Jimmy Payne: Footballer known as 'the Merseyside Matthews'
Wednesday 30 January 2013
It did Jimmy Payne no favours to be described as "the Merseyside Matthews". The Bootle-born Liverpool right winger was a high-quality performer, an enchanting dribbler who could thrill the Kop on his day, leaving a trail of dazed and confused would-be markers in his wake. But he was never remotely on a par with the extraordinary Stanley, who at his peak was deemed the best footballer in the world, and the younger man could have done without unrealistically raised expectations.
Payne touched his own prime midway through the 20th century, appearing for the Anfield Reds in the 1950 FA Cup final defeat by Arsenal, shortly before enjoying a trio of international outings on an England "B" tour of Europe. But it was his misfortune to be part of a Liverpool side on the threshold of a debilitating decline which would culminate in relegation to the Second Division.
The diminutive winger joined the Reds as an amateur in 1942 and turned professional in 1944, but did not make his senior entrance until September 1948, in a 1-0 home defeat by Bolton Wanderers. A month later he scored his first goal, a late equaliser against Chelsea at Anfield, and thereafter he became a regular, linking productively with his inside-right, Jack Balmer, and proving adept at picking out the penetrative runs of the Scottish powerhouse Billy Liddell on the opposite wing.
Payne contributed sparkily during Liverpool's progress to Wembley in 1950, scoring in the third-round replay victory over Blackburn Rovers and the fourth-round win against Exeter City, but in the final he could make little headway in his personal duel with the Welsh international full-back Walley Barnes as the Gunners prevailed 2-0. Still, his impressive work throughout the campaign earned him his international call-up and he had his backers for a full cap, but in an era when Matthews and Preston North End's majestic Tom Finney held sway, there were precious few England opportunities for other wide men.
At club level, though, Payne continued to thrive until an ill-judged temporary change of position dented his confidence. Initially he had been embraced by Liverpool fans as one of their own, winning respect for his physical bravery and acute football intelligence – he had an instinct for knowing the precise moment to deliver a cross or through-pass – as much as his array of ball skills.
However, when the new manager Don Welsh, seeking more creativity following a run of poor results midway through the 1951-52 season, switched him to inside-left, he began to attract flak from the terraces and stands. Payne lacked the stamina for the demanding box-to-box role, in which he was unable to take periodic breathers, as he could do when hogging the touchline, and although he was subsequently returned to the wing he was never again quite the same attacking force.
Meanwhile Liverpool were slowly sinking, to 17th place in the top flight in 1952-53, then to rock-bottom in 1953-54. During that calamitous season Payne missed a lot of games through injury, and there was also meaningful competition for his place from the younger Brian Jackson, who had been recruited from Leyton Orient.
In the Second Division Payne continued to be plagued by niggling fitness problems and shared right-wing duties with Jackson until he returned to the First Division with Everton, whom he had supported as a boy, in a £5,000 deal in April 1956. He had made 245 senior appearances and scored 42 goals for the Reds.
Sadly, injuries prevented any chance of a major impact at Goodison Park and in 1957 he retired at the premature age of 31 to work in the family newsagents in his native Bootle before becoming a hotelier in the Lake District. Payne left behind him memories of a worthy career, but also the nagging notion that he had never quite fulfilled the rich potential that had been evident in his early twenties.
James Bolcherson Payne, footballer: born Bootle, Merseyside 10 March 1926; played for Liverpool 1944-56, Everton 1956-57; married (one daughter, one son); died Kendal, Cumbria 22 January 2013.
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