IN THE days before managers had a bench of substitutes, players who could slot into virtually any position were a major asset. One of my favourites was Eddie Spearritt.
A wholehearted, tough character, Spearritt was equally comfortable playing in midfield, at full back or sweeper, would occasionally get on the scoresheet, and even turned his hand to goalkeeping when necessary.
Long before anyone had heard of Rory Delap, Spearritt was a top exponent of the long throw which could sometimes be as effective as a free kick or corner. It was a skill which earned him a place in a Longest Throw competition staged by BBC’s sport show Grandstand in 1970-71, although he didn’t win it.
Born in Lowestoft, Spearritt started out at Arsenal but on failing to make the grade there, switched to Ipswich Town as an apprentice in 1963.
On prideofanglia.com, Tim Hodge details Eddie’s Ipswich career. He made his league debut in the 1965-66 season in a 1-0 win away to Preston in the old Division Two. Over the next two years, he made a total of 69 appearances (plus 10 as sub) for Bill McGarry’s side, scoring 14 goals along the way.
A 1-0 home defeat to Spurs in October 1968 was his last for the Suffolk club and three months later, surplus to new manager Bobby Robson’s requirements, was one of Freddie Goodwin’s first signings, for £20,000, just a few weeks before my first ever Albion game.
He made his debut in a 3-1 home win over Crewe Alexandra and kept the number 10 shirt to the end of the season, by which time he had scored five times, including both Albion’s goals in the 2-2 draw at home to Tranmere Rovers.
In the 1969-70 season, not only was he part of the Third Division Albion side who pushed his old manager McGarry’s First Division Wolverhampton Wanderers side all the way in a memorable third round League Cup tie, it was his header from Kit Napier’s free kick that put the Albion 2-1 ahead just before half-time.
Scottish international Hugh Curran scored twice in eight second half minutes to clinch the win for Wolves but a bumper Goldstone Ground crowd of 32,539 witnessed a terrific effort by their side.
A few weeks’ later, in a marathon FA Cup second round tie with Walsall that required three replays before the Saddlers finally prevailed 2-1, Spearritt took over in goal during the second replay when a concussed Geoff Sidebottom was stretchered off on 65 minutes. Albion hung on for a 1-1 draw.
Spearritt was a midfield regular in his first two seasons but Goodwin’s successor, Pat Saward, switched him to left back halfway through the 1970-71 season and that’s where he stayed throughout the 1971-72 promotion campaign. Player-of-the-season Bert Murray generously declared the award could have gone to Eddie for his consistency that season.
In the close season after promotion, Spearritt tied the knot with Penelope Biddulph, “an accomplished professional dancer,” the matchday programme told us, and they moved into a new home in Kingston-by-Sea.
Spearritt started out at left back in Division Two but after ten games was ousted by the arrival of George Ley from Portsmouth. He then switched back into midfield, but by the end of that relegation season was playing sweeper alongside Norman Gall (for nine games) and Steve Piper (for two).
He scored, along with Barry Bridges, in a 2-0 win at Huddersfield on 14 October but the team went on a disastrous run of 16 games without a win, although Spearritt did get on the scoresheet three times, including notching two penalties.
When Albion went to that footballing outpost Carlisle on 16 December, they had lost five in a row without managing a single goal. Carlisle were 5-0 up, goalkeeper Brian Powney was carried off with a broken nose, replaced between the sticks by Bert Murray, then Albion won a penalty.
Spearritt took up the story in a subsequent matchday programme.
“I used to be the club’s penalty taker but, after I had missed an important one at Mansfield in 1970, I lost the job. Penalty-taking is really all about confidence,” he said. “After I had missed that one at Mansfield, which cost us a point, the players lost confidence in me and the job went first to John Napier and was then taken over by Bert Murray.
“Bert would have taken the penalty at Carlisle. He has already scored two this season. But he had gone in goal and it was decided it was too risky to fetch Bert out of goal to take the penalty.
“Nobody else seemed to want to take it so I just picked the ball up and put it on the spot. We were 5-0 down by then but I thought from a morale point of view that it was extremely important that I scored. You can understand my relief when I saw the ball hit the back of the net.
“Everybody was beginning to wonder when we would score again. I suppose with the run of bad luck we have been having it was almost inevitable that we should break our goal famine from the penalty spot.”
Albion finally returned to winning ways with a 2-0 win over Luton on 10 February, and then beat Huddersfield, Carlisle and Swindon, prompting Saward to refer to “some outstanding individual performances” and adding: “I have been particularly pleased with the way Eddie Spearritt has been playing in recent weeks.
“He has maintained a high level of consistency this season and his work in defence and in midfield has been invaluable as the side has plugged away trying to turn the tide of results.”
Spearritt was Saward’s captain at the start of the 1973-74 season back in Division Three and with the return of central defender Ian Goodwin and then the emergence of Steve Piper in the sweeping role, he was soon back in midfield.
When Saward was sensationally replaced by Brian Clough and Peter Taylor in October, Spearritt was part of the side who capitulated 4-0, 8-2 and 4-1 in successive games against Walton & Hersham, Bristol Rovers and Tranmere Rovers. He was dropped for six games, along with Ley (who never played for Albion again) as Clough went into the transfer market and brought in midfielder Ronnie Welch and left back Harry Wilson from Burnley.
Spearritt was restored to the team in mid January and had a run of seven games — including his 200th league game for Albion — but when he was subbed off in a home win over Hereford United on 10 March 1974, it was to be his last appearance in an Albion shirt.
In five years he’d played 225 games (plus seven as sub) and scored 25 goals.
In common with lots of players from the Saward era, Spearritt was a victim of the great Clough clear-out. Perhaps surprisingly, though, his next step was UP two divisions to play in the First Division with then newly-promoted Carlisle United.
One of his teammates there was defender Graham Winstanley, who later joined the Albion. The side was captained by Chris Balderstone, who was also a top cricketer. Journeyman striker Hugh McIlmoyle played up front while John Gorman, who later played for Spurs and became Glenn Hoddle’s managerial sidekick, was also in the team.
They memorably topped the division after three games….but predictably finished bottom of the pile by the end. In his two-year stay with the Cumbrians, Spearritt played 29 times, was sub twice and scored a single goal.
He moved back south in August 1976, signed by Gerry Summers at Gillingham, and made his debut against Reading, going on to make 22 appearances in his one season at the club, scoring once, from the spot, against Rotherham United at Priestfield.
One of those games was against the Albion on December 29 1976, when the home side won 2-0 on a slippery, snow-covered pitch.
Eddie emigrated to Australia the following summer and he played for and managed the Brisbane Lions before retiring.
- Pictures from my scrapbook show him celebrating after scoring in the League Cup against Wolves; an autographed Goal action shot in the white with blue cuffs kit — when I was an autograph hunter around the players’ tunnel before a game, Eddie was always happy to oblige; a Shoot colour shot of him in action against winger Ray Graydon in the famous 1972 televised win over Aston Villa; from a matchday programme, Eddie’s successful penalty kick in a 2-1- home defeat to Blackpool in December 1972 nestles in the back of the net, with ‘keeper John Burridge beaten, and, from the Argus, challenging Ian Mellor playing for Gillingham against the Albion in December 1976.