Book Review – Pantomime Hero: Memories of the Man Who Lifted Leeds United After Brian Clough (Football Shorts) by Ian Ridley

Ian Ridley is an award-winning journalist and author. His latest venture is Football Shorts which are a series of books in a collaboration between his own publishing company Floodlit Dreams and renowned sports book publisher, Pitch Publishing. Ridley details in the Notes and Acknowledgments that the inspiration of the series came about during lockdown and his desire for a short sporting read. The intention is that there are to be three books a year, with Pantomime Hero: Memories of the Man Who Lifted Leeds United After Brian Clough by Ridley, the first, with the others coming from former Women in Football CEO Jane Purdon and comedian and writer Andy Hamilton during 2023.

This first short is dedicated to Jimmy Armfield and provides, “memories of, and a friendship with one of the most humble and remarkable men to ever grace English football”. Whilst this is a very personal account, and not a biographical look at Armfield’s career, readers come to learn that his entire playing career was spent at Blackpool and he won over 40 caps for England, played in the 1962 World Cup in Chile and was part of the 1966 World Cup winning squad. After retiring from playing in 1971 he became manager at Bolton Wanderers leading them to the Third Division title in 1972/73. Then after the calamitous 44 day reign of Brian Clough at Leeds United, Armfield took the Elland Road job in October 1974.

He was able to galvanise a troubled club and squad after the turmoil of the ill-fated Clough spell and took the team to the European Cup Final in 1974/75 where they controversially lost 2-0 to Bayern Munich in Paris. It was a injustice that rankled with the normally calm and unflappable Armfield. Part of the process during that season and described within the book is how Armfield “came up with a novel and unique idea to restore the morale of a club tearing itself apart” – one which makes sense of the title of this book. Despite taking Leeds to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1976/77 and the same stage in the League Cup in 1977/78, Armfield was sacked in July 1978 and he never managed again, instead turning his hand to a successful media and journalistic career, in the same assured way that he had been one of the best right backs in the World.

These wonderful 160 pages are a real tribute to Armfield, and Ridley has produced a book that has a genuine warmth borne out of their friendship and Ridley’s admiration for Armfield’s talent as player, manager and broadcaster. It is also a very personal story, one that can only sometimes come from a shared experience – in this case, their respective battles with cancer diagnosis and sadly also for Ridley, the loss of his wife Vikki Orvice to breast cancer.

If the shorts from Jane Purdon and Andy Hamilton are as good as this, readers are in for a real treat, in what will become a much anticipated series of books.

(Publisher: Football Shorts. January 2023. Paperback: 160 pages)


Buy the book here: Pantomime Hero

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2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 10 – Saturday 07 September 2019: Macclesfield Town v Crawley Town

Matchday programme cover

As detailed in an earlier article (Match Day 3), 2019/20 had seen Bury expelled from the Football League and Bolton Wanderers clinging onto their league status by their fingernails. Another club on the brink of financial ruin along with them were Macclesfield Town, and they became my destination of choice on this opening Saturday of September.

Macclesfield Town had never come across my football radar until they made it into the Football League in the late 90s, but they do have a long and illustrious amateur record. They were formed in 1874 as Macclesfield and have played at Moss Rose since 1891, so a long standing ground still being used in the Football League (15th in the list). The beginnings of Macclesfield Town Football Club can be traced, at least in part, to the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers who were formed in 1873 and played regularly in Macclesfield from October 1874. It was agreed at a public meeting on 21 October 1876 that the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers and the Olympic Cricket club teams be merged to form Macclesfield F.C. and initially matches alternated between association and rugby rules. At the beginning of the 1878/79 season Macclesfield United Football Club merged with Macclesfield Football Club. The club played in the FA Cup competition for the first time on 18 November 1882, losing 4-3 to Lockwood Brothers and first entered the Cheshire Senior Cup in the 1879/80 season, winning this competition for the first time on 22 March 1890 when they beat Nantwich 4–1 and went on to be winners on three more occasions before the turn of the century. Macclesfield became members of The Combination League at the start of the 1890/91 season and moved from Victoria Road to the Moss Rose on 12 September 1891 which remains the home of the Silkmen today. In terms of honours, they are two times FA Trophy winners (1970 the season my football journey begins and 1996), three times National League champions (once refused promotion due to the state of their ground) and three times Northern Premier League winners. With such a history, it would be a shame should they go out of existence.

The visitors to Moss Rose, Crawley Town are another relatively new team to the Football League becoming members following promotion under Steve Evans in 2010/11.

