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Years Gone By - George Andrews

By David Evans

Centre Forward - January 1973 - May 1977

It was an absolute pleasure to spend over two hours chatting to a man who became a real hero amongst Saddlers fans in the mid 1970's; Black Country born and bred George Andrews.

Born on 23rd April 1942, it was from an early age that George started to excel at football; along with other sports, when he represented Dudley Schools, Worcestershire and District Boys, and even had England Schoolboy trials.

He started work at 15, and it was whilst playing for Vono Sports that George first made contact with Fred Whittall, someone who was a great influence and played a prominent part of his early playing career.

At the age of 17 he was scouted by Luton Town and taken on as a pro by then Manager Syd Owen, but a combination of not being able to force himself into the first team and feeling a bit homesick, George returned home where he soon linked up with Dudley Town. A move to Lower Gornal transpired during that time, and it was there that he linked up once again with Fred Whittall.

In October 1965, he was snapped up by Cardiff City for a transfer fee of £1,000, however talks were not straightforward as George explains,

"I took Fred down there with me for transfer discussions with Manager Jimmy Scoular, but when it came to wages, they were only willing to offer me the same as what I was on at work; £25 a week. I told them this and to take into account my small match fee from my football, and that I'd be worse off. I stormed out of his office, but with persuasion from Fred, we went back in and eventually an agreement was reached”.

George had a dream start to his Football League career, scoring on his debut v. Portsmouth, and he soon had a strike partner alongside him who went on to greater things in the game; John Toshack . It was George who passed the ball to the Welshman for him to score his first goal in the game. His team mate was a mere 16 years old with George being 7 years his senior. Another strike partner he had in his time at Cardiff was George Johnston who was destined to have a short spell on loan with Walsall a few years later.

It was during his time at Ninian Park that George helped develop his heading ability, with the advice from the great John Charles, who got him to time his leaps to perfection; that became his trademark throughout his long career. At corners, for example, John told him to count to four and then leap! Despite George finding the net frequently, his record at Cardiff being better than a goal every two games, the team struggled, and George takes up the story regarding one crushing defeat; a 9-0 hammering at Preston.

"Scoular came in ranting and I told him that at least I touched the ball 9 times more than anyone else in here!"

George spoke of his time away from home in South Wales.

"I used to stay in digs at Cardiff with a Scotsman, and with our accents we couldn't understand each other at all! I used to return back home after the Saturday to see my folks and my girlfriend (who later became my wife) and to restock with scratching’s. In the week I'd hang out with the lads in Cardiff pubs; I never drank myself, but enjoyed a bag of scratching’s with my glass of orange, but whichever pub we went in, the bar staff would look at me as if I was on another planet. I'd get frustrated and tell them if they had not heard of scratching’s then they hadn't lived!".

It was whilst at Cardiff that George also linked up with another strike partner that was to feature a lot over the next two moves; Terry Harkin.

One of George’s biggest disappointments was the Bluebirds losing to West Ham in the League Cup Semi Final; however he did bag both their goals in a 2-4 defeat.

His next move was to Southport where a transfer fee of £6,000 changed hands in February 1967. Signed by Billy Bingham; who was at Luton at the same time as George in 1960, his brief was to score the goals to help fire his new club to promotion to the Third Division. George kept to his side of the bargain with 8 in 15 games to the end of that season.

Over the next two seasons George netted 40 goals in a prolific partnership with Terry Harkin and the two were certainly on the same wavelength, knowing exactly where the other would be for that telling pass. Whilst at Haig Avenue, there was a mouth-watering home FA Cup tie against Everton which the Merseyside giants just squeezed home 1-0. By now George was really getting noticed and the following occurred,

"The legendary Liverpool Manager Bill Shankley came sniffing and was apparently keen to snap me up and offered Southport £39,000; however the club insisted on holding out for their £50,000 valuation and Shanks got fed up and pulled out, eventually turning to Scunthorpe's Kevin Keegan instead!"

If ever there was a 'what if' moment in George’s career this was surely it. This decision backfired on the club though, as their financial situation worsened, and in the end they, they had to sell George to Shrewsbury Town for a cut price £10,000 fee in November 1969. George recalled that Town Manager Harry Gregg could not believe he got him so cheaply.

His Shrewsbury spell got off to a great start, scoring on his debut against Leyton Orient, and a fortnight later, got two in their 3-2 win at Fellows Park. On another occasion he was the thorn in our side, notching another brace against the Saddlers in a 4-1 win. Amazingly he linked up with strike partner Terry Harkin for a third time at the Gay Meadow; however he eventually forged another great partnership with Alf Wood, who had been converted from Centre-back. Throughout the 1971-72 season, the pair notched 60 goals between them, with 20 from George.

He generally got on well with Harry Gregg; however there were a couple of times when they clashed.

"He called me in his office and told me off, telling me to get my hair cut and drop the facial hair, as it was a bad influence on the other players!, then there was another occasion where with his obsession of stamina training, I hurt my back on the weights. I told him I'm not doing this again, I'm a footballer not a weight lifter!”

George was always keen to impress but startled Gregg with the following.

"At one point I'd gone 6 games without scoring and it didn't seem right. I went in and asked to be dropped. He wouldn't hear of it, and it was just as well. I scored twice the next game!"

George had heard talk that Gregg was thinking of leaving the Shropshire club and George went along to watch the reserves at the Gay Meadow in a game against Walsall.

