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Interview With The Minuteman

No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of a great man.

Carlyle, Thomas   “Heroes and Hero Worship”, 1841

“In the summertime when the weather is fine” sang my little Japanese transistor radio in the summer of 1970. Mungo Jerry’s song would never reach the heights of a Beach Boys classic but somehow it was more in keeping with the kind of summer holidays that I spent in Blackpool, the Isle of Man and every Butlins holiday camp in England & Wales.

I had just reached the age of 16 that summer and I was working for “Ashton’s” tobacconists in their new warehouse, which is where “Carpet World” is now. Little did I know it then but that summer and the football season that followed would stay forever in my memory as one of the greatest times of my life.

Probably, nay definitely the greatest team the world has ever seen had just won the World Cup in a style I had never seen before. That team was of course Brazil. It was the first World Cup I had seen in colour and it was an exotic cocktail, those golden shirts of Brazil flowing irresistibly on a green grass background.

Their brand of samba soccer whetted my appetite for football and that love affair continues to this day. When the World Cup was over my eyes wandered over to my hometown club of Wigan Athletic and I awaited the 1970/71 season with relish. Wigan had finished the previous season in the Northern Premier League as runners up to Macclesfield Town losing out on the title on the narrowest of margins, goal difference.

While I lazed about that summer, the Latics were about to sign two players who would ensure that goal difference would play no part in deciding the 1970/71 championship.

One of those players was Derek Temple signed from Preston North End. Temple the ex Everton star had scored the winning goal in the F.A. Cup final for Everton just four years earlier and had been part of the preliminary England squad for the World Cup in 1966. He now linked up with another unlucky player who had also been in that squad, the Wigan Athletic manager Gordon Milne.

The other player signed that summer was Geoff Davies.

Geoff was signed from Northwich Victoria for £800 and Graham Oates would arrive later to provide a season never to be forgotten by all who witnessed it. Wigan Athletic cruised to the Northern Premier League championship that season finishing six points clear of bitter rivals Stafford Rangers, losing only two games and scoring 92 goals in the process. They also won the Lancashire Floodlight Cup beating Skelmersdale United over two legs.

They also reached the N.P.L. Cup semi final, and finished runners up in the Ashworth Trophy Final and the Lancashire Challenge Trophy Final. In total that season they played around 70 competitive games and the players were part time, working during the day and training in the evenings. To serve up some of the finest football I have ever witnessed after all that still amazes me to this day.

But it was the F.A. Cup run that season that propelled a great season into one that still gets talked about 45yrs later.

Little did we know when we set out for Skemersdale United in the 4thqualifying round what delights lay ahead. We managed to draw the game 1-1 winning the replay 5-0. In the 1stround proper we were drawn away to South Shields, again we forced a draw 1-1 before winning the replay 2-0 on a terrible rain swept evening. In the 2ndround we at last managed to get a home draw and against Football League opposition in Peterborough United. In a magnificent game we secured a 2-1 victory. Geoff Davies scored the first goal for us but the tie looked like it was going to a replay at 1-1 with a minute to play.

But in the dying seconds the referee correctly gave us a penalty and Jim Fleming coolly slotted it home at the Springfield End to send the 17,180 crowd wild!

The following Monday I caught the bus home to Worsley Hall in my dinner hour and waited expectantly for the draw on the radio. Manchester City will be at home to …Wigan Athletic! On the bus ride back to work I told every bugger who got on “We’ve got Man City int cup!”

On the 2ndof January 1971 Wigan Athletic ran out of the tunnel at a misty Maine Rd and put in a courageous performance only to lose 1-0. Colin Bell England International, scored that goal in the 72ndminute and many expected latics to finally wilt and City to take control. What happened was exactly the opposite. Wigan threw everything but the kitchen sink at the sky blues and Geoff Davies was twice denied a goal by some fantastic goalkeeping from big Joe Corrigan. All this in front of the BBC Match of the Day cameras and over 46,000 packed into the ground.

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At the end of this exceptional season hopes were high that Wigan would finally be voted in to the Football League unfortunately at this time the league was very much a closed shop and the old pals act denied latics access and they only gained 14 votes.

Back to the present day now, Geoff Davies the centre forward who scored 42 goals that season kindly agreed to be interviewed by yours truly and gave me this insight into that season and his career in general.

Geoff, What were your early days like as a fledgling footballer and who did you support as a child?

I played football at school, which was 20 miles away from home, and was selected to play for Wirral Schoolboys. Shrewsbury Town showed an interest in me but my Dad wanted me to have a trade so when I left school I started a five-year apprenticeship with Shell as a vehicle fitter.

I then signed part time for my home town club Ellesmere Port Town in the Cheshire League who were managed by the ex Everton player Jimmy Harris. I started out as a winger but because of the amount of goals I was scoring Jimmy switched me to centre forward. I was watched by Shrewsbury Town, Port Vale, Chester, Wrexham & Tranmere but nothing materialised. The following season the club nearly folded and they started to sell their better players. Northwich Victoria then approached me so I accepted a move to the Drill Field side. As a child aged 6-10yrs old I travelled regularly by coach to watch the great Wolves side managed by Stan Cullis with players like Billy Wright etc, great players & great games. When I stopped travelling I became a Liverpool supporter and I still am to this day.

Wigan Athletic were one of the biggest non-league clubs in the country in 1970, did you feel that when you joined them? You scored 5 hat tricks in your first 3 months so the move obviously worked for you. 

After a couple of weeks I knew we were going to be successful. I watched and learned from players like Gordon Milne & Jim Fleming, they had a great work ethic. Gordon was a great leader and motivator and he led by example. My all round game improved and with it belief and self esteem, I was surrounded by good players and good people. For me as a striker who was constantly making runs into goal scoring positions it was a delight to be supported by the wing play of Derek Temple and Graham Oates, their service was superb. They had the Beckham like ability to pick me out. I also had through balls provided from midfield by Gordon Milne & Jim Fleming, was it any wonder I scored 42 goals that season. We had the hard working Bobby Todd closing down the midfield and a terrifically strong defence led by Ian Gillibrand.

Of all the stars of that 70/71 team who was your closest pal and who did you most admire as a player?  

I admired everyone on the team, the backroom boys and especially the fantastic Wigan supporters and people. My closest friends were Dennis Reeves, Kenny Morris, Lee Koo and Bobby Todd. I travelled up the M6 three or four times a week with Dennis Reeves in all kinds of foul winter weather, fog, rain, gales & snow. Everyone on the team was close their was no cliques.

Trips away were great especially Majorca, well apart from having to listen to Derek Temple’s Bee Gees records all the time!

What’s your greatest memory from your time at Wigan?  

The F.A. Cup runs were great and we deserved all the victories. The Wigan supporters came out in their thousands and carried us along. We played in some terrible conditions, snow and heavy mud but we always kept our shape combined with our attacking style and a tremendous work rate.

I will always remember the Manchester City cup game and the build up to it. Today it would be like playing Manchester United because of the great players City had in their team at that time. A full house at Maine Rd and on Match of the day, I would love a copy of that game.

We played well and deserved a replay, the game hinged on two moments, Dennis Reeves boot split and he miss hit his goal kick which resulted in the only goal, and Joe Corrigan’s wonder save on to the post from my header in the last minute. I have photographs of that moment and I often think of what might have been if that had gone in.

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You scored 22 goals the following season and then left to join Chester City did you enjoy your experience there? 

When I joined Derek Draper was first choice centre forward and I was told he was retiring but this never happened and with Derek being a big favourite with the management and fans I struggled to gain a regular first team place. I lost my confidence but I scored regularly for the reserves once scoring six against Port Vale. Gordon Lee the Vale manager was interested in signing me but so too were other clubs and I signed for Wrexham manager John Neal.

Your league career really took off at Wrexham. 

It was one of the best moves I ever made, John Neal was a wonderful manager. We reached the quarterfinals of the F.A.Cup in 73/74 before losing to a deflected goal at Burnley. We had played well in earlier rounds but didn’t perform on the day. It was the first time that I witnessed players crying in the changing room. We won the Welsh Cup the following season and I enjoyed playing in the European Cup Winners Cup.

After your success with Wrexham you went to play in America, what was that like? 

I had already spent a summer there when I was at Wrexham playing for Boston Minutemen.

In my first game I lined up with former Portuguese players Eusebio, Calardo and Fernando Nelson. Uruguayan international Soroa and West Germans Neumann & Suhnholtz were also in the side and I finished up top scorer. In my second spell I returned to Boston and my first game was against New York Cosmos who had Pele in their side. I then got transferred to Chicago Sting managed by former Man Utd player Bill Foulkes. While I was there Bill told me that when I was at Wigan, Manchester United had put in a bid for me but it was turned down, I never knew about the offer.

In 1976 I returned to England to sign for Port Vale a move that didn’t work out and included being loaned out to Hartlepool. I returned to America playing for San Jose Earthquakes along with Trevor Hockey & Alan Birchenall. Other league players included George Best, Beckenbaur, Cruyff, Chingalia, Rodney Marsh and many others.

