Thursday, 4 December 2014

THE MAESTRO IN MIDFIELD: DAVE BOYLEN



WHEN the Mariners do well, few are as delighted as Dave Boylen.

Even though it is 36 years since he last played for Grimsby Town, Dave, who lives just off Cleethorpes seafront, remains one of the club's most fervent fans to the point of being its official ambassador.

Most players merge into the sunset after their playing days over, but the 66-year-old remains involved because he has a deep sense of loyalty to the memories built up during his time at Blundell Park.

"I will always be grateful,"he says. "Not just for my career as a player but also for having the opportunity to live in an area with such warm and friendly people.

"I have a fantastic wife, Theresa, two smashing daughters, Debbie and Carrie-Anne, plus a brilliant grandson, Harrison, who is seven." 

Rewind to October,1947, and the start of life in the tough Ardwick area of Manchester could scarcely been have less auspicious for Dave because, tragically, his mother died in childbirth.

He could have been sent to an orphanage had it not been for the devotion of his father, Billy, and older sister, Evelyn, who resolved to bring him up themselves.

Times were tough but also happy - none more so than when he was spending every spare hour playing football with his pals - either in in the streets (with lamposts as the goals) or as a member of his local Roman Cathlic boys' side.

His first mentor was the priest who ran the church team, a man called Father Seale, who was endlessly inspirational.

"I will never forget his encouragement,"says Dave. "He gave me the belief that I could make it as a professional footballer.

"You would never have known he was a priest on match days - he used to take off his dog-collar and leap up and down as he urged  us on."

Dave graduated to playing first for Ardwick Boys' Club (where the emphasis seemed to me more about fighting than football!), then to Gorton Boys' Club where his skills caught the attention of scouts from several of the Football League clubs in the north-west.

For a while, he had links first with  Preston, then Rochdale, but they dilly-dallied, partly because of misgivings about his size - he is only 5ft 3in.

Height was never an issue for Dave himself, because he had excellent ball skills, amazing balance and speed both of thought and movement.

"When the ball is on the ground every player is the same height,"he says. "That's what I was once told, and it's true."

Town's manager at the time was Jimmy McGuigan who realised Dave's potential - and swooped.

"I had no hesitation in signing," continues Dave. "It  was big moment in my life. I was on the first rung of the football ladder. I was going to be paid for something I loved doing." 

                One-way ticket

Dave quit his job as a machinist, working at a factory that made sheepskin coats and rainwear, and headed for Lincolnshire with just £20 in his pocket, plus a one-way train ticket from Manchester's Piccadilly railway station.

Aged just 16, was he not a little nervous about venturing to the other side of the country to a town where he had no relatives or friends?

"Not at all," he replies. "I relished the challenge. I was glad to be out of the concrete jungle and coming to Grimsby.

"It was a proud fishing town with a football club, which, though no longer in the top flight, had lots of traditions and ambition. What's more I would be living by the seaside."

His lodging were firstly in Fuller Street, where he failed to settle, then later 24 Clee Crescent where he was treated as one of the family by the owners, Jim Teanby and his wife.

Dave settled in well, playing in the Mariners' youth side which played so well that in the Northern Intermediate League that crowds of as many as 2,000 attended matches.

The following season, aged 19, his first senior opportunity came - he was part of the side that recorded a 4-0 win over Gillingham on May 6, 1967.

Dave is full praise for his first manager, plus coaches George Higgins and Clarrie Williams, from all of whom he learned loads.

"Jimmy McGuigan was very astute and taught me a lot about the game. If he had stayed longer at the club, I am sure it would have hastened my development as a player."

But the boss had a fall-out with the board for various reasons - one of them possibly being that, against his judgement, he  had been told to sell star strikers Matt Tees and Rod Green to Charlton Athletic.

McGuigan was sacked, to be succeeded by Don McEvoy, who lasted just three months, then Bill Harvey who had Grimsby roots, though latterly he had been chief coach at Chelsea.

By now, Dave was a first-team regular whose impressive performances were generating the interest both of the national press  (notably the Sunday People) and other football clubs, including the up-and-coming Brian Clough who was building a promotion-winning side at Derby County.

He was impressed both by the accuracy of Dave's passing and by his energy at driving forward attacking moves.

                     Clough snubbed

After watching Grimsby's midfield dynamo no fewer than six times, Clough put in an offer of £20,000 - only to be snubbed by Harvey who refused to accept it.

"You don't want to play for an idiot like Clough," the manager told his star player."In time, bigger clubs will come knocking at the door. Besides, I want to build this side around you and your ability."
 
Dave was crestfallen. He admired what Clough had been achieving at Derby and would have jumped at the
opportunity to play at a higher level.

But, in those days, players were slaves to their clubs. He had no say in the matter.

Rebuffed by the Mariners, Clough  later turned his attention and paid Preston £60,000 for a similar sort of player, Archie Gemmill, who, played for him first at Derby, then at Nottingham Forest, winning numerous domestic honours and Scottish caps.

However the successful partnership when, much to his subsequent heartbreak, Gemmill was unexpectedly dropped for the 1979 European Cup Final.

Inevitably, Dave followed, through the media,  the fortunes of Gemmill and must, more than once, have asked himself: "What if?"

