York City through the years: Part Five
On a wing and a prayer

31 Jan 2013 @ 11.40 am
| Sport

Billy Fenton, in York City’s FA Cup giant-killing Happy Wanderers team, scores the second goal against Spurs despite Alf Ramsay’s attempted block
York City memory man Christopher Backhouse recalls the flying wide men who brought so much excitement to Bootham Crescent

“The bird that flutters least is longer on the wing”
– William Cowper, The Winter Walk At Noon
“But headlong joy is ever on the wing”
– John Milton, The Passion

These two quotations aptly illustrate the changes in wing play between the early post war years with wingers such as Jimmy Rudd and Billy Hughes to the modern wing backs, such as Matty Blair and Ashley Chambers, expected to defend as well as attack.

jimmy-ruddJimmy Rudd (pictured right), not to be confused with Billy his nephew, was the first to imprint himself on my memory. He occupied the left wing with distinction, soon after the war, playing in the style of Stanley Matthews, dribbling and full of tricks.

A contempory George Ivey was small, very small, but became a big favourite with his trickery. Peter Gildener told me that one of George’s favourite ways of beating a back was to push the ball through his legs and then attempting to squirm through them after it!

Johnny Linaker, playing on the right wing, was one of my all time favourites. Fair haired and fast he was a forerunner of the more direct wingers of later years. I have one indelible memory of Johnny. I was standing immediately behind the goal during a match against a long forgotten opposing team. Johnny cut in from the wing, beat the keeper and as his shot hit the back of the net a million droplets of dew caught the sun in a shining shower as they fell. I see it clearly still. Johnny, I believe, made his living from golf in later years.

Johnny Linaker on the treatment bench
Johnny Linaker on the treatment bench

Then came Billy Hughes, a successor more in the style of Jimmy Rudd, all tricks and shimmies as he progressed, usually slowly, down his wing. Billy was a key figure in the cup semi final team indde the mid fifties. Billy did play against Stanley Matthews during the cup run of 1955 and 56. He lost nothing by comparison that day.

Opposite Billy Hughes on the other wing was one of my heroes, another Billy – Billy Fenton. He endeared himself to me by signing from Blackburn Rovers, from the town of my birth. Billy Fenton was the complete opposite in style and speed to Hughes. Fast and direct he was adept at popping up in the centre, interchanging readily with Alf Patrick who laid on a high proportion of Fentons many goals.

Billy Fenton and Sid Storey put Blackpool under pressure in another 1955 FA Cup giant-killing
Billy Fenton and Sid Storey put Blackpool under pressure in another 1955 FA Cup giant-killing

I remember a game at Bradford Park Avenue in 1952, when City, down 2-0 at half time, scored 3 unanswered in the second half, one each from Billy Hughes, Alf Patrick and Billy Fenton. Margot Fentons prize giving appearances always remind me of Billy, with his shock of black hair and electric pace.

wally-gouldWally Gould (pictured right), coming on the scene in 1960,was blessed with great ability. I have a vivid recollection of one occasion when, below me from where I sat in the main stand, he wrong footed the whole of an opposing defence with a feint with his left foot before cutting in and scoring with his right.

I cannot leave Andy Provan out of this meander through my fading memory, if only for one outrageous moment, when clean through on goal, he prostrated himself, and lying flat in the goalmouth, nodded the ball into an empty net. All was forgiven as City were ahead by 4 or 5 goals at the time.

City have been blessed with many gifted wings. Phil Boyer and Brian Pollard were both worthy successors to the heroes of my youth. In later years Barry Lyons, Gary Ford, Tony Canham and that great club servant Gordon Staniforth all gave me great pleasure. Phil Boyer, in particular, was a player more akin to the modern wing, direct and a prolific scorer. Phil was transferred for a club record fee after a relatively short stay with City and went on to have a very successful career in the upper reaches of the game. Hirsute Brian Pollard was a similar player, and like Phil Boyer enjoyed success at a higher level after leaving for a new record transfer fee.

Gordon Staniforth, in the centre of the picture, scores against Bradford City in a 2-2 draw in February 1979
Gordon Staniforth, in the centre of the picture, scores against Bradford City in a 2-2 draw in February 1979

I remember Gary Ford well and can remember his low shot flying past Bruce Grobbelaar to enable City to take a shock lead against Liverpool in the cup. I was sitting low in the Popular stand and watched Ian Rush, a big man turn on a sixpence in a flash to leave John MacPhail, one of our best centre halves flat on his bottom. What a treat it was to be able to see these stars in close up.

I will end this memoir with tributes to long serving Tony Canham, another winger in the modern style and Gordon Staniforth who, although not playing so many games as Canham, has served City in many capacities. I met Gordon once when visiting Bootham Crescent to renew my supporters club membership. It was mid summer and I recall looking out of the window of his room to see a pitch without goalposts and having been scarified. I was astonished to see a lone figure running round the perimeter. It was Dean Kiely.

I have played against a City player once, but that is another story for another day.