Blackpool's Finest: Iain Hesford
Iain Hesford - the best ever?
Circa 1973: Bang, bang, bang the ball bounced off the walls of the back alleys of the terraced streets of North Shore. Me, a snotty-nosed, working class kid destined to be factory fodder upon leaving school. The inevitability of failing to make the grade as 'Tangerine Galactico' was palpable but I had a dream, like most of my peers, playing for my home town club. But it was only really a fantasy, a bit like winning on Vernon's Pools was for your old Dad. So daily practice was intense! Booting a tatty old casey around the streets and parks of North Shore I longed not to be the free scoring centre forward but the goalie. The likes of Bob Hatton, Tony Green and Alan Suddick were favourites but our long history of great keepers with bags of character was always encouragement enough to withstand the pain of a cannonball sized, (and weight) mud covered ball smacking against my face. The dream was to emulate the greats who had stood between the posts at Bloomers, to follow in the footsteps of Farm, Waiters, Burridge, Wood and Hesford, to name a few.
George Farm a Blackpool Legend who played for The Pool from 1948 until his shock announcement to leave in 1959, he was a larger than life character. He was a grumpy Scotsman who would become one of the first names on the lips of football supporters around the country when goalies attributes were debated, a Scots goalkeeper who was actually quite good.
From 1959 until 1966 the no. 1 shirt was filled by Tony Waiters who was also an international, England was his country of domicile. We were fortunate again as we had Gordon West who was more than able as a no. 2 choice keeper. Tony Waiters, at the end of his career, ended up coaching in Canada and is still fondly remembered as the man who helped Canada qualify for their one and only World Cup.
From the late sixties to the early 70`s we had a number of keepers who were memorable and able. 'Sir' Harry Thompson and Alan Taylor (who lived a few doors from me when I was growing up) were two more. It wasn't until 1971 that Blackpool signed the 2 keepers that I truly remembered marvelling over. Two great keepers, very different in style and stature, that would go on to leave a massive impression on young fans growing up in the 70's, my inspiration to work for that green jersey.
The first such keeper was John Burridge, signed in 1971, our keeper for the Anglo-Italian cup win, who would eventually leave the Seasiders to play at top flight Aston Villa who were to win a fair bit of silverware themselves in the years following his move there. I always thought that whatever Budgie went for it was too little and half expected to see the headlines in the Gazette; 'Budgie goes cheap!' (Probably more suited to one of the tabloids). Budgie was a phenomenal athlete, agile and as mad as a box of frogs and keep fit mad spending more time on the pitch than anyone else warming up and warming down. John Burridge still has the record for the amount of League clubs played for, 15 in all making 771 Football League appearances. He carried on playing non-league for many years after this; most Seasiders will remember his return to Bloomers aged about 46 playing for Blyth Spartans in the FA Cup not too long ago.
Completely different to Budgie was George Wood who also signed in 1971, a tall rangy keeper who filled the goals with his huge presence. He was signed as cover for Budgie and it took him quite some time to establish himself as first choice. Eventually Woody got his run in the 1st team then started to get a few admiring managers from the big boys sniffing around. George Wood left Pool in 1977 just 2 years after we`d lost Budgie. He went to Everton, won 4 caps for Scotland and the league title with the Toffeemen. He then moved on to Arsenal. These two departures for me, and I`d dare say many other Seasiders was a hammer blow. Our long association with international keepers stretching back to the mid 40`s was not to be broken however.
It was now 1977 and Iain Hesford, an England youth player, a local lad was fast becoming the new kid on the block. He hailed from a sporting family, his dad Bob was a professional keeper for Huddersfield Town spending his entire career there. Bob junior, Iain's brother, was a rugby union player who represented England. And his other brother Steve (who also lived on my street in North Shore!) was to represent Great Britain at rugby league. So you can probably guess if you never saw Iain Hesford that he was a big lad. He certainly became much larger in his twilight years of his playing career! His familiar 'Magnum style' moustache and his tendency to go walkabouts up to the half way line were to become familiar sights at Bloomfield Road and beyond, for Iain Hesford was also a player that was to do the rounds.
He played 202 times for the Seasiders between 1977-1983 going on to play for Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City, Notts County (loan) and Maidstone (remember them?) Eventually Iain Hesford, who, in my opinion, never really fulfilled his potential, ended his long playing career in Hong Kong, retiring in 1997.
So what did happen to Iain Hesford? Why did he never become the goalkeeper that many fans thought he could be, the England no 1 perhaps? Well the competition at the time was certainly stiff with the likes of Ray Clemance, Peter Shilton and Joe Corrigan all vying for the no. 1 shirt. I think perhaps it was his flamboyant style and his playboy image on the Fylde Coast that was his undoing. Of course Iain Hesford may tell you he never regretted a thing and in fact he still has a cult following over in Sunderland where one website has him in the top 5 legendary players. He even appeared in Roy of the Rovers in 1983.
The moustachioed Hesford was larger than life; his confidence between the sticks with that unconventional style was to earn him a place in an exclusive goalkeeping club when he scored for Maidstone in 1991. His ability didn't diminish right through his career; it was his consistency that was lacking. His career in Hong Kong started on July, 1992 when he joined Eastern. He played for the club for 4 years before he moved to Sing Tao in 1996-97 season and later South China in 1997-98. In his year in Eastern, the club captured 5 trophies including the major ones Hong Kong Senior Shield, FA Cup and the league Champion. He was elected as the 'Best foreign player' in the league in 1992. He was also in the 'League Best Squad' for 3 seasons (1992-93, 93-94, 94-95). Moreover, he is still the record holder of the Longest Clean Sheets in Hong Kong First Division League.
He left Hong Kong in 1998 to return to England's green and pleasant lands to have a go at coaching. He was last seen running a hotel in Littleborough, north east of Rochdale. With Iain Hesfords eccentricity, a must for a keeper, and his outgoing energetic personality I imagine that'd be a great place to visit a bit like Fawlty Towers!
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