He was aware, too, that at neighbouring Scunthorpe United, Ray Clemence and Kevin Keegan had gone on to fame and fortune after being sold for sums in the region of £20,000 to bigger clubs.    

To his credit, he swallowed his disappointment and continued to put in scintillating performances under Harvey, then subsequent managers such as Bobby Kennedy, Lawrie  McMenemy, Ron Ashman, Tom Casey and John Newman.

He is proud to have been part of McMenemy side that famously  won  the 1971-72 Fourth Division championship, clinching the title with a 3-0 win against Exeter City in front of 22,000-plus delirious fans, some of whom had clambered on to the stand to watch the action.

"We played poorly in the first half,"says Dave who recalls the match as if it were were yesterday. "Even before the kick-off, somehow things semed flat - it was probably the pressure of expectation.

"At half time, the gaffer laid into us one by one. He tore us apart individually and told us we were letting the fans down.

                       Angry pep talk

"McMenemy was not tactically the most astute of managers, but he had an aura of authority - and his angry pep talk did the trick.

“We recovered our  form in the second half and the glory was our's. The celebrations went on until long into the following day."

Dave has a million and one memories of his playing days. Once, in the dressing room after a memorable FA Cup win at Preston, there was  a visit from a VIP - none other than the great Bill Shankly who made a bee-line across the floor to shake Dave's hand.

"Well played, the wee man!"enthused the ex-Anfield legend. "Magica! That's the Grimsby I remember from the days when I was manager."

On another occasion, following a match at Watford, he and teammates found themslves in the bar, rubbing shoulders with none other Elton John, the club chairman, Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger.

Over the years, Dave picked up plenty of cautions but only one sending-off - that was in a reserve match after swinging a boot at an opponent who had hurt him with a dangerous late tackle.

"I'm sorry, Dave, you'll have to walk,"said the referee, John Atkinson.

Was he superstitious? "Absolutely!"he chuckles. "Before matches, I aways made sure to put on my left boot first. Once, when we were on a losing streak, I even took down the number plate - Number 13 - from our house in Laburnum Drive, Grimsby! "

As older Mariners fans will recall, Dave was also the club's highly reliable penalty-taker in chief - and he never succumbed to nerves, even when being noisily (and crudely) barracked by the opposition players or fans.

His approach to taking the spot kick? "I just shut everything out of my mind, picked whatever corner and got with it, no messing."

Not that he beat the 'keeper every time. Soon after McMenemy took over, he had one saved against Crewe in a 3-2 defeat.

The match was memorable in another way. The Crewe side included a friend and fellow-Mancunian, Stan Bowles, later to become famous as one of the county' most gifter goalscorers as well as a prolific gambler.

"Bowlesie would bet on two spiders climbing up a wall,"he jokes. "At the time, he was available for just £5,000, and McMenemy was very interested - but he went to Carlisle instead, then to QPR where his career really took off.

Dave abruptly quit Grimsby Town after a rare bust-up when the board refused to allow him an opportunity to play on an interim basis for an American side, Los Angeles Nighthawks, because it would have meant him missing the last few Mariners matches of the 1978 season.

                         Sense of injustice

"Basically, I walked out on the club,"he says. "It was perhaps bit silly of me, and probably I should have taken a walk on the beach to clear my head of the sense of injustice I was feeling.

"According to the gaffer, John Newman, who had supported me, the board refused to release my registration because they thought it would set a precedent for other players. But I just thought it was mean-spirited given that I had been a loyal club servant since arriving as a kid with £20 in my pocket.

"For three years, I never returned to Blundell Park, but then I decided to buried the hatchet and let bygones be bygones - a decision I have never regretted."

Away from the Mariners, Dave continued  playing (and managing) -  but in non-league football with sides such as Louth United, Immingham Town and Skegness Town.

He also pursued a 21-year career in youth work, which game him immense personal satisfaction, and he was  a leading light in the Artie White Foundation which has raised some £400,000  for worthy local charities over the past 17 years.

Through his contacts in football, he has persuaded some of the biggest names in football, including the late George Best (who was to become a friend)  to attend fund-raising celebrity events in this area.

Up until his retirement this week, he had been working for Grimsby electrical, instrumentation and engineering  firm, Technica Ltd, but it is also  worth recording that between 2007 and 2011, he was a highly effective member of North East Lincolnshire Council, serving as a Liberal-Democrat in the Freshney ward.

Dave reckons his life outside football has widened his experience and given him a more rounded perspective on life.

Although, to the end of his days, the Mariners will always be his main love, he still also has a loyalty to his roots,  and he  is also a fan of his boyhood club, Manchester City.

He prides himself on being calm and collected when watching televised football, but, when City clinched the 2012 Premiership title with a nail-biting 3-2 win final match of the season against QPR it was, for once, a different matter.

"I was watching the match wearing my light blue Etihad shirt at the Liberal Club," he says. "Five minutes from the final whistle, it looked like the title had slipped from City's grasp - then came those two last-gasp goals.
  
"I am not ashamed to admit it," he confesses. "I went completely barmy!"

*This article is a revised version of one that appeared in the Cleethorpes Chronicle in March last year.

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