Cables Greats: Jackie Lawton

‘Jackie stood at about 5 feet 10 inches. Strong and sturdy, he was a good runner, an excellent header of the ball and deadly near goal’ (Eric Bond).

To Cables supporters of a certain age the immediate post-war era represents a Golden Age for the club. Thanks to players like Sandy Lyon, Bert Jelly, Frank Garton, Harry Grisedale and Bill Watkinson, and expert coaching from Harry Topping (whose careers have all been outlined on this site), the club achieved unprecedented success: the Lancashire Combination Cup in 1948, the Liverpool Challenge Cup in 1949, the Liverpool Non-League Cup in 1952, 1953 and 1961, the Lancashire Combination championship in 1956-57 and FA Cup runs to the First Round Proper in 1957 and 1959. But the roller coaster did not always pull up at Hope Street, and certainly not in 1951 and 1954 when the team suffered relegation to Lancashire Combination Division 2. In both instances it bounced back a year later, winning the division outright in 1952 and finishing runners-up to Burnley ‘A’ three years later. The 1954-55 Division 2 season witnessed an orgy of goals, of which the 18-2 record-breaking win against Great Harwood in February 1955 was just one example. Cables broke another record by finishing the season with a staggering 173 goals: the highest figure ever recorded in Division 2 and taking into account both divisions second only to the 177 goals scored by South Liverpool in 1937-38. It must not be forgotten, however, that South Liverpool scored their 177 goals in 42 matches while Cables notched up 173 in just 38 matches. In terms of goals-per-game, South scored 4.21 compared with Cables’ 4.55. The main contributor to South’s 1937-38 tally was sometime Prescot striker Jack Roscoe, who set a Combination all-time record with 75 goals. The main contributor to Cables’ 1954-55 haul of 173 goals was Freddie Crampton with 52. Outstanding though it may be, Crampton’s 52 represents only 30% of the season’s total, and it is highly likely that many of the remaining 70% were scored by inside-forward Jackie Lawton. Jackie went on to play three more seasons at Cables and, according to Neville Walker’s From Slacky Brow to Hope Street, scored nearly 90 goals. This was an impressive total for an inside-forward playing alongside such ravenous scorers as Crampton and Bill Watkinson.

Jackie’s early football career was outlined by Bert Taylor in the Prescot and Huyton Reporter on 3 August 1951. It is worth quoting at length:

LAWTON FOR LIVERPOOL

Jack Lawton, whose home overlooks the Hope Street ground, has been signed as a full-time professional by Liverpool. While playing with Earlestown last season he attracted the attention of several first-class clubs… before signing for Liverpool. ….  He is 21. Jack displayed promise at an early age; he was chosen for Whiston Modern School’s team for three consecutive seasons, and, before leaving school, won two medals with Prescot Guild Hall, of the Prescot Amateur Football League. After leaving school, he joined Prescot B.I. Social, and, later, Tarbock Athletic (now Huyton Quarry Athletic). His next move was to Everton, with whom he had experience of County Combination football. … Lawton’s ability at inside-right had not missed the eye of Liverpool County F.A. selectors. He became an automatic choice for the county youth team, which reached the final of the all-England inter-county youth championship in 1948. He toured Eire with the county at the close of the season, and played against an all-Ireland XI. Turning professional, Jack helped Earlestown to win promotion to Lancashire Combination’s first division during the 1949-50 season. He remained at Earlestown for two seasons, the club refusing several offers for his services. Jack has served his time as an apprentice pipe-fitter at Messrs B.I.C.C. Ltd. He is shortly due to undergo a deferred period of national service.

John (‘Jackie’) Lawton was born at 8 Halsall Street, Prescot on 4 January 1930, though for most of his childhood the family lived across the road at number 1, a house which certainly did overlook the Hope Street ground. He was the first of two children born to James Lawton and Miriam (‘Mim’) née Evans (married in Prescot in 1926), the other child being his sister Beryl (born 1940). Details of James’s and Mim’s families can be found in the 1911 Census. By this date James was the fourth of six children born to John William Lawton, a Coal Hewer born about 1875, and Elizabeth née Lawrenson, born 1877. John William and Elizabeth were married in 1896 and by 1911 living at 5 Sewell Street, Prescot. James was born c1903 and siblings listed on the Census were Thomas (born c1898), John (c1899), William (c1901), Mary (c1908) and Joseph (c1910). Mim was born c1904 and was the fourth of five children born to John Edwin Evans (born c1875), an Underground Fireman originally from Mostyn, Flintshire, and his wife Elizabeth (c1874). In 1911 they were living at 10 Eaton Street, Prescot (a few yards away from the house later occupied by James Lawton’s family) and Mim’s siblings were listed as John (c1900), Thomas (c1902) and William (c1905). Beryl Lawton told me recently that the Evans family also took up residence in Halsall Street some years later. According to Jackie’s former neighbour Vin Gorman, William was none other than Cables’ ‘sponge man’ Billy Evans who later lived with his sister’s family in Halsall Street, as did his brother Tommy. James Lawton died of a heart attack aged just 52 in February 1955, Mim in September 1967 aged 63.

