Big Bob - A Proper Hero

To coincide with the release of Bob Latchford's autobiography, the incomparable Mrs France offers some memories of the legendary striker who lit up a decade that was "an incredible adventure of disappointment and elation."

Around 1977, I realized that Evertonians had become my family not just my match-going pals but the nameless folk with whom I shared a collective intake of breath during the opening bars of Z Cars. Like most of them, my hero was Bob Latchford.

I had admired him on hundreds of occasions. But most vividly, I can recall the last time I saw Big Bob in action. The venue was the Baseball Ground. The timing was three days after we had conceded the League Cup final second replay to Aston Villa at Old Trafford. David and I thought that the game at Derby would provide an opportunity to display our steadfast loyalty before we started our new lives in the USA later that summer.

While I joined the rain-soaked queue at the turnstiles, my husband disappeared. He returned with tickets for the seated accommodation a rare treat back then. I was thrilled that we would bid farewell to Big Bob and his team-mates in comfort. Or so I thought. I recall that there was a massive turn out of Blues; however, none were in Derbys grandstand. The locals around us appeared irritated by our presence. Given their belligerent mood, we stifled our enthusiasm as the Rams dominated the early proceedings. Then it happened Bob Latchford scored. In a flash David was out his seat screaming his head off. A split-second or so later, I mirrored his behaviour. This incident sticks in my mind because the goal was disallowed and my husband was back in the anonymity of his seat while I continued to jump up and down amid a torrent of intimidation from all directions. Like a naive soul, it took me another second to comprehend that the abuse was aimed directly at me.

Some advised: Sit down me old duck! Others yelled: Shut your ugly gob! before adding references to parts of the female anatomy. Embarrassed, I smiled at my neighbours and was in the process of retaking my seat when someone screamed: That Latchford is a lazy lummox! I believe that there are times in life when you must defend the honour of your family. And this was mine. Still standing, I responded: Excuse me; I think youll soon discover that Bob Latchford is no lummox. Then I responded to a menacing individual several rows behind him: Sir, Bob is deceptively mobile. Surely, youre aware of his magnificent muscular legs! As my words reverberated around the grandstand, the Derby fans around us moved to safer seats.

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As you may recall, following Everton during the Seventies was an incredible adventure of disappointment and elation, often in the space of 90 minutes. Trailing 2-0 at half-time, we refocused and led 3-2 thanks to goals from Big Bob, Mike Pejic and Little Dunc before my hero was injured. I remained seated while Big Bob was carried off but remember celebrating McKenzies winner with the wild enthusiasm of someone who would never ever visit Derby again.

So how good was my hero? Blues who profess to know more about these things claim that he could head the ball like Dixie Dean, shoot like Tommy Lawton and walk on water like Alex Young (although they concede that Bob created some ripples). Most of his goals were scored from inside the box with little fuss. Many with his head and his feet, others via his knees, back, bum and, I seem to recall, his beard. Given that he wasnt a flashy footballer with a signature goal celebration nor did he wear florescent boots and matching gloves, collapse to the turf at a mere whiff of a defenders bad breath and struggle to comply with the basics of the Offside Law, what made him so extra-special? In simple terms, Bob had The Knack. Intuitively, he knew when to be at the right place at the right time in the penalty box to receive crosses from the likes of Dave Thomas, John Connolly, Gary Jones as well as youngsters like Ronny Goodlass and George Telfer. Yes, Big Bob was a proper No 9.

Bob's autobiography is officially launched this week by deCoubertin Books.

Even though he won zilch, my hero deserves his place among the pantheon of true Everton stars alongside title-winners Joe Royle, Graeme Sharp and Tommy Lawton but some way below the exalted Goodison Gods of Dean and Young. Old timers claim that his goal-scoring skills resembled those of young Tommy Lawton. Rich praise indeed. Certainly like the pre-war star, Bob Latchford left Goodison too early with too many goals still in his boots.

Of course, Big Bob and his team-mates were unlucky not to capture a trophy or two or perhaps even three. Ill-fated in the League how else can you explain the 1975 run-in when we collected only 3 points in the final 10 games? A stretch that included losses at home to Carlisle (who finished bottom), Luton (next to bottom) and a draw at Chelsea (also relegated). Unfortunate in the cups how else can you explain Villa stopper Chris Nicholls fluke from 40 yards out? Or the cruel assault on the outrageously gifted John Connolly by non-League cloggers from Altrincham? Or indeed, the timing of Big Bobs own injury at Derby which resulted in his absence from the semi-final clashes with Liverpool and that arrogant little man from Treorchy?

