership with Cliff Portwood in the 1962 promotion team.

Phil Watson

From what little I remember the McMenemy team were no cultured aesthetes. Virtually all Tees's thirty goals in the promotion year [1971-72] were headers and Mike Hickman was a good old bruiser in the Gary Jones mould, but fitter. I suspect we have the Kerr/Booth era to thank for our love of ball-on-the-ground: Waters, Ford, Bonnyman, Mitchell... oh, for a 30-goals-a-season man today.

Keith Collins

Whilst my memory ain't that good I'm sure that we DID play footy in the 70s. Tees may have scored goals with his head - perhaps cos we had real wingers - but he also scored with his feet. Unfortunately I'm also able to remember him first time round. I remember an incident when he was poleaxed in the box and the play went to the other end. He lay on the ground and kept looking to see if the ref had actually seen him. Eventually the ref saw he was down and after consulting his linesman gave a pen. If only he was fit today.

Pat Bell

From the pieces Stephen Bierley used occasionally to write for the Guardian, there was a bit of a sense of us being a progressive side. Certainly Ron Ashman's side [1973-75] - my formative one - was a bit more cultured than any opposition we encountered, in my young eyes. Tony Ford's book suggests that the arrival of Lyons was quite a culture shock; that's my missing period though. But a lot is wishful thinking. Trudge through the writings of the late Charlie Ekberg and you'll read that we were known as the Cinderellas of the Football League in the thirties. I wonder if anyone more than 20 miles from the Dock Tower knew us as anything of the kind.

I do reckon sides involved in close rivalries tend to take on certain characteristics - the traditional '1-0 to the Arsenal' of Chapman and Graham against push-and-run Spurs; Wolves being more inclined to hoof it than the Baggies; Sheffield United than Wednesday. But its not fail-safe by any means: both Liverpool and Everton would like to think of themselves as passing sides and at the higher levels the game seems to have become more homogenous.

All in all, I reckon it's a stick that does need bending back a bit, but not necessarily so it's twisted the other way.

Pete Green

Pat's bit about "Cinderellas" makes me think of that spoken narrative thingy on the B-side of 'Up the Mariners', which quotes a report in a national paper on a Town match from the 1930s. The report seemed to suggest a certain, well, ruggedness to the team's approach (although the narrative surrounding it on the record implies a touch of southern snobbery on the part of the journalist).

Paul Ketchley

In the fifty years I've been watching Town, our teams have always played best when they played football on the ground. Shankly said his Town side in 1954 was the best footballing side he ever had. Then in the late 50s we adopted a 'continental strip' just to emphasise our pretensions: white shirt with a black keyhole style neck and red shorts, quite revolutionary at the time. And we had people like Jeff Whitefoot, Mike Cullen and Duncan Welbourne in midfield - the first two classy midfielders. Whitefoot came from Man Utd and went to Forest, Cullen played for Scotland when they had a decent side. My memory of Duncan Welbourne was as a more defensive midfielder. He went to Watford where he's still a bit of a legend.

I remember my dad coming back from games during that era and grumbling about that team not playing to feet. Then there was a period when they hoofed the ball up to big target men and he stopped going any more. My father played Southern League football (I suppose Conference level now) and was a bit of a purist about things.

Tees was more of an inside forward in his first spell, playing off a big centre-forward in Rod Green. We got him from Airdrieonians and then they went off to Charlton together with Charlie Wright our star goalkeeper.

The side that went up in the early 60s [Tim Ward's 1962 vintage] was also a footballing side. In the 1971-72 side we had this really quick winger called Jack Lewis - and he was a provider for Tees in his second spell. We've never succeeded when we've tried to play the long ball game.

Tony Butcher

Geoff Ford's Pictorial History states: "A winning side, challenging for promotion, will pull in fans no matter what League it plays in." Oh no, that's meaningful now, isn't it. "Sir Stanley Rous, later FIFA president, visited Blundell Park and was impressed with Town's continental style in a 2-1 win over Reading." Which takes the 'tradition' back to 1959 at least. I haven't read further back.

Do you agree with any of our musings? Or do you think can add something to this debate? Let us know through the feedback page.