A MIDFIELD dynamo who captained Coventry City during their glory years at the top of English football’s pyramid was instantly installed as captain when he signed for third tier Brighton.
Ernie Machin was the first signing Peter Taylor made on taking sole charge of the Albion following Brian Clough’s decision to quit and join Leeds United.
Taylor, a former Coventry goalkeeper, had a well-earned reputation for his detailed knowledge of Midlands footballers.
Although Machin had moved to Plymouth Argyle in 1972, after 10 years at Highfield Road, he fitted the bill perfectly to add a bit of bite, experience and leadership to Taylor’s side.
A £30,000 fee took him to the Goldstone in the summer of 1974 but he was still nursing an injury sustained in training at Plymouth and when rushed into action too soon he broke down and missed quite a chunk of matches in the first part of the season.
Eventually he took up a regular spot in the centre of midfield and Argus reporter John Vinicombe observed in his end of season summary: “It wasn’t until the latter part of the season that Machin started to display known form.”
The midfielder eventually completed 31 games (plus three as sub) but manager Taylor took the captaincy from him and appointed his new centre back signing, Graham Winstanley.
Nevertheless, Machin began the following season and got what would be his one and only Albion goal in the opening fixture, a 3-0 home win over Rotherham United.
He remained ever-present until the arrival in March 1976 of the on-pitch leader who would guide Albion to the promised land – Brian Horton.
Machin played 41 games that season and only shared the midfield with Horton once – in what turned out to be his final game in the stripes, a 4-2 home win over Grimsby Town.
I hadn’t been aware until reading the excellent thegoldstonewrap.com that Machin didn’t move to Sussex during his time with the Albion. “He never settled on the south coast, and still lived in Coventry and trained in the Midlands,” they reported.
So perhaps it was no surprise that when Jimmy Hill, the manager who signed him for City and went on to be Coventry chairman, offered Machin a job back at his old club, he was only too happy to accept.
He took on the role of youth team coach, but it didn’t work out and he left football and went to work for Car Bodies and Massey Ferguson.
Machin was a member of the Coventry City Former Players Association after his career ended and they paid due respect to his part in the club’s history when he died aged 68 on 22 July 2012.
In an extended obituary on their website, they related how he had been born in Walkden, Manchester, on 26 April 1944, and had trials alongside future World Cup winner Alan Ball at Bolton Wanderers, but was not considered good enough.
Instead Machin joined non-league Nelson FC and, in 1962, was spotted by Coventry’s North West scout Alf Walton, who suggested Hill sign him up.
Hill wasn’t entirely convinced but admired the fact he rarely wasted a pass when in possession, and paid the princely sum of £50 to take him to Highfield Road, adding a further £200 when he made it into the first team.
That breakthrough came in April 1963, aged 18, in a 2-0 win over Millwall, and by the start of the following season he was first choice in the number 10 shirt as the Sky Blues headed for promotion.
However, they did it without Machin who sustained a bad knee injury in a home game with Watford in November, and missed the rest of the season, and beyond. Indeed, it was 18 months before he played again, having endured several operations.
Eventually he returned to play a pivotal role in the club’s Second Division title win in 1967, scoring 11 goals along the way.
When regular captain George Curtis broke his leg in the club’s second game in Division One, Machin took over as skipper and missed only three games in the club’s first two years amongst the elite.
ccfpa.co.uk recalled: “Older fans will remember his stunning goal in the 2-0 victory over European champions elect Manchester United in March 1968.
“His never-say-die attitude won him the respect of all his playing colleagues and the fans. He continued to be a regular, when fit, right up to the time of his departure in 1972 but a bad car accident put him out for three months in 1970 and his ‘dodgy’ knee continued to trouble him.”
The history books record that in 1972 he was the first English footballer to go through the courts to challenge a FA fine and suspension using TV evidence. He was sent off in a game at Newcastle for allegedly kicking an opponent, but the footage proved his innocence. Even so, the FA spotted something else he’d done and upheld the disciplinary action on the basis of that without allowing him to present a defence. The courts ruled against the FA, and the PFA subsequently established the rights of players to legal representation in disciplinary cases.
By the time Coventry’s new managers Joe Mercer and Gordon Milne sold him to Plymouth for £35,000, he had played 289 games and scored 39 goals.
The website greensonscreen.co.uk says: “When Machin moved to Home Park in December 1972 he soon showed his class and intelligence, controlling games from midfield. He was named the Player of the Year in his only full season with the club but, much to the dismay of the fans, requested a transfer and moved to Brighton and Hove Albion.”
Despite his relatively short stay at Home Park, he made such an impression that in 2004 he was named in Plymouth’s Team of the Century.
Although suffering from poor health, Machin attended a reunion of Coventry’s 1967 promotion-winning team in 2007 and in 2008 he was one of 30 former players inducted into the club’s Legends Group for services to the football club.
Pictures include one from my scrapbook of Machin in a Coventry team line-up alongside manager Noel Cantwell who kindly gave me his autograph when the Sky Blues played Brighton in a friendly. Also pictured, the Evening Argus coverage of his signing. And a Shoot! magazine portrait. Plus a montage of other images.