Despite his lack of gold medals, Bob was my hero a proper hero with magnificent muscular legs that could walk on water.

Click for ticket details for events around the book launch on 24th and 25th September

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Reader Comments (25)

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Brian Denton
1 Posted 21/09/2015 at 11:59:13
Elizabeth, a few years ago, I got shouted down on this site when I pointed out that many of Bob’s goals were tap-ins. My point was that his positional play and anticipation was so brilliant that I was praising him, not criticising!

He wasn’t good at one-on-ones, though. I recall one game at Villa when he was put straight through just outside the box. My friend, a Villa fan, couldn’t understand my calmness, as I knew there was next to no chance of him scoring. And so it proved!

But just look, for example, at his header against Ipswich in the 1980 Cup Quarterfinal. It wasn’t as spectacular as some of his headers, but the technique in adjusting his body shape... well, I think it would be beyond the scope of Lukaku.

Great player, great man. Pity I don’t think he ever scored against THEM, his only blemish.

Henrik Lyngsie
2 Posted 21/09/2015 at 12:30:59
I became an Everton supporter in 1977 when watching Everton beat Coventry 6-0. The match was broadcasted on Danish television and Dave Thomas and Bob Latchford became my heroes.

You state: "Most of his goals were scored from inside the box with little fuss. Many with his head and his feet, others via his knees, back, bum and, I seem to recall, his beard."

I can add that in Denmark he is known for scoring with his arm for England against Denmark. I guess in England you would claim it was not his arm!

Steve Green
3 Posted 21/09/2015 at 14:13:04
Elizabeth, I also have great memories of that very day. Having been to Old Trafford on the Wednesday and having the joyous and moral stuffing well and truly knocked out of me, Derby on the Saturday was the perfect opportunity to show our loyalty and an antedote to the low mood.

My mate's dad was taking delivery of a new mobile home that day and it was decided to give it a run out to Derby to put it through it’s paces and driver acclimatisation. Trouble was... he never got back to Bootle with the vehicle til 11:20.

It was decided we would still proceed with the journey. Scarfs flying out of the windows off we set for the M62. Long old journey, more awkward route than expected and a mobile home’s average speed capabilities, compared with the usual orange Hillman Avenger Estate’s, not being factored in... we rolled up at the baseball ground at 3:30.

Negotiations took place to even get us in and then the bad news, we were already getting beat. I think it was 2-0 by that point but it was certainly 2-0 by half-time.

Then the comeback and the slow return was made much sweeter and the mobile home was our new lucky mascot. Well that was until April when two trips to Maine Road in 4 days filled with 11 blues and 1 red meant that it lost its newly acquired status.

Happy days! And yes, Big Bob was my hero too, first one since Bally.

Bill Griffiths
4 Posted 21/09/2015 at 15:09:57
I idolised Big Bob during the seventies and still regard him as a true Everton Legend. I wish Big Rom had half his finishing ability.

I met him once along with Gary Stanley and Dai Davies when they appeared at a fete held in the Monastery at Pantasaph. They posed for a photograph with me and my few-months-old son who decided to dribble milk all down the lapel of Big Bob’s suit.

John Hughes
5 Posted 21/09/2015 at 15:41:38
Elizabeth, I remember the time I took my wife in the Upper Gwladys; Big Bob could not do anything right for two mouthy know-it-alls sitting in front of us.

All of a sudden, the missus taps one on shoulder and says "If he’s no good and you're so good, why are you up here and he’s down there on the pitch?"

No answer and quietness for the rest of the game. Also she said afterwards, "And he’s got thighs like Johnny Morrissey." She was right there as well.

Denis Byrne
7 Posted 21/09/2015 at 16:23:16
A wonderful article, Elizabeth, and your bravery is an shining example to us all (to be avoided).

I was at Swansea University when Big Bob was playing for them (with Neil Robinson) and lived close by his house. Several times I was filling up my lemonade bottles with portable sherry from the local shop when Bob came in to collect his newspaper, and I would just stand there staring at him, gob-smacked. He offered a little grin which was stardust for me.

As you suggest, it was one of tragedies of the '70s that Bob and that team didn’t win the title and receive due recognition for what a fine team they were.

[And... what other fan sites provide the opportunity communicate with a true heroine? Thank you, Elizabeth.]

Thomas Lennon
8 Posted 21/09/2015 at 16:37:59
My memory is of a game during the 30 goal season (away, I think) when we must have been winning as the entire opposing team were in our half on a heavy pitch.

