John Connolly in conversation with Rob Sawyer
The mention of John Connolly to Evertonians of a certain age may prompt a rendition of “John Connolly, John Connolly, the winger to watch”. The subject of the song, a fleet-footed “leftie”, was drafted in to replace 60s stalwart Johnny Morrissey. Harry Catterick, still recuperating from a heart attack, headed north to capture his services in March 1972 – just in time to lend his vocal talents to the recording of “Forever Everton”!
John’s all-out attacking play was a rare beacon in the twilight of the Catterick era and led to a Scotland call-up. Sadly a horrific run of injuries hastened his departure to the West Midlands after 116 appearances, but no lesser Everton connoisseur than David France rates Connolly as one of Goodison’s most skillful entertainers – why? – “because he left defenders on their bottoms”.
It was a pleasure to speak with John, now living in Ayrshire, and reflect upon his career:
As a youngster I was playing for Glasgow United, one of many boys clubs in the city at the time, it was tough football but with a lot of quality. Rangers and Celtic fed off all these juvenile clubs – Alex Ferguson played for Drumchapel Amateurs and they developed a lot of big players in English football; take Leeds, for example, with the likes of Bremner, Gray and Lorimer. At the time, United was one of the up and coming boys clubs and for a few weeks the strike-force was Kenny Dalglish and John Connolly – now he’s a multi-millionaire and I’m in poverty!
I was invited for trials at 3 or 4 clubs, eventually choosing St Johnstone, and it kicked on from there. I played under Willie Ormond at St Johnstone, for Scotland and he signed me later at Hibs, so obviously I had a lot of time for him; he had been a great player himself at Hibs. There was very little tactics in the game at the time – it was more a case of having respect for him and his ability to motivate players – now football is so tactical, it’s frightening.
St Johnstone came third in the league and played in Europe which, for a provisional club, is fantastic. The biggest game in our history was beating Hamburg 3-0 at home in a Uefa Cup tie – it was probably my best performance for the team. I was there 4½ years and loved playing there, I played as a central striker and scored about 55 goals in 110 games.
At Muirton Park, I had become a Scotland Under-23 player, and was getting a lot of publicity as an emerging talent, so scouts were coming up to watch. Malcolm Allison came up three or four times and I was invited down to Tottenham by Bill Nicholson to watch a game there. Rangers made a bid of £40,000 but Everton came in with a bid of £70,000 in March 1972 so that was that. I was whipped away down South to meet Harry Catterick and Harry Cooke in Carlisle – I actually locked my wife out of the house, it was that quick.
When we moved to down we were put up in the Lord Nelson Hotel near Lime Street station – John Toshack was staying there too.
My first Everton game was against Leicester City at home and I played up front as Joe Royle was injured – it was 0-0. Up in Scotland, we played a 4-2-4 system but when I came down to Everton they played 4-3-3 with Johnny Husband, Johnny Morrissey and Big Joe Royle up front. For the rest of my career, I played on the left wing, replacing Johnny. I never really hankered to get back to play up front – to play up front in the English league, you had to be big and physical.
My game was all about “give me the ball and I’ll have a go at the defender”, using close control on my left foot; I was quite old-fashioned in that I liked to try and go past people and get the ball into the box for Joe.
In my first full season I played nearly every game and thoroughly enjoyed it – I played about 112 games for the club in all. I got one full cap for Scotland in 1973 in Switzerland and was on the bench for a game against Brazil at Hampden. I scored some goals with my head and on my right peg; in fact I did play one season mainly on the right wing – I used to cut in to try and shoot. Even in the modern game, some guys at the top level now are all one foot and I think that you should at least be able to cross the ball with your weaker foot.
In January 1975 I suffered a double leg break in an FA Cup game against Altrincham – it was a dreadful tackle. We were flying at the time – top of the league and 4-5 points clear when it was only 2 points for a win. My claim to fame is that, if I hadn’t have got injured, we would have won the league! We were very unlucky not to win the Championship – we had a lot of quality players at that time but in fairness so did Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester United.
The injury was a bad blow to me – Billy Bingham and I had our run-ins but with hindsight I was very impatient. Up until the leg-break, we got on fine but afterwards I wanted to be back in the team, yet he was right to hold me back.
After 8 months we went on a pre-season tour to Germany and Holland. I played against Kaiserslautern and felt that I’d done really well; then in the next game in Deventer a guy wrapped both leg rounds me – I have never been tackled like that before – and broke my leg in the same place. Clearly the leg wasn’t ready to take that pressure so I must have tried to get back to soon.
