As far as retro football magazines go, The Footballer was the forerunner to Backpass magazine, running from July 1989 to May/June 1996. While it was much drier in tone and page layout than its modern day retro equivalent, many of the respectfully penned articles and interviews of players from yesteryear deserve another airing.
This one by Charlie Bamforth, from the March / April 1996 edition, features the spring-heeled Brian Powney, who kept goal for the Albion from 1962 to 1974:
Brian Powney ushered his Staffordshire Bull Terrier out of the room (for which I was thankful) and gestured to the walking stick propped up against his easy chair: “That stick is the legacy of a knee injury I picked up on my debut for Brighton when I was 16!”
Gammy knee or not, Powney went on to play almost 400 games for the Seagulls. The stresses and strains are now telling, as they do from so many ex-professionals. (“The fans don’t see this side of things”). A major operation failed to sort the Powney leg out, so Brian can “look forward” to two more years of surgery. When he is laid up, he’ll doubtless be looking back on a worthy career as one of the lower divisions’ more durable and loyal goalkeepers.
Brian Powney was born on 7th October 1944 in Seaford, the seaside town in which he resides to this day. A seven-a-side tournament in Hailsham served to set his sights on a custodial career.
“It was the usual story. Our goalie was having a torrid time, so I took over. I got into the school first team by the time I was thirteen and I made the East Sussex Under-15’s.”
“I was recommended to Eastbourne United. Those days they were in the Metropolitan League, playing against the likes of Arsenal “A” and Gravesend and Northfleet.
Eastbourne were run very much on professional lines, with a full-time manager in Jack Mansell, an F.A. Staff Coach. I never got into the first team, where the goalkeeping slot was held by Reggie Pope. He was stocky, very much like myself.”
“I had trials with Arsenal and Southampton. They both wanted to put me onto the groundstaff, but that would have meant living in a hostel. So I was pleased when my local club, Brighton, came in with an offer. I reckoned that there would be more opportunities with a smaller club.” At sixteen, Brian Powney joined the Goldstone groundstaff, signing pro forms for manager George Curtis on his seventeenth birthday.
“Charlie Baker was first choice keeper at the time – and very good he was too. But he was a part-timer, so I could never work with him in training. There was not really much goalkecping coaching in those days, but I did go up to the FA youth courses at Lilleshall, where we were coached by the likes of Billy Wright and Phil Woosnam.”
Young Powney was given an early blooding in Seagulls’ senior side on the last day of the 1961-62 season at Derby County. Albion were already relegated, so they took the opportunity to give their raw young goalkeeper a taste of Second Division football in front of 6,739 spectators.
Although the Rams won 2-0 through goals by Barry Hutchinson and John Bowers, Powney had a fine game, even allowing for the injury which has dogged him ever since.
The man in the other goal that day at the Baseball Ground was veteran England international Reg Matthews, who must have been impressed with the capabilities of Brighton’s new netminder.
After eight games in the 1962-63 campaign, Brian became first choice the following season. By the time he played his last game (in the Third Division) in 1973-74, the name Powney had been penciled in first in 342 Football League games.
There had been high spots – a Fourth Division championship in 1964-65, a promotion from the Third in 1971-72 and a place understudying Chelsea’s John Cowan in the England youth squad for the junior World Cup, a squad that included Tommy Smith, Lew Chatterley and John Sissons. But there had been lows, notably a relegation back to the Third Division in 1972-73.
Brian Powney played under five managers for Brighton & Hove Albion: Curtis, Archie Macauley, Fred Goodwin, Pat Saward and Brian Clough.
“I enjoyed playing for Pat Saward most. As a coach he was second to none. His knowledge was immense and he really motivated us by getting us to enjoy the game.”
“Brian Clough tried to motivate by fear. I didn’t like him at all. I am well aware that there are players at other clubs who would give you a different view, but I can only speak as I find. Clough joined us when our morale was at an all-time low. We had no confidence and it just got worse. The media following was mindboggling. But the things that were said, the slagging off of players, shattered our confidence. I just didn’t respect Brian Clough and eventually he brought Peter Grummitt in. I learned that I had been given a “free” by letter.”
“They were, indeed, miserable days for Brighton. Within the space of a few days they were humiliated 0-4 in the FA Cup by Walton & Hersham and went down 2-8 to Bristol Rovers. Even so Brian Powney knew just what it was-like to be at the preferred end on such occasions, for within a two week period in November 1965 his team had beaten Southend United 9-1 in a Division Three fixture and had whipped Wisbech 10-1 in the “I did feel sorry for Southend’s young keeper (Malcolm White) that day. And I found out exactly how he felt when we went down that time to Bristol Rovers!”
Brian Powney had plenty of competition for his place at the Goldstone, such that he never was an ever present in any of his thirteen seasons. Fred Goodwin brought in Geoff Sidebottom as his preferred last line (“I had a tough time when Geoff was there, but I learnt a lot about positional sense from him”).
The former Arsenal keeper Tony Burns was an earlier contender. Powney and Burns were great chums and Brian also recalls as pals Jim Oliver, John Templeman, Bobby Smith (“a very generous man”) and Alex Dawson (“a fabulous character was the ‘Black Prince’, and a good player”). His closest friend, though, was Norman Gall, and the two shared a pair of testimonials against Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Another colleague in Hove was Howard Wilkinson, now Leeds manager. Wilkinson is said to recall Brian Powney as being very quick and brave. Powney himself is clear about the qualities he possessed.
“I was a shot stopper, a line goalkeeper. Not being the tallest, I seldom came for crosses, but I had John Napier and Norman Gall to deal with those”.
On retiring, Powney became player-manager at Sussex Cotmty League side Southwick for two years, taking them to a title and an appointment with Bournemouth in the Cup.
“After that I played stand-off or centre for Seaford Rugby Club for a couple of years! They made me Player of the Season once! I’d probably have played rugby if I hadn’t turned pro for Brighton”.
These days Powney is regional managing director for an automatic beverage machine company and still follows football with interest, although he seldom visits the Goldstone Ground.