Nostalgia: A Lancaster cotton picker

Lancaster Lads Club Reserves 1961-62, from left: back row: George Patterson, Tony (FM) Masheder, John Townson, Alan Jackson, Ken Whitecross, Keith Stockdale, Lawrence Merrill, Harold Woods, George Tarney; front row: - Walter Halbard, Tommy Anderson, Roy Cunliffe, Peter Hall, Brian Holmes, Alan Timlin  Cotton Picker by Terry Ainsworth, sponsored by Lancaster & Morecambe Referees' Society
Lancaster Lads Club Reserves 1961-62, from left: back row: George Patterson, Tony (FM) Masheder, John Townson, Alan Jackson, Ken Whitecross, Keith Stockdale, Lawrence Merrill, Harold Woods, George Tarney; front row: - Walter Halbard, Tommy Anderson, Roy Cunliffe, Peter Hall, Brian Holmes, Alan Timlin Cotton Picker by Terry Ainsworth, sponsored by Lancaster & Morecambe Referees' Society

Cotton Picker by Terry Ainsworth, sponsored by Lancaster & Morecambe Referees’ Society.

I first met John Townson at the Lancaster Lads Club in 1959 and we have remained firm friends over the ensuing decades.

Royal Albert Hospital 1956-57, John Townson is far right on the back row  'Cotton Picker' by Terry Ainsworth sponsored by Lancaster & Morecambe Referees' Society

Royal Albert Hospital 1956-57, John Townson is far right on the back row 'Cotton Picker' by Terry Ainsworth sponsored by Lancaster & Morecambe Referees' Society

He got his unusual nickname Cotton Picker by virtue of the fact that on Saturday night following a game in the afternoon we would gather in the York Hotel, Morecambe, for a few drinks and a sing song.

Jack Carr was the pianist who could scarcely be seen through the cloud of cigarette smoke, caused chiefly by himself, and during the night we would display our lack of talent as singers.

John’s song, ‘Cotton Fields’ was written by Huddle Ledbetter, better known as ‘Lead Belly’” in 1940 and later recorded by artists like Harry Belafonte and The Seekers but I’m sure none of them got a better reception than John Townson at the York Hotel.

When I was a little pretty baby

My mama would rock me in the cradle,

In them old cotton fields back home;

It was down in Louisiana,

Just about a mile from Texarkana,

In them old cotton fields back home.

Oh, when them cotton bolls get rotten

You can’t pick very much cotton,

In them old cotton fields back home. - Etcetera, etcetera

In 1956-57 he was unable to get a regular game of football at the Lads Club so Jimmy Downham suggested to John that he went and played at the Royal Albert Hospital where Jimmy was a painter and decorator and therefore had connections with the people who ran the hospital football team. This is an extremely rare photograph of John or “CP” as he was to become known as it reveals a footballer with blonde, curly hair. After serving Queen and Country for the statutory two years John returned to Lancaster from Cyprus and resumed his football life but he was also active with the Lads Club cricket XI and for many years a member of the Georgian Club on Cable Street where he served on the committee. His favourite watering hole though has been the Bowerham Hotel where he has provided bar room banter since 1963 and shuddered over many a pint of Mitchells.

We would train at the Lads Club on Tuesday and Thursday night under the auspices of Jimmy Downham, while on Monday, Wednesday and Friday Dave Williams would be putting star boxers Bobby Day and Frankie Taylor through their paces.

The Lads Club was extremely busy in those days and not solely for youngsters as we were, by this time, members of the Old Boys section. John played primarily as a centre half in the Reserves/”A” team and relished playing 90 minutes against tough opponents like Arthur “Archie” Wild especially if the ground was wet.

His forte was the sliding tackle and many times an opponent would be dumped over the touchline into the crowd when John slid in from five yards away. He was often admonished by opposition supporters particularly at places like Caton where the locals were pretty intimidating and called him some very uncomplimentary names.

But it was water off a duck’s back to “CP” and he would carry on with a smile and a receding hair line. When I formed the 50/60 Club to raise funds for the Orthopaedic Ward at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary John was chairman from 2000-2011 and we handed over £30,000 to this wonderful cause.

In 1961-62 Lancaster Lads Club Old Boys swept all before them in winning all four trophies on offer in the North Lancashire & District League but they needed backup in the reserves and many of these lads like John Townson and Alan Jackson stepped up when required.

“CP” never looked out of place in the Old Boys team, where he would deputise for Dick Bradley, and every time he was called upon he invariably scored a goal from a corner where his considerable height was a real asset.

John is a faithful and trusted friend who has lived life like he played football, giving everything he had until the final whistle and then shaking hands and sharing a smile with bruised opponents.

Visit www.soccernostalgia.co.uk for more photographs and articles. Contact Terry Ainsworth through the Guardian if you have any old photographs.