Cables Greats: Harry Boydell

Harry Boydell receives a photo

This piece was originally published in the programme in March 2013 as a birthday tribute.

There must be very few regular visitors to Cables who do not know Harry Boydell, the smartly-dressed man of senior years with a full head of grey hair who acts as a Match Day Host and works with Linda Scott in the directors’ lounge. The far right-hand corner of the lounge includes a photograph of the Cables team that won the Lancashire Combination Cup in 1948. It features Alf Hobson in goal, Albert Jelly next to him, captain Bill Rainford and, seated next to his captain, Prescot’s 19-year old left-winger, ‘a promising local youth’, as Bert Taylor reported at the time, Harry Boydell. As a youth, Harry had spent short spells at Bolton Wanderers and Everton before joining Cables in 1947. He later played for Skelmersdale United, South Liverpool, New Brighton and, during his National Service years, the RAF Command Team in Germany.

But it all started when he was a schoolboy and his father Harry, a member of the Cables’ coaching staff, selected him for Prescot Celtic. This was a youth team formed around Harry Senior’s work with the St John’s Ambulance. It played its home matches on Brown’s Field off Manchester Road, and included in its ranks not only Harry junior, the young Alan Acourt (later of Liverpool), Derek Hennin (Bolton Wanderers) and Bill Foulkes (Manchester United) but the doyen of Cables’ post-war players the great Harry Grisedale.

Harry Boydell was born at 2 Barrow’s Court, Prescot, on 10 March 1929. The family moved across the road to 9 Kemble Street a few years later. After schooling at Oliver Lyme Road and Whiston Central (‘the Delph Lane University’, as Harry calls it) he started work aged 15 for J. Gardner and Son as an apprentice painter and decorator. This was during the last year of the war and Harry’s weekly wage was £3 10 shillings. While playing for Prescot Celtic both Harry and Derek Hennin were scouted by Bolton Wanderers. Hennin eventually signed for the Burnden Park club and later played in the 1958 FA Cup Final against his old Celtic team-mate Bill Foulkes (see my piece about Hennin in the Cables match programme for 5 January). Harry wasn’t so fortunate. His apprenticeship entailed working on Saturday mornings. Playing Saturday afternoon matches in Bolton required missing work. His boss Stan Gardner forced him to choose between his apprenticeship (and cash in hand) and playing for Bolton Wanderers as an unpaid trainee. ‘You can’t do both’, Stan added. Harry left Wanderers with little more than a handful of matches under his belt. Fortunately, Everton scout Frank Blundell was on hand. Harry signed and played in the Blues’ A team for the ensuing eighteen months. It was during this period that he played his first match for Cables, consenting ‘to assist his home town club in their difficulty’, as Bert Taylor, himself little more than a cub writer with the Prescot and Huyton Reporter, commented at the time. Though he was sill unpaid, Harry’s Everton days gave him an opportunity to play alongside the likes of Albert Dunlop in goal and Dave Hickson up front, appearing with the latter for the Liverpool Under-18s as well.

When Harry signed professional forms for Prescot Cables (with a weekly wage of £2 10 shillings) in early 1947, his earnings soared to £6 a week, the equivalent of just under £200 today. His debut at home against Clitheroe was a personal triumph. Cables won 7-2, the eighteen-year-old Boydell scoring a hat-trick. ‘With further experience,’ Bert Taylor predicted, ‘Boydell is going to hit the high notes in the football world’. Talking to Harry recently, he recalled a match at Hope Street against Chorley. The Cables captain in those days was the fiery full-back Bill Rainford. ‘I’ll look after you,’ he promised Harry. The young Boydell was marked by a particularly brutal Chorley full-back whose strategy for the whippersnapper Cables winger was to try to kick him headfirst over the fence and into one of the Halsall Street backyards. Harry was carried off with a badly injured leg. Sitting on the treatment table in the Prescot dressing room a short time later he was joined by Bill Rainford. Bill had been sent off, the brutal Chorley full-back carried off. Rainford winked at Harry. ‘I told you I’d look after you!’ Perhaps it was his return after this injury that prompted Bert Taylor to remark, ‘Boydell has happily returned to form at outside-left, showing more confidence and dash. His cunning moves were a feature of the match.’

Winning the Lancashire Combination Cup in April 1948 was Harry Boydell’s greatest achievement at the club, though the quarter final match against arch-rivals Wigan Athletic at Hope Street en route must have been almost as good. In front of 4,712 spectators Cables won 4-1 with Harry adding to goals scored by Jimmy Veacock, Sandy Lyon (penalty) and Freddie Kilshaw. For the 1948-49 season and the first half of the 1949-50 season Harry played for Skelmersdale United. With National Service deferred while he completed his apprenticeship, Harry joined the RAF soon after his 21st birthday in March 1950. His talents on the football pitch were soon recognised. He represented his Squadron XI, his Station XI and then the RAF Command XI – the top RAF team in Germany. Opponents included teams from the British and Dutch armies and German club sides. When he was on leave he turned out for Cables, playing in a match at Accrington, and Bert Taylor occasionally referred to him in his weekly Reporter round-ups, commenting on Harry’s 28 goals in thirteen RAF matches and links being forged with Hull City, Manchester United, Manchester City and Stoke. In fact, as far as Harry is aware, only one top club approached him. It was Preston North End, whose manager William Scott contacted Harry by letter and telegram inviting him for a trial at Deepdale. Harry’s RAF commitments prevented him from pursuing the offer.

Almost immediately after his return to civilian life in March 1952, Harry was approached by ex-Cables player Jack Roscoe to sign professional forms for South Liverpool under the management of ex-Everton full-back Gordon Dugdale. He remained at the club for seven years, during which time he married his teenage sweetheart Agnes Finney. With £7 a week as a qualified painter and decorator added to £5 10 shillings a week at South Liverpool, Harry was now earning £12 10 shillings. At today’s rate that’s almost £310 a week. After two seasons at New Brighton, an untreated stress fracture sustained during his time at Everton forced him to retire from the game aged just 32. He continued working for J. Gardner and Son before moving to Critchley’s of St Helens and Golden Wonder. Now a widower, Harry has a daughter Karen and grandchildren Lewis and Matthew.

‘Harry commanded respect’ – the words of Eric Bond, another non-league player from the 1950s (notably for Earlestown, Wigan Rovers and St Helens Town) and local football figurehead. ‘Harry was a very constructive player: brainy, strong and direct. He was a fine passer of the ball and possessed an exemplary attitude to the game.’

Harry Boydell celebrates his 84th birthday on Sunday, 10 March 2013. I’m sure everyone associated with Prescot Cables will join me in wishing him many happy returns of the day.

Glyn Williams