Green Barmy: Rare visits to Accrington hold happy memories for Pilgrims
LAST season's visit to Accrington Stanley, 10 months prior to today's visit to the Lancashire club, saw Plymouth Argyle record a handsome 4-0 win.
Two goals from Alex MacDonald with Darren Purse and substitute Luke Daley also hitting the target made for a successful first-ever visit to the Crown Ground.
The only previous meeting in Lancashire came at Accrington's previous home ground, Peel Park, and was very significant in the history of the Pilgrims.
It was April 1959, and having been unbeaten in six games, the team managed by Jack Rowley travelled in the hope of clinching promotion from Division Three.
The team had stayed in the north after playing, five days earlier, in another 'first visit' as they won 1-0 at Halifax.
Argyle's win at the Shay came through a Peter Anderson goal and set up the travelling party nicely for a relaxing week ahead of the season's final away game at Accrington.
Steve Rhodes, in his excellent book 'Thanks For The Memory', recalling the story of the momentous Argyle season, discovered that Wigan-born Harry Penk used his local knowledge to good effect.
A golf day was arranged at Birkdale, and they paid a visit to a different code of football, to watch rugby league at St Helens.
But the north west sojourn was not enjoyed by Johnny Williams. He was ordered to return to Army duties in Aldershot between the two games.
If not confusing enough to have two players called Williams in the Argyle side, they were both called John.
To identify one from the other, wing-half John Lloyd Williams was usually addressed as 'Cardiff' in a reference to his Welsh roots. Officially, the record books listed him as John L Williams.
The other Williams, who joined Argyle as an 18 year-old and made 412 appearances, was simply known as 'Johnny'.
I spoke this week with John L Williams, who explained how the confusion was overcome.
"When I joined Plymouth Argyle, they put me down as John Williams, as opposed to Johnny. Then they registered me as John L, but then someone gave me the nickname 'Cardiff' and that just stuck."
With three scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings recounting his time with the Pilgrims, his memories are very strong.
He also recalls well the stay between the games against Halifax and Accrington.
He said: "Normally for an away game on a Saturday, we would travel on a Friday and come home on a Sunday. In those days it took two hours just to get as far as Bristol.
"We went to Southport after the Halifax game, and with Harry Penk being a big rugby league fan, we went to see a match and also went to a greyhound meeting, too."
Perhaps surprisingly for those raised in the modern era, for such a vital game around only a dozen Argyle fans made the journey to Accrington. A 300-mile journey was not particularly easy before the motorway network was introduced, so the hardy bunch of fans travelled overnight by train.
The match was played in the midst of an incessant downpour, but despite the poor condition of the playing surface, an attractive game unfolded.
The visitors took the lead after a quarter of an hour. Johnny Williams chased down goalkeeper Bill McInness, whose attempted clearance was sliced and fell straight to Argyle's pint-sized winger Penk who tucked away his ninth goal of the season.
Accrington pressed for an equaliser, and it came just before an hour had been played, crafted by brothers in the Stanley team.
Jimmy Anders crossed the ball into the penalty area where his brother, Harry, cheekily back-heeled the ball into the path of Terry Tighe.
The inside forward's first-time shot flew past Argyle goalkeeper Geoff Barnsley and was good enough to see a point rescued.
But the point that Argyle gained was good enough to confirm a celebration was in order.
A fitting reception was ready for the team's return to the city, arranged in conjunction with supporters' club.
A coach bearing supporters' club officials set off to meet the team at Ivybridge at 3pm the following day and the team bus was hastily decorated on its arrival on the old A38.
The mini convoy then headed into Plymouth for a circuit of Royal Parade before their arrival at Home Park. By that time it had turned in to a procession as more than 500 cars followed the victorious team.
"There were thousands out to see us", says Williams.
"When we got to the ground there were two or three thousand inside the stadium."
The following Wednesday evening more than 26,000 crammed into Home Park for a 1-1 draw with Bradford City that confirmed Argyle had secured the championship.
Going into that final match, Hull City had led the division on goal average, but Argyle knew a draw would be good enough to finish ahead of the pack.
Williams has great pleasure in thinking back to that memorable night.
He recalled: "At the final whistle we couldn't get off the pitch. Thousands came on to the ground. They were amazing scenes."
The following evening, in a knees-up typical of the era, the supporters' club quickly organised a buffet-dance as a way of showing thanks to the team and staff for a memorable campaign.
But the celebrations went on for a few days, as Williams reveals.
He said: "About a week later, we were invited to the Gaumont cinema. At half time between the films, we were introduced on stage!"
John L Williams was certainly thankful to get into the Argyle side.
He said: "Johnny Williams only missed one game, the one at Bradford. I was a left-half, but Tommy Barrett was left-half when I arrived at the club. I was the new boy and took over when Tommy was injured
"But I took Johnny's place at right-half in the only game he didn't play in."
However, he was prepared to wait for his chance, which he felt would come after his transfer.
"I was the youngest player at 22. But I didn't make the first team at Cardiff City.
"There were four wing-halves there and three of them were internationals – and all three played in the Welsh World Cup squad of 1958."
Wales reached the quarter-finals of that tournament, beaten by the mighty Brazil in the last eight.
The final word should go to Williams, who gave me his verdict on manager Jack Rowley.
He said: "He was a living legend at Manchester United and he was a brilliant manager.
"Whatever he told me to do, I did it."
John L Williams promises all Argyle fans the club is still the first results he looks for.
Let's hope today's team give him something to cheer about.
Argyle v Accrington 1959: Geoff Barnsley, George Robertson, Reg Wyatt, John L Williams, Gordon Fincham, Len Casey, Peter Anderson, Jimmy Gauld, Wilf Carter, Johnny Williams, Harry Penk