When Blackpool laid out the sum of £775 on Ray Charnley from Morecambe on 27 May 1957 they did not realise what a bargain they were getting. Ray was born in Lancaster on 29 May 1935 and had spent one season in Preston North End's 'B' team before joining Bolton-le-Sands when the Preston 'B' team was disbanded. He later signed as a part-time professional with Morecambe for which club he had scored 43 goals in 53 games in the Lancashire Combination in the 1956/57 season. He had also had a spell "as an inside forward as well as a wing half" with Red Rose Boys' Club and while there he represented the Lancashire Boys' Club twice, against Yorkshire and Durham. After he had played these games, Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town were said to be interested in signing him but at that time he had no ambitions to become a professional as he was following his trade as a painter and decorator. And his Dad supported his son's decision wholeheartedly!
Blackpool had actually wanted to sign him some years earlier when he was 19 years of age but his father advised him to continue with his apprenticeship as a decorator so that he had some something to fall back on if football did not work out. However, when Blackpool, in the guise of manager Joe Smith, called a second time, he duly signed for £10 per week plus an extra two pounds when he played in the Central League side, with, perhaps surprisingly, no mention of extra money should he graduate to the first team.
His first game as a Blackpool player was the pre-season practice game on 16 August 1957 when he earned headlines with New centre forward shows promise in practice match. Although his side, the Whites, lost 4-1 to the Tangerines the match report read, "Ray had a particularly promising first half, showing a turn of speed complementary to his height, fine football sense and a marked ability in the air that even Gratrix found difficult to overcome. He still has a lot to learn and he needs to be quicker off the mark, but if last night's first half was anything to go by, Blackpool have found an admirable deputy for Jackie Mudie." The writer was undoubtedly very perceptive, with 'replacement' being the optional word for 'deputy'.
He was injured in pre-season training and therefore missed the first couple of games of his first season but he recovered to make his Central League debut on 31 August 1957 in 2-1 home win over Bolton Wanderers reserves when he was "impressive" as "Blackpool's forwards were producing wonderful football". He played two further Central League games and then injury to Jackie Mudie and the lack of success of Mudie's immediate replacement Ken Smith, presented Charnley with his League debut in a mid-week game against Luton Town that was lost 2-0.
Mudie was back for the following game so Charnley returned to the Central League side and scored his first senior goal for the club in a 2-2 draw with Manchester United reserves at Old Trafford on 9 September 1957 in a game watched by 11,000 spectators. He flirted with the League side again in odd games when Mudie was once again absent and despite his first League goals, two in a 7-0 demolition of Sunderland (a game at which, as a young boy, I was present), he was relegated once again to the reserve side. For the reserves, he scored his first Blackpool hat-trick in a 4-2 win against Newcastle United reserves on 19 October 1957 but Mudie's impressive form kept him out of the first team.
However, his opportunity for an extended run in the side came in January 1958 when regular inside right Brian Peterson announced to manager Joe Smith that he wanted to return to South Africa at the end of that season. Smith immediately relegated Peterson to the reserve side, moved Mudie to inside right and brought in Charnley at centre forward. It was the start of a run that saw him be one of the first names on the team sheet for many a game, rarely being left out and then more often than not because of injury.
After playing in a disastrous 5-2 FA Cup third round defeat by West Ham United, he scored twice in a 3-2 defeat of Arsenal at Highbury on 11 January 1958 and he ended the season with 12 goals in 20 games, third in the scoring chart behind Mudie and Perry, both of whom had 18. Perhaps not surprisingly he was voted the season's most promising player after the 1957/58 season with the supporting comment, "To come from the Lancashire Combination to the First Division in 12 months was a giant stride which Charnley took eagerly; for the first time since 'Jock' Dodds, Blackpool has a big 'un in the centre."
He started the 1958/59 season in goalscoring form with three in the first two games but then, after scoring Blackpool's goal against Aston Villa on 20 September 1958, he collided with goalkeeper Nigel Sims and suffered a broken collar bone as 10-man Blackpool drew 1-1. He missed seven games through his injury, made a scoring return in his comeback in the reserve side before returning to League action in a 1-1 draw at Leeds United on 15 November 1958 when once again Blackpool finished with 10 men as George Farm was stretchered off (once again a game at which I was present for I well remember Dave Durie went in goal and made a wonderful full-length diving save in the closing minute to preserve the draw).
