Great Harwood Legends
This article charts the life and career of a true Harwood legend. Many of today’s supporters won’t even have heard of BOB JONES, but hopefully after reading this, all ex-regulars at the Showground will come to appreciate just what this man did for the club. Player, player/manager, coach, trainer, secretary, and his wages……£5-£7 a week !
* Bob was born in Walton, Liverpool, on the 28th of March 1933, and followed in his fathers footsteps by becoming a professional footballer. His dad was also called Bob and his career was a fascinating one.
He wrote to Everton for a trial as a left half, but at the session, the goalkeeper didn’t turn up and Bob senior was given the woolly jersey, flat cap and gloves, and made such an impression that the Toffees signed him on. He made his debut in the Merseyside derby but he made only a limited number of first team appearances during the next two seasons and was signed by Southport on a free transfer. During his short time at Goodison, Bob played with the legendary Dixie Dean, which for a goalkeeper, must have been rather better than playing against him!
* The next three years were spent in Southport’s reserve side until he finally established himself as the number one. No sooner had this happened than Bolton Wanderers came in for him and he spent the next 8 years at Burnden, playing in over 200 first team games. Two years at Cardiff followed before Bob Senior decided to call it a day and was about to take on a pub when, after a chance meeting with a Southport official, he was persuaded to re-sign for the Sandgrounders.
* He played for them during the war and despite becoming first team trainer in 1947, he continued to appear for the reserves, playing his last game in 1950 at the age of 48! He remains the oldest player to have represented Southport at any level. After 11 years as trainer he retired and in the late ‘70’s he moved to Great Harwood to live with Bob Junior. He worked until he was 85 YEARS OLD! The following two years saw his health deteriorate and sadly, he died after suffering from pneumonia.
* Back to Bob (or Bobby) Junior. He was brought up in Southport and trained as a structural engineer before he signed for his home town team as an amateur, making his debut for the reserves at the age of 16 ½ . Bob Senior was the player/manager at the time. Two years later he turned semi-professional but still continued to work in his chosen profession.
* First team outings were infrequent and one or two of the supporters gave him ‘grief’ before he eventually signed for Chester where he spent 5 seasons, making 166 appearances. One feature of his time at Sealand Road, was that every time he played against Southport, he had a great game. But it wasn’t just against ‘Port that he excelled, and at the end of the 1950’s, first division giants Blackburn Rovers sent scout Louis Page to check him out. Louis liked what he saw, reported back to Ewood, and Bob was immediately signed as understudy to first Harry Leyland and then Fred Else. It was at this time that Bob turned full time professional and put his engineering career on hold.
* In 1960 the Rovers reached the F.A.Cup Final and Leyland was a doubt in the week leading to the big day. Did Bob travel down with the team? No. He had to make his own way to London and stay with relatives in Fulham, waiting for news!! As it happened, Leyland was fit to play although in hindsight probably wishes that he hadn’t been.
Despite being number two for the whole of his Ewood Career, Bob enjoyed the experience immensely and made 49 first team appearances in 9 seasons. He often captained the reserve side and won two championship medals as they dominated the Central League for much of the decade.
During the 1967/68 season, Great Harwood chairman Derek Keighley tried to persuade Bob to come to the Showground where Great Harwood F.C. played in the Lancashire Combination.
* Bob signed for Harwood along with another ex-Rover, John Bray, who had in fact played for the Rovers in the 1960 F.A.Cup final and had been appointed player/manager at the Showground. Now Bob had really hit the bit time at the ‘theatre of dreams’. It was Bray who persuaded Bob to sign, and these players were the first of many ex-professionals who would eventually make the short journey from Ewood Park. Although the pay was very good, (£5 a week!) Bob decided to renew his association with the structural engineering business, a career which he’d trained for after leaving school. He worked part-time for Bert Smith scrap metals in Blackburn for which he was also paid £5 a week. With all this money rolling in, Bob and his lovely wife Kay must have been the Becks and Posh of their day!! Bob was 33 years old when he signed for Harwood and was still a very good goalkeeper as you’ll find out as you read the match reports to come.
