RIP Alan Spence

Alan Spence, a Southport FC legend from the 1960s has died after a long illness. One of the first players to be inducted in the Southport FC ‘Hall of Fame’ in 2019, he was frequently described as the best forward Southport ever secured on a free transfer in post-war football. Writing in August 1973 in the Southport Visiter in the first of a series of articles called “Players from the Past”, Geoff Wilde and I said of Alan, “ However hopeless the situation he was invariably looking for goals, but more important Spence always behaved impeccably on the field – performing cheerfully and without complaint even though he regularly lacked the support of a big man alongside him”.

Born in Seaham, County Durham on 4th February 1940 Alan Nicholson Spence attended Durham Johnston Grammar Schol ( motto “Supere Aude”- Dare to be wise). There he captained the County Youth and County Grammar School sides. After playing for Murton Colliery Juniors, he signed for Sunderland as an Amateur. At the age of sixteen he played against Scotland for the English Grammar schools at Stamford Bridge and gained another cap against Scotland two years later. Full England Youth Honours came his way when he made appearances against France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain as well as taking part in an international tournament in Luxemburg , playing in the same side as Bobby Moore.

When only seventeen and a half Alan scored five goals for Sunderland Reserves and scored twice when making his first team debut at centre-forward in a floodlight friendly against Maccabi Petah Tikvah, an Israeli touring team. He made his Football League debut the following Saturday at Blackpool when Sunderland were defeated 7-0. He went on to play five First Division games for Sunderland, scoring his first of his 123 Football League goals when he headed home across from Billy Bingham in a game against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Playing against him that was Don McEvoy. His headmaster interrupted a chemistry lesson after he had received a telephone call from Sunderland Manager, Alan Brown to say to say that Alan had been selected to play against Italian giants Juventus under Floodlights. His mother took his boots to Roker Park, but Alan was not allowed to leave school early and arrived at the ground by taxi still wearing his school uniform. The Sunderland Manager wanted to sign him full-time, but Alan wisely preferred to qualify as a teacher and always remained a part-time professional throughout his career. He attended Bede Teacher Training College, Durham specialising in physical education and then went to Carnegie College, Leeds for a specialist course in physical training.

In June 1960 Alan was transferred to Darlington and in two seasons made 25 appearances, scoring 10 goals. He also equalled a Darlington club record by scoring in seven successive games which included two goals in Darlington’s 4-1 win at Haig Avenue. Released by the Quakers at the end of the season, Alan was all set to play non-league football with South Shields when Manager, Lem Newcomb turned up at his door and persuaded him to join Southport. Alan straightaway got an appointment at Meols Cop Secondary Modern teaching PE and English and like George Bromilow, was hero worshipped by his pupils.

During his six and a half seasons at Haig Avenue Spence gave Southport grand services, scoring many brilliant goals. A good clubman and a faithful servant, he broke Cec Wyles’ post-war Football League scoring record in 1963/64 with 27 goals and top scored in 1965/66 and 1966/67. His total of 98 goals is far and away a club Football League record. He featured prominently in Southport’s giant killing feats in 1965/66 scoring two vital goals at Ipswich in the Third-Round replay and one of the two goals to beat Cardiff City in Round Four. Altogether he scored 10 goals in 15 FA Cup appearances for Southport.

With the arrival of first Eric Redrobe and then George Andrews and Terry Harkin, Spence became a utility forward playing anywhere in the forward line. In 1968/69 he was out of action with a broken toe but came back to play in the First Round of the FA Cup at Tranmere. I can still see his all-important winning goal in my mind’s eye – a characteristic strike from outside the penalty area. Shortly afterwards Alan was transferred to Oldham Athletic and finished his career at Chester.

Having gained his FA Coaching Badge Alan returned to Haig Avenue as second team coach in 1970 and the following season became first team trainer on match days. Turning down the opportunity to take up a coaching job at Reading Alan ventured into management with Northern Premier League Cub, Skelmersdale United and Chorley, subsequently becoming their Commercial Manager and he gave up his teaching job at Wellfield High School in Leyland. In 1982 he took a coaching appointment in Saudi Arabia for several years whilst retaining his home in Longton. On his return to England, he continued to do some supply teaching.

Alan was an all-round sportsman. In his early days in Southport, he played tennis and table tennis at the Sphynx Club. Alan remained a popular and welcome visitor to Haig Avenue. Unfortunately,his health deteriorated following the death of his wife Doris. He leaves two sons David and Neil.