Teams prior to kick-off

The game kicked-off on a bright afternoon, with the Silkmen quickest out of the blocks as Theo Archibald fired a shot over the bar in the opening minute. It was though an even opening to the game with Bez Lubala looking dangerous for the visitors Crawley. Macclesfield though took the lead on twenty-one minutes when Theo Vassell stabbed the ball home following a corner that Crawley failed to clear. Chances were few and far between in the rest of the half, but the visitors had two good opportunities in the final five minutes before the break. First a defensive lapse by the Silkmen let in Lubala with Vassell’s tackle saving the situation and then Nathan Ferguson had a golden chance to level when inside the box but blazed over the bar.

Crawley dominated the start of the second half with Macclesfield playing on the break and but for two excellent saves from the visitors ‘keeper Morris from Archibald and Stephens would have had a second goal. However, the pressure from Crawley finally told, when with seventeen minutes remaining, the lively Lubala scored with an excellent free-kick. He nearly manufactured a second just five minutes later as his shot was saved and fell to Ollie Palmer, who put the rebound wide with the goal at his mercy. Both sides went in search of a winner in the closing minutes of the game, but at the whistle it finished 1-1, which was probably about the right result.

As I write, the EFL have ended the League Two season and implemented Points Per Game to decide on the final league placings. The Silkmen because of an eleven point deduction due to failure to pay players and cancellation of fixtures earlier in the season, find themselves next to bottom, with Stevenage in the relegation spot. However, the EFL has brough further charges against the club in relation to wages issues and if Macclesfield are docked three or more points they would then drop into the National League. Worrying times for all associated with the Moss Rose club.


Saturday 07 September 2019

Sky Bet League Two

Macclesfield Town 1 (Vassell 21’) Crawley Town 1 (Lubala 73’)

Venue: Moss Rose

Attendance: 1,788

Macclesfield Town: Evans, O’Keeffe (Horsfall 78′), Welch-Hayes, Kelleher, Vassell, Archibald, Kirby, Harris, Osadebe, Stephens (Gnahoua 67′), Ironside (Gomis 90′)

Unused substitutes: Charles-Cook, Clarke, Ntambwe

Crawley Town: Morris, Sesay (Young 76’), Tunnicliffe, Dallison-Lisbon, Doherty, Bulman, Camaro, Grego-Cox, Ferguson (Enigbokan-Bloomfield 45’), Lubala, Palmer

Unused Substitutes: Francomb, Nathaniel-George, Allarakhia, Gallach, Luyambula.


Steve Blighton

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 3 – Saturday 10 August 2019: Bolton Wanderers v Coventry City

Match day programme cover

As is becoming increasingly common in the football world, the season starts with news of a few clubs in financial difficulty and 2019/20 was to prove no exception, with two former North-West leading lights, Bolton Wanderers and Bury this time under the financial spotlight.

When I worked in London, I had a colleague there, Phil, who was a big Bury fan, so I used to follow their results and others in the league so I could talk to him about his club as he would mine. This was back in the early 1980s, so it meant getting football updates reading the national papers, as the internet was still a pipedream, and Sky and Channel 4 were in their infancy. A historic old club, the Shakers, who won the FA Cup twice (1899/1900 and 1902/03), held the record for the biggest victory in an FA Cup Final, when beating Derby County 6 – 0 in 1903, a record only equalled in 2018/19 when Manchester City put six past Watford. An additional impressive fact about Bury is that they are the only club to have scored more than 1,000 goals in each of the top four tiers of the Football League. Since those glory days, they’ve flitted between the third and fourth tiers for the last 50 years, but I have always kept an eye on them. Then strangely enough I discovered a new work colleague, this time in Leeds called Tim, who was also a Bury fan and who went to watch them, so my chats all things Shakers related resumed and I used to look forward to those Monday morning football chats. Sadly Bury due to financial issues, didn’t start the 2019/20 season, and were expelled in December 2019 from the Football League. Fans have created a phoenix club, Bury AFC, and hope to take the field in the North West Counties League in 2020/21. Very much a case of watch this space.

Whilst Bury disappeared from the Football League ranks, Bolton Wanderers on the other hand were clinging on to their league status by their fingernails and had managed to make it to the opening day of the campaign, losing 2-0 at Wycombe Wanderers. I then decided to get tickets for Bolton’s first home game of the season against Coventry City. I don’t think that they were expecting such a big crowd and as a result the programmes at the ground had sold out, thankfully though I managed to get hold of one later on the internet. The University of Bolton Stadium (previously the Reebok Stadium and Macron Stadium), was another new ground for me – this is a recurring theme as I have deliberately avoided grounds I have already been to – rules eh!

Due to their financial difficulties Bolton Wanderers had gone into administration, been deducted 12 points, and had to field their youngest ever team. The Trotters did not name a single senior player in their starting line-up, with the 11 players on the pitch at kick-off having an average age of just 19.