Chairman Derrick Keighley had decided that action needed to taken after Harwood had finished third from bottom of the Lancashire Combination at the end of the ‘66/67 season, their worst campaign for some years.
Optimism was high as the local papers reported:
‘New look’ ground
GREAT HARWOOD put their “new look” Showground to the test today in the match against South Liverpool. The club have worked wonders bringing the pitch up to scratch only a matter of weeks after the whole ground was a quagmire following bad weather at the town’s agricultural show.
Harwood are confident of much better results on the field too this season, with new signings Bobby Jones(ex-Blackburn Rovers), Geoff Shaw(Chorley) and Roger le Fontier(Darlington) and the return of half-back John Chatburn from Clitheroe.
The outlook for John Bray’s team is very bright.
TALENTED TEAM HOPE FOR A GOOD SEASON
GREAT HARWOOD FC FIT AND RARIN’ TO GO
THERE has been an air of seething optimism at Great Harwood Football Club during the close season. Not surprisingly, Club officials are anticipating the Club’s most successful season since 1964 when they won promotion into Division One of the Lancashire Combination.
Great Harwood have always lived in the shadow of Blackburn Rovers and Burnley, but in an attempt to establish themselves once and for all they have appointed ex-Rovers full-back John Bray as player-manager, and have spent something like £1000 on improvements to the ground.
Last season the team had their worst season for years when they finished third from bottom but, says Chairman D.Keighley. “We were inundated with bad luck. Five of our first teamers were hospitalised for the greater part of the season and we just could not settle the team.”
The arrival of Bray at the club has given rise to two important changes. The team have concentrated more on the tactics and science of the game and will play a modification of the 4-2-4 system.
However, perhaps the most important aspects of “the new” Great Harwood is the accent on physical fitness. Most of the playing staff have been training voluntarily throughout the summer but reported for official training at the end of July.
Mr. Keighley told me. “The players are fitter this season than they have ever been and are rarin’ to go.”
The keenness of the team is reflected in the enthusiasm of their Chairman. Mr. Keighley, a well known figure in Great Harwood, gets to the ground on most training nights despite the fact that he combines the Directorship of a business in Whalley with duties on the local Council and the extra responsibilities of being a County Councillor.
In the summer of ’67, Mr. Keighley helped with the re-seeding of the playing area which, despite the havoc wreaked by the Great Harwood Show, when the pitch was reduced to a quagmire, is now a lush green surface. With a team of volunteers the approach to the pitch was cindered and the ground fully enclosed with the help of corrugated iron sheets.
On paper the team is a strong one with the signing of 33 year-old Bob Jones from nearby Blackburn Rovers, a masterstroke in the fight for success.
With Bray at right-back and Jones in goal the defence should be as tight as any in the Combination. The forward line is a combination of skill, penetration and punch, and with the left wing pair of Dave Freeman, with over 200 goals to his credit, and John Willis, a former Aston Villa player, goals should be plentiful.
However, the staff at Harwood are not content to sit back and congratulate themselves on the potential of the first team.
The policy of ex-Stanley player and now trainer coach of Harwood, Bill Miller, is “catch them young”.
This is exactly what he is doing.
Trials for young hopefuls have been in progress since the early part of this month.
“The potential of the younger players is very good,” said Bill, “They just need a little encouragement to bring them into their own”.
He added, “We never stop looking for promising talent, and if anyone catches the eye, we give him a fair chance”.
Great Harwood have already played three re-season matches and promisingly won them all. They defeated Prestwich Heys who reached the quarter-finals of the F.A.Amateur Cup last season, by five goals to two, Darwen 4-2 and Padiham 2-0.
The season gets under way today and Great Harwood could not have a more difficult task than that which visitors South Liverpool will provide. South Liverpool are a strong side who regularly finish around fifth or sixth place and know only the sweet taste of success.
