Writer: Peverell Green
Date:Monday June 23 2014
It's back to the post-war period to take a look at the career of Gordon Astall.
GORDON ASTALL - Born 22nd September 1927 Horwich, Nr Bolton, Lancashire.
Gordon had unsuccessful trials with local club Bolton before he joined the Royal Marines near the end of the war. Fortunately his unit was based in Plymouth and he was spotted playing as a right winger for the Marines football team playing local league football. He was also playing amateur football for Southampton when in November 1947 he was offered a professional contract by Argyle manager Jimmy Rae.
Gordon was twenty when he signed for Argyle and had a physique that had been developed by his Marine training, it gave both speed and power, he used the speed to put the ball past a defender than race past him to deliver a pin point cross, he also had a ferocious shot and was nicknamed cannonball by the fans, as an extra bonus his upper body strength enabled him to put throw in into the opposition penalty area making him one of the first long throw specialists.
He made his first team debut on 14th February 1948 in a 3-1 defeat at home to Luton with Ernie Edds scoring for Argyle. His first goal came a month later in another home defeat this time 2-1 against Chesterfield.
Gordon scored the first Argyle goal of the 1948-49 season but unfortunately it came in another 2-1 home defeat, this time to Southampton.
He finally scored in a winning game two weeks later when Gordon scored the third goal in a 3-0 win at home to Bradford Park Avenue after Ernie Edds and Bill Strauss had got the first two. His first goals away from Home Park came in a 2-1 win at Lincoln when he scored both of the goals.
The following Saturday he was on the scoresheet again this time in a 3-2 win at home to Sheffield Wednesday, he got the first goal with Ernie Edds and Maurice Tadman also scoring.
1949-50 wasn't a good one for both Gordon and Argyle. He only made eleven appearances with Manager Jimmy Rae preferring to use Bill Strauss as a right winger. Unfortunately it wasn't a tactic that worked with Argyle finishing 21st and along with Bradford Park Avenue were relegated.
For the first time in twenty years they were back in Division 3 South, although Bill did finish the season as leading goalscorer with ten goals.
With Bill Strauss now 34, Gordon once again became the first choice right winger with a young Alex Govan playing on the other wing, between them they began to terrify opposition defenders with George Dews and Maurice Tadman as the main beneficiaries who between them would score 46 goals, two more than the whole team had scored the previous season.
Gordon scored his first of the season on Boxing Day in as 2-0 win at home to Bristol City in front of a crowd of 26,306, Argyle's biggest crowd of the season, with George Dews scoring the second goal. After waiting four months to get his first goal he quickly followed that one up by scoring in the next two home games.
His next came in a 3-1 win over Watford with Neil Dougall and Maurice Tadman also scoring, he then got the second in a 2-0 win over Southend after Maurice had opened the scoring. Gordon`s next goal came on Good Friday in a 1-1 draw at Millwall.
He then scored the following Saturday when he got the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace.
On 9th April both of Argyle flying wingers scored in a 4-1 win at home to Northampton with Maurice Tadman and Harold Dobbie also on the scoresheet. Gordon scored his seventh goal of the season at the end of April in a 3-1 win at Northampton with the two wingers, Gordon and Alex Govan both scoring with George Dews scoring his twentieth of the season.
With only one defeat in the last twelve games Argyle fans were looking forward to the 1951-52 season with high expectations. Despite an opening day 1-0 defeat at Leyton Orient Argyle then won the next six games and later in the season put together an eight game winning run.
Gordon scored consistently throughout the season, ending up with more goals than he had scored in the previous four seasons put together. His first came in the opening home game, a 5-0 win over Crystal Palace with George Dews (2), Bill Strauss and Peter Rattray all scoring. He scored again in the next game as well, a 3-0 win at home to Walsall with Maurice Tadman scoring twice.
Three weeks later Gordon scored the first goal in a 3-1 win at Watford with Alex Govan and Maurice Tadman also on the scoresheet. Both wingers scored again in a 3-0 win at home to Port Vale with Peter Rattray getting the third.
In late October Gordon scored twice in a 3-2 win at home to Reading with George Dews also scoring.
The following Saturday two goals from Maurice Tadman and one from Gordon saw Argyle get a point in a 3-3 draw at Newport. Argyle easily beat Millwall in their second 5-0 win of the season with Gordon, Peter Rattray, Maurice Tadman, George Dews and Alex Govan, the complete forward line, all scoring.
The next match was another high scoring game, this time 4-2 at home to Gillingham, Peter Rattray scored twice and Gordon and Neil Dougall getting one each.
