by Terry Rowley
These pages chronicle the playing legends of Altrincham Football Club. The texts have been kindly supplied by Terry Rowley, joint editor of the Robins' Review matchday programme. The profiles have previously appeared in the Robins' Review.
Paul Rowlands had two spells at Moss Lane; the first was as an inspirational, all-action, captain and leader of men, followed by a second fairly disastrous 110 day spell as player-manager.
Paul started his football career as a junior with Tranmere Rovers but failed to make the grade, moving on to Cammell Laird, Hoylake and finally West Kirby (John King's old club). At just 19 he was appointed captain and led them to the Cheshire Amateur Cup. In 1984 he was invited to trials at Runcorn which led to him signing a contract for that club in the spring of 1985. The following year he missed out on playing at Wembley (against Altrincham) after playing in all the previous rounds. John King took over as manager of Runcorn after Wembley and instilled a sense of belief in 'Rollo'. Three years later, after spells at Bangor City and in New Zealand, he signed for Altrincham and once more was soon appointed captain. He made the centre-half spot his own and in the season of 1990/91 he formed a centre-back pairing with Andy Reid that brought the Robins so close to winning the Championship. Unfortunately a year later Stan Allan allowed Paul to go to Barrow, (then under Graham Heathcote), along with John Brady in a deal that brought Tony Chilton to Moss Lane. Heathcote immediately appointed Paul player coach at Barrow.
Following relegation for Barrow he moved on to become player/manager at Bangor City but in November 1993 he was asked back to Moss lane as player/manager after the sacking of Gerry Quinn. Whatever the reasons 'Rollo's' second spell was a disaster. No one can say he didn't try to lead by example but as a player he was only a pale shadow of the player he had been some two years previously. On top of this the club's disciplinary record was bad and the team were heading into free fall out of the Conference. (A particular low point being the manager's own sending off against Macclesfield). So, after just 13 games and 2 wins Rowlands was sacked folowing a 3-1 defeat by bottom club Witton Albion and John King was asked to return and guide Altrincham to safety. There was, however, a legacy to Paul's short spell as manager at Altrincham. Not only did he bring Andy Reid back from Bury but he also brought in both Steve Cross and Stuart Terry who were to flourish under John King's regime. On leaving Altrincham. Paul resumed playing with Worcester City before moving back into management with Conwy and later Caernarfon.
Whatever else that could be said about 'Rollo' no one who saw him on a football pitch could deny his love for Altrincham FC or his total commitment as a player and, under different management, he might have played a lot more games for the club.
It was with great sadness that the club learnt of the demise of one of its true 'legends', Mickey Brooke, almost exactly a year after another great servant to the club passed away, Ivan Crossley. Mickey was a larger than life 'character' but he was also a top-notch player either in his more familiar role at left back or anywhere on the park he was asked to play.
Mickey was one of a group of players signed from Ellesmere Port (his hometown club) in the early 1970s, a group which also included Gerry Casey and Joey Pritchard. He joined Altrincham towards the end of the 1972/73 season making his debut in the 1-0 home win over Scarborough. He finished the season with a winner's medal when Altrincham beat Buxton in the final of the North West Floodlit League. (He was to win another in 1974/75 and was a finalist in 1977/78 in the same competition.)
Played primarily as a left-back, Mickey also displayed his versatility by successful spells as a stand-in striker, (most notably filling in for the suspended 'JR' in 1978 and scoring the goal against Droylsden that secured the third round trip to Spurs), winger and as a midfielder. He wore every shirt number from 7 to 11, as well as playing occasionally at right-back. In every role he gave 100%. He was a popular player on the terraces as much for his lively out going character, his 'famed' short sightedness, (most people who watched him play will remember the 'Brooke squint' before crossing the ball), and his exotic moustaches. Mickey loved life and lived it to the full. At Graham Heathcote's Testimonial match it was related that Mickey always used to turn up for pre-season training swathed in plastic bin liners so that he could sweat off the excess pounds he had put on during the close season.
It was a disappointment that he missed out on making an appearance in the 1978 3-1 FA Trophy win at Wembley against Leatherhead. He was however rewarded for his services with a joint testimonial match (along with Stan Allan, Ivan Crossley and John Owens) against Manchester City in October 1979. [The Alty team sheet from the testimonial programme is seen, right]. Unfortunately injuries were catching up with Mickey and his best years were behind him when Altrincham joined the newly formed Conference so that he was only able to make a couple of full appearances at that level. Mickey played his last game for the Robins in the 2-1 Cheshire Senior Cup semi-final defeat against Witton in 1980. Mickey finished with the ninth highest number of post-war appearances for Altrincham, (no little achievement in itself).
Gone, but hopefully never forgotten for what he gave to this club.
"JR", as he was commonly known to everyone, graced Moss Lane for five glorious seasons and was one of the best headers of the ball in the game, which was surprising as he was not the tallest of strikers. Goals were his stock in trade and he scored them everywhere he played. He was yet another character in a team full of characters.
He started his career at Burscough before moving to Wigan Athletic, where he played in the same side as John King. He joined Port Vale in October 1976 and played 25+1 league games, scoring 6 goals. He also had a spell in the USA playing for Portland Timbers. He joined the Robins for the start of the 1977/78 season and made his debut in the 0-0 home draw with Wigan Athletic. His scoring debut followed in the next game, a 2-2 away draw at Bangor City. In his first season he reached Wembley and indeed scored one of the goals in Altrincham's 3-1 defeat of Leatherhead in the Trophy Final. The following season was his most prolific as he notched 35 goals. The following season he scored the winner at Gravesend that secured the Alliance Premier League title and also scored both of Altrincham's goals in the League Cup final defeat against Northwich. The following season he picked up his second championship medal but missed out on the 'double'. The next season his goals against Wycambe Wanders in the FA Trophy semi-final secured Altrincham's place in the Trophy Final at Wembley against Runcorn.
The following season (1982/83), John's last, he started on loan back at Wigan Athletic, (then a league side), scoring twice in six games. On his return to Moss Lane he was unable to find his goal touch and found Graham Bennett well established in the side. His final game for the Robins was in the 3-0 away defeat at Frickley. He then moved to Barrow and later had a short spell at Witton. At his peak he was a top rate striker and with an average goal ratio of a goal every two games in his time at Moss Lane. His performances were good enough to earn him five semi-pro international caps in 1981 and 1982.