ENGLAND’S popular football season is heading towards its climax, so I’ve taken time out to draw up a shortlist of this country’s greatest – but unsung – football stars.
No goalkeeping hall of fame would be complete without Reg “The Owl” Penfold, so called for his stomach-churning ability to stand still on the line yet turn his head right round behind him to see where the ball had ended up in the net.
Reg holds a number of infamous records including most goals conceded in injury time, most goals conceded while arranging a defensive wall and most goals conceded while eating a bacon sandwich.
The pinnacle of his achievements came in Division 4 of the Bristol Amnesiacs League where he forgot to come out for the second half.
Joining him in the dusty hall of fame is left back Wilfred “Guppy” McForrest, a notoriously shortsighted player who was once sent off for tackling a corner flag. The referee first booked him for abuse and then gave him his marching orders after McForrest claimed the flag had “dived”.
He sometimes bewildered opponents by screaming for the ball, unaware they weren’t on his side, and his hazy sense of direction often saw him celebrate goals scored by the other side.
His career ended in tragic fashion at an away game where he got off the train unaware there was no platform beneath his carriage. He fell across a live track and was then run over by a Football Special.
Equally infamous and no less tragic was centre-half John “Big John” Johns, a giant of a man noted for his heading ability.
So fearlessly did he dominate his penalty area that he smashed crossbars and posts in his eagerness to get the ball clear, often causing his keeper to have hysterics.
He perished during a derby game on a municipal football pitch when he tried to clear a corner with a leap which powered him into the underside of the bar, the council goal having been constructed of scaffolding poles sprayed white to deter vandalism.
Another terraces favourite was right back Jimmy “The Shadow” Conroy, a player famed for sticking so closely to opponents he had to marry one of them.
Conroy was such a master of the art of man marking that the exchange of shirts at game’s end usually gave him his own one back.
He was such a ghostly presence that his side was once investigated by the Football Association over claims they’d only fielded ten players.
Completing the back four is “Windy” Willie Arbuckle, a player of ordinary ability who achieved outstanding success thanks to his thunderous farting caused by eating pickled onions.
He consumed an entire jar before every game and forwards got to know they must score in the first ten minutes against Willie before flatulence set in and convulsed them with laughter.
He once scored into an open goal to win a crucial cup-tie after every other player in the box was felled by a pungent wind gust of epic proportions. When he retired Willie enjoyed a successful career with Channel.
Moving on to the midfield greats, few who saw him will ever forget “Tractor” Tom Sheridan’s searing pace and skills.
Tom wore boots with long studs which ripped pitches to shreds, pursuing defenders being blinded by a storm of mud and grass thrown up in the wake of Sheridan’s darting runs.
Match of the Day pundits once famously dumped using white lines on screen to illustrate their views on game strategy in favour of just pointing to various ploughed areas of pitch which showed exactly where Tractor Tom had been.
Bill “The Boomerang” Taylor was another midfield character whose incredible ability to slice the ball caused havoc in opposing defences.
He won numerous league titles in Wales including one Goal of the Season award for a corner aimed at the edge of the 18-yard box which swerved so much he scored at the near post.
Sadly his career was cut short by a freak brain injury in a gale at Swansea when one of his free-kick specials bent so much it came right round and hit him on the back of the head.
Joining him in the hall of fame is Bernard “Snapper” Doyle whose infamous career includes more sendings off for biting opponents than any other player in Football Association history.
His reign of terror used crowded goalmouths to hide his “little tasters” as he called them, nibbles or bites delivered to fearful defenders while their backs were turned with buttocks a particular target.
He was once suspended for ten games by a disciplinary panel despite denying the assault charge after plaster cast evidence gleaned from one victim’s neck literally convicted him out of his own mouth by matching one incisor mark to Doyle’s own dental records.
The final midfield place goes to “Dodger” Terry Handley whose jinking runs tied defenders in knots.
This was actually the secret of Dodger’s success because he could never tie his boots up properly and was constantly treading on loose laces, giving him his trademark jerky style.
But Dodger’s success eventually proved his undoing when he won a lucrative sponsorship deal with a bootmaker whose product had Velcro fastening. With nothing to trip over Dodger’s mystery was gone and he committed suicide, hanging himself with a pair of laces from the crossbar at his favourite Sewer Road end.
Just the two strikers to go but what a two they are.
Shane “The Hump” Doherty was a top class centre forward. He knew it and so did the girls.
He was a class act whether it was 90 minutes on the pitch or 90 minutes off it, specialising in hat-tricks and threesomes to the delight of fans, females and the tabloids.
His finest hour came when he scored five goals in the first half of a cup game before “entertaining” a minibus of women fans so enthusiastically in the baths at half time that escaping water shorted out the floodlights and the match had to be replayed.
The final member of this legendary eleven was Michael “Honey” Harrison, a free-kick specialist who was also a drag artist of some note.
Harrison was always stunningly turned out and goalkeepers seemed mesmerised by his physical attributes especially if it was raining and Honey’s shirt had stuck to his 38D “chest”.
After goal celebrations had to be particularly careful in order not to inflame fans and opposition alike and there was, of course, no question of exchanging shirts with an opponent.
That’s it and if these names are unfamiliar to you then hopefully they’ll raise a few more smiles than the usual “Best Ever Footballers” lists which do the rounds.