Albert Stubbins - The Kop's First Post-War Hero
Former centre forward Albert Stubbins reminisces about Anfield life in the bygone age of the late forties and early fifties.
Albert Stubbins will forever be remembered on Merseyside as one of the most popular players to ever pull on the famous red shirt of Liverpool.
In an era when players wore knee length baggy shorts and fans packed the terraces in their flat caps, Geordie centre forward Stubbins scored eighty-three goals for Liverpool, won the championship and played in the Cup Final at Wembley.
But it is a never-to-be-forgotten goal in the snow for which he’s most fondly remembered. The goal in question, a spectacular diving header, was one of three he scored in a famous FA Cup quarter-final victory over Birmingham City, at a snow covered Anfield in March 1947. It is ingrained in the annals of Liverpool folklore and confirmed his standing as the first post-war hero of the Kop.
“The move that led to that goal actually came about because of an incident in the previous round against Derby County when I should have scored from a Billy Liddell centre,” recalls Albert. “The Birmingham game came just a few weeks later and when Billy stepped up to take a free kick I remembered what had happened against Derby. The cross came over low and hard and I ran forward, threw myself full length at the ball and just managed to get my head to it. The ball went past the goalkeeper like a rocket.”
It was in September 1946 that Stubbins joined Liverpool. Everton had also shown an interest in signing him and he was forced to toss a coin to decide who to speak with first. Fortunately for Liverpool the coin came down in Kay’s favour and late that night Stubbins agreed to join the Reds. “It was a very difficult decision to make but one I‘ve never regretted. I was so impressed by George Kay’s offer that I made my mind up without speaking to Theo Kelly.”
It cost Liverpool a club record fee of £13,000 to secure the signature of the leading wartime goalscorer and his arrival was seen as a major coup for the club. Over the next seven years Stubbins more than repaid the huge sum invested in him. He and Liverpool seemed made for each other from day one and the crowd took to him instantly.
“The support of the fans helped me settle when I first arrived. Even if I had a bad game the crowd would never crucify me like they would some players,” he remembers.
Together with the legendary Billy Liddell, Stubbins was the star attraction in a Liverpool side that defied the odds to win the inaugural post-war championship. The season boiled down to a dramatic climax with the Reds having to win their final game away at Wolves to stand any chance of taking the title. Wolves were also very much in contention and only required a draw to be certain of top spot.
“Before the game I had a word with Bob Priday, a young South African winger who was brought into the team at outside left, and I told him if he received the ball in a deep midfield position to knock it straight down the middle for me to chase. The first opportunity he got he did exactly that and it took the Wolves defence completely by surprise. As I closed in on goal the keeper Bert Williams came rushing off his line but I just managed to get my toe to the ball and poke it past him into the corner of the net. We were already leading 1-0 and that goal put us in the driving seat.”
Despite victory at Molineux the Reds were not champions yet. An agonising two-week wait ensued before this was confirmed. Stoke had one game left to play and only needed to win away at Sheffield United to take snatch the prize on goal average. On the afternoon that they completed their season at Bramall Lane Liverpool played host to Everton in the final of the Liverpool Senior Cup.
“It was an amazing finish to the season. We were the best team in the country and deserved to win the league. There have been many great Liverpool teams since but I’d like to think that we could have held our own against any of them.”
Life at Anfield during the late forties was never dull for Stubbins. In 1947/48 he top scored for the Reds with 28 goals. Four of those came at the expense of Huddersfield Town, despite a pre-match threat from an unknown source not to score. He takes up the story: “On the morning of the match I received a telegram and the general consensus of it was that if I scored my legs would be broken. I did not want to unduly worry the rest of the team so I kept it to myself. It was obviously meant to frighten me but it didn’t work. I never did find out who sent it but maybe they should have sent me them more often!”
It was such exploits in front of goal that helped maintain his hero status among the fans. In their eyes he could do no wrong. Even when he went on a much publicised, self-imposed, strike prior to the 1948/49 campaign.
“It had always been my intention to pursue a career in journalism. When I signed for Liverpool the chairman Bill McConnell arranged for me to write a weekly column in the Football Echo. When Bill died the board felt they weren’t responsible for his promise. There was some confusion and that is why I delayed signing on. It was all very amicable and at no time did the club and myself ever fall out.”
Injuries prevented Stubbins scaling the heights of his first two seasons at the club and after he’d helped the Reds reach Wembley for the first time in 1950, the ginger-haired centre forward finally returned to his native Tyneside for good in 1953, finishing his career with non-league Ashington before embarking on a full-time journalism career.
Copyright - Mark Platt