ALTRINCHAM FC SPECIAL FEATURES

Barry Pikesley

Robins and Hatters XI

An amended version of the article in the Robins' Review of 24 August 2013

I suspect that many Alty supporters are still pinching themselves that not only do we finally find ourselves competing in the same league as Stockport County but, of all things, the league in question should be the Skrill North.

Either of the Alliance Premier League titles attained by the Robins in 1979/80 and 1980/81 respectively should have opened the door to Alty joining County in the old Football League Division Four. However, as we recall with justified rancour, the cosy Football League re-election process duly served to rob Alty of their merited promotion and preserve the status of the likes of the then moribund Crewe Alexandra and Rochdale.

With only around eight miles separating Moss Lane from Edgeley Park, there has been ample scope for various individuals to experience spells with both Altrincham FC and Stockport County FC during their careers.

This proximity has seen one man fulfil the manager’s role for both the Robins and County respectively in the shape of Matt Woods (Moss Lane: 26th February 1969 to 19th August 1969; Edgeley Park: 6th April 1970 until 12th December 1971). Four others have played for the Hatters before progressing to assume managerial responsibilities at Moss Lane: Alf Lythgoe (County: 1932 to 1934 and 1938 to 1939; Alty: 1953 to 1955); Jimmy Morris (County: 1939 to 1949; Alty: July 1955 to April 1961): Jeff Johnson (of whom more later) and Tommy Spratt (a Stockport midfielder from August 1972 to December 1973 and subsequent Timperley newsagent, who became the joint caretaker manager at Alty, alongside Lennie Dickinson, from 3rd March 1976 until 3rd April 1976, whereupon Tony Sanders was appointed).

In contrast, one character played for the Robins and then went on to manage County a decade later, namely Andy Kilner, of whom more in due course.

One other prominent connection between the two clubs relates to the Robins’ colourful and revered manager of the 1960s, Freddie Pye (left), who occupied the post of Chairman at Edgeley Park from the advent of the 1975/76 season until February 1980 and was later anointed as the club‘s Honorary President.

What follows is a select XI comprising players who have registered first team appearances for both the Robins and the Hatters. Additional eligible personnel, who were under consideration for this line-up but eventually omitted, include the likes of Ken Finney; Bert Lister; Andy Dibble; Steve Fleet; Andy Gorton; Mark Sertori; Ian Morris; Paul Williams (though we do our utmost to forget him); John Vernon; Jimmy Fletcher; Wayne Entwistle and Matt McNeil, whilst not forgetting Greg Tansey and Paul Turnbull, both of whom enjoyed a loan period at Moss Lane towards the denouement of the 2007/08 Blue Square Premier campaign.

In more recent seasons, we’ve seen both Sam Sheridan (2009) and Carl Piergianni (2010/11) have loan spells at Moss Lane prior to signing for the Hatters. Sheridan came on as a second half substitute for Barrow during our 2-1 victory at the J Davidson Stadium last Tuesday evening, whereas Piergianni played for Boston United in their 4-1 triumph at Edgeley Park a week ago.

Having both been released by County on 31st January 2012, Mark Lynch and John Miles went on to register 5 (+3 as sub) and 8 (+3 as sub) appearances respectively for the Robins during the remainder of that season. They were both excruciatingly abject.

Now turning out for Celtic Nation FC, central defender Danny Hall managed just a sole appearance for County in a 1-1 draw at Forest Green Rovers on 12 August 2011. Having joined the Robins from Hyde in May 2012, he proceeded to accumulate 41 (+3 as sub) appearances during the 2012/13 season.

Current Alty central defender Gianluca Havern initially came through the Edgeley Park youth system and eventually made his debut for the Hatters in a 1-0 home victory over Brentford on Saturday, 3rd May 2008, scoring the winning goal in the 49th minute in the process. He would go on to record a further nine appearances for County before departing in August 2010. Lee Sinnott and Neil Tolson duly recruited him from Hyde in July 2012.

Following the conclusion of a six-year spell with Oldham Athletic, Danny Boshell signed for Stockport County in August 2005. During the ensuing 2005/06 Coca-Cola League Two season, he clocked up a total of 33 (+5 as sub) appearances for the Hatters and scored a couple of goals. His final game for the Edgeley Park side constituted a 2-0 reverse at Northampton Town on Monday, 17th April 2006 and he went on to join Grimsby Town in August of the same year.