Despite their lack of experience, Wanderers fared valiantly against an attacking Coventry side, who thought they had taken the lead when Wesley Jobello turned in from close range before it was ruled out for offside. The Sky Blues had another goal disallowed for offside soon after the break when Amadou Bakayoko bundled home from a deflection off Jordy Hiwula. You can imagine the look on his face as he came sliding towards the Bolton fans on his knees in celebration when the goal was chalked off.

Bolton’s best chance of the match came after Finlay Hurford-Lockett’s cross was almost fired home by Eddie Brown deep into the second half. Incredibly, Coventry then had a third goal disallowed for offside as the game moved into the closing minutes, after Maxime Biamou slotted in from point-blank range. At the whistle, the Trotters had held Coventry City to a goalless draw to claim their first point of the League One season. A most enjoyable match primarily due to the tireless running of the Bolton youngsters and well appreciated by a large crowd of almost 9,000, swelled by 2,500 Coventry fans who joined in the appreciation for the Bolton players. I don’t know if it’s a record, but the Bolton squad numbers that day added up to over 500, including goalkeeper Matt Alexander wearing No: 43 and the substitute keeper, Luke Hutchinson wearing No: 46.

Saturday 10 August 2019

Sky Bet League One

Bolton Wanderers 0 Coventry City 0

Venue: University of Bolton Stadium

Attendance: 8,901

Bolton Wanderers: Alexander, Brockbank, Edwards, Zouma, White, King-Harmes (Hurford-Lockett 67’), Graham, Weir, Politic, Brown, Darcy

Unused substitutes: Boon, Senior, Brown-Sterling, Richards, Riley, Hutchinson

Coventry City: Marosi, Dabo, McFadzean, Rose, Mason, Westbrooke (Bapaga 87’), Kelly, Shipley, Jobello, Bakayoko (Godden 61’), Hiwula-Mayifuila (Biamou 60’)

Unused substitutes: Wilson, Hyam, McCallum, Eccles


Steve Blighton

2011/12: FA Cup 6th Round

Tragedy, disaster – words too easily and oft banded about by the football media, managers, players and fans alike on the occasion of a single mistake, in connection with a single match or perhaps when reflecting on a season. Every now and again an event happens within the football world that does truly justifies their use.

This weekend, the FA Cup Sixth Round should have been remembered for the matches played – from the rousing atmosphere at Goodison Park as Everton and Sunderland played out a draw, to a brace for Torres at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea brushed aside Leicester, via Anfield and a Liverpool team chasing a domestic Cup double after victory over Stoke. Instead, the abiding image will be that of Fabrice Muamba surrounded by paramedics at White Hart Lane as they batted to save the young Bolton players life.

All we can hope is that Fabrice Muamba pulls through. For now the only fight that matters is not about Bolton making it through the FA Cup, or battling against relegation, but simply sustaining the greatest prize there is – staying alive.

2010/11: Nat Lofthouse – True Football Giant

It’s a curious thing that the football greats of the post-war era seemingly get labeled with the sobriquet, “giants”. Leeds United of course had the legendary John Charles who at Juventus, was so revered by the fans that they called him Il Buon Gigantethe gentle giant. This weekend Nat Lofthouse ex-Bolton Wanderers and England passed away, a player the BBC described as, one of the post-war giants of football.

Players such as Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton, Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Wilf Mannion, and Stan Mortensen, all finished playing before I was watching football, but I know their names and recognise their place in the football history of this country. Their playing days, like John Charles and Nat Lofthouse belong to a game, era and society that are very different to that now.

Unlike many of the players today, Nat Lofthouse was a one-club man, making more than 450 appearances for Bolton Wanderers, earning 33 caps for England. Lofthouse was Bolton born and bred and was signed as a 14-year-old schoolboy by Charles Foweraker (Bolton manager from 1919-1944). Lofthouse played during the Second World War and also worked as a Bevin Boy coal miner, and eventually turned professional in 1946. The money players received back then will be seen as comical by today’s standards. £10 was the fee Lofthouse received when he signed-on, but he reflected,  ”…I know £10 doesn’t seem much these days, but it was four times more than my Dad was getting per week as a coal bagger for the Co-Op…”. It’s an interesting point, as it illustrates that even back then payments in football out-stripped that of the ordinary working man. Lofthouse made his debut in a wartime 5–1 win against Bury on 22 March 1941 and scored two goals. However, it was then more than five years until he made his League debut for the Trotters against Chelsea on 31 August 1946, when he scored twice in a 4–3 defeat. Lofthouse retired in 1960 having scored 255 goals for the club.