As Bert Taylor mentions, Jackie attended Whiston [Secondary] Modern School where he excelled at football – and perhaps a few other activities as well. Away from Delph Lane he played alongside his contemporaries Harry Boydell (ten months older) and Harry Grisedale (just 21 days older) for junior team Prescot Celtic (based at Brown’s Field off Manchester Road), helping them to win a league and cup double in 1945. They were all fifteen at the time. In those days Harry Boydell played centre forward with Jackie at inside-left. ‘Jackie was a good friend,’ Harry told me recently. ‘He wasn’t fast but he was tricky and played in a deceptively casual manner. An ideal inside forward.’ As Bert Taylor indicates, Prescot Celtic was followed by the Guild Hall, BI Social, Tarbock/Huyton Quarry Athletic, Everton FC and Liverpool County FA Youth.  Little is known about his time at Goodison Park. He signed amateur forms on 8 October 1947 and was listed ahead of the 1948-49 season, but there is no record of any matches played. His son Iain sent me photographs of two medals Jackie won at Everton: one marks the ‘C’ team winning the Warburton Cup in 1948 (when Jackie was eighteen), the other one success in the Bootle J.O.C. League. Having left school and worked for a while as an office boy, the nineteen-year-old was serving his time as an apprentice pipe-fitter at BICC by day and playing football professionally for Earlestown on Saturdays. His first season at the club (1949-50) ended in triumph, Earlestown gaining promotion to the Lancashire Combination top flight and scoring a massive 149 goals – the sixth largest post-war tally for both divisions of the Combination. As with Cables’ promotion campaign of 1954-55, it is hard to believe that this total did not include a significant number of goals from the Prescot boy. Earlestown fared less well in Division 1 the following year (1950-51), finishing the season in 17th place. Relegation back to Division 2 came at the end of the following season, by which time Jackie was a Liverpool player albeit preoccupied with National Service duties in the British Army Tank Regiment based at Catterick. No details of his army football career have emerged as yet, but if his experience was anything like Sandy Lyon’s wartime service at Catterick he probably turned out for his brigade, regiment and command teams.

Jackie signed professional forms for Liverpool on 1 August 1951. No records survive covering his National Service years at the club (1951-53) though he may well have played in the ‘A’ team, Army permitting. His career at Anfield moved up a gear after completing his time in the forces, and he made his debut in the reserve team on 31 October 1953. He couldn’t have got off to a better start, playing at centre-forward and scoring four goals in a 6-2 home victory against Derby County Reserves. Sadly, Jackie played just three more games in the Central League: a 3-0 defeat versus Blackburn Rovers Reserves at Ewood Park on 7 November 1953; a 2-1 win at home to West Bromwich Albion Reserves on Christmas Day 1953; and a 1-0 away defeat against West Brom on Boxing Day. He did make one appearance for the first team – in a 3-3 friendly against Western Command TA XI at home on 4 November 1953. Jackie scored two goals, making his first- and reserve-team career statistics at Anfield six goals in five games. We can only speculate how these few but impressive figures might have developed had he been retained by Liverpool. But it wasn’t to be. Billy Liddell later wrote that ‘most of my memories of the 1953-54 season are disappointing’ (My Soccer Story, 1960), with Liverpool relegated and Jackie despatched to the Lancashire Combination as part of what John Williams (Red Men, 2010) has described as a ‘closing-down sale’.

It was probably inevitable that the boy from Halsall Street should sign for Cables sooner or later. He moved from Anfield to Hope Street in August 1954. He was in good company. Harry Topping had also signed Alex Muir from New Brighton (see programme for 11 October 2014) plus centre-half Bill Maddison, wing-half Frank Phillips (see programme for 9 September 2014) and winger/centre-forward Freddie Crampton (see programme for 20 September 2014), all from Earlestown. The team’s success in gaining promotion to Division 1 at the end of the 1954-55 season has already been noted. For any player, scoring four goals in a match is usually applauded as a great achievement. But Jackie’s four goals in the 18-2 drubbing of Great Harwood in 1955 was overshadowed by Robert Whitehead’s six goals and Freddie Crampton’s astonishing seven. In the days of a five-man forward line, playing well and scoring goals but hitting the net less than your centre-forward was an occupational hazard for many inside-forwards, as Jackie soon learned when playing alongside Freddie Crampton, who, remember, scored 52 goals  in 1954-55, and Bill Watkinson with his 65 goals two years later.

