There have been Blackpool footballers who have played more games for the club than Ray Charnley; and there have been men who have contributed more league goals to the Bloomfield Road cause than the tall, rangy Lancastrian centre-forward. But on both counts, from faithful fans of the Seasiders whose memories stretch back half a century and beyond, there would have to come the heartfelt and grateful rider: not many.
Charnley was Blackpool's leading marksman in senior competition for nine consecutive seasons between 1958-59 and 1966-67. Every one of those campaigns was in the top flight and in several of them it was his goals which effectively preserved their place among the élite.
His tally is exceeded only by Jimmy Hampson's between the wars, when often the club was in the second tier where goals were easier to plunder, and, narrowly, by Stan Mortensen's in the decade after the second global conflict, when he was supported by a collection of stellar talents, notably the great Stanley Matthews. True, Charnley benefited from the wing maestro's service for four terms, but by then Matthews, though still potent, was well into his forties and passing his incomparable peak.
Overall then, Charnley was a gem, albeit of the rough-hewn variety. Though his style was more practical than pretty, he was considerably less indelicate on the ball than many of his front-running peers from that era. He was adept at controlling long dispatches from his own defenders while fending off the close attentions of aggressive opponents and a titan in the air. He was also a powerful finisher who occasionally surprised even his most ardent admirers with a shot or a pass of unexpected subtlety.
Yet for all the sterling attributes revealed in ample measure in schoolboy and youth football, in which he sampled inside-forward and wing-half roles before settling as an attacking spearhead, there was a time in his teens when Charnley's future in the professional game was in serious doubt. When the likes of Middlesbrough, Huddersfield Town and even Blackpool expressed interest in his talent, he was persuaded by his father to continue with his apprenticeship as a painter and decorator.
Meanwhile, he played his football for Preston North End's B team until it disbanded, then Bolton-le-Sands and finally Morecambe, for whom he struck 43 goals in 53 matches, which persuaded the Seasiders to make a new approach. By this time he was 22 and with a trade behind him, so when the Blackpool manager Joe Smith proffered a £775 cheque to Morecambe in May 1957, Charnley was ready to take the plunge.
At this point, Blackpool were a major footballing force, having finished second and fourth in the old First Division in the two previous seasons, and the newcomer, although plainly raw, was deemed promising enough to make his debut in his first autumn at Bloomfield Road.
Initially his progress was tentative, and even after scoring twice in a 7-0 home demolition of Sunderland, which remains Blackpool's highest winning margin – he looked a decent bet for a hat-trick until forced to leave the action with a severely gashed head – he was in and out of the team. But after returning in a mid-term reshuffle which saw the previous No 9, Jackie Mudie, switch to inside-right, Charnley was back to stay.
Boosted by the backing of a new manager, Ron Suart, he thrived in 1958-59, missing a handful of games because of a broken collarbone but still striking 20 times in the League and adding six more on the way to the League Cup quarter-finals, in which the Seasiders were beaten by Luton Town after a replay.
Gradually Blackpool were slipping from their eminent perch of the previous decade – a process accelerated by the abolition of the maximum wage, which caused relatively small-town clubs to suffer at the hands of wealthier big-city rivals – and in 1960-61 they relied even more heavily than usual on Charnley's goals, a late winner from a pinpoint Matthews cross against fellow relegation battlers Newcastle United proving crucially important.
Charnley was rewarded with a place on the FA's summer tour of the Far East before finding the form of his life in 1961-62, accumulating 36 goals in 50 games – four in the 7-2 Bloomfield Road annihilation of Wolves was particularly memorable. Suart was quietly outraged when he continued to be overlooked by his country.
Charnley's international call-up finally arrived in October 1962 when he faced France at Hillsborough in the European Nations Cup, but really the England manager, Walter Winterbottom, might have known better than to name a forward line containing four debutants – the others were Mike Hellawell, Chris Crowe and Alan Hinton – and it was hardly surprising that they failed to gel. A woefully poor game finished 1-1, and although Charnley did earn the penalty by which Ron Flowers equalised, he had little chance to shine and was never picked again.
In the famous tangerine shirt of Blackpool, however, the goals continued to flow. He was particularly menacing when operating in tandem with the inspirational young firebrand Alan Ball in mid-decade, after which there was an encouraging rapport with Alan Suddick, a gifted acquisition from Newcastle.
Charnley was versatile, too, able to deputise effectively in central defence when the need arose, and his genial, easy-going nature increased his popularity with the public. Once when he was omitted from the team – he wasn't dropped too often, but it did happen occasionally – when Suart experimented with the centre-half Roy Gratrix leading the attack, Charnley turned up on the Bloomfield Road Kop, wearing a flat cap and exchanging banter with the fans.
By 1966-67 he was approaching the veteran stage but still managed 14 league goals for a side which had declined so comprehensively – despite the presence of the evergreen full-back Jimmy Armfield and the young Emlyn Hughes – that it finished well adrift at the foot of the table.
By now the old Blackpool hero Mortensen was occupying the managerial seat, and it was ironic that it should be during his watch that Charnley, his long-term successor, should bow out of Bloomfield Road in December 1967, a fee of £12,500 taking the 32-year-old to Preston, also languishing in the Second Division.
Most Blackpool regulars felt that the man who had scored 222 times in his 407 appearances for their club should not have been sold, especially after he scored against his former employers, albeit in a 4-1 defeat for North End, only nine days after his move. However, he did not tarry long at Deepdale, joining Fourth Division Wrexham in July 1968, then enlisting with Bradford Park Avenue and ending his league days when the hard-up Yorkshire club was not re-elected in 1970.
There followed a brief stint back at Morecambe before Charnley gave up the game to concentrate on his painting and decorating business back in Blackpool, a town he had come to love – and where the feeling was mutual.
Raymond Ogden Charnley, footballer; born Lancaster 29 May 1935; played for Blackpool 1957-67, Preston North End 1967-68, Wrexham 1968-69, Bradford Park Avenue 1969; capped once by England, 1962; married 1958 (one son); died Blackpool 15 November 2009.Reuse content