2020 - A challenging year that saw sad passing of Whitby Town legends

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, and there has been more of a tinge of sadness in the fact Whitby Town have had to say goodbye to not one, but two of their FA Amateur Cup heroes, as well as other former stars and supporters.

By Paul Connolly
Thursday, 1st April 2021, 1:50 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st April 2021, 2:38 pm
BLUES LEGEND: Barrie Geldart sadly passed away last year

One such loss was that of club legend, and all-round footballing legend, Barrie Geldart.

Barrie, a Thornaby lad born in 1932, was a keen amateur footballer, who, in the early days of his career, signed forms with Aston Villa before joining Middlesbrough upon being demobbed from the RAF, with whom he completed his national service, between 1950 and 1952.

It was leaving Middlesbrough, however, that would start a love affair with Whitby Town that would see him return to the Turnbull Ground on a number of occasions - with the final spell defining his career as an amateur footballer under Bill Jeffs’ stewardship.

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His Whitby Town affinity started on the right foot too, with a 5-2 win over Shildon, before he netted his first goal a week later in an 8-2 win over Willington. However, his chances turned out to be limited as the season played out, appearing just 11 times, although he would be called up to the North Riding FA’s squad to face Durham’s FA.

Only four more appearances the following season meant that the outside-right departed the Turnbull Ground for Evenwood Town, where he would spend five seasons.

It was 1957 before Geldart returned to pull on a Whitby Town shirt again, when he returned to the Turnbull Ground from Willington in the early part of the season, going on to score 17 goals and forming a key part of Whitby’s attack. And though the goals dried up somewhat the following season - Barrie netting five - he continued to contribute with several assists.

This time around, the outside right stayed for another season, though found himself again heading to Evenwood Town to ply his trade, returning again to the Turnbull Ground later in the 1960/61 season, the lure of Bill Jeffs proving too much.

And it was Jeffs who saw the real potential of Geldart as a man of knowledge within the game. The Whitby selection committee went with the outside-right in 37 of the clubs 39 games in the 1961/62 season; featuring the 39 across the following campaign.

However, Jeffs knew he could get more from Geldart - and that wasn’t on the field.

The 1963/64 season saw him become the Whitby coach’s assistant, and the Seasiders went from strength to strength, reaching the FA Amateur Cup quarter-final - a feat unheard of for a club of Whitby Town’s size and stature.

They would go on to win the Northern League Cup too. But that was just the beginning.

Buoyed by missing out the previous season, Whitby were out to prove a point to the nation - that they could mix it with the big boys in the amateur game.

They were a side built without fear, with ability, and with the right attributes to make an assault on the competition in which they’d shocked so many in the past.

League matters saw to themselves - the Blues performed strongly, finishing fourth the Northern League, but it was the Amateur Cup that their sights were firmly on.

Over the course of the season, Whitby played seven games in the competition - Barrie featured in all seven, even scoring on two occasions - against Moor Green in the opening round, and Oxford City in the third.

By the time the semi-finals came around, Whitby found themselves pitted against their old enemy from the year before - Enfield - to be played at Sunderland’s Roker Park - which was recalled fondly by Barrie’s wife Ann, when his ashes were scattered at the Turnbull Ground.

Whitby fought their way to a 2-1 win over the London side, with the players - Barrie in particular - in disbelief at their heroics. “I can’t believe we’re going to Wembley”, the reply from the wives was simple: “you better believe it”. Whitby had done what many would think impossible for a tiny club on the North Yorkshire coast. They were going to play at the national stadium.

And it was Hendon they would face - a team littered with England Amateur internationals. As a club, there was nothing new about Wembley to them. They’d been Amateur Cup finalists in the past. This was nothing new to them.

His final appearance for the club came against Scarborough in the North Riding Senior Cup final - and what a way to bow out. Geldart opened the scoring against the old enemy, before putting one on a plate for Jimmy Mulvanney ahead of half-time.

Mulvanney completed Whitby’s scoring in the second period to ensure Whitby won their first-ever North Riding Senior Cup title.

The appearance was Geldart’s 226th for Whitby Town; the goal his 62nd. He was bowing out a Whitby Town legend, and a name that wouldn’t be forgotten when the club’s story was told, time and time again.

Following his final spell with Whitby Town, Barrie left the club to take on a management job at Billingham Synthonia, though he had to give the job up due to external work commitments.

However, he found his way back to football in the end, taking over as Middlesbrough’s youth development officer in the mid-1980s, before becoming an integral part of Bruce Rioch’s management team when Boro achieved back-to-back promotions in 1987 and 1988.

Barrie then played a major role in Darlington’s successive Conference and Fourth Division title wins between 1989 and 1991, when he was chief scout under manager Brian Little, identifying talent to take to Feethams, before taking up the chief scout role for Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn Rovers, a job he kept up into his 70s.

