During Southport Football Club’s fifty seasons in the Football League, they possessed perhaps half a dozen truly outstanding constructive inside-forwards. Frank Jefferis, Paddy McConnell, Tommy McKay, Bobby McIlvenny, and of course Alex Russell would merit inclusion. Johnny Fielding, who died on 1st August, also deserves a place in that select list of Southport greats.
I was lucky enough to watch Southport during the Lem Newcomb era. During this period Southport played the best brand of football, I have ever seen during almost sixty-five years of following the team. Certainly, It was a cut above anything that I have seen since. The Crystal Palace and Peterborough United games in 1960-61 and the Colchester United and Wrexham games the following season are still vividly etched in my memory. The inside- forward trio of Jimmy Blain, Reg Blore and John Fielding soon had the Scouts flocking to Haig Avenue and all three were eventually transferred for useful fees although in Fielding’s case the Club received only half of the £7,000 transfer fee reported in the press.
Sixty years ago, in the days before Match of the Day, I and many other football fans listened to Sports Spotlight , a Saturday evening programme, on the Northern Home Service, where there were reports of sporting events of Northern interest Just occasionally Southport were one of the selected matches to be featured. On 9th December 1961 Jack Holden was sent to Haig Avenue to cover Southport v Rochdale. His report began as follows:-
“I have heard a lot about Blain and Blore but the player who took my eye was little blonde Jimmy(sic) Fielding. His slight frame and spindly legs seemed out of place in the hurly burly of the Fourth Division and yet he was easily the most gifted player on the field” .Jack Holden, BBC.
Lem Newcomb paid Wigan Athletic £500 to secure Fielding’s services .I was present along with 4,692 others at his League debut against Northampton Town which he marked with a great goal. At the conclusion of the game scores of schoolboys ran onto the pitch to mob him. Nicknamed “Wally” at Haig Avenue after his illustrious namesake at Goodison, Johnny was a skilful ball player, schemer and tactician who did much of the fetching and carrying in a team which were a delight to watch. He went on to appear in 76 League matches for the ‘Port scoring 21 goals.
John Arnold Fielding attended Speke Secondary School Modern representing both Liverpool and Lancashire Schoolboys at football. He joined Everton on leaving school as an Amateur and was among the scorers for Everton” A” who annihilated Southport “A” 14-1 in a Lancashire League fixture on 13th December 1958. Also, in the Everton line-up that day was a certain Arthur Peat who like Johnny was an apprentice plumber.
Ever short of money Southport sold Fielding to Fourth Division champions elect, Brentford, in March 1963. Johnny had requested a transfer some weeks earlier as he wanted to play at a higher class of football. He had impressed Brentford’s Manager in Southport’s 3-3 draw at Griffin Park and scored Southport’s winning goal in the return match shortly before his transfer in March 1963. He was dubbed ’Fenella’, after the actress, during his two a half year spell with the Bees where he played largely on the wing. His last Football League appearances were with Grimsby Town before flying out to Johannesburg in May 1967 and joining Port Elizabeth City , twice winning National League championship medals. On his return he impressed many with some fine performances for Southport in their Northern Floodlight League team, but Don McEvoy decided not to sign him at the expiration of his trial period.
Johnny enjoyed sport. As a youngster in Speke, he took up boxing . This came in useful after an altercation with a club official at Brentford which hastened his departure to Grimsby! He was an accomplished golfer and in later life he liked watching rugby union. Johnny was married to his wife Jean for fifty-five years until her death in 2017. He is survived by two sons, Ian, and Steven and four grandchildren whom he adored. He was employed at Triumph and Ford.
One can only speculate how much greater success Johnny would have achieved in the game if he had been blessed with greater physical strength. Few players have given me greater pleasure than little Johnny Fielding.