1955-56 was a season of consolidation for newly-promoted Cables, finishing in a respectable 8th place. Once again Crampton and Lawton enjoyed the lion’s share of the goals. According to John Hayes’ collection of programmes from these years, Jackie had notched up 13 goals by the Chorley home match on 7 December 1955 and an impressive 26 by scoring two goals in a 4-1 victory against Burscough Rangers at Hope Street on 10 March. Freddie Crampton finished the season with 26 goals. Jackie’s total for the season is unknown, but having notched up 26 goals in early March, and with about six weeks remaining before the end of the season in late April, it is highly likely that Jackie ended up as Cables’ top scorer. Looking only at goals scored, the 1956-57 championship season seems to have been relatively lean for Jackie. Small wonder, with Crampton hitting the target regularly and often from the right wing and newly-signed centre-forward Bill Watkinson monopolising the headlines with his record-breaking antics in the goalmouth. Jackie’s pickings were much more modest. The Hayes Collection reveals that Jackie had scored just three goals by mid-September; by 1 December four goals in the first team and three in the reserves; and just two more by the time Cables played Horwich RMI on 12 January 1957. Watkinson had amassed 25 goals by this date. By mid-March Bill had scored 41 goals compared with Jackie’s seven in the first team and another seven in the reserves. Jackie seems to have been in and out of the team that season, as he was in the ensuing 1957-58 season, which turned out to be his last at Cables. But it would be wrong to criticise his scoring rate in his last two seasons at Cables. Playing mostly as an inside-forward, his job wasn’t so much to score goals as create chances for Watkinson and Crampton. In Jackie’s apparently ‘quiet’ last season, Watkinson and Crampton scored 63 goals between them, many of them perhaps set up by Jackie Lawton. After leaving Cables Jackie returned to the BI Social team, possibly playing alongside and creating even more chances for Bill Watkinson a year or two later. He no doubt retained a link with Hope Street and was certainly present at the Cables Centenary Players’ Reunion Dinner at Prescot Social Club on 1 December 1984.

A frequent visitor to Halsall Street during Jackie’s formative years was a young lady called Patricia Margaret Stevenson. She was the daughter of James and Bertha Stevenson of Middleton, Manchester, and the family’s frequent trips were to call on Bertha’s sister Leah. Leah Rainford was Cables’ full-back Bill Rainford’s mother, of course, Bill and Pat therefore being cousins. After a period of courtship Pat married the young and handsome Mr Lawton of house number 1 at St Paul’s Church, Blackley, Manchester on 12 March 1955. Born in April 1934, Pat now lives at Thorton-Cleveleys near Blackpool and told me recently that without Jackie on that particular Saturday afternoon Cables lost! She and Jackie went on to have five children: Judith (born 1957), David (1964), Iain (1965), Jacqueline (1968) and Jonathan (1970). Between them Pat’s children have so far given her seven grandchildren. With Jackie’s father dying just a month before their marriage in March 1955, Jackie and Pat lived with Mim, Beryl, Billy and Tommy for a while before moving two roads away to Evans Street. After a period in Elm House, Derby Street, Jackie and Pat moved to Coniston Avenue where Pat remained for sixty years before heading north. Her former next-door neighbour Joyce Hampson has proved invaluable in putting me in touch with Pat, Beryl and other friends and relatives of the Lawton family. Jackie’s sister is now Beryl O’Donnell and lives with her husband Brian in Heaton Park, Manchester. Her son Mark was born in 1963.

Away from football Jackie worked as a pipe-fitter at BICC and served for many years as a scoutmaster. He had a talent for working with young people, and both Pat and Beryl told me about the many occasions during his professional football years when young boys from Halsall Street (including my old friend Gerald Dyson) would knock on his door and ask if he would play football with them. He always said yes. Later in life he also played bowls.

He died aged just 60 in the Gamble Ward of St Helens Hospital on 16 February 1990 from a heart attack following a hip-replacement operation. He is remembered as one of the finest inside-forwards to have graced the Hope Street turf and contributed enormously to one of the club’s best-ever teams: the one and only team to have won the Lancashire Combination championship. He was a generous and sociable man: ‘a nice lad’ (Eric Bond). As Pat Lawton summed him up recently, ‘Jackie was a lovely man – jovial and kind-hearted. A wonderful husband.’

I am indebted to Jackie’s widow Pat Lawton, sister Beryl O’Donnell and sons Iain and David Lawton for information on his family; the Lawtons’ Coniston Avenue neighbours Joyce Hampson and Rebecca Oakes and Vin Gorman of Halsall Street for helping me locate members of his family; Jonny Stokkeland for access to the FA and Liverpool FC Official Archives; John Hayes for access to his collection of Cables programmes; Eric Bond and Harry Boydell for passing on their memories of Jackie; and John Williams for assistance with public records.

Glyn Williams