The Bray led Harwood team will be fighting to prove that last season’s low position in the league table was “just one of those things”. In all, a ding-dong battle is expected and I would not be surprised if Great Harwood with their combination of punch, experience and youth successfully climb the first hurdle and go on to one of their best seasons ever. After all – they deserve it!
The game ended in a draw and in the next game at Wigan Rovers, Bob injured a hand and had to leave the leave the field. His position being taken by new signing from Clitheroe, right-half John Chatburn, who excelled in the 1-1 draw.
Ex-Blackburn Rovers ‘keeper dislocated the top joint of his index finger, making a brilliant double-barrelled save from Rovers centre-forward Knowles. Jones, who had made the art of goalkeeping look easy, was taken to the Wigan Infirmary for treatment. The point won was an excellent one, bearing in mind that the home side had gone 32 home games without defeat.
Bob certainly wasn’t a sissy and was able to play in the next game just four days later at Burscough when once again the result was a draw.
Relief for Harwood
GREAT HARWOOD officials were relieved that new goalkeeper, Bob Jones had recovered from injury in time for today’s match at Burscough.
Next up were St.Helens, and another fine defensive performance helped Harwood to their first victory of the season.
GREAT HARWOOD 1 ST. HELENS 0
Apart from taking two welcome points, Harwood played some clever football, responding well to the skill of inside forward Dave Freeman.
Bob also excelled as the Observer reported,
‘Centre-forward Jackson set himself up for a shot from 6 yards out, but had the ball brilliantly whipped away from his feet by Harwood ‘keeper Bob Jones’.
* Things didn’t all go to plan as Guinness Export inflicted Harwood’s first home defeat of the season, 3-1, and worse was to come as South Liverpool gave us a drubbing despite the 2-1 scoreline.
“Harwood came close to losing their self-respect”
Wrote the Observer.
“When Great Harwood player-manager John Bray signed his former team-mate Bob Jones during the close season it was acclaimed as the bargain buy of the season. Certainly Jones has proved invaluable to Great Harwood and it is mainly due to his brilliance that Harwood have one of the best ‘goals against’ columns in the Combination.
In at least five of Great Harwood’s defeats this season it has been Jones and only Jones who has saved them from the thrashings of their lives. More times than not they have gone down by the only goal, usually a late goal after the brilliance of their tall goalkeeper has kept them in with a chance as long as was humanly possible.
On Saturday at South Liverpool he went one better. Some of his saves were unbelievable. One in the 68th minute, when he dived the wrong way for a stinging 35 yarder and then corkscrewed in mid-air to turn the ball one-handed round the post, was “super human.” Every week Jones keeps goal brilliantly.
Quite frankly, I will pleased when he has an off day for it will be then that Great Harwood discover just how bad they are. With every defeat coming from one lone goal I fear that Harwood have become sadly disillusioned. They are just not good enough. They are weak in the tackle and yards too slow to the ball. Their distribution is terrible and their covering not much better. All these faults were displayed on Saturday, and if Bob Jones had not been in such superb form the home side would have run u a cricket score. The long siege on the Harwood goal went on with Jones refusing to submit. To report it all, one would need a long list of superlatives and more space than I have at my disposal.”
* Things did in fact improve during the season, and mainly thanks to the heroics of Bob, Harwood finished in a respectable position But respectability was not the name of the game and several new players were signed who helped to change the fortunes of the club around. In the Lancashire Junior Cup, the mighty Wigan Athletic were beaten. Trailing 2-0 at Springfield Park with just five minutes to go. Harwood scored twice to force a replay which also ended all square at 1-1 before two extra-time goals secured victory. In the Combination, they had built up a lead of twelve points by March with Lancaster City and Burscough desperately trying to close the gap. After 31 games, Harwood had clocked up the following record:
P 31 W 26 D 4 L 1 F 86 A 23 PTS 56. Needless to say, the championship was won and they were promoted to the recently formed Northern Premier League.
