Terry Bly: Strong and brave striker who holds the post-war record for most league goals in a season
Monday 05 October 2009
When football fans with elephantine memories gather together and the talk turns to prolific goalscorers, the likes of Dixie Dean and Arthur Rowley, Jimmy Greaves and Alan Shearer crop up as a matter of course. But if mention is not made of Terry Bly, there is something seriously lacking in the company's collective awareness of the most prolific sharp-shooters to grace the English professional game.
Peterborough United entered the Football League for the first time in 1960-61 and hit that somewhat staid institution like a blue-and-white tornado. Sweeping the opposition before them, they charged to the Fourth Division championship at the first attempt, and the tall, rangy East Anglian at the potent apex of their attack rattled in an astonishing 52 goals, a figure which still stands as the most in one league season by any post-war marksman. Indeed, only four men in the competition's history have surpassed his mark, with Dean's 60 for Everton in 1927-28 being the highest total.
Bly was not blessed with delicate skills, but he was strong, brave and overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and he had a god-given instinct for being in the ideal position at the optimum time to execute that most basic but most infinitely demanding of sporting tasks: depositing a bouncing, spinning, elusive leather sphere between the opponents' posts.
During that gilded campaign at London Road he scored goals with his head, with both feet and with various other parts of his anatomy, his energy and determination proving far too taxing for most defenders in the basement tier to handle. Some critics called him cumbersome and inelegant, but the rampaging centre forward, his team-mates and his manager, Jimmy Hagan, were not bothered. They were laughing all the way to the Third Division.
Bly's achievement was all the more remarkable given that after joining Norwich City straight from school he was quickly rejected by them as not good enough. However, he impressed at a lower level with Bury Town and was welcomed back into the Canaries' fold in 1956.
His impetus was interrupted again by a knee operation, but he sprang to national notice in January 1959 by scoring twice as Third Division Norwich dumped Manchester United out of the FA Cup, beating Matt Busby's team 3-0 on a hard, snow-dusted surface at Carrow Road.
True, United had been devastated by the Munich air disaster which had claimed the lives of eight players only 11 months earlier, but they had just completed a sequence of eight successive top-flight victories and, with Bobby Charlton enjoying what was to prove the most bountiful scoring term of his career, still presented formidable opposition.
The result was greeted by one newspaper with the headline "Bly, Bly Babes", which was tolerably witty if possibly a trifle tasteless in view of United's recent bereavements.
Meanwhile, for the Canaries and their callow spearhead, the FA Cup adventure had barely begun. In the next round Bly struck twice more as Cardiff City were dispatched, then he contributed the only goal of a fifth-round replay with mighty Tottenham Hotspur, and added two more as Sheffield United were overcome in the last eight.
All seven of his goals had been plundered at Carrow Road, and when asked to continue his spree against Luton Town in the semi-final at Villa Park he was unable to oblige, and Archie Macaulay's plucky side bowed out 0-1. Thereafter Bly's progress as a Canary was steady rather than meteoric and he managed only seven strikes in 25 games as Norwich earned promotion in 1959-60. That summer, the 24-year-old was sold to League newcomers Peterborough for £5,000.
Soon he embarked on the season of his life, commencing with a goal in his first game for the Posh, at home to Wrexham, and finishing with his seventh hat-trick of the campaign as Barrow were beaten on the final day, when the title was clinched.
An immensely modest fellow, he attempted to deflect much of the credit for his individual feats in the direction of his team-mates, particularly the wingers Billy Hails and Peter McNamee, who had kept him so well supplied with the crosses from which he fed so voraciously.
Inevitably, Bly was never so prolific again, though in 1961-62 he did excel at the higher level, his 29 league strikes helping Peterborough to a creditable fifth-place finish in the Third Division table, which attracted the attention of a bold young manager by the name of Jimmy Hill, who took him to Coventry in a £12,000 deal in June 1962.
Hill was in the process of transforming City into an upwardly mobile and family-friendly club, launching what was dubbed the "Sky Blue Revolution" in an atmosphere of showbiz razz-matazz. He believed that Bly could provide the goals to lift them out of the third tier, but after the striker had weighed in with a commendable 25 in 32 appearances, his new boss lost faith in him and replaced him in April 1963 with his former Peterborough colleague George Hudson.
Though Hudson was an instant success, scoring a hat-trick on his debut, many Coventry fans were livid at what they saw as the unfair demise of their hero, who was sold to Notts County for £13,000 the following summer. In fact, Hudson was a more cultured all-round operator than Bly and the shrewd Hill had gauged that the new man was a better long-term bet for a club on the rise.
As Bly never truly sparked at Meadow Lane, where he was deployed alongside the future England centre forward Jeff Astle, and was allowed to move on to Grantham Town as player-manager in 1964, Hill could be said to be vindicated, though some Highfield Road regulars never forgave him for the transaction.
It says much for Bly that dropping down from the Football League at the age of 29 did nothing to lessen his overwhelming passion for the game, and over the next decade and a half he became a folk idol at the Lincolnshire club. Before laying aside his boots in 1970, he scored 125 goals in 199 outings for Grantham, and went on to manage the Gingerbreads in 719 games, then stepped aside in 1978 to concentrate on running a sports shop in the town. During his reign he led his men to four Midlands League crowns, two Midlands League Cup triumphs, a victory in the Lincolnshire County Cup and to FA Cup wins over Rochdale and Stockport County of the Football League.
Terry Bly will be remembered most widely for his never-likely-to-be-emulated tally in his Peterborough prime, but this amiable, unassuming but fiercely dedicated football man will never be forgotten at humble Grantham, either.
Terence Geoffrey Bly, footballer: born Fincham, Norfolk 22 October 1935; played for Norwich City 1956-60, Peterborough United 1960-62, Coventry City 1962-63, Notts County 1963-64, player-manager, Grantham Town 1964-70, manager 1970-78; married (two daughters); died Normanton, Lincolnshire 24 September 2009.
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