An African adventure

A photograph of the England football squad on a tour of South Africa and Rhodesia in 1956 is proving to be quite a talking point where it is hanging in the Harbour Fish Bar, Amble. Former Newcastle United and Port Vale goalkeeper, Ray King, shares his memories of the touring team.

THIS was the tour almost every professional footballer in England wanted to take part in.

The expedition, which was to extend from early May until the end of July, had been arranged by the Football Association to play 18 games against South African and Rhodesian teams, including several international matches.

To cover the huge distances between venues, the party of players and officials were obliged to travel by plane which did not please many of the players who were not keen on flying. It was quite amusing to see them kissing terra firma once they left the plane!

The England party consisted of two members of the Football Association, including Sir Stanley Rous, secretary of the FA, who is not on the photograph, a trainer coach, who also acted as physio, and 18 players from varying clubs, some of them full internationals and others international prospects.

It was to our credit that we won every match against opposition who, with their formidable physique and intimidating challenges, were a force to be reckoned with.

Thankfully my memory is still in reasonable working order so I shall illustrate a pen picture of some of the players depicted on the photograph.

Syd Owen, Luton Town

Syd captained the side. A full international, he also played in the cup final of 1959 when they lost 2-1 against Nottingham Forest. Forest player Roy Dwight, cousin of Elton John, broke his leg. My brother Frank was the team's physio. Syd died several years ago in Leeds to where to had retired.

Bobby Robson, Fulham and West Bromwich

A full international, Bobby continues to make his presence felt in the football world at the age of 75. Knighted some years ago, his health has been causing much concern in recent years. It is well documented of course that Bobby managed several teams both at home and abroad, including Newcastle United.

Bedford Jezzard, Fulham

Bedford was a typical swashbuckling centre forward with whom I enjoyed many physical encounters before the African tour. Sadly he received an injury which became badly infected. Consequently he never played again. He was a lovely man, always smiling, even when we knocked hell out of each other. He died last year in his early 70s. He represented England in several full internationals.

Bill Perry, Blackpool

Born in South Africa, to be selected for this team was indeed the icing on the cake. At outside left he was a fast-raising left winger and together with the great Stanley Matthews on the right wing they were a formidable combination. It was from a Matthews' cross that Bill scored the winning goal against Bolton Wanderers at Wembley in the 1953 cup final which was named the Matthews Final. Bill never acquired a full cap like me. He was always on the fringe. Bill still lives in Blackpool.

Johnny King, Stoke City

No relation but because of our names we shared rooms together throughout the tour. A natural left-footer, he was a brilliant ball player. Having played against him in several Vale v Stoke Derbys. I was well aware of his skills. He never forgave me for saving one of his penalties!

I met Johnny recently when attending the Vale's 50th anniversary celebrating our historic 1954 cup semi final and winning the Third Division championship by a mile.

Gerry Hitchens, Cardiff City and Aston Villa

Another centre forward who attained full national honours. A six footer with the physique to complement it, he had the world at his feet and prospects of a long run as England's centre forward appeared to be a formality. Events however don't always work out the way we want and Gerry never fulfilled his early potential. He did at the early age of 40 when competing in an exhibition game. With his blond hair and looks to match, Gerry was a 1950s pin-up idol.

Bill McGarry, Port Vale and Huddersfield

Bill gave one of the finest exhibitions I've seen when playing my very first game for Port Vale in the final of the Staffordshire semi cup final against Walsall. He was playing at left half. But during the rest of his career, both for Huddersfield and England, he figured at right half which was surprising as I never thought his performances reached the same standard as in my first impression. Following his playing career he became a manager at the highest level. His first was at Ipswich, then on to Newcastle Utd where he was recommended by Jackie Milburn who had preceded him as Ipswich manager. He then went on to Wolverhampton Wanderers and finally returned to South Africa in a coaching capacity but died last year.

Jackie Teasdale, Doncaster Rovers

Jackie and I built up a firm relationship from the very beginning of the tour. Sadly his tour was over almost from the beginning. In his first match he sustained a knee injury which prevented him taking any further part. Subsequently it also ended his footballing career, putting to an end to a very promising future as a midfield player.