The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest, before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guests this week are Linda and Frank Spraggon.
1. The Overview – The Spraggons
This In2view is quite different to the normal singular questions and answers profile. Usually I talk to just one player or a person who has been closely associated with Middlesbrough Football Club. This time I have been talking with two people whose lives are intertwined, not only with each other as husband and wife, but have both lived and breathed the highs and lows of the Boro. They have seen the perspectives from managerial and coaching aspects of football and also from the playing field.
Many Boro supporters will remember Frank Spraggon as one of the famous Charlton’s Champions, which was one of the highlights of a long career at the club. Born on 27th October 1945 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, he signed for the Boro in 1962 and made his debut for the club on 2nd October 1963 at the age of seventeen, which was in a League Cup game against Bradford Park Avenue. Frank made over 300 appearances during his time on Teesside and later played for Minnesota Kicks in the North American Soccer League in 1976 where he played against the famous Pele. Frank returned to England and had a short spell with Hartlepool in the 1976/77 season before finally retiring.
When England won the World Cup in 1966, a nineteen year-old Linda Spraggon had a very good reason to be proud as her father Harold Shepherdson was the England trainer at the time. She has always thought of him as the backroom boy to Sir Alf Ramsey and probably never received the plaudits that he deserved – though he did receive an MBE in 1969 for services to football. When England lifted the World Cup it was customary at the time that only the 11 players on the pitch at the final whistle were awarded medals. Although, this was rectified in June 2009, when members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad who had not received medals, were presented with winners’ medals at a reception in Downing Street. Prime Minister Gordon Brown handed out the medals to the squad players and families of the backroom staff with Margaret Shepherdson receiving the medal on behalf of her late husband. She was accompanied by her daughter, Linda Spraggon, for whom football has played such a major part of her life.
I knew Harold personally for quite a few years, as part of the three-man refereeing team who worked with him, officiating for all the Boro trial and junior matches. Harold was always courteous and welcoming and whilst the facilities at the Hutton Road training ground were sparse, he ensured that we were well paid for our efforts. He also provided at the end of a match, a sumptuous tea, which was waiting for us when we re-entered the dressing room after the game.
Harold always asked if we had seen any promising talent during our travels. The only one I can remember him not following up, was when we recommended Mick McCarthy of Barnsley to him one Sunday afternoon. All three of us referees had been at Barnsley the previous day and one of my colleagues had been the senior assistant referee. Mick had been superb during the game and we had all been impressed. Our loss was Manchester City’s gain but Harold Shepherdson or “Shep” as he was fondly known certainly put the miles in to look at players. He was responsible for bringing in some key junior and senior players to the club including, Mark Proctor, Graeme Hedley, Stuart Boam, Craig Johnston, David Hodgson, Stan Cummins and many more.
What is a little-known story about Harold, is his success in attracting Graeme Souness to join the Boro. “Shep” had been with the England players for a game at Wembley and the then Boro manager Stan Anderson had asked Shep to look out for a young midfield player to join the ranks. “Shep” dutifully looked at all the available prospects and whilst in the England dressing room before the game, asked the players if they knew of any up and coming players that they could recommend to him. Immediately Martin Peters and Marin Chivers, who were both England and Tottenham Hotspur players responded in unison, “Graeme Souness.” Apparently, Graeme and Bill Nicholson the Spurs manager had a bust up during training and young Graeme wanted to return home to Scotland. “Shep” gratefully followed up the lead as he knew Bill Nicholson very well, had a chat with Graeme, pointing out how close Middlesbrough was to Scotland and the rest of course is history.
So following a long and enjoyable lunch that my wife and I had with the Spraggons at Middlesbrough Football Club last year, it was obvious that they both had interesting and historical stories to tell. After speaking with the male half of the partnership in Frank, it was suggested to do a combined In2views article – though he assured me that it would probably be the female half of the partnership who would be taking charge of the answers! I agreed with him, thereby ensuring that the resultant responses would prove to give an enlightening view of what it has been like to be so close to the club, so, welcome to Linda and Frank Spraggon…
2. The Interviews – a quick chat
OFB: Linda, when did you first become aware of Middlesbrough Football Club and your father’s relationship with football?
