John Russell writes of a player who made not so much as a single mark.
Over the years there must be hundreds of youngsters who have donned the famous claret and blue shirts dreaming of fame and fortune ahead. Although in the case of the story I am about to relate, fortune was the maximum allowable £20 per week at a time when the working artisan was lucky to be earning just £5 (I started work in 1956 earning just £3/10/-).
I will ignore those youngsters who appeared in claret and blue alongside Toby Jones in the BAFTA award-winning documentary Marvellous about Neil Baldwin, the kit man at Stoke City who in an act of pure sentiment was allowed to be brought on as a substitute to thunderous applause. I have scanned my old Villa News and chosen a name completely at random to describe what happened to my nominee as far as I can tell.
Well saved in the Municipal Bank.
I refer to Norman Jon Croxson from High Wycombe, who joined the playing staff, presumably meaning as a professional, on 21st August 1948 after having impressed in a private trial held earlier in the month. This took place doubtless behind closed doors at Villa Park in the ancient equivalence of a kickabout at Bodymoor Heath as Villa did not have a training ground at the time. Indeed, if it was Villa Park it may have been a rare chance for Norman to actually get to play there as we shall discover.
Norman was obviously a front five man, although critically for him never a number nine so in the days before Trevor Ford present incumbent George Edwards may never have seen him as a rival.
Boxing at the Embassy – Dick Turpin, British Middleweight Champion v Luc Van Dam, Dutch Champion.
Apart from a first and reserve eleven we currently fielded a third team in the Birmingham and District League in which Norman was obviously expected to feature, although the first mention of him comes in a 3-1 success in a friendly at Stratford on Avon described as a third team match in which he appeared alongside the likes of Reg Lowe, Roy Chapman, Larry Canning and Billy Goffin. Despite this he is not shown again amongst the listed third teams until a month later he appears at inside-right at Stoke City. Unfortunately he did not appear in a rare third team match played at Villa Park three days earlier, when we lost 1-2 to the Wolves thirds.
British Railways excursion train to Preston depart New Street 10 am fare 10/9.
He next played in a ‘home game’ at Oswestry (1-0). Home game because Villa did not have a second ground at the time and were obliged to play most of their third teams games ‘away’. It is not clear how Norman would have viewed the signing of Miller Craddock, a serious rival for his hoped-for promotion, but the departure of Duncan Harrigan to Chester may have ameliorated any adverse feelings.
England 1 (Finney) Wales 0 – at Villa Park.
Another ‘home game’ at Wellington saw Norman get on to the score sheet for the first time with the opening goal in a 2-0 triumph. Then we acquired a ground at Redditch for our third team matches, where Norman helped us draw 1-1 with Cradley Heath. This was followed by a 4-2 reverse at Lye Town, where he was partnered by Herbie Smith in a team which included Reg Lowe, Larry Canning and Keith Jones and Peter Aldis (signed a few days later). Everybody had to start (or finish) somewhere.
There was still no signs of Norman getting promotion to the reserves but he did help our promising centre-forward Bright score all four at Kidderminster (4-0).
Villa 3rds 2 Kettering Town 3 at Redditch and still no signs of Norman adding to his goal tally. Then joy of joys, Norman gets to make his Villa Park debut but only because we had a blank fixture card having been knocked out of the FA Cup in a defeat which still rankles nearly 75 years on. I should not need to remind you of the missed penalty by Welshman Trevor Ford.
Sadly there was no official Villa News for Norman to show his family his name in print, especially as he at last scored his second goal in our 3-1 win against Hereford United.
Houghton & Parkes, Gravelly Hill north for all your sports equipment.
3-3 versus Brush Sports at Redditch, the second being Norman’s third career goal after Bob Iverson had opened our account.
Then joy of joys again, Norman got to play at a big league ball park but he may wish to forget his outing at the Molineux, where Wolves scored five goals in eight second half minutes as we went down 1-6. Norman saw out the season as third team outside-right.
Redditch was obviously only intended as a temporary home and the Villa were now reduced to advertising locally for any club willing to provide more permanent facilities. As well as local towns many of the large local industrial companies had sports facilities of a very high standard for their workers (And better than St Andrews, as I can vouch for when I played there in 1966).
In the never-ending search for new talent the following season we decide to put a fourth team into the field every week as members of the Birmingham Amateur League. The famous H.P. Sauce Company agreed to allow their ground at Grange Road, Erdington to be used. Also, we agreed to take part in the Midland Midweek League which include dthe main local clubs playing on a weekday afternoon. This increased the scope for Norman to gain promotion through the ranks, or just as likely, demotion.
Bob Iverson was appointed to take charge of what was now a fourth team with George Cummings looking after the third eleven. If Norman could not impress George then his prospects looked bleak.
City of Birmingham Baths Dept – Public Dancing Saturdays – Harborne, Kings Heath, Nechells, Saltley Moseley Road.
But at least Norman was included on the Retained List; at 5ft 6 and weighing just 9 stones, he was the smallest player at the club, which in those days did not auger well. Then so it came to pass that Norman’s name does not appear in any of the team sheets for the following season. He may, of course, have been injured but more likely he had been doing his National Service.
Navy 2 Army 1 at Villa Park. Nigel Sims kept goal for the Army.
Nor did Norman survive any end of season clearout. He never did get to kiss the badge but then the shirt did not have a badge in his day. Neither is his departure recorded. His was a familiar case of dreams shattered and a return into obscurity.
This article is dedicated to those who likewise followed in his stud marks.
Just for the record, in 1949-50 we finished fourth in the Central League, 12th of 19 in the Birmingham League, 7th of 16 the Amateurs and runners-up to Hereford United in the Midweek League.