The present County squad contains a certain Ian Craney, who is still held in high esteem by those of us who were privileged to witness his memorable exploits on behalf of the Robins. During his four seasons at Moss Lane from August 2000 until his transfer to Accrington Stanley in June 2004, Craney amassed a total of 197 (+17 as sub) appearances; scored a tally of 40 goals; won England Semi-Professional International honours; finished as the club‘s leading goalscorer in 2003/04 and was twice elected as Altrincham’s Player of the Year (2002/03 and 2003/04). I do so hope that he has an absolute stinker today though.

Anyhow, here‘s my team selection:

1. MATT DICKINS

In March 1992, the then Blackburn Rovers manager Kenny Dalglish paid Lincoln City a fee of £250,000 for the services of this 21-year-old, Sheffield-born goalkeeper. However, he would make just a single first team appearance for the Ewood Park club and soon found himself reduced to fourth choice behind the likes of Bobby Mimms; Tim Flowers and Shay Given. In February 1995, Danny Bergara brought him to Edgeley Park, where he proceeded to record 12 (+1 as sub) appearances for the Hatters over the next twelve months. Having arrived at Moss Lane in the Summer of 1996, he accumulated 106 (occasionally erratic) appearances for the Robins over the next two seasons. He was an ever-present during the 1996/97 GM Vauxhall Conference campaign (which culminated in the Robins being relegated to the Unibond League) and was a member of the Alty side which triumphed 2-1 over Gainsborough Trinity in the Unibond League Challenge Cup Final staged at Saltergate, Chesterfield, on Wednesday, 29th April 1998. After his departure from Moss Lane, he played for Boston United.

2. PETER JONES

This full back/central defender began his career as a trainee at Manchester United, for whom he made a lone first team appearance whilst playing alongside the likes of Bill Foulkes; Eddie Colman and Dennis Viollet in a 3-0 defeat against Portsmouth at Old Trafford on 19th October 1957. He joined Wrexham in March 1960 and played in excess of 200 games for the North Wales club prior to relocating to Edgeley Park in the Summer of 1966. After a total of 55 (+3 as sub) appearances and a solitary goal during his two seasons with County, Freddie Pye enticed him to Moss Lane at the onset of the inaugural season of the Northern Premier League (NPL) in 1968/69. His two-year stint with the Robins saw him clock up 103 appearances, including both legs of that treasured 1970 NPL Challenge Cup victory over Macclesfield Town under the guidance of Alty’s player-manager Laurie Brown. He did not feature on the club’s retained list at the conclusion of the 1969/70 season but was instead offered reduced terms at a reported rate of circa £400 pa, which he promptly declined.

3. DANNY ADAMS

Having joined the Robins from Congleton Town in July 1997, this locally-based postman proceeded to muster a tally of 162 (+2 as sub) first team appearances (plus a couple of goals) as a combative left full back and also received the accolade of being named as the club’s Player Of The Year for the 1999/2000 season. On 4th September 2000, Sammy McIlroy forked out a transfer fee of £25,000 to take him to Macclesfield Town and, during his 13 months as County’s manager, it would be the erstwhile Northern Ireland International who would sign Danny again in March 2004. After 43 appearances and a single goal for the Hatters, he moved to Huddersfield Town in March 2005 before opting to embark upon yet another reunion with McIlroy, this time at Morecambe, in February 2007. Having been released by the Shrimps, he made a fleeting return to Moss Lane via a trio of pre-season friendly appearances during the Summer of 2010.

Right: Danny Adams in action for Alty in action at Hednesford in 1999-2000 Season.

4. JAMES SMITH

James played alongside a certain Wayne Rooney for the Liverpool Schools FA Under 11s team during the 1995/96 season and went on to sign his first professional contract with Liverpool in 2005 after graduating via the club's academy. His sole first team appearance transpired as a 73rd minute substitute in a 4-3 Carling Cup Third Round success over Reading at Anfield on 25th October 2006. Following a loan spell at Ross County in 2007, he originally joined Stockport on a one month loan basis on the eve of the 2007/08 season, which led to him securing a permanent deal at Edgeley Park in December 2007. Amongst his 29 (+2 as sub) appearances for the Hatters was their 3-2 League Two Play-Off Final triumph against Rochdale at Wembley on 26th May 2008. However, that would prove to be his swan song at County, as he was released after reportedly rejecting the offer of an improved contract. He emerged at Moss Lane in November 2008 and proceeded to make a total of 104 (+1 as sub) appearances for the Robins, initially as a right full back but then in the role of a sweeper. There were overtures from County for him to return to Edgeley Park in the Spring of 2011 but he remained at Moss Lane until the finale of that wretched season. However, this inscrutable taxi driver signed for Southport in July 2011.