LS: I can’t remember a time when football wasn’t in some way part of my life. As a very small child I would accompany my dad to Ayresome Park every Sunday morning, where he would be treating players who had been injured on the Saturday. I started going to matches when I was about five, my Grandad took me to every home game. MFC was part of my childhood and in fact has always been a big part of my life.
OFB: Did he teach, you to play football and what were the laws of the game?
LS: No, he never taught me to play football or what the laws of the game were, but I suppose I learnt a lot from watching games and then listening to him talk about them afterwards.
OFB: Did he take you to see any matches and are there any memorable games of football you saw?
LS: Yes, he took me to matches and after he was appointed England Trainer in 1958, I often went to England games at Wembley. One of my most memorable was in April 1961, when England beat Scotland 9-3. A Middlesbrough favourite of mine, Mick McNeil played Left Back for England, Johnny Haynes was brilliant in Midfield and Jimmy Greaves scored a hat-trick. After the match my Dad took me onto the team bus and I travelled back to Hendon Hall Hotel with the team.
OFB: Did Harold ever talk about football at home and did he ever bring players round for tea?
LS: Football was my Dad’s life, so of course he talked about it at home, but with three daughters to keep in check I recall our conversations were much more about keeping us on the straight and narrow and making sure we were doing well at school. Dad didn’t bring players home, but he often got the apprentices to come around and cut the grass or clean his car!
OFB: Who were his biggest friends in football and did you meet them?
LS: He had many friends in football as you would imagine and was in regular contact with them. Locally, Wilf Mannion, Micky Fenton and George Hardwick were great friends. Frank and I continued to keep in touch with them up until they died. Dad was also very friendly with Bill Nicholson, Bob Paisley and of course Alf Ramsey, his friendship with Alf continued long after they both retired from football.
OFB: Where did you live, were you always living around the Middlesbrough area?
LS: We lived in Southend, until I was 18 months old but when my Dad was appointed Assistant Trainer at Middlesbrough we moved to Grangetown, where we lived until I was 6 years old. We then move to Burlam Road in Linthorpe, before my mum and dad moved to Marton in 1967. I lived there for just over a year before we got married in 1968. Frank and I bought a house in Hartburn, Stockton, but then moved to Marton in 1971.
OFB: Can you remember the first football game you watched and how old were you?
LS: I can’t remember my first game, but I do know it was at Ayresome Park and I was 5 years old.
OFB: Did you ever see England play live?
LS: Yes, as I have previously said I have seen England play live on several occasions at Wembley and was able to take my Mother Peggy to see England play at the new Wembley Stadium in 2012 when she was 88, they beat San Marino 7-1 and we had a great day.
OFB: Did you meet the players who were associated with Harold and did you meet Sit Alf Ramsey?
LS: I have met all the 1966 World Cup Players and Alf Ramsey several times, many of the squad including Bobby and Jack Charlton, Alan Ball, Ray Wilson and Gordon Banks came to my Dad’s funeral in 1995.
OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player over the years and others that you watched?
LS: There are only two who I could say were my Boro favourites; Graeme Souness and Juninho, both world class and very special. Other players who stand out for me are Bobby Moore, George Best, Bobby Charlton and Alan Shearer all of them exceptionally talented and great to watch.
OFB: How did you meet Frank?
LS: Frank and I met in Rea’s café on Linthorpe Road, he was 16 and I was 15. He used to train on a Tuesday and Thursday night with the apprentices and then go to Rea’s afterwards. I was there with a school friend and I liked the look of Frank, we made eye contact but didn’t speak. Next day I had a letter, hand delivered to me at school asking for a date. We met the following night to go to the cinema, but I didn’t dare tell my Dad as he had warned me to keep away from footballers as they were all womanisers, gamblers and drunkards!
OFB: When did you both get married?
