George Petherbridge: Swashbuckling footballer loved for his work rate and flair

Glance at a photograph of George Petherbridge in his 1950s Bristol Rovers heyday and he appears old before his time. The expression is watchful, almost anxious, and when seen taking to the pitch in the flesh at Eastville – Rovers' much-missed former headquarters, now the site of a vast convenience furniture store – the 5ft 4in Devon-born winger might have seemed a vulnerable figure, especially in comparison to the full-backs charged with marking him, often muscular hulks who appeared capable of eating him alive.

But take a closer look and there is a twinkle in the eyes, a hint of combativeness that chimes with the Rovers' rousing nickname, the Pirates. The frame might be diminutive, but it is solid, too. Some of the supporters might know him as "Winky Pop" because he appears a tad more advanced in years than actually he is, but here, on reflection, is a character to be reckoned with.

Almost invariably, any doubt about that conclusion is dispelled when the game begins. The tiny man patrolling the touchline – usually on the right of his team's attack, occasionally on the left – is clearly a both a swashbuckler with more than a dash of flair, and an indomitable workhorse, ever-ready to chase back and harass opponents when the ball is lost.

Petherbridge had staying power, too, making nearly 500 senior appearances and scoring almost a century of goals for Rovers between 1946 and 1962. He starred in their Third Division (South) championship-winning line-up of 1952-53 and, alas, he was the last surviving member of their revered late-1950s forward line, which still trips off the tongue of the former Eastville faithful, and reads: Petherbridge, Alfie Biggs, Geoff Bradford, Dai Ward and Peter Hooper.

An adoptive Bristolian from the age of three, Petherbridge sparkled so brightly in junior football that he was awarded a trial with Arsenal in 1945, only to be rejected because he was too small. Disappointed but still determined to make his way in the game he went home, accepted an invitation from Rovers and never looked back.

He made his League debut in the autumn of 1946, and became a first- team fixture two years later, his dazzling footwork, an ability to drop crosses precisely on to the heads of spearheads Vic Lambden and Bradford, a shot of amazing velocity and a transparent dedication to the team ethic combining to mark him out as a favourite with the fans. Although he created far more scoring opportunities than he accepted himself, he had his moments as a marksman, notably at home to Torquay United in December 1951, when he stunned his fellow Devonians with a four-goal salvo.

As popular in the dressing room as on the terraces, Petherbridge was a modest, caring man who, as his own playing days were drawing to a close, took pains to tutor his callow long-term replacement, Harold Jarman. That might seem a natural thing to do, but there were plenty of gnarled professionals in the English game who resented the rising generation, viewing them selfishly as job-stealers rather than accepting their progress as logical and in their club's best interest.

Petherbridge deserved better than to be a part of a relegation side in his last campaign, but so it was, Bert Tann's team slipping out of the second tier in the spring of 1962. Thereafter he ran a pub then worked at Millfield as a groundsman, always ready to pass on tips to young footballers at the school in Street, Somerset. He also managed Glastonbury of the Western League and played cricket, his second great sporting passion, as frequently as possible. Later he became groundsman at Wells Cathedral School, also in Somerset, where he continued to be an uplifting role model for any young sportsperson with the wit to listen.

George Ernest Petherbridge, footballer and groundsman: born Devonport, Devon 19 May 1927; played for Bristol Rovers 1945-1962; married (two daughters, one son); died Shepton Mallet, Somerset 4 March 2013.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick