Tuesday, 2 December 2014


Matt Tees slots home another goal

AS  Matt Tees was on the last stage of a rail journey from his home near Glasgow  to Grimsby to become a full-time professional footballer, he had  an encounter with a fellow rail-passenger.

With  the train rattling along on its way from Doncaster through flat, featureless countryside, he got into conversation with the man who shook his head at the 22-year and gave him a look of deepest pity.

"You're going to the back of beyond,"he warned. "It will be like falling off the edge of the world."

Matt  was on his way to Blundell Park to meet up with  Mariners manager Tom Johnston who had been impressed by his achievements as  part-time professional with the Scottish First Division side Airdrie.

But those casually-uttered remarks in the rail carriage sowed the seeds of doubt. "I wondered what I was letting myself in for," Matt recalled later."I began to have doubts about the whole idea."

As it happened that fateful trip not only changed his life for ever, but it also opened an extraordinary couple of chapters in the story of Grimsby Town FC.

Whatever their age, every Grimsby Town fan is aware of Matt's momentous goal-scoring feats in two spells with the Mariners - 1963-67 and 1970-73 - and those lucky enough to have seen him play will have their own special individual memories.

Now in his 70s, his first match was a pre-season friendly against Leicester City - he scored after just 20 seconds.

Some years later, there was an epic away quarter-final League Cup replay in 1966 against a West Ham side containing Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters when Town went down to a single late goal.

                                      Linesman overruled

"We were robbed," says Matt. "It came from a move when their winger was offside. The linesman flagged, but he was overruled by the referee.

"But that's football. It was great match and, though we lost, I think we were the better team on the day."

Matt had other disappointments, not least as a teenager when he was a high-scoring wing-forward for non-league Cambuslang Rangers in the season in which they reached no fewer than three finals - including the Scottish Junior Cup played at Glasgow's Hampden Park.

"We lost all three,"he says." It was heartbreaking."

But far from harbouring any regrets, Matt  looks back with nothing but joy, recognising that downs as well as ups are all part of the tapestry of a career playing football - one to which many aspire but few attain.

He picked up a few bookings along the way but was only once sent off - in a match for the Mariners against Bury when he gave as good as he got after being elbowed in the face.

He and the opponent were both sent off - but even that incident had a silver lining.

Nursing a bruised jaw and concerned that he might have let the side down, he was cheered up afterwards by his teammates who teased him the  incident had probably cost Bury their best player on the pitch!

Rewinding to Matt's childhood in Johnstone, west of Glasgow, his dad worked for an engineering firm and he has two older brothers, Alec and Hugh, were also useful footballers.

But Matt never played for his school team - because it did not have one!

Laying down jackets as goalposts, he and his relatives and schoolmates used to play on a bare patch of ground - with the start of play invariably delayed by the need to pump up the bladder and tighten the laces of the battered leather ball.
When a cousin went on to formed a side to play in the local league, Matt was not even selected! He was deemed to small and frail. 

                                       Lunch break highlights

He left school at 15 and went to work in a carpet factory - the highlights being the lunch breaks when the 50-strong workforce swallowed down a quick bite to eat, then got on with a kickabout.

"It was great," he says. " It was 25-a-side, but it was lot of fun. We were all colleagues and pals."

Matt did eventually find his way into organised football with a club called Penilee Athletic who put him on the left wing "out of danger of the midfield rough and tumble" as he puts it.
But he performed well enough to be spotted by Cambuslang - a move which proved the  springboard first for his transfer to Airdrie, where he spent three years, then to the Mariners in time for the start of the 1963-64 season.

Despite scoring both in the Leicester friendly and in his first match in the Football League - a 1-1 draw at Swansea - his early times in Cleethorpes and Grimsby were not the most enjoyable.

Not only was he unable to hold down a regular first-team place, but he was lodging in Queen Mary Avenue with a couple and their daughter but no one of the same age.

"I was homesick to begin with,"he says. "I am sure it must have crossed my mind to pack my bags and go back home.

But I had been given the opportunity to play full-time professional - I didn't want to let it slip." 

Life perked up when he moved  to new lodgings in Neville Street where not only was he sharing with another Town player, fellow-Scot George McLean, but he also had a perfect landlady.

"Inga McDonald was lovely,"he says. "She was a Germany lady who had moved here after marrying a local man. She was like a second mum."

