Passing of a Anfield legend
MERSEYSIDE football lostone of a rare breed indeed - a gentleman hero - with the passing of Albert Stubbins at the age of 83. As a fearless centre-forward Stubbins' goals helped Liverpool to win t he 1946/47 league championship and made him the first Kop idol of the post-war era. His bravery on the field became the stuff of legend, but even in an era when footballers travelled to the game on the same bus as the supporters, Stubbins' down-to-earth warmth and friendly disposition enhanced his popularity. Stubbins scored 83 goals in 180 appearances for Liverpool, won the championship and played in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. During his time at Anfield he s truck up what would become a life-long friendship with Bob Paisley, then the Liverpool wing-half. Both men hailed from the north east - Stubbins from Wallsend, Paisley from Hetton-le-Hole. When Paisley hung up his boots he stayed on at Anfield to become a trainer, then coach and eventually the most successful manager in the history of English football. At the end of his own playing career Stubbins spent some time on the Anfield scouting staff and also had a spell as national coach of the USA, before returning to the north east to take up a new vocation in s ports journalism. He was to write with the same generosity of spirit that marked his conduct as a player.
He often visited the offices of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo and generously shared his wisdom and memories with the sports staff. Stubbins, like Paisley, was unfortunate that his playing career was interrupted by the war.He joined Newcastle in April 1937 and went on to become the leading marksman in wartime football with 244 goals.
But when international football resumed Stubbins claimed only one England cap, against Wales in October 1945. He was unfortunate on a second count for being around at the time when other great centre forwards such as Tommy Lawton, Jackie Milburn and Nat Lofthouse were in their prime. However, Stubbins became the subject of a celebrated transfer battle between Liverpool and Everton in 1946. The red-haired 28-year-old became Liverpool's top target after a 5-0 defeat to Manchester United prompted chair-man WH ``Billy'' McConnell and manager George Kay to go and try to sign him. They were so keen to make sure Everton were not alerted to their intentions that they attended a reserve game at Goodison and slipped out at half-time to drive straight to the north east. They reached an agreement with Newcastle on a pounds 12,000 transfer fee, a Liverpool record at the time. Everton manager Theo Kelly was a few hours behind and put in a bid of pounds 500 more. The story of what happened next is recalled by Stubbins in Merseyside journalist John Keith's matchless account of the Paisley years: `Bob Paisley - manager of the millennium' (Rob-son Books). The scene is a Newcastle cinema. Stubbins recalled: ``I was sitting in the Newcastle News Theatre when a notice suddenly came up on the screen saying, `would Albert Stubbins please report to St James' Park'. ``When I got to the ground representatives from both Liverpool and Everton were there. Stan Seymour Snr, who was in charge of Newcastle, asked me who I wanted to speak to first. I knew they were both good clubs so I spun a coin and it came down heads to meet Liverpool first."
``I came to an agree-ment with them and when I met Theo Kelly of Everton I told him I had made up my mind to go to Liverpool and was very courteous about it. ``It was a very happy time for me. Everton are a good club but I'm glad the coin came down heads because I couldn't have made a better move.'' His arrival at Anfield set Liverpool on a 12-match unbeaten run that took them to the top of the league and they went on to lift the title.
Stubbins himself will always be associated with two famous images. The first is of a spectacular diving header he powered into the Birmingham City net in an FA Cup tie at snowbound Anfield in March 1947. Stubbins recalled: ``In the second half Billy Liddell took a free kick and I took a position on the edge of the box. The Birmingham defence felt that as I had gone back there I wasn't going to cause any problem and left me more or less unmarked.
``It was one of Billy's low free kicks and w hen he struck it I started running at full speed. As the ball came flashing across I just dived at it and I was able to direct it to the keeper's left. ``Given t he power of Billy's kick and the pace at which I met it the velocity of the ball was terrific. It just flew in! ``It was an icy ground and both of my knees were lacerated and bleeding but it was certainly worth it.''
The second picture can be found in the record collections of millions of people around the world, many of whom will not recognise Albert Stubbins among t he montage of faces on the cover of the 1967 Beatles album Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Paul McCartney, it turned out, was among the player's fans. Stubbins later explained: ``I got a telephone call one day from a young lady who said she was ringing on behalf of the Beatles management. ``She asked if I would consent to my photograph being used on the cover of the Sgt Pepper album. I said of course I would and told them to go ahead. I hadn't met Paul at that time but it seemed obvious he was a Liverpool supporter.''
Liverpool assistant manager Phil Thompson paid Stubbins a glowing tribute yesterday. ``Albert was a star,'' he said. ``He will be fondly rememberedby a lot of people.``He came into the minds of the likes of myself, Rick Parry and Alan Hansen on the Hall of Fame panel because of his input into Liverpool. He was one of the names that is right up there. We send our condolences to his family.''
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