I'm just wild about Clarrie: Grimsby keepers 1951-57

Cod Almighty | Article

by Neville Butt

31 August 2014

In the first instalment of his series on Grimsby goalkeepers, Neville looked at those who attempted to take over the mantle of the great George Tweedy immediately after the second world war. In the 1950s, as Town plunged to the third division for the first time in 25 years, Tweedy finally retired but arguably our finest post-war number 1 made his debut...

1951-52: Shankly makes his mark

Town started 1951-52, their first season back in Division Three (North) since 1926, under the stewardship of Bill Shankly. Appointed after he had helped Carlisle United attain their highest ever place in the Football League, Shankly made a series of excellent signings to boost morale quickly.

One position that appeared not to be a worry was that of goalkeeper. The blond Stan Hayhurst was the man in possession, but George Tweedy, one of two players still with us from our days in the top flight (the other was Billy Cairns) was also in reserve. Tweedy, albeit in need of a liberal application of 3-in-1 at times, was renowned for his safe handling. Little did we realise that after three games, both Hayhurst and Tweedy would be unavailable.

After a 3-1 defeat at Chesterfield, our second match of the season was the home derby with Lincoln. It was a night to remember. After Town went a goal down Hayhurst broke his finger in a collision with Lincoln's Garvie. No subs then, so right-back Bill Brown donned the blue jersey. His display was definitely unorthodox. He dashed about his area as though he were still at right-back. But his improvisation was splendid. He dived with his body parallel to the ground and looked more like a rugby league player scoring a try or a cricketer diving to avoid being run out.

Against the odds, Town went 2-1 up but Lincoln equalised after one of Don Harnby's notorious sliding tackles brought down a Lincoln player in the box. Brown was easily beaten from the spot, and Andy Graver added a third after our left winger Alex McCue went off with a broken tibia. We felt we could have won with ten men but the burden of playing with nine was too much.

When the final whistle went at 7:58 it was a schoolboy dream come true for Tom

George Tweedy replaced Hayhurst in the next game only to be injured as we won 3-0 against Bradford Park Avenue. Thus we needed to use a fourth keeper in three games.

Rather than enter the transfer market Bill Shankly chose to give Tom Daley his Town debut. Tom weighed in at 11st 1lb and was an inch over six feet tall, an ideal physique for a nimble keeper. He had been expected to gain experience in the reserves and the A team after his success with Grimsby Boys. If the hope had been for a natural progression, Tom, yet to reach his 18th birthday, found himself making his first appearance at, of all places, Sincil Bank.

I couldn't get get there for the early kick-off, but I was delighted to learn that Tom had kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 triumph. When the final whistle went at 7:58 it was a schoolboy dream come true for Tom. We read and reread the report on the game. Tom, articulate even at his tender age, admitted to feeling shaky until he had a couple of touches of the ball. "The boys covered me up well. Someone signalled five minutes to go – boy, that was the longest five minutes I have ever known."

Tom played another five games before Tweedy and Hayhurst were again available. From January, Tweedy exuded confidence as he helped Town to a record 11-match winning sequence, with just one league defeat from mid-January until the end of the season. However, Grimsby finished runners-up, three points behind Lincoln, and only the champions were promoted.

In the early days of the '51-52 season, Town reserves used untried keepers. I can find no other mention of Levitt who played in a 1-1 draw against Gainsborough Trinity on 28 August. The goalkeeper for the next three reserve games was Don Oslear. He played in a 3-1 defeat against Nottingham Forest, a 3-1 win over Rotherham and a 1-1 draw with a Doncaster Rovers side featuring Ray Harrison, who signed for Grimsby in 1954, and Charlie Williams. Williams became a stand-up comedian and compere of ITV gameshow The Golden Shot.

Don was an ice hockey netminder and superb fielder at silly mid-off I first watched Don play with New Waltham on Barrett's recreation ground. He was an athletic, brave keeper whose weakness was that he went to the ground too early when players moved towards him in one-on-one situations. This can be quickly explained. He was an ice hockey netminder for Grimsby Redwings and getting down quickly was a prerequisite of the role.

Don was also well known locally as a cricketer with Cleethorpes. He was a superb fielder at silly mid-off, another job that required him to keep low. Don Oslear and Pat Mudd – another fantastic ice hockey player who fielded at silly mid-on – were stars for the Grimsby Redwings cricket team in the midweek knockout competition. What was probably one of the best local fielding sides ever seen also had Town's reserve full-back Tommy Redding as a superb slip fielder. Don would eventually graduate from the university of county cricket to become a highly respected test match umpire.

1952-53: What might have been

1952-53 was a case of what might have been for Grimsby as a strong start gave way to moderate form. Tweedy started in goal and five clean sheets from the first five games enabled us to win the lot. After two 1-1 draws, the reliable Hayhurst came back for 31 consecutive matches. However, after a run that saw Town win but one game from six, he disappeared from the face of the Earth. Stan went out keeping a clean sheet at home against Gateshead, then never appeared in the Football League again.