The Championship record made great reading for the Harwood faithful. P 42 W 33 D 6 L 3 F 115 A 35 PTS 72
The season was undoubtedly the best in the history of the club with the Lancashire Floodlit Cup and Richardson Cup also won. The reserves won
both the West Lancashire League championship and the West Lancs. League Challenge Cup.
* In the Northern Premier League, they would be rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest non-league clubs in the country. Altrincham,
Boston United, Stafford Rangers and Wigan Athletic, to name just a few.
The final season in the Lancs. Combination was a ‘breeze’, but the start of the 1968/69 campaign proved to be a nightmare for the club despite possessing one of the finest goalkeepers in the league.
* More ex-Rovers arrived in the shape of Douglas, Shaw, Baldwin, Jackson and Sims. First up were the mighty Boston United at York Street. The Pilgrims were arguably the finest non-league team in the country so Harwood knew that they would need to be at their best to return with any reward.
Not surprisingly, Harwood were soon under pressure but the defence held firm until 36 minutes when Jim Smith, now a famous manager, took the ball forward unchallenged, and released a 25 yard effort which went in off the post. The visitors hit back and Douglas was impeded on the edge of the 6 yard box but the Referee waved play-on. Just before half-time the Pilgrims increased their lead when Williams was first to react to a Cobb effort which had rebounded off the post. The ball was lashed into the top corner from a few yards giving Bob no chance.
“Jones won applause as he dived to push a goalbound header from McLean round the post. Jones was the busiest Harwood player on the field and but for his anticipation the Showgrounders would have been further behind.”
But Bob was beaten again on 55 minutes when Alexander converted a cross from just a yard out. The defence, superbly marshalled by Bob, stuck to their task and held out to the final whistle without conceding any further goals.
Two days later Harwood played their first home game against Hyde United who had finished seventh in the league in the previous season. The players and manager were full of optimism as the opening day defeat could not have been too much of a surprise, and a healthy crowd of 1,500 turned up at the Showground.
* A Geoff Shaw goal was Harwood’s reply to two from Hyde in the first half but it was during the second period that the fireworks started. Within minutes of the re-start, Hyde scored three times in five minutes to sink the home side out of sight. Two further goals ensured an embarrassing 7-1 defeat.
A visit to Northwich Victoria meant yet another tough game and once again Harwood returned empty handed. An 85th minute goal sunk the Reds this time but the winner was hotly disputed. With 20 players milling around inside the penalty area, a shot was smashed against the underside of the bar and bounced to safety. The referee awarded a goal and refused to consult the linesman who was far better positioned. Bob Jones described the decision as “ludicrous”, and added, “The ball was a good twelve inches in play, I can’t understand why the linesman was not consulted.”
* A trip to Wigan Athletic in the Premier League Cup followed and as Harwood played ‘all out defence’, and failed to register a serious shot on goal, Wigan won 2-0. Many of the large crowd had turned up to see Brian Douglas but were disappointed as he rarely had the chance to shine. Altrincham provided the next challenge but two goals by ex-Rovers and Stanley player, Jackie Swindells saw the home side win 2-1. Luckily for Harwood, Bob was still in top form despite the regular defeats, and he was still hitting the headlines.
“Jones the goal keeps Welsh score down”
Said the Observer, as Bob renewed his acquaintance with Mick McGrath who was now with Bangor City.
Tonge tested Jones with a low shot-
Jones had to go down to Broadhead’s feet after the winger had outpaced the Harwood defence-
The Harwood captain was having a tremendous match-
Jones took the ball off his toe as he broke through the hesitant Harwood defence-
Harwood had Bob Jones to thank that they were still in with a chance at the interval-
Jones won applause when he turned a drive from Conde over the bar.
Thankfully Harwood did manage to pick up some points with the first win coming against Netherfield thanks to two goals from ‘Duggie’ and another from Ian Hope. Nevertheless, it looked as though we would be making a swift return to the Lancs. Combination.
