Christopher Backhouse recalls more of the men in the middle who provided York City’s engine room over the years
“The half is greater than the whole” – Hessiod 735 BC
I have happy memories of those left and right halfs, as they were known before becoming wing halfs, then midfield players as now called. Just as for centre halfs there are surprisingly few early post war wearers of the numbers 4 and 6 shirts in the engine room of a team.
My old friend, Peter Gildener, reminded me that “in those days the half backs were anonymous workhorses who tackled, passed and took the throw ins”. Four of my all time favourites played more than a thousand games between them, namely Matt Patrick, Ron Spence, Gordon Brown and Peter Wragg, although both Matt and Peter doubled up as forwards.
Matt Patrick, no relation of the great Alf, recipient of Maundy Money this very year of the Jubilee, was probably the most versatile team player. Alf was perhaps City’s greatest centre forward, but his story is for another day. Whereas Alf was tall, Matt was short, dark, stocky and mighty powerful.
Matt was almost an ever present in the early post war years, playing on the wing, as an inside forward, at full back, as well as at half back which is where I remember him best – although he scored quite a few goals.
Dark haired Matt was succeeded by fair-haired Gordon Brown, a member of the great cup team of 1955 and I saw him play many times notably and most pleasingly in a rare victory at Field Mill, the home of Mansfield Town. My family had moved to Nottinghamshire in the previous year. My father took me to the game as a Christmas present on a cold December 27th in 1955 and I think we were the only City supporters there. City won 2-1 to my great and noisy delight.
Gordon’s teammate Ron Spence, no relation of Joe, was to serve City in different roles for many years after hanging up his boots. His playing career lasted about ten years. He partnered Gordon Brown for several seasons, including to the FA Cup semi final in 1955. Neither Gordon or Ron were prolific goal scorers although I saw them both score in the same game once.
Peter Wragg (pictured right), sometimes a half, often a forward, was a different cup of tea, but I remember him best as Ron Spence’s successor. Peter was much slighter than any of his predecessors, quicker and more inclined to attack alongside Arthur Bottom and Billy Fenton.
During his time I remember trailing over to Gigg Lane, Bury, arriving in thick fog for a cup tie, unable to see across the pitch nor the length of it. The match was abandoned, scoreless. My friend, David Oglesby, drove me over for the replay and we lost. I saw Peter score though, in a match at the only London ground where I have seen City play, Griffin Park, Brentford, and this time City won!
Notable halfs, or midfielders as they became known, of the 1960s and early Seventies included Denis Walker, Alan Woods, Barry Lyons and, a little later, Ian McDonald and Gary Ford (pictured right). All of these were distinguished servants much more akin to todays midfield players than those of the 1950s.
I also had a friend, Laurie Calloway, who played a few games for City in midfield in the early Seventies. I first met him in Shrewsbury and played cricket with him. He was a wicket keeper, and so was I. He was better and I therefore had to spend too much time in the outfield. Laurie emigrated to America where he joined San Jose Earthquakes as a player and coach.
Eamonn Dunphy was another midfielder who found fame later, as a journalist and author, after his short spell as a City player. Younger followers will remember other stalwarts, Graeme Murty, Nigel Pepper, Sean Haslegrave and Shaun Reid, brother of Peter and others with as much affection as I remember my heroes.
- Part One: When goalies wore green
- Part Two: Backs to front
- Part Three: Left, right and centre
- 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