Hayhurst was a useful third division keeper but there were a couple of occasions when he was caught flat-footed, failing to save shots to his left and at a 'good height'. "Had he a blind spot?" we queried. And, in a cup tie against Bury, with a white mist coming down, he suffered an attack of the red mist virus, conceding a controversial penalty after a confrontation with a Bury forward.

Head and shoulders shot of George TweedyGeorge Tweedy's final match for Town was a 2-1 win, after his spring heels failed to cover a lob

When Hayhurst left, back came Tweedy for his first game in seven months. Now 40 years old, the spring heels failed to respond to a request to cover a lob from Fenton. Even though we won 2-1, this turned out to be his last game for Town. As 'Blundell' kindly wrote at the time, "the ball would not have found its way into the net against a Tweedy even of the previous season".

That was debatable: even the campaign before, we could hear the joints creaking from up in the stands.

Tom Daley kept goal for six of the last seven games of the 1952-53 campaign, including a final-day 4-0 defeat at Port Vale. It was an unfortunate way for Tom to punctuate his career at Grimsby. His national service call-up meant he was unavailable for the next two years.

1953-54: Clarrie in the limelight

The rapid departures of Daley, Hayhurst and Tweedy meant that for 1953-54, Clarrie Williams was suddenly first-choice keeper, having made his only previous appearance for Town in the second-to-last game of the 1952-53 season. He is regarded by many as one of our best and most popular keepers since WW2. He was always the perfect gentleman on and off the field.

Posed shot of Charlie Wright, Clarrie Williams and Harry WainmanClarrie signed from Doncaster Rovers where he had been talent-spotted by the one-time Town left-back Jack Hodgson, his team-mate in Rovers' Yorkshire League side. One major advantage was that, as a Tank Corps national service man, Clarrie had been stationed in Hong Kong, playing in front of more than 25,000 against Chinese league opposition. He would not be overawed by the size of the crowds in the third north. Charlie Wright (left) and Clarrie Williams (standing) debate who is Grimsby's best post-war keeper. A young Harry Wainman is thinking: "I'll show them"

Clarrie was comparatively small for a keeper at 5'9" and weighing 11 stone. He was amazingly agile. His speed off his line was that of an athlete. He also had a clean pair of hands. If he had a weakness it was with the high cross to the far post – but as soon as the rangy Allenby Chilton arrived, that occasional weakness was no longer a problem.

With our only goalkeeping cover playing in the Lincolnshire League, Shankly had used his former contacts at Carlisle to recruit Harry Nicholson. Although I saw Harry in the reserves, I only watched him play once in the first team (the one and only time I watched a match from the Barrett stand). The best I can say is that he made the right decisions but lacked the athleticism to carry them out. If Clarrie was the keeper with the panther-like leap, Harry – over 6 foot tall and weighing in at just over 14 stone – lacked agility and lift-off.On Nicholson's recall Town lost 3-0 at Bradford. The following week we lost 7-1 at Gateshead

However, Clarrie was the man in possession and missed only two early matches. After an uncertain start, he let in only 10 goals in 12 games. Sadly though, he sustained a cartilage injury after keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 home win against Barrow. 

By then Shankly had left, so new manager Billy Walsh was the man who now gave muscle-bound Harry his chance. Within five minutes of his recall, he failed to cut out a cross at Valley Parade as a Town team of limited experience lost 3-0. The following week was worse as we lost 7-1 at Gateshead.

Gateshead were inspired by one-time England schoolboy international Billy Watkin, who Town had released without his ever playing in the first team. In the first half, Harry did creditably as we were only 1-0 down following an unstoppable shot. Early in the second period, though, Harry dived to stop a long shot, failed to hold on to the greasy ball, and left Gateshead with a tap-in.

After Watkin netted following a corner, an Ingham hot-shot slipped through Harry's hands to make the score 4-1. Watkin, unmarked and unchallenged, added two more to complete his hat-trick and finally a Campbell lob defeated Harry for the seventh as he paid for his lack of backward mobility.

After a good 3-0 win against Hartlepool, we endured a 12-match run with the defence and attack in disarray and two wins to show for their troubles. The Mariners plummeted to 17th. Fortunes were to change rapidly for the worse.

1954-55: Asking too much

In terms of numbers Town were apparently well placed in 1954-55 with five keepers on the books. However, within weeks Harry Nicholson asked for a transfer, rightly feeling that he was unlikely to obtain a first-team place among this embarrassment of riches. After playing 18 reserve team fixtures, he was 'snapped up' by Forest, for whom he showed the potential noticed by Shankly, playing over 70 games for them.

Town had five keepers on the books... but soon had only one serious contender for the first teamNicholson's departure lessened the burden on the Mariners' finances. Tom Daley was still in national service but another local boy, Terry Parker, was gaining experience in the A team and the reserves. Finally, Clarrie Williams was still recovering from his cartilage injury.

That left newcomer John Archer from Whitstable, spotted in a previous life by Billy Walsh, the only serious contender for a first-team place. Town also had their eyes on 19-year-old Colin Tinsley, who was playing for Redcar Boys Club. His signature was obtained in September 1954.