LS: We got married on May 1st 1968 in Marton, we had to get married on a Wednesday to fit in with the Boro Fixtures and my Dad’s England duties. We went to London for a 2 days honeymoon, then Frank had to leave me and join the team on the Friday to prepare for their game against Crystal Palace on the Saturday, they drew 1-1. He played a blinder.
OFB: Did you go and watch him play football?
LS: Yes I went to all the home games he played and many away games. It was great when they won but miserable when they got beat. Frank always took defeat to heart.
OFB: When Frank played in the USA did you go with him and did you make friends there?
LS: In 1976 Frank had the opportunity to play in the USA for Minnesota Kicks in the NASL. We went as a family with our daughter Joanne who was then 5 years old. It was a fantastic experience, something I would not have missed for the world. Peter Brine and Alan Willey were also signed at the same time. We have remained friends with them and it was great to see Peter recently at the Charlton’s Record Breakers dinner in May this year. We also became great friends with Mick Kelly who was the ex-QPR keeper and Boro and England goalkeeping coach. There were so many top class players including Pele, Eusebio, Rodney Marsh, Bobby Moore and George Best playing in the NASL at that time.
OFB: Whom have you made friends with through football and do you keep in touch?
LS: We have many great friends in football all of Jack Charlton’s 1973-74 promotion side. We are in regular contact and love to meet up as often as possible, Jim and Sharon Platt, David and Maureen Armstrong, David and Sandra Mills are good friends as are Gordon and May Jones, Alan Peacock, Alan Foggon and Alec and Michelle Smith.
OFB: It must have been such a proud, yet poignant moment when you and your mother collected your father’s world cup medal can you tell us about it?
LS: Yes, it was a very special experience to take my 88 year old mother Peggy to Downing Street to receive a World Cup Medal on behalf of my late father. All the England Squad players who weren’t presented with a medal at the end of the 66 final were present, including Jimmy Greaves and Jimmy Armfield. In those days only the actual 11 players who played in the final received medals and of course there were no substitutes allowed. Alf Ramsey did not even get a medal after the game. We were guests of the FA and attended a reception at 10 Downing Street, hosted by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. It was a very proud moment for all the family to see my Dad recognised for his contribution to England’s World Cup win, and an amazing opportunity to visit 10 Downing Street.
OFB: Finally, Linda, can you tell us what is the most memorable event that you can remember associated with football?
LS: I have 2 memorable events, probably both very predictable. The first being England’s 1966 World Cup win and the second memorable event being Middlesbrough’s 73/74 Division Two Championship promotion to Division One. To be closely involved with both of these events was very special and leaves me with wonderful memories
OFB: You joined Boro in 1962, can you tell us how you came to join Middlesbrough and not another North East Club? also, who was the Manager who took you to Boro, and what was your relationship with him?
FS: Actually I joined in 1960 as an Apprentice Professional. I was 15 years old and left home in Newcastle to come to Middlesbrough and went straight into ‘digs’. In 1962 I signed as a full-time professional, I could have gone to Preston or West Brom but chose Middlesbrough. Sadly, Newcastle didn’t show any interest in me. Bob Dennison was the Boro manager who signed me, but I can’t say I had any relationship with him.
OFB: You were born in Marley Hill, so who did you support as a boy?
FS: Marley Hill is a small mining village just outside Newcastle I was black and white through and through and never missed a Newcastle game until I came to Middlesbrough.
OFB: What was it like playing for the club in the sixties, compared to when you left the club in the seventies?
FS: In the 60’s individuals were allowed to express themselves and play ‘off the cuff’ there was not as much emphasis on rigid formations. In the 70’s as the game progressed we were conditioned to make sure we didn’t lose at any cost. We spent more time thinking about the opposition and preparing for games in training.
OFB: Can you remember your debut for the club, and what were your feelings on it. Did you play well?
FS: My 1st team debut was in 1962 at home in the League cup against Bradford Park Avenue. I was 17 when I made my debut and was given very positive feedback from the manager Raich Carter but I have to admit, I was so nervous the game passed me by. My League debut was away to Huddersfield and I held my own and didn’t let anyone down and again was given good feedback.