That break took another 5-6 months to recover – Dave Jones and I trained a lot together to keep each other going. I don’t think I ever reached the heights of the form I had before the breaks – I was too impatient and didn’t sit-down and think “I’ve had two breaks in a year; it could take 2-3 years to get through this.” Although agents are maligned today, I think if I’d had a mentor, he could have told me that it would take longer to recover than I thought.
My first full game back was against Sheffield United and I played intermittently after that so I was getting fed up – like every player, you think you should be in the team. Funnily enough, I told Billy that I wasn’t happy but he said he wanted to keep me. Then I walked in one Friday, ready to tell Billy that I’d decided to stay at the club, and he said that he’d had an offer from Birmingham City. Howard Kendall was a great pal of mine, how he never played for England I’ll never know. He was at Birmingham by then and had put in a word about me with the manager Willie Bell.
Nothing against Birmingham but the biggest regret in my career is that I didn’t stay at Everton – they were, and still are, a massive club. Everything about the club and where we lived was great but my impatience took me to Birmingham – I should have stuck to my guns with Billy. All through my life I have always thought the grass is greener somewhere else – I sometimes feel sorry for my wife of 40 years who followed me wherever I went. We have lived in some lovely areas like Formby – I could quite happily have lived there for the rest of my life. On my gravestone I should have inscribed “Never happy and too opinionated”!
As I got older, injuries took a toll; every year I’d be missing maybe half a season and that drags you back and you start to lose a wee bit of pace – the guys that go through year after year without major injuries are very lucky. I was knocking it past players and the tackles were flying in so I was liable to pick up injuries. You would be up against players like Trevor Cherry and Ron Harris who didn’t mess about and let you know about it “early doors”.
Willie Ormond took me back up to Scotland with Hibs after I’d had two seasons at Newcastle. After that, I did a bit of non-league stuff player-wise and in management at Gateshead and Blythe Spartans. Funnily, I played with Jim Pearson ar Gateshead and before that at St Johnstone, Everton and Newcastle – I could not shake him off! We had a golf day at Formby Hall a couple of years ago and he even ended up rooming with me there, so people are beginning to talk!
As well as playing and managing, I also worked for Vaux Breweries and later for Golf Monthly as an advertising sales manager. I then moved up to Queen of the South as manager where we won the Challenge Cup and the Second Division title then I moved back to manage St Johnstone.
Now I work for the SPL as a match delegate – I’m basically observing and speaking to the match commander, referee and team managers then send a report to the SPL. I also work for The Scouting Network, a company with a database of players throughout the world which various clubs buy access to. I’ve not been down to Goodison Park for a couple of years now but I know that the invitation is always there; I need to get down for the weekend with my wife and sneak in a game!
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754 Posted 29/04/2013 at 18:21:57
Little things like that when you are a 10 yr old at Goodison stay with you for ever.
764 Posted 29/04/2013 at 18:49:01
766 Posted 29/04/2013 at 18:49:18
I can just about remember him but I think John was in a Newcastle shirt when I last saw him. The picture above surprised me.I never knew he had teeth as all the pictures we had of him featured a bearded gap!
768 Posted 29/04/2013 at 19:03:03
Ah well those were the days when wingers were in the team to produce crosses and score goals and full-backs were down to stop them by fair means or foul.
771 Posted 29/04/2013 at 19:07:47
780 Posted 29/04/2013 at 19:23:18
These articles are great as they bring back fantastic memories of early match going. We played some great football without winning trophies in the mid 70s.
Aside the John Connelly song was based on the John Collier clothes store if I am not mistaken, a staple for Birmingham bags and parka's. Great stuff.
849 Posted 29/04/2013 at 21:25:11
854 Posted 29/04/2013 at 21:41:20
865 Posted 29/04/2013 at 21:54:00
Monday morning I went to school. We always had a double Games last thing in the afternoon. Well, this time we were taken by a new guy, a student teacher who had just started that day. Guess who it was? Yup, the man who broke Connolly's leg! Worst thing was, we had to call him "Sir" and "Mr Whateverhisnamewas". As you can imagine, the Blues amongst us were not best pleased! He put us through some fairly simple football routines - as I recall, he did not tutor us in the art of hideous fouling.
I remember Connolly as the type of skillful wingman who perfectly suited the adjective "nifty". A good player, no question.
Another excellent article, Rob - thanks a million.
892 Posted 30/04/2013 at 01:07:35
It was in this game when our Johnny Connolly had his leg broken and was taken off on a stretcher. It was about 1973 or 4. I know coz I was there.
902 Posted 30/04/2013 at 02:40:35
953 Posted 30/04/2013 at 09:37:07
014 Posted 30/04/2013 at 13:28:39
It rermains to this day, THE most impressive performance I have seen from an Everton team.