The season was a disaster. It started brightly with a 3-0 win against Rochdale but a 4-1 home debacle in the second game of the season against Scunny confirmed the inconsistency of Archer. I only watched the red-headed John twice and each time I gave the Osmond stand the rare pleasure of my company. My hazy recollection is one of a keeper who would make a spectacular save one minute and come for a cross that he had no chance of winning the next.

Early games had indicated the full possibilities of Archer being a top-class keeper as he grabbed the headlines at Stockport County in a goalless draw. Against that there was a disappointing display against Tranmere, where he twice reached the ball yet lost out under strong challenges. A shaky display in his penultimate home game, a 3-1 loss against Wrexham, pointed the way for an early recall of Clarrie Williams. Archer's last game for the Mariners epitomised his time at the club. He gave away a goal at Workington that saw us 2-0 down in 15 minutes. We pulled back to 2-2, but a magnificent last-minute save to preserve a point failed to keep John in the team. 

I would not have envied either keeper playing in front of Town's suspect defence. Clarrie played for 20 games but figured in four successive defeats. By now Walsh had been sacked, and Colin Tinsley had impressed our new player-manager Allenby Chilton.

Young, confident and debonair, Colin was one inch taller than Williams but half a stone lighter. He was quick off his line and fearless when coming for crosses. He Young, confident and debonair, Colin Tinsley was quick off his line and fearless started well. After a 1-0 setback at home against Southport he kept clean sheets in a 1-0 win against Bradford PA and a goalless draw at York, where he cut out centres in great style.

However, that confidence slowly turned to hesitancy and uncertainty as he and the defence leaked 19 goals in the last six games with only one victory among them. One of the worst Town displays ever occurred when we lost at home to Bradford City 4-1 in the second-to-last home game of the season, with our supporters mortified.

As is often the case with a team that has relegation, or re-election, staring it in the face, they went well, wasting numerous chances, until they conceded. Town went behind just before half time with Tinsley parrying a shot but failing to stop the follow-up header. Colin made an error for the third goal, failing to catch a centre but he also made some more than useful saves, although his impetuosity when coming for crosses was still a worry.

The fact is it was asking a lot of a 19-year-old to keep goal behind a struggling defence. When the season ended, Grimsby were forced to seek re-election to the Football League.

1955-56: From disaster to triumph

Town created numerous records in 1955-56, the most significant being that they won promotion immediately after having to seek re-election.

Player-manager Chilton's first task was to make sure he had a reliable keeper and he made a shrewd choice in selecting the by now experienced Clarrie Williams as Determined, no-nonsense defenders gelled with Clarrie, building up a rewarding rapporthis guardian ahead of Tinsley. This vote of confidence was repaid time after time by Clarrie. Determined, no-nonsense defenders gelled with their keeper, building up a rewarding rapport.

Williams played in every game in a remarkable league season, with 25 clean sheets, and only conceded 29 goals. The highlight was the fabulous run-in, not conceding a single goal in the last eight games of that championship success.

Town were fortunate in one respect in that Clarrie was not injured during the campaign. Colin Tinsley went off to devote two precious years to national service in November and therefore we needed a reserve team keeper. The recently demobbed Tom Daley was back as the natural replacement for Colin but it did take Tom a while to reach the high standards he set before his army service.

1956-57: Heads above water

If 1955-56 was the perfect season, then the first campaign back in Division Two was the most rewarding for Williams, who played in every game bar one. Tom Daley was the reserve keeper and he deputised when Williams missed the game against Huddersfield. Daley must have impressed as he joined his old boss Bill Shankly at Huddersfield Town, although he played but one game for the Terriers.

Clarrie Williams in action for Grimsby at Blundell ParkClarrie Williams was ever-present in the 1955-56 championship season, conceding just 29 goals, and missed only one game back in the second division The defence was magnificent throughout. Even the retirement of our centre-half and manager Allenby Chilton, a few weeks into the campaign, was not the disaster many feared. The standard was set in the first game at Bristol Rovers with Brown, De Gruchy and Chilton, ably assisted by wing-halves Connor and Johnston, in resolute form. Williams showed his class as he bravely turned away shots from close range with impressive agility.

Unsurprisingly, the club did experience some testing times in the higher division. But a measure of the standard was that Town conceded 62 goals, five fewer than the Division Two champions Leicester City, with the fifth best defensive record in the division. A proud record for a side who finished 16th.

The team was changing, but I was to miss much of it. My own national service began on 1 November. The Mariners gave me a characteristic send-off against Port Vale. The highlight was Johnny Scott cracking home a superb drive from the edge of the penalty area at the Pontoon end. The Mariners' defence, marshalled by Clarrie, did the rest, keeping a clean sheet.

If you'd like to add to Neville's recollections, or disagree with his judgements – or simply want to join us in urging him to write part 3 as soon as possible – please use our feedback form.

Cod Almighty is grateful to Grimsby Town FC for the pictures used to illustrate this article.

Coming soon in part 3: the arrival of Alan Barnett as the Mariners decline from yo-yo team to no-hopers...