During his club career, Lofthouse played in two FA Cup Finals, both of which have gone down in the annals of Wembley Stadium, but with different outcomes for the Bolton player. He scored a goal, but was on the losing side, in the famous 1953 FA Cup Final which became known as, The Matthews Final having previously scored in each round. That was the only blemish on a season when Lofthouse topped the First Division scoring charts with 30 goals and won Footballer of the Year. Five years later, Lofthouse captained Bolton against Manchester United. Wanderers won the game 2–0 with Lofthouse scoring both goals. However, the second was highly controversial and remains a talking point to this day. Lofthouse went into a challenge with the United keeper Harry Gregg knocking him unconscious as he barged Gregg into the net to score. Looking at the footage in this era, it seems inconceivable that shoulder charging was a legitimate part of the game, especially since nowadays goalkeepers are offered more protection than most endangered species.

As an international Lofthouse had a brilliant scoring record, with 30 goals from his 33 appearances. His England debut was on 22 November 1950 and he scored both goals in a 2–2 draw against Yugoslavia in the game at Highbury. Perhaps his most famous international game came on 25 May 1952. The England forward earned the title Lion of Vienna after scoring his second goal in England’s 3–2 victory over Austria. In the act of scoring and running from the half-way line, he was elbowed in the face, tackled from behind and finally brought down by the goalkeeper. He played in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland scoring three goals. Lofthouse made his final England appearance, against Wales, at the age of 33 on 26 November 1958. During the eight years of his international career, England played approximately 70 fixtures. In the eight years between 2002 and 2010, England played nearly double this amount of games. That says all sorts about the modern era which has seen an increased number of games in Qualification for World Cups and that World Cup tournaments in terms of team participation has increased, allied with the introduction of the European Championships and the increase in friendlies. However, it is interesting to consider how many goals Lofthouse may have scored if he had the number of games available to the modern day international.

After retiring, Lofthouse continued his links with his home-town club. He became the assistant trainer at Burnden Park in 1961 and was then appointed chief coach at the club in 1967. Between 1968 – 1970, Lofthouse spent a brief time as caretaker manager of the club before taking the job full-time. After the brief management stint he became Bolton’s chief scout and later administrative manager. In 1978, he became the club’s executive manager and became president in 1986. Nat Lofthouse’s connection with the club in so many capacities over 50 years is an incredible feat. One that would be seemingly impossible to replicate in the modern era.

In closing, I’d like to let the words of the Bolton great speak for themselves, “…the game’s changed out of all recognition to my day…the strips changed, the ball’s changed and the money has changed…but I still believe footballers take great pride in the game. I don’t know about me but people like Matthews and Finney would be seen as very good players, I’ve no doubt about that…”

Spoken like a true football giant.

2010/11: Speed discards Blades for Dragons

Presumably having watched and being an avid football fan for 38 years counts for nothing. Why do I say this? Well because the older I get the less I am able to understand the decisions that are made at football clubs.

As an example, let’s look at Championship side, Sheffield United. Back in August this year The Blades hierarchy decided after three games of the 2010-11 season that it was time for Kevin Blackwell to depart. Surely getting rid of the manager during the summer would have made more sense, so allowing a new man time to settle in and make their mark on the team. In came Gary Speed, an experienced international player and good pro at Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United. Despite his lack of managerial experience he was given a three year contract. Under Speed’s leadership, The Blades have failed to find any consistent form and after defeat at Barnsley on Saturday find themselves in 20th place, just three points away from bottom place Preston. In 18 games in charge the rookie manager has orchestrated just 6 wins and 21 points in total. However, this seems to be enough to convince the FA of Wales that this is the record of a man they want in charge of the national team.

From Gary Speed’s point of view, where is the loyalty of sticking with the club who gave him the opportunity to manage? Where is his professional pride in wanting to get The Blades out of relegation trouble? Is the lure of the coin too great? Can he simply not resist the call of his country? Or is he rushing for the exit as he doesn’t feel he has the ability to get Sheffield United out of trouble?

If Speed is indeed to be the next Wales boss, then the man I feel sorry for is Brian Flynn. Flynn like Speed is another ex-Leeds United player who has moved into management. Unlike Speed his record is a decent one. Brian Flynn took up the reigns at Wrexham back in 1989. During his 12 years at the club and in difficult financial circumstances, Flynn achieved promotion in 1992/93 and got the club to the FA Cup Quarter Finals in 1996-97. His next post was also in Wales as Flynn moved to Swansea City in 2002-03 who had been bottom of the League before his arrival, yet on the final day of the season managed to keep The Swans up. He left in the following season and in 2004 took up the position of Wales Under 21 coach. Flynn came incredibly close to taking the Welsh team to the 2009 UEFA Under-21 Championships, guiding the side to the top of a strong group containing France and Romania, including a superb away win in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, competition rules stated that even Group winners had to go through a two-legged play-off round in order to Qualify, and Wales were knocked out 5–4 on aggregate by England. When John Toshack left as Wales Manager, Flynn came in as Caretaker Manager. However, it appears that his experience and success at club and country level will count for nothing and he’ll be passed over for Gary Speed.

To misquote the lyrics of Delilah by Tom Jones…”Why, Why, Why Wales FA?”