Ray Charnley: Footballer who was Blackpool’s leading scorer for nine consecutive seasons in the Firs

Author: By Ivan Ponting

Charnley was Blackpool’s leading marksman in senior competition for nine
consecutive seasons between 1958-59 and 1966-67. Every one of those
campaigns was in the top flight and in several of them it was his goals
which effectively preserved their place among the élite.

His tally is exceeded only by Jimmy Hampson’s between the wars, when often the
club was in the second tier where goals were easier to plunder, and,
narrowly, by Stan Mortensen’s in the decade after the second global
conflict, when he was supported by a collection of stellar talents, notably
the great Stanley Matthews. True, Charnley benefited from the wing maestro’s
service for four terms, but by then Matthews, though still potent, was well
into his forties and passing his incomparable peak.

Overall then, Charnley was a gem, albeit of the rough-hewn variety. Though his
style was more practical than pretty, he was considerably less indelicate on
the ball than many of his front-running peers from that era. He was adept at
controlling long dispatches from his own defenders while fending off the
close attentions of aggressive opponents and a titan in the air. He was also
a powerful finisher who occasionally surprised even his most ardent admirers
with a shot or a pass of unexpected subtlety.

Yet for all the sterling attributes revealed in ample measure in schoolboy and
youth football, in which he sampled inside-forward and wing-half roles
before settling as an attacking spearhead, there was a time in his teens
when Charnley’s future in the professional game was in serious doubt. When
the likes of Middlesbrough, Huddersfield Town and even Blackpool expressed
interest in his talent, he was persuaded by his father to continue with his
apprenticeship as a painter and decorator.

Meanwhile, he played his football for Preston North End’s B team until it
disbanded, then Bolton-le-Sands and finally Morecambe, for whom he struck 43
goals in 53 matches, which persuaded the Seasiders to make a new approach.
By this time he was 22 and with a trade behind him, so when the Blackpool
manager Joe Smith proffered a £775 cheque to Morecambe in May 1957, Charnley
was ready to take the plunge.

At this point, Blackpool were a major footballing force, having finished
second and fourth in the old First Division in the two previous seasons, and
the newcomer, although plainly raw, was deemed promising enough to make his
debut in his first autumn at Bloomfield Road.

Initially his progress was tentative, and even after scoring twice in a 7-0
home demolition of Sunderland, which remains Blackpool’s highest winning
margin ? he looked a decent bet for a hat-trick until forced to leave the
action with a severely gashed head ? he was in and out of the team. But
after returning in a mid-term reshuffle which saw the previous No 9, Jackie
Mudie, switch to inside-right, Charnley was back to stay.

Boosted by the backing of a new manager, Ron Suart, he thrived in 1958-59,
missing a handful of games because of a broken collarbone but still striking
20 times in the League and adding six more on the way to the League Cup
quarter-finals, in which the Seasiders were beaten by Luton Town after a
replay.

Gradually Blackpool were slipping from their eminent perch of the previous
decade ? a process accelerated by the abolition of the maximum wage, which
caused relatively small-town clubs to suffer at the hands of wealthier
big-city rivals ? and in 1960-61 they relied even more heavily than usual on
Charnley’s goals, a late winner from a pinpoint Matthews cross against
fellow relegation battlers Newcastle United proving crucially important.

Charnley was rewarded with a place on the FA’s summer tour of the Far East
before finding the form of his life in 1961-62, accumulating 36 goals in 50
games ? four in the 7-2 Bloomfield Road annihilation of Wolves was
particularly memorable. Suart was quietly outraged when he continued to be
overlooked by his country.

Charnley’s international call-up finally arrived in October 1962 when he faced
France at Hillsborough in the European Nations Cup, but really the England
manager, Walter Winterbottom, might have known better than to name a forward
line containing four debutants ? the others were Mike Hellawell, Chris Crowe
and Alan Hinton ? and it was hardly surprising that they failed to gel. A
woefully poor game finished 1-1, and although Charnley did earn the penalty
by which Ron Flowers equalised, he had little chance to shine and was never
picked again.

In the famous tangerine shirt of Blackpool, however, the goals continued to
flow. He was particularly menacing when operating in tandem with the
inspirational young firebrand Alan Ball in mid-decade, after which there was
an encouraging rapport with Alan Suddick, a gifted acquisition from
Newcastle.

Charnley was versatile, too, able to deputise effectively in central defence
when the need arose, and his genial, easy-going nature increased his
popularity with the public. Once when he was omitted from the team ? he
wasn’t dropped too often, but it did happen occasionally ? when Suart
experimented with the centre-half Roy Gratrix leading the attack, Charnley
turned up on the Bloomfield Road Kop, wearing a flat cap and exchanging
banter with the fans.

By 1966-67 he was approaching the veteran stage but still managed 14 league
goals for a side which had declined so comprehensively ? despite the
presence of the evergreen full-back Jimmy Armfield and the young Emlyn
Hughes ? that it finished well adrift at the foot of the table.

By now the old Blackpool hero Mortensen was occupying the managerial seat, and
it was ironic that it should be during his watch that Charnley, his
long-term successor, should bow out of Bloomfield Road in December 1967, a
fee of £12,500 taking the 32-year-old to Preston, also languishing in the
Second Division.

Most Blackpool regulars felt that the man who had scored 222 times in his 407
appearances for their club should not have been sold, especially after he
scored against his former employers, albeit in a 4-1 defeat for North End,
only nine days after his move. However, he did not tarry long at Deepdale,
joining Fourth Division Wrexham in July 1968, then enlisting with Bradford
Park Avenue and ending his league days when the hard-up Yorkshire club was
not re-elected in 1970.

There followed a brief stint back at Morecambe before Charnley gave up the
game to concentrate on his painting and decorating business back in
Blackpool, a town he had come to love ? and where the feeling was mutual.

Raymond Ogden Charnley, footballer; born Lancaster 29 May 1935; played for
Blackpool 1957-67, Preston North End 1967-68, Wrexham 1968-69, Bradford Park
Avenue 1969; capped once by England, 1962; married 1958 (one son); died
Blackpool 15 November 2009.

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