ARMS aloft in familiar salute to yet another goal, the smiling footballer in a black and white picture on a Florida football club’s website dates back 40 years!
All around the world, it seems, Peter Ward’s goalscoring exploits for Brighton & Hove Albion are still the stuff of legend.
Four decades may have come and gone but the memories of this mercurial talent have never dimmed.
FC Tampa Rangers (http://fctamparangers.com) say of their youth coach: “During the 1976–77 season at Brighton, he scored 36 goals, beating the club record and winning him the golden boot.
“He is still revered by Brighton fans who sing a song dreaming of a team in which every player is Peter Ward: ‘We all live in a Wardy Wonderland’.”
If the word legend gets bandied about a little too frequently, where Peter Ward is concerned it is perfectly apt.
Few Brighton players have managed to approach the esteem in which this extraordinary talent is held by supporters who saw him score the goals which took the Seagulls from perennial third tier also-rans to a place among the elite.
It takes genuine talent, bravery and skill to score goals at all three levels but Ward delivered. In 220 games for the Albion (plus seven as sub) he scored 95 goals.
In his splendid 2007 book, A Few Good Men (The Breedon Books Publishing Company Limited), Spencer Vignes refers back to 1980 and says of Ward: “No centre forward since has managed to steal his crown. Some have come close – Garry Nelson and Bobby Zamora spring to mind – but Wardy remains special, the golden boy of what proved to be a golden time for the club.”
I was sorry to have missed Ward’s latest return to Brighton when last month he joined some of the Goldstone heroes of the past at the Theatre Royal.
Impishly donning a curly wig on top of his now bald pate to make his grand entrance, Ward showed he’s still got something of the showman about him.
There was never a shortage of superlatives to describe his skills on the pitch. While his dad Colin was a compositor on the Tamworth Herald, his son’s talents with a football filled dozens of column inches in a variety of football publications.
Alan Mullery, the manager who benefited most from his audacious skill and compared him to the great Jimmy Greaves, said: “He was just the skinny little kid who could do fantastic things with a football.”
Mullery told Shoot: “Peter has the ability to kill a ball no matter how it comes at him. His pace over short bursts is incredible and he shoots powerfully and accurately with either foot.”
He continued: “Above all else, Peter’s strength on the ball, for a player of his stature, is remarkable. He fools defenders who believe they can easily knock him flying.”
Two of Ward’s former teammates told Vignes what made him so special. “He had this long stride that just seemed to take him away from people,” said Peter O’Sullivan. “One step and he’d be gone. Once he got goal-side of a player, that was it really – bang! Nobody ever seemed to be able to catch him, even in training.”
Brian Horton joined the club around the same time as Ward and said of his younger teammate: “He was this thin, scrawny little player that needed to learn the game, but his finishing was unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable.”
Nottingham Forest fans will have less happy memories of a player the managerial duo of Clough and Taylor took to the City Ground as they strived to replace Garry Birtles and Trevor Francis with any pairing from Ward, Ian Wallace and Justin Fashanu.
It just didn’t work out for Wardy at Forest although he tells Vignes in A Few Good Men: “I had a great time at Forest. I got on well with the lads and had a laugh.”
While he always got on well with Taylor, his relationship with the erratic Clough was a lot stormier which meant he was in and out of the side.
When Lichfield-born Ward left school he was only 4’8” and because he was told he was too small to make a career playing football he got a job as an apprentice fitter at Rolls Royce and played local football in the Derby area.
The detail of those early years can be discovered in Matthew Horner’s excellent biography of Ward (He Shot, He Scored, Sea View Media).
Scout Jim Phelps recommended Ward to the then non-league Burton Albion manager Ken Gutteridge having worked with the freescoring player at a Sunday afternoon side, Borrowash United.
After joining the newly-promoted Brewers initially in the Reserves, the 1974-75 season was only a month old when he made his first team bow alongside former England internationals Frank Wignall and Ian Storey-Moore – and promptly scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Tamworth, his hometown team.
By the middle of November that season, with 10 goals to his name, Ward’s scoring exploits had attracted the attention of league clubs and Brighton boss Peter Taylor, with plenty of contacts in the area, put in a bid.
The Burton chairman, Jim Bradbury, went public on the approach – which Gutteridge found completely unacceptable. He promptly resigned… and before long was appointed to Taylor’s backroom staff!
In the meantime, Burton resisted Brighton’s money and it later emerged that Gutteridge had told Taylor he would only take up the post on condition that Ward would eventually be brought to the Goldstone.
Taylor stuck to his word and eventually signed Ward for £4,000 in the close season of 1975.
The rest, as they say, is history and in researching for this piece it was difficult to sift through the multitude of material from my scrapbooks, programmes, books and other places to condense it all into something manageable.
Because of his popularity, most of the story is familiar to fans of a certain generation anyway and anyone who has not yet read Horner’s book should get themselves a copy because it is rich with material from Ward himself and others who played alongside him or observed him.
Scoring within 50 seconds of his Albion debut away to Hereford United in front of the Match of the Day cameras couldn’t have been a better start and the partnership he struck up with beanpole Ian Mellor was key to promotion from the old Division 3.
For what at times seemed like a fantasy coming to life, it’s intriguing to learn that Ward’s watching of the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me on the eve of two games was followed the next day by him scoring hat-tricks.
In the 1977-78 season, he saw it before making his England under 21 debut at the Goldstone against Norway in a 6-0 win, and, later the same season, he saw it again before an away game at Mansfield and scored three once again!
It seemed a natural progression that Ward would make it to the full England team and he did eventually – winning one cap for a six-minute substitute appearance against Australia in May 1980.
In fact he made the full England squad three years earlier for a game against Luxembourg but wasn’t involved in the match itself and, by his own admission, reckons he blotted his copybook with manager Ron Greenwood by being ill in the room he shared with Trevor Brooking after going out drinking with Brian Greenhoff.
In the way that all good things must come to an end, the beginning of the end of the fairytale came as Albion struggled to come to terms with their first season at the top level.
Ward was certainly not as prolific as he had been lower down the football pyramid although, as reported in my previous blog post, the arrival of Ray Clarke helped him rediscover his form to finish that season as top goalscorer with 17.
However, a return to his Midlands home territory looked increasingly likely. He nearly went to Derby in November 1979 but a swap deal with Gerry Daly fell through, and Forest also wanted him but Clough walked away from the deal.
Eleven months later, though, Clough and Taylor were back in for him when Birtles was sold to Man Utd, paying the Albion £450,000 for his services. Andy Ritchie, being displaced by Birtles’ move to United, promptly replaced Ward at the Albion.
Ward made just 33 appearances for Forest, scoring seven goals, and in 1981-82 went on loan to Seattle Sounders.
In the autumn of 1982, Brighton brought him back to the Goldstone on loan and it was in the fourth game of a 16-game spell that he scored what he considered his favourite goal, the winner against his boyhood idols Manchester United at the Goldstone on 6 November 1982.
Ward was part of the Albion line-up that won that memorable FA Cup fifth round tie at Anfield en route to the 1983 FA Cup Final but it was to prove his penultimate game as the eccentric Clough quashed Ward’s desire to stay with the Seagulls and that potential trip to Wembley.
At that time, Clough’s Forest hadn’t been to a FA Cup Final and he told Ward: “Son, I’ve never been to a Cup Final and neither will you.”
That spelled the end of Ward’s time at the City Ground and by the end of 1983 he was sold to Vancouver Whitecaps for £20,000; the beginning of what became a 13-year career playing mainly indoor football in America, where he still lives.