been Blackpool footballers who have played more games for the club than
Ray Charnley; and there have been men who have contributed more league
goals to the Bloomfield Road cause than the tall, rangy Lancastrian
centre-forward. But on both counts, from faithful fans of the Seasiders
whose memories stretch back half a century and beyond, there would have
to come the heartfelt and grateful rider: not many.
Blackpool's leading marksman in senior competition for nine consecutive seasons
between 1958-59 and 1966-67. Every one of those campaigns was in the top flight
and in several of them it was his goals which effectively preserved their place
among the Elite.
His tally is exceeded only by Jimmy Hampson's between the
wars, when often the club was in the second tier where goals were easier to
plunder, and, narrowly, by Stan Mortensen's in the decade after the second
global conflict, when he was supported by a collection of stellar talents,
notably the great Stanley Matthews. True, Charnley benefited from the wing
maestro's service for four terms, but by then Matthews, though still potent, was
well into his forties and passing his incomparable peak.
Overall then, Charnley was a gem, albeit of the rough-hewn
variety. Though his style was more practical than pretty, he was considerably
less indelicate on the ball than many of his front-running peers from that era.
He was adept at controlling long dispatches from his own defenders while fending
off the close attentions of aggressive opponents and a titan in the air. He was
also a powerful finisher who occasionally surprised even his most ardent
admirers with a shot or a pass of unexpected subtlety.
Yet for all the sterling attributes revealed in ample
measure in schoolboy and youth football, in which he sampled inside-forward and
wing-half roles before settling as an attacking spearhead, there was a time in
his teens when Charnley's future in the professional game was in serious doubt.
When the likes of Middlesbrough, Huddersfield Town and even Blackpool expressed
interest in his talent, he was persuaded by his father to continue with his
apprenticeship as a painter and decorator.
Meanwhile, he played his football for Preston North End's B
team until it disbanded, then Bolton-le-Sands and finally Morecambe, for whom he
struck 43 goals in 53 matches, which persuaded the Seasiders to make a new
approach. By this time he was 22 and with a trade behind him, so when the
Blackpool manager Joe Smith proffered a £775 cheque to Morecambe in May 1957,
Charnley was ready to take the plunge.
At this point, Blackpool were a major footballing force,
having finished second and fourth in the old First Division in the two previous
seasons, and the newcomer, although plainly raw, was deemed promising enough to
make his debut in his first autumn at Bloomfield Road.
Initially his progress was tentative, and even after
scoring twice in a 7-0 home demolition of Sunderland, which remains Blackpool's
highest winning margin - he looked a decent bet for a hat-trick until forced to
leave the action with a severely gashed head - he was in and out of the team.
But after returning in a mid-term reshuffle which saw the previous No 9, Jackie Mudie, switch to inside-right, Charnley was back to stay.
Boosted by the backing of a new manager, Ron Suart, he
thrived in 1958-59, missing a handful of games because of a broken collarbone
but still striking 20 times in the League and adding six more on the way to the
League Cup quarter-finals, in which the Seasiders were beaten by Luton Town
after a replay.
Gradually Blackpool were slipping from their eminent perch
of the previous decade - a process accelerated by the abolition of the maximum
wage, which caused relatively small-town clubs to suffer at the hands of
wealthier big-city rivals - and in 1960-61 they relied even more heavily than
usual on Charnley's goals, a late winner from a pinpoint Matthews cross against
fellow relegation battlers Newcastle United proving crucially important.
Charnley was rewarded with a place on the FA's summer tour
of the Far East before finding the form of his life in 1961-62, accumulating 36
goals in 50 games - four in the 7-2 Bloomfield Road annihilation of Wolves was
particularly memorable. Suart was quietly outraged when he continued to be
overlooked by his country.
Charnley's international call-up finally arrived in October
1962 when he faced France at Hillsborough in the European Nations Cup, but
really the England manager, Walter Winterbottom, might have known better than to
name a forward line containing four debutants - the others were Mike Hellawell,
Chris Crowe and Alan Hinton - and it was hardly surprising that they failed to
gel. A woefully poor game finished 1-1, and although Charnley did earn the
penalty by which Ron Flowers equalised, he had little chance to shine and was
never picked again.
In the famous tangerine shirt of Blackpool, however, the
goals continued to flow. He was particularly menacing when operating in tandem
with the inspirational young firebrand Alan Ball in mid-decade, after which
there was an encouraging rapport with Alan Suddick, a gifted acquisition from
Charnley was versatile, too, able to deputise effectively
in central defence when the need arose, and his genial, easy-going nature
increased his popularity with the public. Once when he was omitted from the team
- he wasn't dropped too often, but it did happen occasionally - when Suart
experimented with the centre-half Roy Gratrix leading the attack, Charnley
turned up on the Bloomfield Road Kop, wearing a flat cap and exchanging banter
with the fans.
By 1966-67 he was approaching the veteran stage but still
managed 14 league goals for a side which had declined so comprehensively -
despite the presence of the evergreen full-back Jimmy Armfield and the young
Emlyn Hughes - that it finished well adrift at the foot of the table.
By now the old Blackpool hero Mortensen was occupying the
managerial seat, and it was ironic that it should be during his watch that
Charnley, his long-term successor, should bow out of Bloomfield Road in December
1967, a fee of £12,500 taking the 32-year-old to Preston, also languishing in
the Second Division.
Most Blackpool regulars felt that the man who had scored
222 times in his 407 appearances for their club should not have been sold,
especially after he scored against his former employers, albeit in a 4-1 defeat
for North End, only nine days after his move. However, he did not tarry long at
Deepdale, joining Fourth Division Wrexham in July 1968, then enlisting with
Bradford Park Avenue and ending his league days when the hard-up Yorkshire club
was not re-elected in 1970.
There followed a brief stint back at Morecambe before
Charnley gave up the game to concentrate on his painting and decorating business
back in Blackpool, a town he had come to love - and where the feeling was
mutual. - The Independent Obituary