Schoolboy sprinter Barry Bridges was a speedy former England international who was once Brighton & Hove Albion’s record signing at the princely sum of £28,000.
At Queens Park Rangers, he was part of a strong forward line playing alongside Frank Clarke and the flamboyant Rodney Marsh with his old Chelsea teammate Terry Venables pulling the strings in midfield.
Much of his career ran in parallel with the subject of my last blog post, Bert Murray. Both young stars at Chelsea in the early to mid-60s, they both got transferred to Birmingham City in 1966 and later in their careers ended up at the Goldstone.
Bridges, however, went one better than Murray and earned full England international honours. Four caps in fact. He was just a few days short of his 24th birthday when he made his debut in a 2-2 draw with Scotland at Wembley in April 1965. He kept the no.9 shirt in the next two games, played in May, a 1-0 win over Hungary at Wembley and was the scorer of England’s goal in a 1-1 draw away to Yugoslavia. His fourth and final game was in a 3-2 friendly defeat against Austria in October 1965. Injury prevented him staking a claim for a place in the 1966 World Cup squad.
Norfolk-born Bridges had come to the attention of Chelsea while playing for local side Norwich & Norfolk Boys and had a dream debut in 1959 at just 17, scoring in a local derby against West Ham. It was in the 1961-62 season that he established himself in the Chelsea first team, Jimmy Greaves having been transferred to AC Milan.
His England call-up was the icing on the cake of a great 1964-65 season in which he scored 27 goals in 42 appearances for Chelsea and collecting a League Cup winners’ medal.
As reported in the Bert Murray blog, it was May 1966, when Tommy Docherty started breaking up his squad, that Bridges left Chelsea for Birmingham having scored 93 goals in 205 league appearances for the London club.
A then club record fee of £55,000 was paid by the recently-appointed chairman Clifford Coombs and in two seasons in the West Midlands he scored 46 goals in 104 outings.
Interviewed by bcfc.com two years ago, Bridges said: “What persuaded me to join Birmingham more than anything was the chairman, Mr Coombs. He was a great guy and wanted to put the club back on its feet. He told me that I was going to be his first signing and he really wanted me to join.”
In his first season he helped Blues to a League Cup semi-final – ironically against Queens Park Rangers – the club he would move to next.
In August 1968, a £50,000 deal saw him move to Loftus Road. Unfortunately the campaign ended in relegation from the old First Division but in 1969-70 he linked up well alongside Marsh and Clarke and scored 24 goals in all competitions.
QPR decided to cash in on him and sold him to Millwall in 1970 and in 1972 he was part of a Millwall side who only narrowly missed promotion to the top division.
When Pat Saward signed him for Brighton in September 1972, it was evident from the start that this was a player who had played at the highest level.
Unfortunately, although Bridges could easily cope at that level, others either didn’t step up or the new players didn’t gel – arguably Saward made too many changes – but, whatever the reason, Brighton couldn’t stop losing and were left floundering at the foot of the table.
Bridges made his debut in a 1-1 draw away to Aston Villa but it was another four matches before he got his first goal, ironically against his old club Millwall, in a 3-1 defeat at home.
Bridges seldom had the same partner up front, early on playing with Willie Irvine, on other occasions with Ken Beamish and later with Lammie Robertson after Saward brought him in from Halifax in exchange for Irvine.
My abiding impression of him was that he appeared to be too good for the rest of the team. His speed of thought was often way ahead of the rest so he would put passes into areas where he would expect a teammate to be, only to be disappointed that they hadn’t read it, so he was made to look wasteful.
One of the few moments of pleasure for Bridges in what was otherwise a season of doom and gloom was the prospect of a FA Cup third round tie against the team that launched his career. Chelsea were the visitors to the Goldstone in January 1973 and Bridges was in great demand for pre-match interviews in view of his association with the London club.
“It’s a tremendous draw for the club and a dream draw for Bert Murray and myself who both started our careers at Chelsea,” Bridges told Goal magazine. “Personally it will be nice to see most of the Chelsea lads again. I grew up with Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris and Ossie (Peter Osgood).”
Bridges hoped a good performance in the cup would help to reinvigorate the lacklustre league form and said: “It’s a crying shame that we’re struggling because the facilities here are second to none. Obviously we need to start getting results now before it’s too late. A win against Chelsea could be just the boost we need to get out of trouble in the league.”
As it turned out, not only did the game end in defeat (2-0) for the Albion but it drew national headlines for all the wrong reasons – ‘day of shame’ for example – as Harris and Brighton left back George Ley were sent off, five were booked and the mood on the pitch led to fighting on the terraces with 25 people arrested!
However, Albion’s fortunes did eventually improve – although it was without Bridges, who in the final few games of the season was restricted to appearances off the bench.
Back in the third division, Bridges was back in the starting line-up and scored in the opening game in a 1-1 draw at Rochdale.
He was part of the team Brian Clough and Peter Taylor inherited in October and, after they secured their first win courtesy of Pat Hilton’s goal in a 1-0 win away to Walsall, Bridges told the press: “I did more running about in this game than I had in the previous 10 matches. I’m 32 now, but with this chap geeing me up I reckon I can go on playing for several more years. We were a bit on edge before the game and the first thing he told us was to relax. Afterwards he told us he was pleased with the effort we showed and we can work from here and go places.
“Though I was sorry to see Pat Saward go – he was a great coach – I think Brian’s got what it takes to make us a good side. He’s just what the club have been waiting for.”
But three games later, as one of the team humiliated in a 4-0 home FA Cup defeat to Walton & Hersham at the end of November, Bridges was unceremoniously dropped and didn’t play again for the first team until February.
Although he then had a run in the team, scoring six times in a 17-game spell, he was among twelve players Clough and Taylor offloaded at the end of the season.
That brought down the curtain on his league career but he continued playing – initially in South Africa with Johannesburg side Highlands Park and then in Ireland – where when player-manager of St Patrick’s Athletic he also gave game time to another former Brighton striker, Neil Martin. He also managed Sligo Rovers before returning to his native Norfolk to manage non league sides Kings Lynn and Dereham Town.
Only three years ago, the QPR programme caught up with him to discover he was living in Norwich close to where he was brought up, and still getting along to watch matches.
- Pictures from my scrapbook show Barry in his England and Chelsea days, in Millwall’s white and change yellow shirts, in QPR’s familiar hoops, and in the Albion stripes.