We’re a long way away from the old Corinthian days of amateur football, and many non-league veterans hanker for a time when a handshake, a cup of tea and a communal dinner after the game was the order of the day.
Jim “Ginger” Norris played for St.Albans City and Letchworth Town in the days when sportsmanship prevailed and footballers turned out – largely – for the love of the game.
Jim, who still resides in St.Albans today, joined the Saints after playing for Carlton in local junior football. “I had gained something of a reputation as a centre forward and it was at the end of the 1946-47 season that I was asked to pay in the place of the usual number nine, Dave Sayers. I was just 16 at the time. We played Kingstonian and I scored three.” That was the start of his Saints’ career.
Jim recalls big crowds and a tremendous camaraderie in amateur football in the 1950s and some very fine players. “Wycombe Wanderers had a very strong side and some tremendous players. So, too, did Walthamstow Avenue, who had Jim Lewis playing for them. Woking had the Mortimore brothers, two excellent footballers.”
National Service interrupted Jim’s St.Albans playing days and when he came out of the Army, he played for Bullito’s, the stocking company. In 1955, he went back to Clarence Park.
Did he ever get asked to turn professional? “Yes, I had nine offers in one day. Preston North End were one of the clubs. I travelled up to see them, but I wasn’t too impressed. I recall they had a lot of Scots, in fact the only player who wasn’t was the goalkeeper Gooch. [Jimmy Gooch, a Londoner who played 163 games for PNE]. I was earning more at Bullito’s, so I found myself, like a lot of amateur players of the day, able to earn far more in another job. I also went along to Southampton and met Bill Dodgin Snr. He was a real character. Dressed in plus fours, he looked more like an old-time golfer!. He offered me £10 if I was making the first team. But I was better off at Bullito’s.”
Jim was often prolific in front of goal, playing up front despite being relatively small. “We used to play what used to be known as “the Revie plan”, with a withdrawn centre forward and two up-front. I mostly played with the number 10 shirt on my back. Alan Tompkins played the withdrawn number nine role.”
Although enjoying his football at St.Albans, he left the club in unsatisfactory circumstances. He had to miss training because his father was dying but because of this, the club secretary at the time felt he should not be playing in the first team. It coincided with Fred Collins, a former team-mate, asking him to play for Hatfield Town in the FA Cup. He scored five goals in the game and St.Albans were unhappy. He left the club and eventually joined Letchworth. “After leaving Clarence Park under a bit of a cloud, it was a breath of fresh air. It was a friendly club and the team wasn’t bad at all.”
Very soon, Jim had the chance to show St.Albans what they were missing. They were drawn to meet the Saints at Clarence Park. Letchworth won 3-2 and Jim scored the winning goal. “There was a chap named Ginger Figg, who played for City before the war, on the touchline, and he was trying to jump over the fence, calling me a traitor because I had gone back to the club and won the game!”.
He only played three seasons for Letchworth, who were managed by Hitchin Town backroom stalwart Cyril Buck at the time. “Ginger” had a very serious knee injury and decided to retire at the age of 31.
He could have won international honours as he was asked to joined an England Youth tour. Sir Stanley Rous wrote to his parents, but the cost of travelling abroad was prohibitive. He never got asked again.
Jim Norris played in what many people feel was a golden age for amateur football. Will today’s non-league players cherish their playing days as much as his generation, I wonder?