notes from a small curate
or Confessions of a teenage Marine supporter
from Offside! The When Saturday Comes Special 1989
I'm an Evertonian. But OK, I'll admit it: I didn't watch them much in the dismal Darracott days of the 70s. For one thing, I could never afford the extortionate admission fees (at 14, would you have paid to watch Mick Buckley?) and for another I was tiny in those days and couldn't have seen a thing when I got in there. But there was another reason for my prolonged absence from Goodison. The truth must out - I confess - I was a teenage Marine supporter.
If you follow Non League football in the North, you'll know about Marine: the little men of the Northern Prem with a ground so small they only managed to fit three sides of terracing around it. They boast the longest serving manager in the whole world - Roly Howard, Merseyside's most revered window cleaner - and since joining the NPL ten years ago, they've finished in consistently high positions, the best being 2nd in 1985- 86.
Not bad for a side which, it is rumoured, began life as a bunch of drunken sailors off the North Liverpool docks (hence the name) and worked their way up via such infamous local leagues as the Liverpool County Combination and the mysteriously-named I- Zingari League. I started to watch them in 1974 when the suburb of Crosby was gripped with Cup fever. Marine drew Rochdale in the First Round of the FA Cup and record truancy levels were recorded in the area on the Wednesday afternoon of the replay, which had to kick off at 3.00 as they had no floodlights at the time. Mighty Rochdale managed to struggle to a single- goal victory, but my pre-pubescent appetite was whetted.
Marine won the Cheshire League three times in six years, putting in some memorable performances such as the time they were 1-0 down to Stalybridge Celtic, but came back to stick eight past them in the last half-hour. That was glory and bliss but the 1975-76 Cup run was sheer ecstasy. In November 1975, we trounced Barnsley 3-1 at a packed Rosset Park (capacity 4,000) in a game which featured one of the best Cup goals I've ever seen. Winger Billy Morrey stampeded straight up the left touchline with the ball and from what was virtually the corner flag, curled an unstoppable shot into the far top corner of the Barnsley net.
The national papers saw fit to record this event by reproducing photographs of balding midfielder Gerry Glover, who'd followed up the shot just to make sure, swinging wildly on the back netting with the crowd behind the goal going equally ape. In the next round, Hartlepool visited the cauldron of Rosset Park and added to the temperature by attempting to set alight the tiny wooden stand. This was worse than any away day at Chorley where the yobs were fat, middle-aged women with foul mouths and a penchant for throwing scalding tea at opposing supporters when riled. We were eventually trounced 6-1 in a replay, with Hartlepool losing by the same score to Manchester City in the next round.
In normal Non League fashion, the Marine team of the Seventies was full of characters. Goalkeeper Terry Crosbie looked and played like he modelled himself on Gordon-West and was wisely replaced by the solid, if unpronounceable Ken Skupski. There was the Iynchpin of the defence, Wally Bennett, who played exactly like you would expect a central defender called Wally Bennett to play. He was partnered by dark, moustachioed Peter Smith who is still there. His speciality is vicious, rocketing, spot- kicks, most of them scored past trembling goalies like Droylsden's Rupert Leggett who knew from long experience the trauma of being caught in the firing line of a Smith special.
Ironically, Smith's major moment of fame concerned a penalty incident in which he was the villain, which got him on News At Ten. While on a Summer spell with Los Angeles Aztecs, he was captured on film scything down Pele in true Non League style inside his own penalty area.
There were other heroes, but the best of all was the aforementioned Billy Morrey, a devil of a winger who only went in one direction - straight up the touchline, dispatching any obstacles (opposing defenders, linesmen, stray dogs) at right angles as he hit them on the way. There were only two things that could stop him reaching the goal line and putting in the most perfect of (second-rate) crosses: Chorley's George Telfer and the weather.
Telfer and Morrey always fought and generally got sent off together in their Cheshire League grudge matches. As for the weather, Marine's pitch had an unfortunate rut right along one side. When it rained the rut became one huge puddle and Morrey was in trouble. It meant a choice between aquaplaning, and probably losing the ball, or moving infield into areas that were uncharted. It was his undoing. Morrey emigrated to Australia where no doubt he's still making perfect touchline runs safe in the knowledge that he's not going to hit any water further upfield.
Looking back I recognise, of course, that the football was probably pretty dire, although Roly's teams have always attempted to keep the ball down and knock it around through midfield. It was probably the fans that made it for me. There was the lad with the trumpet who used to play the battle charge as Morrey stormed off upfield, and led us in renditions of the anthem borrowed from the Beatles - "We all live to support the great Marine." There was also the qualified referee who'd turn purple abusing his fellow official on the pitch throughout every game.
It's still the same today. The superfan who, when asked if he was going to get married, replied "I'm married already - to Marine" is still there and there was a second generation trumpeter, too, last season. They'll never make it big because they haven't got the resources, but they'll be good at their own level for a while yet. Now Everton are falling under the Darracott influence again, it's not half tempting to jack them in and get back to the Northern Prem.
Useful footy links
Offside! seems to be out of print but it is listed in the Football Heaven catalogue
I'm also published in the still-available When Saturday Comes collection Power, Corruption and Pies ... (Ain't no cure for the) Somerton Blues, describes Newport County's historic last day in the football league - I was there!!!; and (although I haven't looked), there'll a number of my articles in The First Eleven - The complete first 11 issues of WSC, 1986-1988. Foreword by John Peel. These are both available from the WSC shop
Useless footy link