Eric Redrobe . . . ‘Southport is in my blood’
Published Date: 27 March 2009
By Tony Dewhurst
Tony Dewhurst talks to Eric Redrobe, a scoring legend with Southport in the 1960s who is still in love with the club.
Life is never dull in the company of Southport legend Eric Redrobe.
When we had a good laugh, like we did the other day, he trawled through a rip-roaring adventure with the Sandgrounders in the Swinging Sixties.
A bustling, barn-storming centre-forward, he joined Southport in 1966, a couple of weeks after England had won the World Cup.
When he left Haig Avenue for Hereford United six years later, ‘Big Red’ had carved his name into the Southport archives.
“We played Everton in the FA Cup at Haig Avenue, and I caught the 359 bus from Wigan to Southport,” he recalled.
“I didn’t have a car, and the bus stopped at the end of my road.
“I got on and the driver said, ‘Blimey. You’ve got a tough one today, Eric. Have you got any spare tickets for the match?’
“Southport would get 5,000 for a home game, but when I got to the ground the place was jumping, with fans in trees and people stood on roof tops.
“It seemed like the whole of Everton had come to Southport that day.”
An incredible 18,795 squeezed into Haig Avenue for that third round tie in January, 1968, and Joe Royle grabbed Everton’s winner in a 1-0 victory en route to a Wembley final.
“The game started and there were a few naughty tackles flying in, and then I clattered Everton’s goalkeeper, Gordon West.
“It wasn’t malicious, but West was lying on the turf screaming and shouting – and the Everton supporters were baying for my blood.
“The referee, a nice guy called Jim Finney, called me over.
“Mr Redrobe, he said, I’m going to book you, because if I don’t I will not get out of this ground alive and you will be lynched by those mad Evertonians.
“After the game, I decided to wait for a few hours for things to calm down, and caught the train home.
“I turned up at Southport station, nipped into the bar, and the place was full of Evertonians.
“I kept my head down, ordered a drink and sat down in the corner. Suddenly this huge Everton fan loomed over me and growled, ‘Hey la’.
“Aren’t you that Southport so-and-so who smashed up our goalkeeper.
“Quick as a flash, I told him I worked in a furniture shop on Lord Street and I was working late because of the January sales.
“Thankfully, he believed me, but was I glad to see the Wigan train pull in to the platform a few minutes later!”
The fact is that as well as representing Southport’s past, Redrobe also stands for the future.
The 64-year-old is the proud president of Southport’s Independent Supporters Trust, ‘Trust in Yellow,’ and is a regular at nearly every home game.
He is the most charming of company, easy-going with a ready sense of humour.
He added: “I could never have imagined that 43 years after I made my debut I’d still have this incredible affinity with Southport.
“Southport was my life for six years and it still is.
“It is not for me to say why I was popular with the supporters.
“I wasn’t a flash person. I played from the heart, with a tremendous passion.
“I wasn’t the most tactful on the pitch, but gave it absolutely everything.
“The supporters know when they see honesty on the pitch, and I can still hear that chant in my head, ‘Redrobe … Eric the Redrobe.
“I was on £27 a week, but I was in dreamland.
“I think our era was a more honest one, though.
“It was about players who gave their all for the cause, and I don’t see that as much in the professional game now.
“I’m a very old-fashioned person, but when I look at the modern game I think – where’s the honesty?”
Redrobe was a giant of a man who, after appearing for Lancashire Schoolboys playing rugby league, turned down the opportunity of signing for St Helens and Wigan, switching codes and joining Bolton Wanderers, where he was understudy to Welsh international Wyn Davies.
“My dad made the decision, and rightly or wrongly, that’s the way it was then,” he added.
Redrobe found opportunities limited at Burnden Park, and after making four appearances, he joined Colchester on trial.
“I was playing in a pre-season friendly in Ireland for Colchester and Billy Bingham, Southport’s manager, signed me.
“Billy was a gentleman, a very private man.”
In Redrobe’s first season at Haig Avenue, Southport finished runners-up to Stockport County in the old Fourth Division.
“That was an incredible campaign, I loved every minute.
“We had a good team and I remember going up to Hartlepool, where Brian Clough, their manager at the time, said we were the best side they had played that season.
“The game that stands out, though, was Southport’s last away fixture of that season at Tranmere, in April, 1967.
“There were 15,000 at Prenton Park, and Southport won 2-1.
“It was one of those special moments you savour and cherish.
“Jim Cumbes, who is Lancashire CCC’s chief executive now, was Tranmere’s goalkeeper.
“I remember him charging out of his goal to try and get the ball, and I headed it over him.
“It slowly trickled over the line for Southport’s second goal, and I knew we were going to win promotion then.
“The journey back to Southport was incredible. It took us two hours to get through the Mersey Tunnel as there were so many Southport fans cheering us.
“It was a sea of yellow, a real magical moment.
“It meant we needed a win from our last home game to be sure of promotion.
“There was no score until the 80th minute, when Arthur Peat passed to me, and I sent George Andrews clean through on goal.
“He swept the ball into the net and at full-time the crowd stormed on to the pitch.
“We were carried shoulder high to the tunnel entrance, and it was such a fabulous memory.
“It was the first time Southport had won promotion – 45 years after coming into the Football League.”
Redrobe was eventually sold to Hereford United for £6,000 in 1972.
“It broke my heart leaving Haig Avenue. It was a very sad day indeed.
“I was sold without my knowledge, just told I was going to Hereford.
“I can’t say how sad I felt getting my kit together and leaving Southport for the last time.
“But I had some happy times at Hereford, and the manager there, Colin Addison, was a real character.
“He turned up at the house I was renting, took one look at the front lawn, and said, ‘Eric, what’s going on here? I want this lawn cut before you come to training tomorrow’.
“A few hours later he turned up with a Qualcast lawnmower, and told me to get it cut.
“I’ve still got that lawnmower in my garage!”
It is 30 years since Southport last played in the Football League, the Sandgrounders having been voted out in 1978, with Wigan Athletic taking their place.
“My dearest wish would be for Southport to get back in the league.
“And I still believe that will happen one day,” said Redrobe.
“It was dreadful when they went out of the League, absolutely heartbreaking.
“They’ve a fine manager in Liam Watson, and the chairman, Charlie Clapham, loves the club.
“But there is nobody more committed to Southport than chief executive Haydn Preece.
“Haydn is Mr Southport, an inspirational character, and he makes the place tick.
“Haydn has created a great camaraderie within the club, and isn’t that what it is all about?
“Southport’s in my blood too, and I’m very proud of my association with them.”