Cables Connections: Aston Villa

This article was a companion piece to an earlier one looking at Prescot’s connections to other specific clubs. It appeared in the programme for the Play Off Semi Final victory against Trafford on 1st May 2018.

We have previously looked at Prescot’s footballing connections to Hull City, in the early years of the 20th Century and at a number of players who made the move to the East coast. Today, we will look at another strong link that was forged in the 1930’s – this time with Aston Villa.

Villa had a very strong scouting network across the country and had noted that a number of very good players from Prescot, such as Frankie Soo, Eddie Kilshaw, Peter Burke and Jack Ormandy had been recruited to football league sides. Consequently, they kept a close eye on activity at Cables and it was commonplace for a Villa representative to be amongst a clutch of football league scouts present at Hope Street on matchdays.

Several of the players who were persuaded to make the move to the Midlands became successful in the claret and blue.

Frederick Joseph “Freddie” Haycock was born in Bootle in 1912. After brief spells playing for Waterford, in Ireland, he was signed by Blackburn Rovers, where he failed to make a league appearance. Freddie joined Prescot Cables, where his consistent performances at inside left attracted a great deal of attention from league scouts, and it was no surprise when he was signed by Aston Villa for an undisclosed three figure sum, in February 1934, with the proviso that if the player later appeared in the first team, Prescot would receive an additional payment. (A similar arrangement had been made with regard to the transfer of Frank Soo, to Stoke City a year earlier).

Freddie became a big crowd favourite at Villa, playing 111 games at inside-forward, scoring 33 times. In 1935 he was selected for an Ireland XI. “Schneider”, as he was nicknamed, also played with Villa during World War 2, making a further 86 appearances and scoring 26 goals. He also guested for Leicester City, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Northampton Town, Notts County, Plymouth Argyle, Walsall and Wolverhampton Wanderers in wartime matches. After the war he played a handful of games for Wrexham, before ending his career at several non-league sides around the West Midlands.

In February 1937 Cables’ 19 year old left back Ronald “Roy” Guttridge was another to move to Villa Park. Guttridge had only joined Cables at start of season, from Stockport County, after being released by Liverpool. In total he made 51 appearances for the Villa, including wartime games. He also guested for Liverpool, Notts County and Nottingham Forest during World War 2, before moving on to Brighton and Hove Albion in 1948, where he made 17 first team starts.

Edward Harvey “Eddie” Follan played junior football around Glasgow until he was called up to Army service. A motor mechanic by trade he joined R.E.M.E. and was posted to the Liverpool area. He continued to play football whilst in the Army, and on the recommendation of a friend joined Prescot Cables.

The diminutive inside forward made a strong impression amongst supporters – and football league scouts – at Hope Street. On his demobilisation from the Army, and despite a broken ankle sustained in the Cables game against Morecambe in April, he was immediately signed by Aston Villa on 1st June 1952 for £500. On joining Villa, Eddie found lodgings in the same house as the great Villa servant, Irishman Peter McParland in Washwood Heath. He immediately endeared himself to the local press in Birmingham, as his standard response to questions on how he was finding life after the Army, living in Birmingham, playing for Aston Villa etc, would all elicit the same response, “No’ so bad” in his strong Glaswegian accent.

Charles Mathieson writing in the Birmingham Sports Argus described him, thus, “Eddie is only a wee chappie, a shade over 5ft 6 in. He’s stocky, has healthy-looking hams for the trade of a footballer and there’s appropriate twinkle in his tootsies, too. He’s a ball player with the gifts of sharpness in action, and quickness of thought; has no over-developed sense of ego; and he can take knocks, even if he is of nearly pocket-sized fraternity.”

Eddie needed a cartilage operation whilst with Villa, and this restricted his appearance to just 36 League and Cup matches in 4 seasons, scoring 7 goals. In 1956, he was surprisingly placed on the transfer list, and despite some interest from Brighton & Hove Albion, he joined Worcester City. Eddie had recently been married and, in the days of the footballer’s maximum wage, the opportunity to play part time with Worcester City, whilst continuing to live and work in Birmingham was a more attractive option than a move for full time football in another part of the country.

