Alan Biley was a fans favourite at all six English league clubs he played for but the prolific goalscoring that made his name at Cambridge United and Portsmouth wasn’t replicated at Everton or Brighton.
His spiky, long blond hair reflected his devotion to singer Rod Stewart and, on the pitch, the way he wore his football shirt outside his shorts, clutched the cuffs, and saluted a goal with a raised forefinger was a tribute to another of his heroes, Scottish footballing legend Denis Law.
Biley was quite the hero at Portsmouth, with a goalscoring record of more than a goal every other game, having been signed by Bobby Campbell in 1982.
But when he fell out of favour with Campbell’s successor, Alan Ball, Brighton’s Chris Cattlin stepped in and paid £50,000 to take the striker along the coast in March 1985.
Within a month of the move, he was back at Fratton Park in Albion’s colours for an Easter Saturday south coast derby when honours were even in a 1-1 draw.
Biley had made his Seagulls debut as a substitute for Frank Worthington in a 0-0 draw away to Barnsley, then got his first start the following game (another goalless draw, at home to Oxford) and kept his place to the end of the season.
The first of four goals during that spell came in a 2-0 win at home to Oldham, and the goal he scored in a 1-1 home draw with Leeds on 20 April was his 150th in league football (top picture). Although Albion finished with three wins, it wasn’t enough to reach the promotion places, and they finished sixth.
Biley made a great start to the 1985-86 campaign, scoring against First Division Nottingham Forest in a remarkable 5-1 pre-season friendly win, and then in the opening league fixture, a 2-2 home draw with Grimsby Town.
However, competition for places in Albion’s forward line had intensified. In addition to Terry Connor, £1m man Justin Fashanu arrived together with Dean Saunders, on a free transfer from Swansea, (Saunders went on to be named player of the season).
With the much-derided Mick Ferguson also managing a brief purple patch of scoring, it meant Biley struggled to hold down a regular spot, making 24 starts plus three appearances as a sub, and only managing to add three more goals to that season’s opener.
Cattlin’s dismissal as boss, to be replaced by the returning Alan Mullery, also spelled the end of Biley’s time at the club. He initially went back to Cambridge on loan but then tried his luck in Greece before ending up in Ireland, playing for Waterford who were managed by his old Everton teammate, Andy King.
But let’s go back to the beginning. Born in Leighton Buzzard on 26 February 1957, Biley was spotted by nearby Luton Town at the tender age of 10 and signed schoolboy forms aged 12. He was then offered an apprenticeship and professional forms as he worked his way through the different levels. But financial issues hit the club and when their chief scout left to link up with Cambridge, he recommended Biley to manager Atkinson, and in 1975 he made the move to Fourth Division United.
Biley netted a total of 82 in 185 games as United rose from the Fourth Division to the Second between 1975 and 1979, when his eye for goal caught the attention of First Division Derby County, who paid £450,000 for his services.
Biley continued to find the net regularly in the top flight, scoring nine in 18 games for the Rams, but he couldn’t prevent them from being relegated. He stuck with them in the 1980-81 season and scored 10 playing in the second tier but was sidelined through injury for several months.
He recounted recently how he fell out with manager Colin Addison and there was talk of him being sold to West Brom, where his old boss Atkinson had moved to, but instead, in July 1981, he became new Everton manager Howard Kendall’s first signing for a £300,000 fee. Everton fans who go back that far refer to the Magnificent Seven – because that’s how many players Kendall signed in a short space of time.
Biley was an instant hit, scoring on his Everton debut as Birmingham City were beaten 3-1. He scored again in his next game away to Leeds, but things quickly started to go wrong for him, as he explained in great detail to Everton fan website bluekipper.com.
“I was always appreciative of the Evertonians’ footballing knowledge and the support and gusto, particularly through the tough times,” said Biley. “They were very loyal through the tough times, and they are a different class.
“I would like to think they took to me but my only big regret was that I wasn’t there long enough to enjoy them.”
By October, Kendall had dropped his new signing and Biley was mystified.
“Years later, as I look back at it, I wasn’t Howard Kendall’s cup of tea. Whatever that was, I can’t put my finger on it because history tells you what I was and what I did and where I played, and he had a different opinion of that.
“I would have loved him to have had the faith in me he had in lots of other players.”
Eventually his lack of involvement in first team action saw him go out on loan to struggling Stoke City and in eight games he helped them to retain their status in the top division, but hopes of a permanent move fell through.
Instead he departed Goodison Park with just 18 appearances (plus three as sub) and three goals to his name and dropped down to the Third Division with Portsmouth.
The Pompey faithful had already had a taste of what they could expect when, at Christmas 1977, as a 20-year-old playing for Cambridge, Biley had scored twice for table-topping Cambridge at Fratton Park.
And, sure enough, when paired up front with Billy Rafferty, he became an instant hit and the duo scored 40 between them as Pompey won promotion. Biley’s performances earned him a place in the PFA select XI that included Gillingham’s Steve Bruce and Micky Adams, Portsmouth colleague Neil Webb and Kerry Dixon, then of Reading.
The following season saw Biley gain a new strike partner in the shape of Mark Hateley, who would go on to earn England international recognition. However, a series of 10 home defeats put paid to their promotion hopes and Campbell was sacked on the coach on the way back from the season’s penultimate game at Derby. In the final game of the season, with Alan Ball in temporary charge, Biley hit a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolition of Swansea.
Ball was installed as manager and Biley was very much a part of the side that began the 1984-85 season. He played in 22 games and came off the bench twice, scoring a total of 13 goals before Ball mysteriously sold him to Brighton in March.
Biley’s heart never left Fratton Park, though, and in 2015 he told Neil Allen, the author of a book Played Up Pompey: “Pompey was – and still is – my club.
“Pompey was a three-year box in time and if I could possibly open that box again and recover moments, a day even, then I would die happy. I fell in love with the club and it has never gone away.”
Biley has revelled in many opportunities to reminisce about his playing days, attending numerous reunions and enjoying all the memories.
In June 2017, he got together with other former players to talk about his goalscoring days at Cambridge and in October 2017, broadcaster and Albion fan Peter Brackley helped a number of former Pompey players, including Biley, recall a famous occasion when a fan ran on the pitch dressed as Santa Claus and, after the disruption, Biley scored two late goals to win a dramatic cup tie against Oxford.
But in all my research for this piece, I could find no loving references to his time with the Albion, although five years ago the excellent thegoldstonewrap.com brought together some footage of some of his best moments.
After his playing days were over, he moved back to his Bedfordshire roots and got involved in non-league football with various sides in and around the Home Counties, alongside running his own gym in Biggleswade.
- Pictures from the Albion programme / Evening Argus and various online sources.