We were just perfect and played them off the park from start to finish.
As a mad-keen 17 year old, I thought we'd go on and storm the league.
023 Posted 30/04/2013 at 13:44:03
241 Posted 30/04/2013 at 22:10:19
260 Posted 30/04/2013 at 23:23:11
266 Posted 30/04/2013 at 23:53:10
I went to both games, maybe I was young, maybe I had started plying or even playing with the beer, but I can not remember any aspect of either game other than standing petrified in the left side of the Stretford end as battles were had all around me. Terrifying .
In the days of my friend we took the Stretford end.....
Back on thread, a great player and one to enjoy our respect.
271 Posted 01/05/2013 at 00:08:45
While I was in the family home back there in Park Road, someone used said scarf as toilet paper right there in front of his brother.
Flipping heck, just reminds me that I have been going to Everton for 40 years now. Economic reality has finally caught up with me and I can not renew next season, last game will be tough, think I will be blinking a lot and pretending that I have something in my eyes.
272 Posted 01/05/2013 at 00:22:55
274 Posted 01/05/2013 at 00:24:07
We are evii
You're going home in a fucking ambulance
You'll never make the station
You're gonna get your fucking heads kicked in
and, altogether now
I'm a bone-legged chicken and a knock-kneeed hen
I haven't been wanked since I don't know when
I walk with a wiggle and I walk with a squawk
Doin the Everton bootwalk.
276 Posted 01/05/2013 at 00:35:31
285 Posted 01/05/2013 at 02:20:18
290 Posted 01/05/2013 at 05:26:41
296 Posted 01/05/2013 at 07:31:21
The cock of the north
We hate man united
And city of course
We only drink whisky
And bottles of brown
The Everton boys are in town
308 Posted 01/05/2013 at 08:22:24
311 Posted 01/05/2013 at 08:59:08
A fairly accurate description for people who were also proclaiming that although they didn't hold with carrying hammers or lead, they weren't against carrying hatchets to bury in your head.
312 Posted 01/05/2013 at 08:55:08
320 Posted 01/05/2013 at 09:35:28
329 Posted 01/05/2013 at 10:00:59
I still think my idea for a song - "We are Evii, from the planet Ev" - is pretty good. Maybe we could start singing it from now on? I'll drop it into a match-day thread and see if any of the lads join in. Not sure what tune it should be sung to. Possibly by Glory Box by Portishead.
Eugene - there was no need for me to click on that link as I am well acquainted with the alien-scientist-alt-rock experiment that was Devo. "De-evolution" with a beat, as I recall. It was around this time (1977/78) that I decided to forsake Goodison and stop playing football altogether to focus on hanging around in Erics and reading Penguin Modern Classics while smoking French cigarettes. Ah, the foolishness of youth...
349 Posted 01/05/2013 at 11:10:50
496 Posted 01/05/2013 at 19:05:32
What was funny though was that we were at Sale Grammar School at the time and I used to take a spray can and a wide variety of felt pens (for more intricate, inaccessible places), with me everywhere, so the whole town was festooned with Everton graffiti.
Every time I left the house, I left a trail of spray paint destruction in my wake. I was an absolute Everton fanatic and lived, eat, slept, dreamed and day-dreamed about my team 24/7. I was completely obsessed and to some extent, still am.
I remember once being at the bus stop with my mother, with more EFC murals than Banksy could have managed up and down the main road (Old Trafford was only three miles away) and she remarked how much like my writing that 'other' Everton fan's was. I changed the style of one or two letters immediately afterwards to avoid detection!
However, it couldn't last.
I committed the transgression of unwittingly spraying 'EFC Rule' next to a Man United slogan written by Herbie Heywood, the town's big 'skin' and feared Stretford-ender. Next day it was the talk of the school - I was on his list and he was looking for me.
Thankfully, he never found me, although I did return home from a game one Saturday, to find a deathly silence around the house and underwent a barrage of questions about who on earth could possibly have sprayed 'Everton are shit' across our gates that afternoon.
I pleaded ignorance and think I got away with it.
Truth was, we really were shit then, but no-one could have loved their team more.
John Connolly was a brief glint of hope, but it took another decade before those hopes were realised. It was worth the wait though.
775 Posted 03/05/2013 at 08:54:37
094 Posted 04/05/2013 at 09:58:07
I cringe still.
161 Posted 04/05/2013 at 15:09:27
201 Posted 04/05/2013 at 18:25:22
263 Posted 05/05/2013 at 07:00:51
307 Posted 05/05/2013 at 10:57:45
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