Cables Greats: Harry Grisedale

‘One of the greatest players that I saw was Harry Grisedale … the legendary Prescot player’.

The words of a Prescot Cables fan reminiscing on the internet in 2013 about arguably the club’s greatest ever player Harry Grisedale. Believe it or not, this particular website invites people to nominate the best players they have ever seen, pitting the humble non-league full-back against the likes of Pele, Ronaldinho and Ryan Giggs. Quite a few local people have nominated Harry Grisedale. ‘Possibly the best inside forward who never turned pro’ is another comment posted online. Of all the players I have written about this season, Grisedale is the one I remember best and rate the highest. Like most Cables supporters I remember him not as an inside forward (though he did excel as such) but as a full-back with the sweetest left foot known to man. But he was versatile, often appearing in midfield or up front, and could attack as well as defend. I recall vividly the hat-trick he scored against Bangor City in the autumn of 1959 en route to a place in the 1st round proper of the FA Cup. He was a sporting hero to me and so many other Prescot boys.

‘As kids … Harry was our all time sporting hero and he would be pointed at as he walked around the town’ (‘Elite’, posted September 2012).

Harry Grisedale came into the world on 14 December 1929, the sixth of eight children born to Stanley Grisedale and his wife Margaret Cowell. Harry’s siblings were Gladys (born 1909), Stanley (1911), Joseph (1914), James (1916), Thomas (1921), Hilda (1931) and Margaret (1933). At the time of the 1911 census Harry’s mother Margaret and sister Gladys were living with Margaret’s mother Ellen at 29 Derby Street, Huyton Quarry. His father Stanley is not recorded in the census perhaps because he was away from home at the time. For many years he was the proprietor of Grisedale’s fish-and-chip shop at 14 Warrington Road, Prescot. Situated to the left of what later became Tommy Hall’s public house, this and no.12 are now occupied by Co-operative Funeralcare. Harry was brought up in the family house at Lathum Close, Whiston.

 

His early football was played at Whiston Youth Club and, like his close contemporary Harry Boydell (see the Cables programme for 9 March 2013), Prescot Celtic, where his eldest brother Stanley was a trainer and where he no doubt played not only alongside Harry Boydell but the likes of Bill Foulkes, Alan Acourt and his cousin Derek Hennin. Harry was educated at the Church School on Beaconsfield Street, the Board School on Warrington Road and the Central School in Whiston. After National Service in the RAF, the 20-year-old Grisedale joined Prescot Cables in 1949 and, after a 10-goal spell as a left-winger in the reserves, made his first-team debut at Clitheroe on Saturday, 12 March 1950, scoring the first goal in a 5-1 Cables victory. Writing in the Prescot and Huyton Reporter, Bert Taylor remarked that the young inside-forward ‘fitted his new role as if tailor made for him’. Taylor was also at Wigan a few weeks later on Saturday, 15 April 1950 when Harry scored Cables’ only goal in a 1-1 draw. The match was ‘a personal triumph’ for the team’s youngest player. Harry signed professional forms aged 22 in 1951 – in good time to help his team win the Liverpool Senior Non-League Cup at Southport on 30 April 1952 and again, at Anfield this time, in a 2-1 victory against Bootle, a year later.

‘Throughout his long career he was prone to pop up in any position, usually as a sort of trouble-shooter to remedy deficiencies in any given area’ (Neville Walker, From Slacky Brow to Hope Street).

Yes, Grisedale was a cultured left-back but he was also a talented utility player capable of plugging gaps anywhere on the field. Not that he took to an attacking role without a few teething problems. ‘Harry Grisedale, who played most matches last season at left-back,’ wrote Bert Taylor, commenting on a match between Cables and New Brighton in the early 1950s, ‘made little impression as an outside-left. He placed as many as five corner-kicks behind’. Grisedale soon learned to adapt – and continued to find the net even from left-back, scoring 12 goals in the 1951-52 season, including a hat-trick against ACI Horwich. He scored 15 goals in the 1955-56 season, including a hat-trick against Clitheroe. The same season witnessed his 300th appearance, the 400th following in April 1958. During the 1959-60 season Grisedale played a number of matches at centre-forward and scored not only the hat-trick mentioned above against Bangor City but six goals in a Liverpool Senior Non-League Cup match against South Liverpool and ten goals in one particularly productive three-match spell. Harry finished the season with 21 goals and on Good Friday 1960 notched up his 500th appearance in a 1-0 win against Oldham Athletic Reserves.

‘What a great man, what a great footballer. If he was a player today what would he be worth?’ (from another online Grisedale fan).

There is much speculation on the internet and among Cables supporters that in his prime Harry Grisedale had offers to join top clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bolton and Coventry. We cannot be certain if all such offers existed or what form they took. But we do know that his father Stanley had not only suffered a disabling firearms injury in the arm but was also blinded in the Great War (probably by chlorine poisoning) and Harry stayed put to look after him.

‘My Uncle Harry was a quiet man but could be full of fun’ (his niece Pat Grisedale commenting recently).

Harry married May Wood at St Luke’s Roman Catholic Church, Shaw Lane, Prescot in 1956. The couple set up home together at 25 Coronation Drive, Whiston, and Margaret gave birth to two daughters: Janet Julia, born in 1958, and Christine Yvonne in 1960. Janet married Alan Billington in 1980 and had three children: Alan Joseph (born 1981), Amanda Jane (1985) and Julie Anne (1989). Sadly, Harry’s daughters both passed away in their forties. His niece Pat and nephew Stanley, however, are happily still with us and have proved invaluable in compiling these notes.

‘Having missed few games since joining his home town club in 1949, Harry has made 420 appearances for Prescot. He has given his own club and discerning opposition supporters much pleasure since entering the Lancashire Combination. We wish him a good game this afternoon.’

Bert Taylor, writing in the programme for a game at Hope Street on Saturday, 18 October 1958 that did not feature Harry Grisedale in the Cables line-up. Why not? Because the Prescot star had been selected to play for a Lancashire Combination XI in a match against a touring South African team at Springfield Park, Wigan. Two months earlier Harry had been named Prescot Cables’ captain. It wasn’t for the first time, having served as captain during the 1954-55 season.

‘[Grisedale] made up for his lack of outstanding physique (he was 5 feet 8-and-a-half and weighed around 11 stone) with an abundance of superb anticipation, calmness, deadly tackling skill and brilliant positional sense’ (Neville Walker).

Harry’s versatility was not restricted to outfield positions. In a match at Christie Park, Morecambe in August 1961 Cables’ goalkeeper George Wood was stretchered off with an ankle injury in the third minute. His place was taken, inevitably, by Harry Grisedale, who kept a clean sheet until Wood returned. Unfortunately, Wood was so incapacitated that he let seven goals in. A similar event happened in a match against Ashton United at the start of the following season. Once again, Cables conceded seven goals but this time one or two while stand-in ‘Captain Fantastic’ was between the sticks.

‘Prescot Cables without Harry would be like a soccer ground without goalposts…. Put him in the front line – he scores. In the back he is a stone wall’ (Bert Taylor).

Harry’s last few seasons at Cables were marked by a dignified withdrawal punctuated by the inevitable injuries that a player in his thirties is heir to. He ran football summer schools in 1960 and 1961 and was Cables’ only ever-present player during 1962-63, a season torn asunder by an extremely cold winter. The event that all ageing sportsmen dread came on 31 August 1963 when Cables’ new manager Derek Hennin (Harry’s cousin and team-mate from their youthful Prescot Celtic days) dropped the veteran left-back, ‘something that would previously have been thought unthinkable’, as Neville Walker later commented. By the start of the ensuing season Derek Hennin had moved on. Harry Grisedale was back but in the opening match sustained a bad injury that kept him out of action for most of the season. During his last season (1965-66) Harry helped Cables reserves win their league. His last match was in May 1966. Harry was 36 and had played in more than 700 matches for the club he loved. Cables honoured him with two benefit matches: one at the end of the 1954-55 season involving an All Stars XI that featured Liverpool’s Charlie Ashcroft in goal and Louis Bimpson up front plus Brian Harris, Mick Meagan and Don Easthope (all from Everton) and Hennin of Bolton; and a second on his retirement from the game in May 1966, a match featuring his old Prescot Celtic team-mate Alan Acourt of Liverpool playing for a Merseyside XI against Lancashire Combination champions South Liverpool. After the match Wesley Bridge of Skelmersdale United praised Grisedale as a gentleman on and off the field and Prescot chairman Alec Morris described him as one of the finest full-backs the club had ever had. Probably the best player in the league, according to team mate and Cables’ player-manager Ronnie Mercer, and ‘one of the greatest’ in the opinion of Cables’ young centre-forward Albert Finlay.

Beyond football Harry worked for C. Tinling & Co., in the BICC foundry (most of his brothers were BICC employees) and from 1980 in the file production workshop at James Blundell and Sons Ltd (several of his family members working there too). He died after a short illness in April 1993 aged just 63. Neville Walker has left us this tribute:

‘When we take into account his high degree of skill, his versatility either as a defender or attacker, his almost uncanny consistency over many years, his inspiration to those around him, his total length of unrivalled service to his home town team and his unswerving loyalty to his one and only professional club, he must surely be placed at the top of any list of all-time great Prescot players.’

Greatest non-league player of all time? It is impossible to say, but what other local player – in non-league towns up and down the country – has attracted such praise?

I am indebted to Pat Grisedale, Stanley Grisedale and Mrs Jan Byers for their help with Harry’s family background.