Football violence is boring – anyone who doesn’t know me can identify me so easily whenever there is some sort of disturbance at a game involving the opposing supporters because I’ll be the person still watching the match! There was a very short time though in the late sixties when I just might have gone on to become a hooligan, but what happened during a match with Portsmouth in January 1968 was enough to knock any such thoughts on the head.
The bunch of us who used to go to matches together were about eleven or twelve when it was decided that we should get closer to the “action”. Therefore, for what was probably no more than three or four games, we decided to forsake our normal place in the Boy’s enclosure at the front of the Grange End and go further back into the middle of the group of “hard knocks” who did most of the singing about what they were going to do to the away fans if they found any.
Actually, when I say the middle of that group what I really mean is about twenty yards to the side of them and, truth be told, we were all getting a bit bored with our new surroundings in the early stages of a match with promotion chasing Portsmouth played on a pitch which had been turned into what was virtually a bog by the rain that teemed down for the whole ninety minutes.
I don’t think I was the only one who was relieved when one of our group suggested we go back down to the Boy’s enclosure where the view was so much better for a bunch of kids who used to call someone who was about five foot three “lanky”. However, the reason why he wanted to move was because he had a bag full of what I still call alleys which we could throw at the Portsmouth keeper John Milkins .
As I remember it, once we got to our normal place in the boy’s enclosure, it took a while for us to summon up the courage to start chucking the alleys. Speaking as someone with a absolutely pathetic throwing arm, people stood on the Bob Bank were under more threat from my efforts than Milkins was, but one of my friends proved himself a far better shot than me and hit him with a pretty big alley that caught him on the side of the head.
Milkins collapsed as if he had been shot and landed face down in one of the many puddles in the goalmouth – he wasn’t unconscious (luckily there were no bompers in my mate’s collection!) , but it was obvious that he had been hurt and play was stopped while he received treatment. While this was going on three or four policemen congregated very close to where we were stood as they looked for the culprit.
By now we were panicking and the instinct was for us to do a runner, but either nobody around us had seen what happened (there were less spectators than normal in the area because of the rain which was blowing in under the Grange End roof) or they had done and weren’t going to grass on a fellow City fan. Therefore, I suggested we stayed where we were because to do otherwise would just bring attention to ourselves.
After a while play restarted with Milkins still looking pretty groggy and the policemen dispersed – we had got away with it, but, all of a sudden, the notion of attacking a footballer (because, let’s face it, that’s what it was) didn’t seem as much of a “laugh” as it had done about ten minutes earlier. I can’t say for certain after all of these years, but I’m not sure if the lad who hit Milkins went to many more matches after that – I remember that he was still in a right state about it when we met up again in school on the Monday morning mind.
While all of this was going on, we were all paying less importance than we should have done to what was a very good City performance in absolutely awful conditions. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’m pretty certain we had scored at least two of our three first half goals before Milkins was injured – Malcolm Clarke, Ronnie Bird and Peter King all scored in the opening forty five minutes as City belied both team’s league standings and went in with the game virtually won already at 3-0.
Besides Milkins, the Portsmouth team that day probably featured players like Ray Pointer, Roy Hiron and Harry Harris who were regular visitors to Ninian Park back in those days, but I can also remember the right back George Ley for reasons other than football. Back in those days a magazine called the Football League Review was given away free with the match programme and they used to run a best looking footballer in the league poll which went on throughout the season – George Best won every year it was held I believe, but George Ley of Portsmouth tended to come second. In my naive youth I used to believe that no one else but girls would vote in such a competition (there were certainly a few in my class who did so), but the regular presence of Trevor Hockey (who was then at Birmingham) in the top ten suggested that they definitely liked a bit of rough!
From memory, City players were conspicuous by their absence from the top ten every year, but, if the rumours about the, non footballing, reason for his leaving City are true, then at least one member of the fair sex might have voted for goalkeeper Fred Davies.
Far from making his departure from Cardiff though, Fred Davies was only just embarking on his City career that afternoon having been signed from Wolves for £10,000 in the days leading up to the game. Davies, who at around five foot ten, might have been deemed to be too short to be a keeper these days, was a more solid and reliable performer than many City keepers of that time – he may not have made many truly outstanding saves like, say, Bob Wilson would, but you wouldn’t get many gaffes from him either.
I don’t know what it was with goalkeepers and us in that game, but, for the last half an hour or so, Davies kept on turning around to us and tapping his wrist in a gesture asking how long there was to go. A small part of me admired our new keeper’s professionalism as he showed his concern that our opponents might still be able to claw their way back into the match, but, even at that young age, I knew in reality that, with Portsmouth showing no sign of scoring one, let alone three, what he really wanted to know was how long was it before he could return to the warm, dry dressing room!
John Milkins returned to Ninian Park on a few occasions in the following years and, in his last match here while playing for Oxford, I can remember him allowing a Clive Charles free kick from inside the City half to go over his head and into the net at the Grange End. It was a right howler from Milkins, but maybe he was still half expecting an alley to hit him at any moment.
6 January 1968
Cardiff City 3 Portsmouth 0
City Davies; Derrett, Murray, Harris, Ferguson; Jones, Lea, Clarke(1), Bird(1); King(1), Toshack Sub (not used) Allen
Portsmouth Milkins, Pack, Ley; Smith, Tindall, Harris; McLelland, McCann, Pointer, Kellard, Travers.