OFB: Did you try and emulate your style of play, on any individual player who played in your position?
FS: Manchester United’s Duncan Edwards was my role model when I was a youngster; sadly he of course was tragically killed in the Munich air crash where a lot of players and staff lost their lives.
OFB: You played mostly in defence for the club, was this always your preferred position or did you want to play in a different position?
FS: Defenders always fancy themselves as forwards but I knew my limitations and defending was my strength, so I stuck with it. I always played wing half until I lost the sight in my left eye following a bad reaction to the anaesthetic after a cartilage operation. After months of rehab and trying to adjust, Jack gave me the chance to convert to full-back and the rest is history.
OFB: What was your most memorable game, your own individual performance and best experience with the fans? Was it with the Boro or another club?
FS: It was playing at home to West Ham in the FA Cup up against 3 World cup winners in Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst. In regard to my individual performance, I would say it was an 8 out of 10 and we won 1-0. My best experience with the fans was at home to Sheffield Wednesday when we won 8-0 in the 73/74 promotion season. Also, my testimonial against Dynamo Zagreb was well attended and I very much appreciated the fans support after being at the club for 15 years
OFB: Did you have any nicknames and why were you given them?
FS: Micky Fenton always called me ‘Fred’, why I don’t know but it stuck and all the lads called me Fred. When Jack came to the Boro as our manager, he got everyone’s name wrong and frequently called my ‘Craggsy’. (priceless and so typical of Big Jack! OFB)
OFB: Who were the best and worst trainers in the team at that time?
FS: The worst trainer I have ever experienced was Willie Wigham, the best was me! I loved training…
OFB: Who did you room with for away matches?
FS: I always shared a room with John Hickton, except on one occasion when I shared with Nobby Stiles and you would think a bomb had dropped on the room. He was so untidy, often losing his teeth or his contact lenses in the mess that he had created.
OFB: Who was the joker in the team?
FS: Eric McMordie, an Irishman, say no more!
OFB: Can you tell us any amusing anecdotes or pranks that were played by the players?
FS: Too many to mention, but one of the best was when Cliff Mitchell, the Gazette sports writer, arrived at Darlington station to travel with us for an away game in London. He was very proudly wearing a brand new trilby hat. On the way home after the match, he left it the compartment on the luggage rack while he went to the buffet car. McMordie took the hat and bet us all he could throw it through the small open window of the carriage. We all put money in the pot convinced he wouldn’t do it, on his 3rd attempt, however, it sailed through the window somewhere North of Peterborough, Cliff was devastated and didn’t know how he was going to tell his wife. I don’t think he ever really found out what happened to his hat but he spent months contacting British Rail lost property without success. (sounds like this episode is well remembered by the Boro players – OFB).
Another prank I was involved with, was whilst as an apprentice and with two others. We were summoned to Bob Dennison’s office following a complaint from the Evening Gazette. I had to explain how the sponsored Gazette scoreboard at Ayresome Park had been changed to read “Game tonight cancelled, Bingo instead”. We were read the riot act and made to apologise to the Gazette and had to clean the boss’s car for the next 4 weeks.
OFB: What was your worst game or experience and why?
FS: Notts Forest away 73/74 season we lost 5-0 and every one of us had a nightmare of a game.
OFB: Is there a game that you wished you had played in, either for Boro or another team?
FS: Yes, in the 2004 Carling Cup final when Boro beat Bolton 2-1 at Cardiff, also I would have loved to have played for Newcastle in any game when Kevin Keegan was the manager.
OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that Boro have ever had to date and why?
FS: I have got to say Jack Charlton, he was a great leader and got us organised, made us hard to beat and had us all playing to our strengths. He was very popular with the fans and still is. I feel very lucky to have played for him.
OFB: Who was in your opinion, the manager that had the greatest influence on your career and why?