In mid-January Gordon scored twice in a 3-1 win at home to Norwich with George Dews scoring the third. Three days later, also at Home Park, Argyle beat Watford 3-1 thanks to two goals from Maurice Tadman and one from Gordon.
He scored the first goal three weeks later in a 3-0 win at home to Swindon with George Dews and Maurice Tadman both scoring.
Gordon's next goal came in yet another 5-0 home win, this time Newport were the victims, both Gordon and Maurice Tadman scored twice with George Dews scoring the fifth. Four days later Argyle beat Leyton Orient 3-0 with Gordon, Peter Rattray and Maurice Tadman scoring the goals.
In the next home game Bournemouth were comfortably beaten 4-1 with George Dews (2), Gordon and Alex Govan all scoring. In the next home game a crowd of 31,755, Argyle's biggest gate of the season packed Home Park to watch a 2-2 draw with Brighton.
Argyle played Brighton again two weeks later with the Greens winning 3-2 with goals from George Dews, Alex Govan and Gordon securing the points. It was Gordon's eighteenth goal of the season.
Argyle finished the season as champions, beating Reading to promotion by five points and scoring a club equalling record of 107 goals.
As a reward for his excellent season Gordon was selected to play for England 'B' in a game against their French counterparts on 22nd May at Le Havre. For a player from Division 3 this was a rare honour. Unfortunately the game ended in a 7-1 win for the French Espoirs with West Brom's Ray Barlow scoring the lone England goal.
Being back in Division 2 didn't stop Gordon getting goals, scoring three in the first five games. He scored the third goal in a 3-2 win at Southampton in the first away game with Maurice Tadman scoring twice.
In the reverse fixture a week later Argyle again beat the Saints, this time 3-1 with Gordon, Alex Govan and Arthur Smith all scoring. Three days later he scored again, this time against Sheffield United 5-2, an excellent result as the Blades would finish the season as champions, goals from Arthur Smith (2), Alex Govan, Gordon and George Willis ensured Argyle's unbeaten start to the season continued.
In mid-October Barnsley were beaten 3-0 at Oakwell with George Dews, an own goal and Gordon all scoring.
In the next away game Gordon scored the goal to beat Hull 1-0 and the following Saturday scored the first goal in a 3-1 win at home to Blackburn with Alex Govan and Maurice Tadman both scoring. His next came in the third round of the FA Cup in a 4-1 win at home to Coventry, with goals from George Dews, Arthur Smith, Gordon and Alex Govan easily seeing them into the next round. Barnsley came to Home Park at the end of February only to be easily beaten 4-0 with Gordon (2), Alex Govan and Maurice Tadman all on the scoresheet. Another 4-0 win, this time at Notts County again saw Gordon on the scoresheet, along with Alex Govan (2) and Maurice Tadman.
Gordon's eleventh goal of the season came in early April in a 2-2 draw at home to Notts County, with a rare Jack Chisolm goal saving a point for Argyle who finished the season in fourth place, still the best end of season position to date.
1953-54 saw a breakup of the championship winning team of two years ago. Alex Govan had already left to join Birmingham and after only thirteen games of the season the Midlanders returned with a bid of £14,000 for Gordon, he scored in his final game, a 4-0 win at home to Everton with Gordon, Sammy McCrory, Eric Davis and Ernie Edds getting the goals.
While at the club Gordon made 194 appearances and scored 43 goals.
At the end of the 1954-55 season Birmingham, with Gordon and Alex playing a large part, finished the season as champions and were promoted to Division 1 (Premiership). The following season they reached the FA Cup Final but were beaten 3-1 by Manchester City. Shortly after the cup final Gordon was twice selected to play for England in the first game on 20th May 1956 England beat Finland 5-1 in Helsinki with Gordon scoring the third goal after 29 minutes.
Six days later he won his second cap when England beat World Cup holder Germany 3-1 in Berlin.
In 1960 Birmingham reached the final of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup only to be beaten 4-1 on aggregate by Barcelona. At the end of the 1960-61 season Gordon was given a free transfer and after making 271 appearances scoring 67 goals he left to return to the Westcountry to join Torquay.
Ironically Birmingham had thrashed Torquay in the third round on their way to the final in 1956.
Gordon made his Torquay debut in a 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace, and that was pretty much how there season continued.
A 4-2 defeat at Barnsley on the last game of the season, despite Gordon scoring ten goals from 27 appearances, was enough to relegate Torquay to the fourth division.
After only playing six games the following season Gordon decided it was time to bring an end to his football career and he retired from the game.
He continued to live in Torquay, working in insurance, he still retained a football link by coaching local club Upton Vale FC.
As far as I know 86 year old Gordon, who was a keen golfer, is still living in Torbay.
Date:Monday June 23 2014
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