Charnley continued to be the main Blackpool goalscorer and in the 1958/59 FA Cup run he scored six in six games, including the most dramatic equaliser against Luton Town on 28 February 1959 when to my vivid recollection he scored with the very last kick of the game and walked straight off down the tunnel as the referee blew for full time. Charnley supported my memory when in later life he commented, "[But] when I look back and think about it, I suppose getting so close to Wembley in 1959 was a blow. Sid Owen of Luton was the best centre half I played against and it was Luton who knocked us out of the Cup the year that they lost to Forest in the final. We had beaten West Brom 3-1 at Bloomfield Road and they were really hot at that time, and when we were drawn at home again to Luton we really should have won. I got the equaliser in a 2-2 draw [sic - it was 1-1] with the very last kick of the game and we lost the replay. Allan Brown, now Blackpool's manager, got their winner. Luton beat Norwich in the semi-final and now I think of it we could been in that 1959 Cup Final."
His 20 League goals in 35 games, including his first League hat-trick in a 3-0 victory over Leeds United on 4 April 1959, made him the leading Blackpool goalscorer for 1958/59, a role he was to fill for eight of the following nine seasons (and if Cup goals are taken into account in the one in which he was second, nine out of nine) as Blackpool finished in a most creditable eighth place in the First Division table.
He started the 1959/60 season in his customary form, three goals in the first two games, but then there was, unusually, something of a drought as he went five games without a goal. As Blackpool lost three of them and drew two, changes were made and Charnley, form temporarily lost, found himself relegated to the reserve side. He later commented, "No player likes to be dropped, but I must admit that my spell in the Reserves helped to restore my confidence. Away from the tense atmosphere of First Division football in which all your mistakes are exposed for thousands of people to moan about (and sometimes magnify) a player gets a chance to relax a little and finds more time in which to think about his game."
After an eight game absence he returned to the first team with renewed vigour and a hat-trick in a 4-2 victory over Leeds United on 5 March 1960 went towards his 18 goals for the season, eight ahead of his nearest rival Dave Durie. Blackpool slipped slightly to 11th position but were still regarded as an above average First Division side. In addition to his League and Cup goals, he scored five goals in a 7-1 thrashing of the Dutch Cup holders V V Venlo at Bloomfield Road on 6 April 1960.
The 1960/61 season was one of continual strife for Blackpool and they were battling against possible relegation for much of the time. It all came to a head in March 1961 when three scoreless games gave them grave concern until a Charnley header, his trademark, secured the 2-0 victory over Cardiff City and "ended a barren spell for Charnley and also a bleak one for Blackpool, who had previously gone three games without a goal."
But relegation was still a distinct possibility and on 15 April 1961 the game against Newcastle United was crucial in that victory for one of the sides would secure their safety while the loser would be looking at the drop to Division Two. Blackpool went in front, Newcastle equalised and those of us on the Spion Kop were sensing that Second Division football was beckoning and it did not have much appeal. That is until Blackpool won a free-kick late in the game, Stan Matthews took it and who else but Ray Charnley was on the end of it to nod it into the net and give Blackpool a 2-1 victory and ensure that their 20th-place finish kept them in the top flight. His 27 goals in that 1960/61 season were very much instrumental in keeping Blackpool up for there were only 38 goals from everyone else with Ray Parry's eight being the next best effort. Charnley's goals also secured him a place on an FA tour of the Far East in the close season.
There was one incident in the 1960/61 season that stands out in my memory simply because of its unusualness. Blackpool had played their first League Cup tie against Second Division Leeds United on 2 September 1960 and had drawn 0-0 at Elland Road. The replay, on 5 October 1960, was thought to be a formality but for some reason manager Ron Suart left Charnley out of the side and experimented with Roy Gratrix playing out of position at centre forward. The move turned out to be a disaster as Blackpool went down 3-1 after extra time. But the unusual feature of the evening was that Ray Charnley, complete with flat cap and gabardine mackintosh, stood alongside us youngsters on the Spion Kop. Once recognised, he got plenty of cheers and when Blackpool went behind the advice was for him to nip over, get changed and get Blackpool back in the game. It was a somewhat surreal experience to be stood on the Kop with the club's leading goalscorer as the 11 out on the field struggled and, most definitely, it was something that would not happen in today's game; just imagine a deposed centre forward from a top flight club standing on the terraces (if there were any) with his pals and chatting to the supporters!
