By David Evans
Phil Aston may only have had one season at Fellows Park, but its a fascinating journey of how he arrived there thanks to a legendary football manager pointing the way after becoming a true national hero.
Born in Measham in 1924, Phil excelled at several sports at grammar school including football, cricket and running. His boyhood dream was to represent his country at both football and cricket but like many others of his generation the small matter of the war intervened and he joined the Royal Air Force. Stationed in Durban, he faced South African XI's at both football and cricket, mingling with some well known sporting personalities.
During War Two, Phil was actively involved on the pilot team of Lancaster Bombers, engaging in many dangerous raids on Germany. After this he was prepared to go to the Far East with Tiger Force however when the atom bomb was dropped he was asked what he'd like to do before he got demobbed "I wouldn't mind physical education." replied the keen sportsman and he was put in charge of twelve boys at St Athan's near Cardiff. Later he was asked if there was anything he'd like to try and he replied,
"I would like to further my career to take care of disabled crews."
So this time he was posted to Chessington to take up that work.
Back home, Phil accepted an invitation to turn out for his local team Measham Imperial happy to play local games for them and he recalled one game v. Melton Mowbray when he scored six goals against them. Whilst at Measham scouts from Birmingham City were showing an interest and their manager Harry Storer told Phil, "I have had good reports about you, how would you like a game with us?" A letter arrived in the post informing him to get down White Hart Lane. Phil duly obliged and found himself up against a man who was destined to become a household name years later- Alf Ramsey..
Next up was a posting to RAF Cosford where Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Stan Cullis would send a team there each Thursday for a practice match. After one such match Cullis said to Phil, "Why don't you play for us? Play as an amateur. It will be much better for you playing for Wolves than Blues!" Phil gained four England caps as an amateur playing in games against Ireland, Scotland and Wales and whilst on tour was drafted in as a replacement for Willie Watson against Holland. On this tour he played in a game in Iceland played on rolled lava dust which was watered and rolled at half time! One player in particular whom Phil got on well with at Wolves was Bert Williams and he recalled a time when Bert decided to do a bit of impromptu training under the stand-whilst all the others had gone to Edgbaston to watch some cricket-with a couple of players including Phil using sandbags as dummy defenders for the outfield players to run around and shoot at him. Cullis caught them in the act and asked them what the hell was going on. Bert admitted it was of his making..The annoyed manager told the others to get changed in double quick time and gave Bert a dressing down in his office!
There was a letter from Northern Counties to play against Southern Counties. It was a choice of staying put or accepting a pro contract as Cullis came sniffing again stating, "Look. You have seven days to make your mind up. There's an offer for you on the table if you are happy to sign. You are playing again Saturday." Phil's forceful reply was,
"No Sir, I'm not interested but thank you anyway."
Cullis later called him in his office and said," I've found somewhere for you to play where you can make the grade- Walsall. There's a suitcase over there - open it. Phil explained, "It contained several items including a suit and a pair of shoes! A nice parting gift."
It was Tony Mc Phee who signed Phil, a wing half, in time for the 1951-2 season. Following four successive defeats he was drafted in to make his first team debut on September 22nd in a game at Crystal Palace and retained his place for the next three games including playing before 20,000 at Millwall. Phil returned for the Torquay away game in November before taking part in a run of five games over the busy Christmas and New Year period. Following the double header over Southend on Christmas Day and Boxing Day some of the regulars were left out for the following away game on the 29th at Norwich. Phil kept his place as Walsall went down 8-0 at Carrow Road. It seemed that several players took advantage of Southend's hospitality the night before-Phil excluded-and as a result of such a defeat Mc Phee resigned and found themselves without a manager for the next three months.
Phil had already suffered one bad injury in the first half of the season following an elbow in the face which kept him out for six weeks and then in the New Year sustained a niggling groin injury which meant he had to be heavily strapped to get through games and training. Walsall appointed Brough Fletcher as their next manager in March but Phil was not impressed as he changed the team's style of play.citing the long ball game was the answer working on the logic that the opposition will have to chase after the ball. By the time the end of the season arrived player and manager were not seeing eye to eye and Fletcher quipped, "You're not moving as fast as when I arrived here." To which Phil replied,
"It was you who insisted I continue to wear this cumbersome restrictive strapping.".
Whilst at Fellows Park Phil became very good friends with two players in particular, Eddie Holding and Phil Giles.
Phil decided enough was enough at the end of that 1951-2 season and left after going away on holiday and signed for Rugby . Spells at Bedworth and Loughborough followed before he linked up with two former team mates Johnny Duggins and Phil Giles at Burton Albion. A move to Hinckley followed where there were several approaches for a Football League return but Phil wasn't interested he was happy as he was. He took his FA coaching badges at loughborough. He played well into his 50's and continued coaching up to the age of 86-quite remarkable. He was also playing cricket for Ashby Hastings at the age of 70 and taking fitness classes up to the age of 87.Phil is Godfather to David Nish, the Leicester, Derby and England full back. Phil celebrated his 90th birthday in May 2014 and at his invitation to join us at his home for a chat, he wanted myself and Steve Davies to join him in a champagne celebration of him reaching that birthday milestone- a very nice touch .
He has had a happy sporting,work and family life to look back on. and many memories to draw upon.
Sadly Phil passed away in November last year at the age of 94.