"I been watching the game and minding my own, when someone came up to me and told me the boss wants me to see him right away. The whistle had just gone for half time. When I went in there was this other bloke in the office I'd not seen before. I asked him who he was and he gave me his name - John Smith. Harry told me he was the Walsall Manager. I'd never heard of him! However it became clear he wanted to sign me and we agreed terms there and then. On returning home I told my wife to start packing the bags; we're returning home!”

This was in January 1973, and it was a player exchange deal with winger Geoff Morris moving the other way, and a £10,000 cash adjustment. On his debut for the Saddlers, George once again scored: albeit in a 2-6 crushing at the hands of Grimsby. The striker was at it again the following week, finding the net in a 1-2 reverse at Wrexham. John Smith lost his job towards the end of the season with Jimmy McEwan taking over on a temporary basis.

The summer of 1973 saw Ronnie Allen in the hot seat, and although George had appreciated watching Ronnie many times at the Hawthorns, as he is a West Brom fan, they had a frosty relationship at Fellows Park. With being injured and a bit of lack of form George was restricted to just a couple of starts and a substitute appearance in the first few months of 1973-74 season, and their relationship didn't improve.

"He came in shouting after one defeat and I told him I'm not being funny, but you're Managing Walsall now not Benfica!".

He was recalled in the November which changed his stop-start Walsall career. He scored the only goal in the FA Cup win over Swansea, and played every game for the remainder of the season. He was glad to see the back of Allen in December 1973 when Ken Wheldon sacked him and installed Doug Fraser as acting Manager. It was a move George welcomed.

Allen had signed Alan Buckley during the summer and the little striker's form since joining from Notts Forest had also helped to keep him out, but the two formed a great partnership and George pointed out they complimented each other’s.

He was sorry to see Bobby Shinton move on to Cambridge in 1974, with whom he had a lot of time for.

1974-75 was a terrific season for not only George personally, but of course for the whole club. The season saw him being an ever-present, and his level of performance week in and week out rightfully saw him go on to win the Player Of The Season Trophy with an impressive 59% of votes cast. On my previous conversation with him 4 years ago he quipped, "You Walsall fans only want to talk to me about that goal v. Newcastle!"; However when asked this time, he recalled that weekend.

"I was never one to seek fame at all. My only hope was to keep the fans happy wherever I played. As long as the fans were happy I was happy. When I woke up on the Sunday morning I looked out my window and the street was full of cars and people outside my house. Journalists and cameramen from the local and national press all wanted a piece of me, but I didn't want it. Eventually I did let one in and take a photo of the four of us at the table and a few words, but that was it. In the previous round against Manchester United we really should have won at Old Trafford. In the replay I was clean through and just when I thought I was going to have my bit of glory, Martin Buchan fetched me down in the box! I felt we didn't do ourselves justice at all in the 5th Round at St Andrews. As we came out their Centre-back Kenny Burns shouted out to me that he was going to kick me to death. I told him he'd have to catch me first! Ken Wheldon handed us a £100 bonus and on one occasion, drove me to a game at Watford in his Rolls Royce!"

1975-76 was another good season, with the bearded wonder playing in 43 of the league games, and set up plenty of Alan Buckley's 35 goals that campaign. In the programme notes for George's testimonial game in 1985, Buckley wrote,

"I played alongside George for five years, and he was the best header of a ball and the most unselfish player I've ever played with. He can take a lot of credit for a percentage of my goals. A true professional, in every sense. A credit to the game of football"

Brian Caswell was equally anxious to heap this praise;

"Always willing to pass on his knowledge and advice to me as a young professional. By encouragement he made me a better player. He is an ideal professional for any young player to follow; never smoked, never drank and always looked after himself."

The 1976-77 season saw the team struggle, and the bad results saw Doug Fraser get the chop in the spring of 1977. Dave Mackay came in and soon told George that this would be his last season. George meanwhile never gave less than 100% and despite the circumstances, kept on scoring, finishing his league career with a brace on Walsall's final away game at Peterborough, and netted in the final game of the season against Bury.

When George heard that he was going to be replaced by Alf Wood, he went to see Mackay.

"Alf's only signing because he thinks he's linking up with me again."

Asked if he thought he Mackay was hasty, George told me,

"I may have been 34, but I was as fit as I'd ever been and still had League football left in me. As for my replacement, what was his record when I left?" Enough said!

George scored well over 150 league goals for his four clubs, and if you include the many cup games it’s around 200 from over 500 games.

After his Walsall release he played for a host of clubs into his 40's including Worcester City, Telford, Dudley, Oldswinford, Tipton and Solihull amongst others. He continued to play in charity games to the age of 50.

At the age of 41 George turned his working life round to working for the Parks and Gardens Department at the council, and loved mowing grass!

He did that job for 24 years until his retirement from work at the age of 65.

He has never been interested in cars and all through his time in football, would catch buses and walk; when asked why, he said his answer was,

"As long as I have these (points to his legs) that's all I need!"

He walks a lot even now, does his daily exercises, and really still looks after himself. He keeps himself busy with his gardening, a bit of DIY and listens to his vast collection of Elvis records.

One of Georges sporting recollections is the day he bowled out local lad and former England Opening Batsman Don Kenyon many years ago in local Worcestershire Cricket.

What a life George has had; a great character, as humble as they come, who has certainly left his mark on the game he still loves.

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