FS: Many coaches gave me help throughout my career, including my father in law Harold Shepherdson. As a manager, Jack had faith in me and helped me finish my career on a high.
OFB: I often ask some of the former players during these In2views, what it was like to play for the club during the great Jack Charlton side of the seventies so what was your take on it, and what was Jack like?
FS: As I have said, playing for Jack was the best, he had us playing for each other as a team, we knew where we stood with him, it was his way or no way. Jack was always right.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you fear playing against?
FS: I didn’t fear any team or any player but certain teams and opponents would be difficult including: Keith Weller – Millwall, Rodney Marsh – QPR, Hughie McIllmoyle – Carlisle, Ken Wagstaff – Hull, Bob Hatton – Birmingham, Duncan Mackenzie – Notts Forest, Malcolm McDonald – Newcastle, George Best – Man Utd and Steve Heighway – Liverpool.
OFB: Who was your footballing hero and why?
FS: Duncan Edwards, as I previously mentioned, he was a complete footballer and could play in any position.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you like playing against?
FS: Sunderland when we beat them. Although I only played against them once, it was fantastic to be on the same pitch as Pele when he played for New York Cosmos.
OFB: Did you have any pre-match superstitions?
FS: Yes, I wore the same clothes for every home game in the 73/74 season and would never shake hands with team mates before we went out onto the pitch, having been beaten twice before after doing this.
OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player of all time and why?
FS: Graeme Souness, a complete midfielder a great team mate, good friend and a genuine lad.
OFB: Now this is a question that may take some thinking about and needs answering diplomatically, but who in your opinion, were the best eleven Middlesbrough players you played with?
FS: Jim Platt, John Craggs, Cyril Knowles, Bobby Murdoch, Stuart Boam, Willie Maddren, Graeme Souness, Bill Harris, Hughie McIllmoyle, Nobby Stiles and David Armstrong.
OFB: What was your relationship like with Boro Fans, especially when you played so close to the infamous “chicken run”?
FS: I would like to think I had a good relationship with them and still do. The chicken run gave everyone stick especially Millsy! But it was all in good fun.
OFB: When you left us in 1976, can you give us details of how you came to join Minnesota Kicks in the American soccer league?
FS: I was coming to the end of my playing career and Jack suggested I should go to the US, benefit from the experience and get a good last pay-day. Jack’s good friend the late Freddie Goodwin had been in touch with him wanting a left back and he recommended me to him. I loved my time in America and we got to the soccer bowl final, playing in the Seattle Kingdome only to be beaten by Toronto Metros, who had Eusebio on their team. Sadly I had to return home after 1 season because of a knee problem, but it was a great experience, and I returned to the US a number of years later to take up coaching roles in Washington.
OFB: I know you still watch the Boro, as we often meet, who is your current favourite Boro player today and why?
FS: George Friend, us full backs have to stick together! George is a good professional and an excellent role model for youngsters today.
OFB: How do you think the match day has changed from the time that you played professional football to the present day?
FS: Everything about football has changed not always for the better. The corporate hospitality at games now was never available when I played, but I must say I thoroughly enjoy it. Sponsorship has developed into big money for clubs, agents have a big influence and most clubs are run by business people who often know very little about football. Very average players can now earn mega bucks.
OFB: If you could be a fly on the wall, is there any dressing room you would wish to eavesdrop on?
FS: Newcastle United.
OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?
FS: Not being able to stay longer to play in the USA. Not playing in a final at Wembley and not representing my country.
OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football and do you keep in touch?
FS: I hope I have many I can honestly say I have remained life-long friends with all those players I played with at Middlesbrough and in Minnesota and I keep in touch with most of them.
OFB: Finally, if you hadn’t had a professional career as a footballer, what do you think you would have done as a career?
FS: I think a career in the armed forces would have suited me. The opportunity to see the world, keep fit and be part of a team is the closest I can think of to being a footballer. Also I have the highest regard for anyone who serves their country. I do however feel very privileged to have been a professional footballer and an FA coach.
OFB: A huge thank you Linda and Frank, for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and our readers.