After 18 games Harwood had managed 6 wins and 2 draws to leave them in 16th place. By this stage John Woods was keeping goal after Bob had broken his thumb during a game in November. Manager John Bray had also been replaced by former Burnley centre-half Tom Cummings. Sadly for Bob, he missed out on the biggest occasion in the club’s history when after beating Wigan Athletic in the second round of the Lancashire Challenge Cup, Manchester United were the visitors to the Showground in Round 3. A crowd of 5,397 packed into the ground to see the likes of Rimmer, Crerand, Morgan, Givens, Gowling etc. Four internationals and nine players with first team experience lined up for United who eased into the next round courtesy of an 8-1 win. Morgan, Givens and Gowling all scored 2 with Satori and Watson notching the others, Geoff Shaw hitting the Harwood consolation.
* Lowlights of the season were the games against Scarborough who won 5-1 at the Showground and 8-0 in the return. Fortunately Harwood managed to avoid relegation, and in the summer Ronnie Clayton amongst others, signed to strengthen the side.
The 1970/71 season began much better with Harwood competing in the top half for most of the time. Roy Vernon signed in October to help the team become one of the most attractive in the league and the club’s attendances rose to an average well over 1,000.
* A mid table position was achieved as well as a record breaking run in the F.A. Cup when the first round proper was reached for the first time in the club’s history. Bob had been ill at the beginning of the season and also missed many games through injury, and at the end of the season he finished his playing career, but not his association with Harwood. He was then appointed team manager and in the summer, in an attempt to tighten up the defence, he signed two more ex-Rovers players, former Scotland keeper Adam Blacklaw, and centre-half John Coddington. The two players certainly made a difference as Bob states in his programme notes, talking about the previous week’s 1-0 win at Worksop.
“Our defence played magnificently, with John Coddington marshalling things and John Ainscough having a really good game, probably his best since coming into the side. Adam Blacklaw made a couple of excellent saves. We ran out easier winners than the score suggests, but all credit to Worksop for playing their part in an all-action cup tie, games like this must surely give us bigger gates in the matches to come.”
* With David Bright, who had cost Oldham Athletic £4,000 barely 12 months earlier, being signed, Jim Beardall approaching 100 career goals for Harwood and up and coming John Kenyon hitting the goals, the future looked bright.
Sadly, it wasn’t too bright for Bob as he was replaced in the summer by Roy Cheetham who became player/manager after being signed from Chester. Another respectable mid-table position was achieved with Bob still at the Showground, this time in the roll of trainer.
* Later on he was the club secretary but after Derrick Keighley left to join the board at Blackburn Rovers, the remaining board members found the financial strain of running a club at this level too much and one evening after training, the players were told not to bother returning as the club was to fold!
* After this, Bob finished his long and successful association with the game and set up his own structural engineering business in Preston. Thanks to his skill and dedication, the venture was a huge success and Bob spent the next few years running and building up the business. Then, in 1985, amazingly for a man who was just 52 years old, Bob suffered heart problems which resulted in no less than four heart by-pass operations. Thankfully Bob made a tremendous recovery but decided to retire from work and spend more time with his lovely wife Kay. Did I say retire?
* Bob spent much of his ‘retirement’ making furniture, including a huge Wendy-house for his daughter, a double bed, wardrobe, desk, and a Grandfather Clock which I’ve seen myself and the quality and workmanship is truly outstanding. Bob was a perfectionist and it shows in the things which he made, his career as a footballer and his business.
* In 1998 at the age of 65, Bob died suddenly at his home near Whalley.
His family, friends and neighbours were shocked at the loss of such a wonderful gentleman at such a young age. Thankfully, Bob was able to spend the final thirteen years of his life amongst his family and friends for which they are all grateful.
BOB JONES, not just a Great Harwood legend, but a legend to all those who had the pleasure of knowing him.
Bob, it’s been a priviledge researching and learning about your life.
Great Harwood ‘legend’
Back to Top of Page