Dave Thomas broke down the left and could easily have cut in and had a shot himself but possibly from sheer force of habit raced to the byline and crossed for Latchford. Deadly-from-half-a-yard must have been light on his feet as there he was on the penalty spot to meet the cross for a goal.

I can't actually remember if he scored with his head or right foot...
Happy days

Patrick Murphy
9 Posted 21/09/2015 at 16:57:03
Thomas (6) that goal on the muddy pitch was from the 1974-75 season when Everton went top of the table thanks to Latchford’s winner. During the 30-goal season, Everton beat Derby 1-0 at the Baseball Ground thanks to a late winner from Mike Lyons who scored following the re-start after the floodlights failed; a game I hadn’t remembered until I searched for the 3-2 game that Elizabeth recounts so vividly in the OP.

Many happy days at the Baseball Ground but some bad ones as well including a 2-1 reverse in the FA Cup 3rd round in 1976.

Derby 1978
Derby 1974

Graham Mockford
10 Posted 21/09/2015 at 18:00:09
My favourite Bob memory was the 5-1 away win at QPR in 1977. Bob scored four in his inimitable style ie without ever getting above a gentle jog. But he possessed great positional sense and was a great header of the ball.

It was the main game on The Big Match and if my memory serves me right once Kick Off had played the highlights of the North West regional game they then showed highlights of other regional games. Imagine that kids, not all games were televised and ITV ran separate regional football highlight shows.

There’s plenty of other TV gold in this one also.

Brian Moore’s unbelievably dated commentary.

The classic Umbro yellow away kit where no one seemed to mind we didn’t have Prince Rupert’s Tower and a simple EFC sufficed.

Martin Dobson looking like he would be as good in this day and age as he was then.

Phil Parkes an incredible head of hair only controlled by a copious spraying of Cossack for Men.

I tell you what nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Hugh Jenkins
11 Posted 21/09/2015 at 18:39:32
Strangely, my abiding memory of Big Bob is as a Swansea player.

Bought by Toshack, when he took Swansea into the old Division 1 for the first time in their history, on the opening day of the season in 1981, he put 3 past Leeds United (who were relegated that season), someone else scored a fourth, but I can’t remember who that wa, it may also have been big Bob, but I can’t remember.

I was starting a two week holiday in Torquay and was listening on the radio with my father-in-law, who was a huge "Swans" fan.

Happy days; my son, who is a huge blue and now contributes regularly on TW, was also listening, but he was only two-and-a-half at the time and was more interested then in Kermit the Frog.

Patrick Murphy
12 Posted 21/09/2015 at 18:44:11
Hugh, here is a short video of that very day:

Swansea Latchford

Peter Mills
13 Posted 21/09/2015 at 18:58:18
In over 50 years of watching Everton, only once have I said "That's it, I'm not going any more". It was the day we signed Bob, and I was heartbroken that my hero, Howard Kendall, was leaving. My dad said "Don't be so soft, you'll be chanting Latchford's name in a couple of weeks time". As usual, he was right.

Great memories of watching Bob, especially that day I was in the crowd alongside an unknown-to-me Graham Mockford at Loftus Road!

Dave Ganley
14 Posted 21/09/2015 at 21:37:25
Thanks for the memories, Elizabeth. I was only a kid when Latch first signed so he automatically became my first bona fide hero. This coincided when my dad first started taking me to Goodison. The sight of Dave Thomas tearing down the wing to the byline, crossing and the Latch scores. It was almost monotonous in its wonderful predictability.

My best memory of the Latch in action was as someone else has said, the annihilation of Coventry in the league 6-0. I think we were near the top of the league at the time and that performance was a wonderful example of great wing play and a striker who was in his pomp.

Latch was never somebody who would break sweat all over the pitch but when presented with a chance in the area there was no-one better. I was absolutely heartbroken when he left. No amount of explanations could console an inconsolable young boy whose hero was unforgivably snatched away to Wales.

As you say it was just a crying shame that team never won anything. It was a team that entertained and could always get a goal through Big Bobby Latchford if no one else. He will always be my hero.

Peter Bell
15 Posted 21/09/2015 at 21:46:26
Big Bob was my hero as a kid, and he did score against the RS, on his first ever appearance for Swansea at Anfield, the week Shankly passed away.
Hugh Jenkins
16 Posted 22/09/2015 at 06:42:21
Patrick (#12) - Many thanks for that.

It's strange how memory plays tricks over the years.