5. JEFF JOHNSON

Having initially joined County on loan from Hyde United in September 1976, he registered just 6 (+2 as sub) appearances for the Hatters prior to returning to the Ewen Fields club two months later. He scored the opening goal on his Alty debut in a 4-1 home NPL win versus Gainsborough Trinity on Saturday, 4th December 1976 and his final appearance for the Robins occurred in a Cheshire Senior Cup Semi-Final Second Leg at Runcorn on Tuesday, 29th March 1988. A true Alty legend, this engineer amassed 489 (+16 as sub) appearances and scored 141 goals for the Robins, commencing as a striker; then switching to a left-sided midfield role and ultimately playing as a central defender. Amongst the many honours he gained were two Alliance Premier League titles; two FA Trophy Final winners’ medals; three Player of the Year awards and 18 England Non-League international caps. He acted as assistant manager to Tommy Docherty at Moss Lane from October 1987 to January 1988 and then ascended to a somewhat transient term as Alty’s manager between February 1988 and September 1988.

6. NIELL HARDY

The talented but enigmatic Hardy was aged 21 when he joined the Robins from Northwich Victoria in August 1995. Over the ensuing four seasons, he accumulated 133 (+29 as sub) appearances, whilst notching 59 goals, and was the club’s leading goalscorer in both the 1996/97 and 1997/98 campaigns. Somewhat surprisingly released in the Summer of 1999, he enjoyed a season with Morecambe prior to signing for Radcliffe Borough in July 2000. County manager Andy Kilner paid £15,000 for the services of this labourer/van driver in June 2001 and he played 5 (+7 as sub) matches for the Hatters, scoring two goals in the process, before being released by the then Stockport boss, Carlton Palmer, in May 2002. He left Radcliffe Borough to return to Moss Lane in October 2003 and managed to rack up an additional 17 (+7 as sub) appearances and claim a further seven goals for Alty until his departure for Ashton United in December 2004. He subsequently played for Chorley and Curzon Ashton.

7. BARRY HOWARD

This mesmeric and ingenious winger’s acknowledged mentor was Eric Webster, a man who had a long association with County during the 1970s and 1980s, including a few periods as the Hatters’ caretaker manager. A former Oldham Athletic junior, Barry signed for Webster’s Hyde United side in the late 1960s and then followed his guru to Runcorn in August 1972. In February 1978, Runcorn repelled Alty‘s attempts to recruit Howard and opted instead to sell him to Stockport for a reputed sum of £3,000. During his brief tenure at Edgeley Park, Barry made 12 (+1 as sub) appearances and his solitary goal for the club came in a 2-1 defeat at Rochdale on 4th March 1978. In June 1978, Tony Sanders finally succeeded in bringing him to Moss Lane by means of a then club record transfer fee of £3,000. During his highly successful and frequently scintillating Alty career, this painter and decorator amassed 288 (+3 as sub) appearances and scored a total of 74 goals; was deservedly honoured as the club’s 1980/81 Player Of The Year and was awarded seven England Non League International caps. A 3-1 home reverse against Enfield on Saturday, 1st October 1983 constituted his valedictory appearance for the Robins and he subsequently had spells with Hyde United; Witton Albion and his hometown club, Ashton United.

8. RICHARD LANDON

In January 1994, the then Plymouth Argyle manager Peter Shilton paid Bedworth United £30,000 to sign this 6ft 3in striker, who scored 12 goals in 25 (+11 as sub) appearances for the Devon club before Neil Warnock sold him to County for a reputed fee of £50,000 in July 1995. In his two seasons at Edgeley Park, he recorded 7 (+7 as sub) appearances and scored four goals prior to his transfer to Macclesfield Town in August 1997. Two years later, Bernard Taylor enlisted him at Moss Lane and he proceeded to register 35 (+46 as sub) appearances for the Robins over the ensuing two seasons whilst finding the back of the opposition’s net on 24 separate occasions. The 1999/2000 Nationwide Conference season saw him finish as Alty’s joint leading goalscorer with 16 goals (alongside a future County player in the guise of Kevin Ellison) and gain a reputation as the master of the late equaliser. Indeed, he set a season’s record by scoring in five consecutive league matches between 27th December 1999 (a precious injury time leveller at Northwich Victoria) and 29th January 2000 (an 89th minute strike at Stevenage Borough), with all of those goals arriving in the final ten minutes of each match. He subsequently played for Radcliffe Borough and in recent times he has been employed in the role of County’s kit manager.

