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Storyteller supreme who lit up the coaching world

NEVER, in football, have I met a raconteur quite like the late Ted Crawford.

Shamelessly, I must confess to exploiting his anecdotes for a number of short stories. A Yorkshireman from Filey, when it was a fishing village rather than a holiday camp, Crawford was the quintessence of the prewar pro: lean, tough, resilient and undemanding, with a talent for coaching that would emerge after he had retired from playing. Characteristically, he discovered that he had played his last six years as a forward for Clapton Orient with an undiagnosed broken ankle.

I met him in Italy in 1952, in Livorno, where the local club had just sacked him, having, through no fault of his, been relegated from Serie B. "They promised me a nice house," he told me bitterly. "Nice house? S***house!"

Having lost his job as manager of Bologna somewhat unfortunately, Livorno had engaged him. They needed to win their last league match to stay up. The word went round that it had been bought.

In the dressing-room before the game, he told his team: "You think this game has been fixed. I'm telling you, it hasn't been. Go out and win it!" But then the club secretary went whispering round the room and the players merely chorused: "Yes, yes, Mister!" So they duly took the field, were beaten and were relegated. It turned out that the secretary had split the bribe money with the manager of the opposition.

As a player, things never quite went right for him. When he was 14, the legendary Herbert Chapman, then manager of Huddersfield Town, told him that he would be "another Billy Smith", referring to Huddersfield's famous outside left. Fulham asked the teenage Crawford down to London, did not meet him at the railway station and he wandered around town, could not find the ground and went back miserably to Yorkshire.

It was Halifax Town who signed him, turning him into a centre forward with such success that he was bought by Liverpool. His debut there was the first game in the first division that he had seen. His early promise was such that he was viewed as a coming star, but a kick on the ankle put an end to that.

So to Orient, in the third division, and some remarkable memories. Such as that of the nondescript fan who approached the players one day and asked if they would like to go to a nightclub with him. Sceptical at first, they eventually agreed.

They did indeed go to a club, where they picked up hostesses, repaired to the man's well-appointed flat and cavorted with the women.

Always evasive about where his money came from, the man laid on party after party.

Until one day it all stopped and the truth emerged. He was a lowly council employee who had embezzled a lot of money and he was sent to jail.

Orient's best-known forward then was Arthur Rigby, formerly of Blackburn Rovers and England. One Saturday afternoon, he turned up close to kick-off, very drunk.

Crawford and other players bundled him into the shower. He was still there when the referee came in to ask if all was well. "It's just Rigby, sir," they replied.

"What, is he drunk again?" the referee asked.

"Go out on the left wing, Arthur," Crawford told Rigby. "I'll keep the ball away from you if I can." Near half-time, there was nothing Crawford could do but play the ball out to Rigby, who instantly hit it into the goal and went on to score a hat-trick.

There were games on Christmas morning then and when Orient were scheduled to play at Bournemouth, the whole team turned up drunk at Waterloo station, to be met by their manager in charge of a barrel of beer. When the game began, Crawford saw two balls every time he went for a header. When he collapsed, the referee ran over to ask: "Are you all right?" Orient drew 1-1.

After the war, Crawford's first coaching job was at Degerfors, in Sweden, where Sven-Goran Eriksson began his coaching career. Sweden's international coach, George Raynor, a fellow Yorkshireman, told Crawford that there was a vacancy at Bologna.

At the end of one season, Bologna were at home to Lucchese. Crawford was approached by the late Gino Capello, an Italy inside left but a notorious fixer of matches. "We need a point," he pleaded. "Lucchese need a point. Why not draw?"

Crawford refused.

Before the game began, he spoke to his two sturdy Danish wing halves, Pilmark and Jensen, and to his young outside left, Carlo Matteucci, exhorting them to do their utmost. Early on, to the fury of most of the team, Matteucci put Bologna ahead.

Crawford said he had seldom laughed so much as he did at the clumsy antics of his defenders as they tried to give Lucchese the equaliser. Eventually, they did.

After Livorno, Crawford was back in England for a while until being appointed manager of AEK Athens, who then had a small ground in the suburbs. They were lying third in their league when Enosis, the struggle for independence in Cyprus, broke out. The AEK directors told Crawford they could not guarantee safety for himself and his family and he went home again.

The only club that would employ him were Barnet, who were then still amateur.

Losing that job, he never, scandalously, found another, ending his working life as a storeman.

Copyright (C) The Times, 2003

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