Calvin Palmer: Combative and exuberant footballer whose skills lit up the midfields of Stoke City and Nottingham Forest

 

Calvin Palmer was a footballing firebrand, combustible and combative on the field and off it. But there was far more than a hot temper to the exuberant, endlessly energetic attacking midfielder, who shone for Nottingham Forest and Stoke City in the 1960s without quite stepping up to the international stage.

The blond wing-half, versatile enough to feature as a full-back or a centre-forward, was a stylish all-round performer. His creative distribution was as central to his game as his powerful tackling and his irrepressible brio.

Palmer sparked first for his local club, Skegness Town, from whom he was recruited by Forest as a 17-year-old in March 1958. His senior debut followed a year later, but with Billy Walker’s team battling for their top-flight survival in 1959-60, the effervescent rookie was kept mainly in reserve until the following season, when he excelled for six months as deputy at right-half for the injured Jeff Whitefoot. A berth was usually found for Palmer thereafter when he was fit and he emerged as a commanding figure, earning a call-up to the England under-23 squad, albeit without collecting a cap, and putting in a stint as Forest captain.

However, injuries had jolted his impetus so that when a storming display in a 1-0 victory at Stoke in September 1963 attracted an instant £30,000 bid from Potters manager Tony Waddington, it was accepted and Palmer, after more than a century of games for the Garibaldi Reds, crossed the Midlands.

Bought as the long-term replacement for fearsome ball-winner Eddie Clamp, the newcomer bedded successfully into a team heavy with veterans – including Stanley Matthews – which had just risen from the second tier, and Victoria Ground regulars warmed to his heart-on-sleeve fervour. He was a key man as Stoke stabilised in the top flight, though the nearest he came to a major honour was a loser’s medal after defeat to Leicester City in the 1964 League Cup final.

Ahead of a summer tour to the US in 1966 he was involved in a training clash with the similarly fiery Maurice Setters and was banned from the trip, but he bounced back and there was speculation about an England call-up. It never came, though, and in February 1968, after nearly 200 outings as a Potter, Palmer was sold to Sunderland for £70,000. He never settled at Roker Park, clashing with authority, and in 1970 joined Cape Town City, later serving another South African club, Hellenic.

Palmer, who featured fleetingly for Crewe Alexandra in 1971, has donated his body to medical science. 

Calvin Ian Palmer, footballer: born Skegness, Lincolnshire 21 October 1940; played for Nottingham Forest 1958-63, Stoke City 1963-68, Sunderland 1968-70, Crewe Alexandra 1971; died Brighton 12 March 2014.

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