You then returned to England for one last league season with Wimbledon. 

Dave Bassett recommended me to them and Alan Batsford the manager and chairman Ron Noades came to my house in Chester to sign me. Ron was in his Rolls Royce! I played in their first ever league game a 3-3 draw with Halifax. At this time I played as a defensive midfielder and was enjoying my time until Dario Gradi took over as manager. He made it clear he didn’t want any older players in his side. I just never got on with Gradi.I went back to the states to play for Los Angeles Skyhawks and San Francisco Fog. I then began to coach at soccer camps and even trained to be a hairdresser and met Vidal Sassoon! After brief spells with Northwich & Caernarfon Town, I returned to America for good. My last team was Los Angeles where I was lucky enough to become Head Coach. I now live in San Francisco where I am a fully licensed coach training some of the best youth players in California at team and summer camps.

Geoff Davies. 

 

This interview took place over a matter of months with many emails flying back and forth across the Atlantic. In all that time Geoff has been courteous and friendly in the extreme. No task has been too much and he is a warm and generous man who richly deserves his place in the Wigan Athletic Hall of Fame.

The story of Wigan Athletic will continue through dark times and days of glory as it always has and as it always will.

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Meanwhile here’s what was going on in the rest of the footballing world in 70/71:

Jimmy Greaves & Jimmy Armfield retired. Ted McDougall scored 49 goals for Bournemouth six of them in an F.A.Cup tie v Oxford City. Arsenal won the double. 66 people died in the Ibrox tragedy. Cardiff City beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of the Cup Winners Cup quarter final only to lose 2-0 in the second leg. Leeds Utd won the Fairs Cup. Chelsea won the Cup Winners Cup. Spurs won the League cup. Blackpool & Burnley were relegated from the top division. Blackburn & Bolton were relegated to the 3rdDiv.

Nearer to home I could buy a sports jacket from Lowes for 90 shillings, which wouldn’t have left much from a trainee weavers wage of £8-6-0d at Makerfield Mill. Still I could have been a bus conductor on a weekly wage of £23-18-6d who probably thought of upgrading his TV set from a 23” 2 channel one (£6-10s) to a 3 channel one for a whopping £32! Better off going to the pictures where you could watch John Wayne in “Chisum” at the ABC or “Love Bug” at the Court. As far as Latics were concerned you could travel with Eavesway to Netherfield away for 14 shilling and for your tea how about a barbecued chicken from the “Golden Joy” on Marsden St for only 8 shilling.

Some of the Albums you could have bought in 70/71:

Neil Young –After the Goldrush, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Derek & the Dominoes –Layla, Van Morrison –Moondance, Simon & Garfunkel –Bridge over Troubled Water, Crosby Stills & Nash –Déjà vu, Santana –Abraxas,Black Sabbath– Paranoid, Randy Newman –12 Songs, The Who –Live at Leeds, Creedence Clearwater Revival –Cosmo’s Factory,James Taylor –Sweet Baby James, George Harrison –All Things Must Pass, James Brown –Sex Machine, Deep Purple –In Rock, Led Zeppelin –111, Rolling Stones– Get your Ya-Ya’s out,Various Artists –Woodstock, Traffic –John Barleycorn Must Die, Rod Stewart –Gasoline Alley, The Beatles –Let it Be, Beach Boys –Sunflower, The Doors –Morrison Hotel, Free –Fire & Water, Cat Stevens –Tea for the Tillerman, David Bowie –The Man who sold the World, Joni Mitchell –Ladies of the Canyon, Joe Cocker –Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Stephen Stills –Stephen Stills, The Kinks –Lola, Pink Floyd –Atom Heart Mother, Elton John –Tumbleweed Connection, Carpenters –Close to You, Temptations– Psychedelic Shack, Marvin Gaye –What’s going On, Led Zeppelin– IV, The Who –Who’s Next, Rolling Stones –Sticky Fingers, David Bowie –Hunky Dory, Carole King –Tapestry, John Lennon –Imagine, Allman Brothers– At Fillmore East, Yes– Fragile, Jethro Tull –Aqualung, Beach Boys –Surfs Up, The Faces –A Nod is as good as a Wink, Nilsson –Nilsson Schmilsson, Alice Cooper –Love it to Death, T Rex –ElectricWarrior, Janis Joplin –Pearl, The Doors –L.A. Woman, Emerson, Lake & Palmer –Pictures at an Exhibition, Cat Stevens– Teaser & the Firecat, Paul & Linda McCartney –Ram,Isaac Hayes– Shaft, Don McLean –American Pie.

 

Tony Topping

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