Left: Richard Landon leaves the pitch at Moss Lane.

9. LEN WHITE

This prolific goalscorer began his career at Rotherham United in 1950 and was transferred to Newcastle United for a fee of £12,500 in February 1953. During his successful tenure with the Magpies, he played in their 1955 FA Cup Final winning team and scored 154 goals in 273 appearances, an impressive tally that still leaves him standing as the third highest goalscorer in the history of Newcastle United, behind Alan Shearer (206) and Jackie Milburn (202) respectively. In February 1962, he moved to Huddersfield Town, from whom he signed for County in January 1965 for a fee of £4,000. His Stockport career comprised 58 appearances and 25 goals, the most memorable of which was the 20th minute header which gave the Hatters a shock lead in an FA Cup Fourth Round tie versus the then reigning Division One Champions, Liverpool, at Anfield on 30th January 1965. Freddie Pye swooped to bring him to Moss Lane for the 1966/67 Cheshire County League season and he promptly scored nine goals in merely 13 appearances for the Robins. However, on 17th December 1966, he announced his retirement from football owing to the increasing night work commitments of his job at the David Brown Tractors factory on the outskirts of Huddersfield. He died on 17th June 1994 at the age of 64.

10. JOHN HUGHES

After some short-lived Football League experience with Blackpool and Southport, he joined his hometown club, Bangor City, for the 1971/72 NPL campaign. Three seasons of consistent goalscoring for the North Wales club attracted the attention of several potential suitors but it was to be the Robins who would acquire the 23-year-old striker for a then club record fee of £2,000 in the Summer of 1974. A marvellous debut season saw him clock up 61 appearances and finish as Alty’s leading goalscorer with 37 goals, the most celebrated of which was the composed 36th minute shot that put the Robins 1-0 up in an FA Cup Third Round tie against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, 4th January 1975. Rumours of a £30,000 bid being lodged for him from Malcolm Allison’s Crystal Palace ensued and Alty ‘s Chairman Noel White was even quoted as saying that the Moss Lane club had placed a valuation of £90,000 on his head! His 1975/76 season was somewhat blighted by injuries but he did accrue an additional eight goals (including a hat-trick in his final game for the Robins) in 22 appearances before being sold to County for a reported fee of £3,000 in late January 1976. After just 11 (+1 as sub) appearances and three goals for the Hatters, the Summer of 1976 witnessed his return to Bangor City, for whom he continued to play until the early 1980s whilst also running the family business of a car dealership/garage based in Llangefni on the Isle of Anglesey.

11. ANDY KILNER

This former England Schoolboy International had gained experience with Burnley and Swedish club IS Halmia prior to Tommy Docherty‘s decision to bring him to Moss Lane from Hyde United (in exchange for centre half, Carl Hodgert) in January 1988. His ensuing 30 (+10 as sub) appearances on the left wing for the Robins, during which he scored four goals, are chiefly remembered for his long throw and a delightful free kick in a 4-0 FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round Replay trouncing of Macclesfield Town at Moss Lane on Tuesday, 1st November 1988. After another spell in Sweden, Danny Bergara recruited him to Edgeley Park in December 1990 and he went on to record 38 (+11 as sub) appearances and score 15 goals for the Hatters before departing for Bury in 1992. Following the sacking of Gary Megson as County’s boss in June 1999, the Hatters’ Chairman Brendan Elwood surprisingly promoted Kilner from his role as a Football in the Community Officer in the club’s Centre of Excellence to the vacant post of first team manager. After 117 matches in charge, his contract was terminated “by mutual consent” on 29th October 2001 and he was duly succeeded by Carlton Palmer. Since then, he has acted as Sunderland‘s scout in the North West and (from November 2003) been a founder/Managing Director of Prodigy Sports Management (Global) Limited, who act as agents that (in his own words): “represent a lot of high profile people in football.“ He is a Committee Member at Worsley Cricket Club.

BARRY PIKESLEY (with thanks to Mike Garnett; John Laidlar and the Go Go Go County website).


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