If anyone had asked me, I would have said the score was 4-0 - Latchford hat-trick and AN Other.

Seeing the video after all these years, it was 5-1 and I now know it was Jeremy Charles and Alan Curtis that got the other goals for the "Swans".

Pete Jones
17 Posted 22/09/2015 at 10:41:33
This triggers so many memories of that period; a great read. Thanks Elizabeth.
Dave Abrahams
18 Posted 22/09/2015 at 11:11:22
Me and my son met him at an Aston Villa v Everton game after he had retired. I think he was working for Ladbrokes. Nice easy-going fella who talked to us for about half-an-hour (when he could get a word in). No airs and graces, just the same as us; it was a pleasure meeting and talking to him.
James Hughes
19 Posted 22/09/2015 at 17:09:04
A great player IMO and reflects the days when we spent big as he was the most expensive player at the time.

Me and my mates would practice his diving headers in the park, without getting whacked by defenders obviously. His main supplier Dave Thomas was only autograph I have ever asked for. So for me good memories even with the lack of silverware.

Andrew Clare
20 Posted 22/09/2015 at 17:48:21
I remember playing QPR at Goodison in 1975 and the game was edging towards a 1-1 draw when Bob went up for a cross with Phil Parkes the QPR goalkeeper who was at full stretch and Bob leapt higher and headed home.

A great goal scorer.... I wish he was playing for us now.

Paul Wharton
21 Posted 22/09/2015 at 18:38:32
A great article on big Bob; however, not too late to come along to Goodison Park this Friday, 7:30 for 8pm... 3 course meal and signed hardback copy of the new book £55.
Joining Bob will be Dobbo, Telfer, Mountfield, McNaught and Dave Thomas.

Tony Draper
22 Posted 22/09/2015 at 23:51:56
Elizabeth, no true Evertonian could possibly ask for anything finer. An article by you upon Bob Latchford.

You both walk on water so far as I'm concerned.

Neil Quinn
23 Posted 23/09/2015 at 10:03:27
Anybody remember the 8-0 victory over Wimbledon in the League Cup? Latch scored five & Martin Dobson weighed in with a hat-trick. Great days, even though we won nothing.
Ian Jones
24 Posted 24/09/2015 at 08:38:37
Graham @10 and Peter @13.

I was also at the QPR game away in 1977. Haven’t checked Graham’s link but if it is the one I think it is, I appear right at the end as the players are going off the pitch down the ’tunnel’. Blond hair. A lot of it. Well it was the 70s. 13 years old at the time.

Games against QPR were always high scoring. 4-nil wins as well as losing 5-something in the days of Gerry Francis and Stan Bowles.

Dave Thomas. One of the best crossers of a ball. Helps with someone on the end of them.

Anybody remember Latchford shaving off his beard and TV making big deal of it?

Peter Mills
25 Posted 25/09/2015 at 02:22:19
I’m just home at 2:00am after a slightly extended evening listening to Bob at the Epstein Theatre, talking with James Corbett about the process of ghosting his autobiography, and generally reminiscing about a very particular era in our history.

Latch produced some goals that will stay with me and many others forever, wonderful moments irrespective of whether they produced trophies. Just great moments of sheer joy. Thanks Bob, what a centre forward and what a thoroughly decent, modest man.

Peter Mills
26 Posted 26/09/2015 at 09:02:55
Another late night yesterday, having attended the Everton Heritage Society dinner in Bob's honour at Goodison. It was very good to meet Rob Sawyer who posts such well researched articles on this site, to listen to Paul Wharton explain some of the tremendous work carried out by the Society, and of course to hear more from Bob.

The highlight for me was having a lengthy chat with Dave Thomas. What another pleasant, unassuming guy. We only talked a little about football, concentrating rather more on Dave's eyesight, his peripheral vision has deteriorated quite badly - how sad for a man who could run full pelt down the wing, get to the by-line and cut the ball backwards into the 6 yard box, all apparently without looking.

He was extremely positive, telling me his condition has not spoiled his passion for gardening, and seemingly looking forward to the days when he may need the assistance of a guide dog. As someone who has the early stages of the same condition it was a lesson to me in having the right attitude.

Because of his poor vision Dave is no longer fit to drive, which clearly presented a challenge to him attending the dinner he was so keen to be at. The problem was solved simply by Paul Wharton driving up to the north east of England to collect him, and he will take him home tomorrow! Is there any other club that has supporters like this? No wonder Ken McNaught said "I won the European Cup at Villa, but THIS is my club".

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