IT MUST BE difficult for today’s reader to imagine a player with the opportunity to sign for either Coventry City or Chelsea choosing the Sky Blues over the London giants.
But in 1968, when the choice faced Huddersfield Town’s Cattlin, he moved to Highfield Road because the following day they were playing a star-studded Manchester United side and, as the full-back who’d be marking the legendary George Best, he couldn’t resist pitting his ability against the Irish wizard.
It was one of several career insights Cattlin revealed in an excellent interview by Doug Thomson in the Huddersfield Examiner in June 2013.
Huddersfield were happy to collect a £70,000 transfer fee when Coventry bid for Cattlin, but he told the Examiner: “Chelsea also came in for me and I was due to speak to them in the afternoon after talking to Coventry in the morning.
“City were playing Manchester United the next day and the manager, Noel Cantwell, told me I would definitely be in the team.
“I knew that if I could say I’d played against George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, I could die a happy man, so I never got as far as Stamford Bridge!
“I signed for £65 a week when the man in the street was probably getting £20, so to be paid like that for playing football made me more than happy!”
As it turned out, Cattlin marked Best out of the game and his new team won 2-0 with goals from Ernie Machin (who later left the Albion at the same time Cattlin arrived at the Goldstone) and Maurice Setters, against his old team.
Cattlin went on to play more than 250 league and cup games for Coventry, (then in the equivalent of today’s Premier League), before moving to Brighton in 1976, where his playing career finished but he returned as manager between 1983 and 1986.
Going back to the beginning, though, Cattlin was born in Milnrow, Lancashire, and he had trials with Burnley but, in the summer of 1964, Huddersfield stepped in to sign him.
“I went across to Leeds Road, and just fell in love with the place. It was far from luxurious, but there was just a feel about the ground and the people there,” he recalled.
Maybe it was also a feeling that Huddersfield knew a thing or two about decent left backs. Cattlin took over from Bob McNab, who later made a name for himself at Arsenal, and played four games for England, and McNab had replaced England World Cup winner Ray Wilson, who Town transferred to Everton.
Cattlin was signed by Eddie Boot only for the manager to resign the day after, following a 2-1 home defeat by Plymouth. Boot’s successor was Tom Johnston but it was emerging coach Ian Greaves, a former Manchester United player (who later took Town to the top flight as manager), who was to have a lasting effect on Cattlin.
“Ian lived in Shaw, the next village to Milnrow, and he’d give me a lift to Leeds Road each day, in the days before the M62, on that winding old road over the moors,” he explained.
“He was a great coach and later manager, and a superb motivator, just a football man through and through.”
Cattlin made his debut in a 3-1 home win over Derby on the final day of the 1964-65 Division 2 (now Championship) campaign but didn’t fully establish himself in the side until the 1966-67 campaign. In total, he played 70 times for Town.
After that 1968 transfer to Coventry, Cattlin became a firm favourite at Highfield Road and although he didn’t quite emulate Wilson and McNab, he did play three times for England Under 23s and represented the Football League v the Scottish Football League.
When manager Gordon Milne decided to give Cattlin a free transfer after nine years at Coventry, fans organised a petition to keep him at Highfield Road.
But there was no turning back and Peter Taylor signed him for Brighton – along with another experienced defender, Graham Cross (from Leicester City) – a short time before quitting the club to rejoin Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest.
It was Alan Mullery’s good fortune to inherit a squad that would take Division 3 by storm to earn promotion and Cattlin was able to contribute in both full back positions although mainly at left back, having the edge on Harry Wilson.
With the arrival of Gary Williams from Preston, Cattlin switched to the right and vied with Ken Tiler for the shirt, regaining the upper hand for the final two thirds of the season which ended with promotion from the old Division 2 in 1978.
Although he made just one appearance (in the disastrous 4-0 League Cup defeat at Arsenal) during the 1979-80 season, he notched up a total of 114 games for Brighton.
And he obviously liked the place so much that once his playing days were over he opened a rock shop on Brighton seafront, as well as investing in property.
However, three years after quitting as a player, he returned to the Goldstone as a coach, appointed in the summer of 1983 by chairman Mike Bamber to assist manager Jimmy Melia – without Melia’s knowledge!
It all got rather messy with Melia and Cattlin clearly not getting on and talk of a takeover rumbling on in the background.
By the middle of October, Melia quit and Cattlin took over as manager, with another well known former left back, Sammy Nelson, elevated from reserve team manager to assistant manager.
Cattlin then began to shape his own squad and among notable signings who served Albion well were Steve Penney, Danny Wilson and Dean Saunders while there were some memorable cup games, including beating Liverpool in what I believe was the first FA Cup tie – other than finals – to be shown live on TV.
One of BBC TV’s pundits of today, Martin Keown, was another Cattlin signing, joining on loan from Arsenal and beginning with Brighton what was a memorable career with the Gunners, Aston Villa, Everton and England.
In 1984, Cattlin also brought to the Albion a former teammate from his days at Leeds Road, the mercurial Frank Worthington, who moved along the south coast from Southampton.
By that time, Worthington wasn’t too mobile but he’d lost none of his skill and flamboyance and Cattlin told his 2013 interviewer: “He did a good job for me.
“Frank wasn’t only a great player, but a great bloke as well, a dedicated trainer and a great bloke to have around a club.”
Cattlin stayed in the manager’s chair until April 1986, during which time they finished ninth, sixth and 11th in what was the equivalent of the same division the side now plays in.
Distractions and changes in the boardroom were an uncomfortable backdrop to much of his time in charge and it was evident that the fans didn’t perceive Cattlin to be to blame for the failure to finish higher.
When he was sacked, there were protests from supporters, a 2,000-signature petition calling for his reinstatement and Cattlin himself addressed a 200-strong rally in Hove.
But it was all to no avail. His former boss, Mullery, returned and Cattlin went back to his non-football business interests.
- Pictures show Chris Cattlin pictured in Goal magazine in Coventry’s sky blue; in an Evening Argus shot alongside new manager Alan Mullery and fellow close season signing Graham Cross; how the Albion programme headed his managerial notes.