50 Years Ago: 1965/66 September – New Faces
Mike Minihane continues his look back 50 years, when injuries seemed a rariety and Town won an important derby
September was to be a very busy month with six league games scheduled and also a League Cup tie against Darlington. Our first game of the month was against Hull City, who would end up Champions of the Division, and it was little surprise that we lost, though only 0-1 to a Ken Wagstaffe goal. Mel Nurse made his debut and his presence gave us added defensive solidarity which was reflected in the score line. The following Saturday saw the visit of Walsall for whom a young lad up front looked quite useful. His name was Allan Clarke who of course went on to play for Leeds United and gain nineteen caps for England, scoring 10 goals. He was destined to return to the County Ground in 1970 when he scored both goals in Leeds 2-0 6th round FA Cup victory. On this occasion however he didn’t find the net as the game petered out into a second successive 0-0 home draw.
The third game in the first week of the month was at local rivals Bristol Rovers – the Gas – and a large following contributed to a 15,000 plus gate at Eastville. A young striker, Keith East, was given his debut after some promising performances in the reserves. An entertaining game seemed to be heading to yet another goalless draw when five minutes from time Don Rogers hit a left footed screamer from outside the penalty area that flew into the top corner. Town held out against some late Rovers pressure to take both points and of course the local bragging rights. The following Saturday brought the fourth game in only ten days, away to Workington where our form continued with a 3-0 hammering of the home side with goals coming from Don Rogers, Dennis Brown and a first goal from Keith East – the first of many that he would score in his first season. Two away wins in five days was heady stuff for Town fans, particularly after the barren period on our travels during the previous season. We had now won three of our five away games and lost only once at future champions Hull City.
Our home form was however not so good with two goalless draws in our first two home games and the visit of Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic continued the sequence. However, on the positive side this was the fourth consecutive clean sheet for the town defence. Significantly we had only conceded one goal in the five games since Mel Nurse had arrived. It couldn’t last however and the following Wednesday we went down 1-2 at Fourth Division Darlington in the First Round of the League Cup with Don Rogers scoring our goal. But it was only the League Cup, wasn’t it!
Two days later came the seventh game of the month, at Southend who always played their home games on Friday nights. My mate and I decided to go down which involved an interminable train journey, the highlight being the commuter train out to Southend which was bursting, literally, with office girls on their way home from their work in London. All thought of the forthcoming game was lost until they all got off at the same station, clearly a great place to live! A friend of mine played table tennis for the same team as Don Rogers and told us that he would speak to Don and arrange tickets for us. We didn’t take him seriously but when we tentatively went to the ticket office, there, lo and behold, were two prime stand tickets waiting for us. Don’s hero status, which was already sky high, shot up another few notches.
The game itself was turned out to be a very entertaining affair, but more for the Southend supporters than us. The home side were two up in twenty minutes but debutant Ken Skeen pulled one back with a great volley from distance to give the home side a 2-1 advantage at half time. The second half was a repeat with Southend scoring two quick goals, the second a Mel Nurse own goal, with Don Rogers getting a second consolation goal for us. A 4-2 defeat ended what had been a decent month. Generally the defence had been shored up by Mel Nurse’s experience and two newcomers, Keith East and Ken Skeen, had made their debuts and scored their first goals. It’s amazing to consider the demands made on players in that era, seven games in three and a half weeks was extremely demanding and the squad was smaller than nowadays but injuries seemed far less frequent. Were the players of the 1960s a tougher breed than those of today? I for one am convinced that they were.