After scoring only five  goals in his first season, Matt was so concerned that Town might decide to offload him that he wrote to a friend, Douglas Wright, formerly of Partick Thistle but  now playing in Sydney, who agreed to help him find a club in the Australian League.

                                        Contract renewed

However, much to his relief and delight, Jimmy McGuigan, who by now had taken over as Mariners manager, had confidence in Matt, and his  contract was  renewed - he would be staying Town.

McGuigan's faith was not full restored until Matt's third season when, alongside strongly-built Rod Green - a signing from Gillingham -  Matt more than fulfilled his potential, scoring no fewer than 37 league and cup goals.

The duo were so lethal that interest was generated from other clubs, including South London club Charlton Athletic whose manager Bob Stokoe -  to the grief of Town fans - snapped the pair up for a total outlay of £23,000.

The transfer came as a bolt for the blue, not just for Town fans but also for the lady in Matt's life, fellow-Scot May Wright - an accountant at a solicitor's office and wife of former Town goalkeeper Charlie Wright who had been transferred to Charlton the previous season.

When the bid came, the couple were busy preparing not just for  their marriage  but also  to make an offer on a house in Fillingham Crescent.
The wedding went ahead -  in Scotland in June, 1967 -  but the proposed house purchase had to  go out of the window.

"The chance of a move to the South London club was too good to refuse,"says May. "It was a chance for Matt to further his playing career. He had to take it."

The move to a Charlton club house near  Blackheath proved popular not just with the couple, who settled well, but also  with family and friends who were eager to come to "Tees Hotel" to see the sights of the capital and to catch a West End show.

May found a job in the CIty, but when the opportunity arose, she and Matt also enjoyed the nightlife - for instance shows at the Palladium, seeing Sammy Davis Jnr and  chart-topping crooner  Englebert Humperdinck in pantomime.

But with Charlton strapped for cash and at risk of folding, the couple were soon on their travels again - this time when Matt was signed for Luton Town by Alec Stock, a gifted old-school manager who also enjoyed success with a number of other clubs, including QPR and Fulham.

Despite their happy times down south, both Matt and May both missed the Cleethorpes area. They had made many friends here - both inside and outside football.

It was thus almost a dream come true when Town's player-manager Bobby Kennedy brought Matt back to Blundell Park in 1970.

"I couldn't wait to get back into the black-and-white strip,"says  Matt." I had always loved playing for Town. It was a great atmosphere - the fans were always fantastic." 

                                       Fantastic fans

It proved to be a glorious return - one that prevailed into the following season when, now with Lawrie McMenemy as manager, Matt scored 27 goals as the Mariners powered to the Division Four title.

But the world of football is often harsh. Though full of admiration for Matt's achievements, McMenemy reckoned that he had reached and passed his peak and decided to release him before age and injuries took their toll.

"I was disappointed,"says Matt. "But I understood the decision. The manager has to put the interests of the club first." 

Matt then joined Boston United where he enjoyed another illustrious season, helping the Pilgrims to win the North Premier League title and playing in a memorable 3rd Round FA Cup match against Derby County, at that time one of the top sides in the land.

Matt recalls having a drink after the match - a 0-0 draw - with Dave Mackay, another football legend, then County's manager.

After hanging up his boots, Matt worked for shipping company DFDS before retirement.

When they moved back to the area, he and May raised their two boys Neil and Andrew.at a house in Chichester Road but they now live in a bungalow in a leafy crescent off Taylors Avenue in the resort.

They are very family-orientated, regularly seeing their folks back home in Scotland, their own two boys plus the wives, Lisa and Karen, and grandchildren, Alex, Lucy, Joe and Matthew.

 They also keep in regular contact with May's brother, Charlie Wight, a former goalkeeper at Grimsby and Charlton, who later had spells in football management with Bolton Wanderers and York City after his playing days were over.

In retirement, the Tees couple have enjoyed some superb holidays, including a six-week tour of Australia.

Most importantly, they have enjoyed being in Cleethorpes.

"Not at all is it the back of beyond,"insists Matt. "It's a lovely area and the people are great."

The article above is an updated version of one  that appeared in the Cleethorpes Chronicle newspaper in August 2008.

Copies of  Matt Tees on Football  (which contains many fascinating insights and superb action photographs) are available from  the Grimsby Town club shop and also (brand new) on ebay buy-it now.

Matt signs a copy of his book for a fan at Cleethorpes Library

No comments:

Post a Comment