This follows on from a conversation I had recently with another ageing football (soccer) fan, about the strange tale of Mike Trebilcock. It is a story which, if written for a schoolboy comic, would be dismissed as stupidly fanciful - preposterous.
A bit of personal background first: I was born in Liverpool, a city whose passion for the game is not unconnected to having had long periods of its history when there was little else to be cheerful about. Just as I began to take an interest in my team of choice, Liverpool FC, they had a disastrous season and slid into the old English Second Division, but their local neighbours, Everton FC, were promoted out of the Second Division that same year, and moved up into the First (which was equivalent to the current Premiership) – thus the two local rival teams managed to miss each other, and the absence of league matches between them was to continue for a further 9 years, until Liverpool finally gained promotion again.
The rest is, in a football sense, history, but I well remember the dark years of the interim when my school pals and I used to go to Anfield for Liverpool’s home matches in the Second Divn, yet happily visit Everton when LFC were playing away (my mum wouldn’t let me go to away games at that age). There was less venom attached to local rivalries in those days – I was (and remain) a devoted Liverpool fan, but Everton, because of the local connection, were my second favourite team, and I still retain a soft spot for them. They were also, indisputably, playing in a more glamorous league, against more fashionable competition and – since the club was largely financed by the Moores Family, owners of Littlewood’s football pools – there were some expensive, high profile players on show. Despite being a Liverpool disciple, I was always a secret admirer of Alex Young, the legendary Golden Vision, and of a number of other stars Everton bought in.
Back to Mr Trebilcock: After the two big Merseyside teams were both back in the top flight (as it used to be called), Everton had a particularly good run in the 1965-66 FA Cup, and reached the final at Wembley, where their opponents were another great Northern team of the day, Sheffield Wednesday.
Mike Trebilcock was a Cornishman, a forward, who made a considerable name for himself at Plymouth Argyle (in the 2nd Division), before being purchased (for £23,000) by Everton for the start of the 1965-66 season, when he was 20. He was injured during his debut game in the big time, and played very little football for the rest of the season – if I recall correctly, he played a few games for the reserves to get himself back to fitness. For the Cup Final, for reasons no-one has ever understood, Everton’s regular chief goalscorer, Fred Pickering, who was an England international and had, in fact, scored in every round of the Cup leading to the final, was dropped, and Everton fans were dumfounded, not to mention fretful, to learn that Trebilcock was playing in his place.
The game was a classic thriller – Wednesday went 2-0 up, then Trebilcock scored twice in 5 minutes (good goals, too) and eventually Temple scored a breakaway goal to win the game for Everton, 3-2.
Trebilcock remained at Everton for a further 2 years, but never managed to establish himself as a first team player – he played less than a dozen games in total, and eventually he moved on to Portsmouth, then Torquay, and he had a good, solid career as a pro at these lower levels. He played for a while in Australia before retirement – his big day at Wembley in 1966 was very much a one-off. He is still alive, and he is mostly famed now as the first black player to score in an FA Cup Final, but I always felt that if he was asked, “what is your outstanding memory of your footballing career?”, he would probably not have to think very long about it.
The teams, for anyone interested, were:
Everton: Gordon West; Tommy Wright, Ray Wilson; Jimmy Gabriel, Brian Labone (capt), Brian Harris; Alex Scott, Mike Trebilcock, Alex Young, Colin Harvey, Derek Temple
Sheffield Wed: Ron Springett; Wilf Smith, Don Megson; Peter Eustace, Sam Ellis, Gerry Young; Graham Pugh, John Fantham, Jim McCalliog, David Ford, John Quinn