When news of Barrie’s passing filtered through in early June aged 88, the volume of messages from clubs and big names across football told its own story - Whitby Town posted their condolences, along with Darlington and Middlesbrough, two of the clubs he worked for later in his footballing life.

Among players and management, Middlesbrough legend Bernie Slaven recalled how Barrie managed to get him to Ayresome Park, while Bruce Rioch, Kevan Smith and Brian Little all fondly remembering the former Seasider.

And had we not been pandemic-bound, you can only imagine how many more would have made the trip to pay their respects to Geldart.

In terms of Whitby Town representation, chairman Eddie McNamee made the trip, while Maurice Crosthwaite, Neville Pybus, Eddie Barker and Alan Kennerley represented the great 1965 team he was a part of.

And that team continues to maintain as strong a bond as they ever have - tighter still with the sadly decreasing numbers. Fifty-five years after their great successes with Whitby Town, the remaining squad members keep in touch; they still attend functions together; they pay their respects when the unfortunate time comes. They still try and do it all together.

While they all had families away from football, when they played together, they were a family themselves. They battled and fought for each other, and formed a team spirit that allowed them to believe. They were excellent footballers, but that togetherness gave them an extra 10%.

Not just at Whitby Town will Barrie be fondly remembered. His spells at Evenwood Town, Willington, Billingham Synthonia, Middlesbrough, Darlington and Blackburn Rovers will be too. Every person he came across had time for Barrie; he had time for them too.

Sadly October brought further sad news, in the passing of Geldart’s fellow Amateur Cup great Roy Edwards, who found himself as the longest-serving player at Whitby Town by the time the 1970/71 season rolled around.

The 6 foot inside-right signed for the club in 1964 after moving to Dishforth, near Thirsk, as coach Bill Jeffs looked to improve his squad ahead of the 1964/65 season, and the RAF man fit the bill.

Footballing wise, the RAF had been a port of call for the man, though he had also turned out previously for Lincoln City Reserves.

Edwards’ debut for the Seasiders came on August 22, 1964, against Bishop Auckland - with Whitby coming out 2-1 winners. Little over a week later, the midfielder had netted his first goal against South Bank.

However, that season would be remembered for that all-important run to Wembley, for a Whitby side considered to be minnows up against the likes of Enfield and Hendon - the Southern powerhouses of Amateur football.

Across the famous run, Roy managed to find the net in a 2-0 win at Eastbourne, to set up a tie with Oxford City in the third round - the only game in the run he wouldn’t turn out in for Bill Jeffs’ side. While he only netted once on that run, he’d manage another ten goals on top in that campaign across all competitions.

As well as being a part of that Amateur Cup final side, and subsequently the side that would beat Scarborough to win the North Riding Senior Cup just a week later, Edwards would also be among the honours later down the line for Whitby - again in the North Riding Senior Cup - when the Blues beat Middlesbrough’s Reserves 2-1 in the final.

Overall, Edwards made 216 appearances for the club over eight years, and was the last of the Wembley side to depart the Turnbull Ground when he left for South Bank in 1972.

The last year hasn’t just seen the Blues lose Wembley heroes, however. Defender Alan Skelton sadly passed in April.

Alan started his career at Redcar Albion and had trials with Manchester City before playing for West Auckland Town, Evenwood Town and South Bank for six seasons, joining Whitby in July 1971.

Skelton made his debut for the Blues in a 5-1 home victory over Bishop Auckland, turning out for Whitby for three seasons and making a total of 119 appearances.

The defender scored four goals before leaving at the end of the 1973/74 season, going on to play for Guisborough Town where he played for them at Wembley in the FA Vase Final in 1980.

Another former Blues player who recently passed was Peter Lorimer - a footballing legend who sadly lost his battle with a long-term illness recently.

Lasher, Hot Shot, or whatever you wanted to call him, took to the field with a beautiful belligerence - not as a person, but as a player with the ball at his feet. Get him within range of goal - anywhere within 40 yards usually - he was unleashing a ferocious shot, often regardless of who was around.

Lorimer was only at Whitby for a brief spell, playing just three games and scoring once - away at South Bank in a 5-1 defeat.

His appearances came alongside two former Leeds United legends and teammates - David Harvey, the Blues’ player-manager at the time and Eddie Gray, who would go on to manage the Blues in 1989.

It hasn’t just been former stars that Whitby have lost either - the last year has seen the club mourn the loss of loyal supporters too.

Will Harland, a young man with tremendous bravery and courage, who always had a smile on his face, sadly passed aged just 17 in late 2020.

The club also lost fellow Turnbull Ground regular of many years Harry Dyson, and committee man of many years, John Nellist - both of whom the club wasted no time in paying tribute to after years of support for the Blues.