Eight goals in the first eight games of the 1961/62 season brought him to the attention of the England selectors and the press were clammering for him to be selected for the national side. And there was uproar in the press in November 1961 when Ray Crawford of Ipswich was picked for England ahead of Charnley. On hearing of Crawford's selection, Blackpool manager Ronnie Suart, obviously feeling that his player had been slighted, commented, "I am surprised to hear that Crawford has taken preference over Charnley whom I consider to be better equipped for the England job. When will the selectors give this grand player a break?"
Suart's outburst did some good, for in December 1961 Charnley received an invitation to join the England get-together at Lilleshall but even that did not result in selection for the side so he was left to continue his goalscoring feats in First Division football. He duly obliged with four goals in a 7-2 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on 20 January 1962 and then after 75 seconds of his 156th League game, against Nottingham Forest on 3 February 1962, he scored his 100th League goal, a remarkable achievement. Once again he topped the Blackpool goalscoring charts with 30 goals, plus six in the League Cup including a hat-trick in a 5-1 win against Leyton Orient, with Ray Parry being second with a modest 12. Blackpool, thanks to the Charnley goals, finished in a much more respectable 13th place in the table.He scored Blackpool's opening goal of the 1962/63 season in a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield but four games later "Charnley shines as emergency centre half" read the headlines after he had taken over from the injured Glyn James after only 30 minutes against Aston Villa on 1 September 1962 in a game drawn 1-1. He "played his usual lionhearted game, but this time as a staunch deputy centre half who gave little away". Not a performance that would have attracted the England selectors but they at last recognised his worth and he was selected for his first cap in the European Nations Cup game against France at Hillsborough on 3 October 1962.
Unfortunately for Charnley he was in a somewhat experimental side so did not have the wealth of experience around him and the team gave "an unconvincing display". Only Jimmy Greaves of his forward partners was an England regular with the other positions being filled by Mike Hellawell, the first of two caps, Chris Crowe, his only cap, and Alan Hinton, the first of three caps. The only consolation was that it was Charnley who was fouled by a French defender to earn the penalty from which Ron Flowers scored to give England a 1-1 draw. However, Charnley was not to be selected for England again and he expressed his disappointment some time later when asked if he felt bitter about his exclusion. "No," he replied, "I thought I might have been given another chance but I was not surprised when I was dropped. I just could not get into the match. I think four of the five forwards were making their first - and last - appearances."
He did not let his England disappointment affect his form and he continued to be the main goalscorer for Blackpool and two hat-tricks, in a 4-0 victory over Aston Villa on 29 March 1963 and in a 6-3 win at Birmingham City on 20 April 1963, went towards his return of 22 goals that not only put him 14 ahead of his nearest rival Pat Quinn but ensured that Blackpool once again had respectability with another 13th-place finish. To put his achievement into perspective, once again the remainder of the Blackpool side managed just 34 goals.
For the first time in his six seasons in which he had started the first game, Charnley failed to score in the 1963/64 season opener, a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United but he did score one in each of the two following games. But then he scored only eight goals in his next 24 games and the barren run at the end of that sequence, no goals in eight games, saw him sensationally left out of the side and relegated to reserve team football. Even more sensationally Blackpool placed him on the transfer list in March 1964 but fortunately there were no takers and his name was eventually removed from the list of players available for transfer.
Meanwhile, Blackpool experimented and tried a converted winger, Jimmy Cooper, at centre forward for three games and when this ploy failed, John 'Chopper' McPhee was moved from wing half to centre forward. McPhee scored three goals in nine games but it was six goals from Alan Ball in the final five games that eased Blackpool to 18th place. Ball finished as the leading League goalscorer with 13 to Charnley's 10 but taking the two Cups into account, it was Charnley in front with 15 to Ball's 14.