In January 1959, Follan played for Worcester City in the, now, famous giant-killing FA Cup tie against  Liverpool. A contemporary match report noted that, “Liverpool never showed any fight and they had no player to match right-half Sammy Bryceland, who worked himself like a galley slave. He linked up brilliantly with inside right Eddie Follan. “No wonder,” said Bryceland. “We played together for Greenock boys’ team and went 150 games without defeat.”

“Van driver Follan has been rising at 6.30 every morning to feed his baby daughter Carol. He showed no sign of flagging after his dawn patrol. He and Bryceland, more than any others of this great-hearted Worcester side, had the Liverpool defenders at panic stations.”

Villa’s raids on Hope Street led to a number of other players making the move from Prescot to the Midlands, although they did not always find the same degree of success.

One of the earliest was Cables’ inside left, and prolific scorer, William Henry (Bill) Tunstall. Bill had been attracting a lot of interest from Football League clubs and was recruited by Aston Villa in May 1928. Unfortunately, Tunstall never made it to the first eleven at Villa Park and moved on to Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic in the Third Division South, in 1933. In July 1934, Tunstall returned north, when he signed for Third Division North side, New Brighton. However, like many players before and since, the lure of Hope Street called him back again and he returned to Cables in 1935, to see out a final season of his career, which never really fulfilled it’s promise.

In 1934, Irish half back Bill Roberts left Cables for Villa Park. Although he stayed at Villa for four seasons, he was another who never made the step up into the first team.

In the same week in 1937 that Roy Guttridge joined Villa, Prescot’s 20 year old inside right Walter Hale was also invited for a trial at Villa Park and was, subsequently, signed on. Unfortunately, Hale was another who never made a league appearance for the Villains.

Remarkably, by October 1937 Aston Villa had five ex-Cables player in their roster when they signed 21 year old centre forward Harold Douglas Labone.  Labone a hotel worker in Liverpool, had previously played with Garston Woodcutters and had trials with Everton.

The Sunderland Echo reported that Labone had serious concerns about becoming a professional footballer. “He is such a promising footballer that several clubs have approached him, but he has eyes to the future. He is employed in a big local hotel, and while the occupation may not be so thrilling as playing before thousands of spectators each week, it has the merit of providing him with a career, whereas professional football is more precarious.

“Labone stated yesterday that he will want much more than the usual terms offered to a budding youngster if he is to be persuaded to give up his hotel career. “Much as I would like to play for “Aston Villa”, he said, “I have an assured job”.

The report noted that, “the problem may be simplified from the fact that there is a possibility that Labone may be transferred to one of the company’s hotels in Birmingham.”

Unfortunately, the strong minded player was yet another who never made the breakthrough into Villa’s first team and in 1939 Labone signed for Runcorn in the Cheshire League, before his career was interrupted by the war. During the hostilities, he served in the R.A.O.C. as a Staff Sergeant at a depot in Lancashire. In 1945, he turned out for Skelmersdale United.

Villa’s liking for Prescot players had not gone unnoticed in the Press, and in July 1939, The People newspaper reported, “It is not often that Aston Villa miss a player from Prescot Cables, which is generally regarded as being their nursery, but it looks as though they may have made a mistake over Rainford, clever young left-half, who has just joined Wigan. Villa took a look at this player last season, when he assisted Prescot, and Bury later were interested.  Both League clubs were, however, forestalled by Wigan who promptly signed the player.”

Bill Rainford, the son of William Rainford, who had played for Manchester United and Tranmere Rovers, was just 17 ½ years old when he left Cables for Wigan Athletic. In the Spring of 1939, both he, and Harry Higham (then at Prescot B.I. Social) had been invited for trials at Aston Villa.

Roy McDonald