Jimmy Melia

Born on the 1st of November 1937 Jimmy Melia has enjoyed a lifetime in football including two short spells at Southport.

 It all started for Jimmy as a 15 year-old when he joined then second division side Liverpool. After signing his first contract aged 17 he scored on his debut in a 5-2 win over Nottingham Forest and soon established himself in the first team, being an ever-present in the 1961/62 team that were Second Division champions. On the 6th of April 1963 he made his England debut in a 2-1 British Championship defeat to Scotland at Wembley and two months later scored his one and only goal for England in his second and final appearance for his country when England beat Switzerland 8-1 in Basle.

1963/64 was a mixed season for Jimmy. He was part of the Liverpool team that won the First Division, playing enough games to win a medal, but before the season had finished he had joined Wolves who paid a then club record transfer fee of £48,000 for him.

His stay in the Midlands was a short one. Stan Cullis, the manager who took him to Molineux, was sacked six months after buying him and his replacement Andy Beattie quickly off-loaded him to Second Division Southampton. This was a successful move and in his second season at the club (1965/66) he helped the Saints to promotion. He remained a first team regular until 1968 when, after 152 appearances and 12 goals, he lost his place to a young Mick Channon. This brought a new direction for Jimmy as in November 1968, aged 31, he took up the role of player-manager at Aldershot.

At Aldershot he graduated from player manger to manager, gaining a reputation for his hard-hitting and occasionally controversial column in the club’s match day programme. He took the club to what was their then highest ever placing of sixth in the old Division Three before leaving in May 1972 to become manager at Crewe where he stayed for two and a half years.

January 1975 saw Jimmy’s exit from Crewe and he took up a role of unpaid coach at Fourth Division strugglers Southport. He was made caretaker manager in unusual circumstances when manager Alan Ball senior was somewhat bizarrely allowed to take up a coaching job in Sweden with Swedish second division club I.F. Sirius whilst remaining in his post of Southport manager. As documented in a previous programme 1975/76 was a dismal season and Jimmy was only in charge for seven League games before leaving the club.

On leaving Southport Jimmy travelled firstly to Sharjah in the Persian Gulf for a successful stint as manager of a team called Al Shaab, and then to the US to manage North American Football League teams Cleveland Cobra’s and California Lasers. He stayed abroad for two and a half years before returning to the UK where he became temporary manager at Southport, returning to a club that were now struggling in the lower reaches of the Northern Premier League. He brought in a number of players that he had worked with in the States but without much success but there was one interesting story that the Liverpool Echo reported on the 1st December 1979. The article started by saying “nine months from now there could be an American take-over of Southport. Jimmy Melia returned from California during the week to announce that a prominent North American League club is very interested in adopting the Sandgrounders as a nursery for their home-produced players.”  Officials of the un-named club (very probably California Lasers) were due to visit Southport in January 1980 and whilst it’s unclear if that visit ever took place, nothing sadly ever became of the take-over.

Jimmy left Southport in January 1980 to become chief scout of First Division Brighton who were managed by Alan Mullery and in 1982-83, with Brighton struggling in the First Division, Jimmy was promoted to manager. He wasn’t able to save them from relegation but he did enjoy his greatest managerial success by taking the club to the 1983 FA Cup final against Manchester United, making headlines along the way for his disco style of dress and model girlfriend. On the day of the final he arranged for Brighton to arrive at Wembley by helicopter giving the club much publicity and despite being the underdogs they had their chances to win the game which is mainly remembered by Gordon Smith spurning a great chance to win the game for Brighton – how many people remember the commentator saying “and Smith must score”. The replay ended in a convincing 4-0 win for United

Jimmy walking out at Wembley in 1983

Following relegation Brighton struggled in Division Two and in October 1983 Jimmy resigned, citing irreconcilable differences between himself, Chairman Mike Bamber and coach Chris Cattlin. He wasn’t out of work long though as barely a week later he was revealed as the new manager of Portuguese second division side Belenenses where he won the second division title and then narrowly missed out on taking the team into Europe. In 1986 he returned once more to the UK to manage Fourth Division Stockport County but left after just eighteen games with the club bottom of the table and beset by internal wrangling.

In 1989 Jimmy went back to Sharjah and set up a youth academy then in 1995 he moved to Dallas, Texas, again coaching youth football. He still lives in the US and as he approached his 80th birthday was working as a coach for the Liverpool FC International Academy America. Jimmy was recently in Southport visiting relatives who live there.