His Central League form, in which he recaptured his goalscoring form with seven goals in 10 games at the end of the 1963/64 season, saw him start the League campaign once again for 1964/65 and although he failed to score in the season's opening game, a 2-2 draw with Burnley, he was quickly in his stride thereafter. Eight goals came in the opening nine games, including two in a 4-0 demolition of Leeds United on 7 September 1964 that prompted 'Kopite', a 14-year-old from Shetland Road, Blackpool, to write to the Sports Editor of the Evening Gazette on 14 September 1964 defending Charnley when he said, "After reading so many letters criticising Ray Charnley I think it is about time the so-called Blackpool supporters gave him a break. Whenever he has an off game everyone seems to be given the chance to get at him. But one very rarely hears a word of praise for him when he plays well. I guess the critics will soon forget those two cracking goals against Leeds. All the team played well in that game. Here's hoping for a successful season for our young and keen team." This just showed the strength of feeling in the town for the centre forward, even though he was on a month to month contract with the club because he could not agree the new terms that had been offered. Fortunately the impasse was broken on 1 October 1964 when Charnley signed a new deal, earning himself £24 per week with an extra £5 when playing first team football.
This he continued to do for the majority of the season, only missing four League games through injury. He even made one appearance at centre half when Glyn James had to move to right back to replace Jimmy Armfield but the experiment failed as Sheffield Wednesday won 4-1. He finished the season with 21 goals while only Graham Oates, 12, and Alan Ball, 11, of the rest reached double figures.
It was a scoring start for Charnley to the 1965/66 season in the opening day 2-2 draw with Fulham but although he only missed one game through injury during the season his output was a little lower than usual. He still led the charts, jointly in the League with Ball with 16 goals, but leading on his own when the Cups were taken into account as he had 19 to Ball's 17. It was a similar story in 1966/67 when his 14 goals in 41 games put him well ahead of Alan Skirton with eight goals in an abysmal season for the 'Pool who finished bottom of the table and dropped down to Division Two. In that season he also scored six League Cup goals as Blackpool advanced to the fifth round with a hat-trick in a remarkable 5-1 victory over Manchester United in round two the pick of his efforts.
His final season at Blackpool, 1967/68, saw him open his account in the first game, a 2-0 victory over Preston North End with the other goal coming from inside left Gerry Ingram. And, after two more League games it was Ingram who was moved to his natural centre forward position with Charnley dropping down to the Central League side. He continued to shine at that level and scored eight goals in his nine games for the reserve side but he did make one final League appearance in which he did not let his fans down with one of the goals in a 2-0 defeat of Crystal Palace. Ironically the other goal came from his big pal Jimmy Armfield.
His final game for Blackpool was in the Central League when he scored twice in an 8-1 victory over Nottingham Forest reserves on 2 December 1967. And it was a sad day on 7 December 1967 when he was transferred to Preston North End for a fee of £12,500. He remained one season at Deepdale, adding four goals to his outstanding record before moving on to Wrexham, where he made the only substitute appearance of his long career, and then Bradford, at which clubs there were a further 20 League goals. He finished his footballing career back at Morecambe and then he devoted his time to his painting and decorating business in Blackpool.
Ray Charnley showed himself to be a phenomenal goalscorer as his 222 League and Cup goals in 407 appearances proved (and in addition he scored 30 goals in 51 Central League games) and his first team goals represented 35.75% of the goals scored in those games. But not only that, he was a great all-round team man and the figure he would command on today's transfer market with such a goalscoring record would be tremendous.
But Ray Charnley is not only about statistics, he was a gentleman on and off the field, was happy with his lot, gave much pleasure to many thousands of Seasiders' supporters and, almost single-handedly, with his goals, he kept Blackpool in top-flight football when the team was beginning to struggle.
He was a lovely man, modest to a degree, and quite rightly he has written his name large in the annals of Blackpool footballing history. He will be very much missed and the world is a poorer place with his passing.
Two clips from British Pathe which feature Ray Charnley in action please click on the image to view:
FA CUP 5TH ROUND - BLACKPOOL V WEST BROM.
FA CUP 6TH ROUND - BLACKPOOL V LUTON