Thursday, June 28, 2007

Nostalgia - Jim Langley

Article written by Gordon Mills.

During the latter part of the 1950s Fulham began to put together a team that would challenge for and eventually gain promotion from the old second division to the old first. An integrated blend of home grown talent and imported players started to gel and play with style and directness. One of the most impressive and best loved imports was Jim Langley, an attacking left back with extraordinary bandy legs and a crew cut. He came to the Cottage from Brighton with a list of recommendations as long as one of his trade-mark throw ins. He was an England B international when he arrived but his own full international opportunities were limited by the great Roger Byrne and then, after Byrne's death at Munich in the infamous air crash, by being made the scapegoat for a humiliating defeat in Belgrade. Some people reckon that Gentleman Jim was never really good enough for the full England side but really, I don't think there were many, if any, better than he when he was in his prime.

I remember well his first game – at home to Bury. Langley had been heralded before the game but the other players were unfamiliar with his style of overlapping and constant forays into opposing territory and no one had the wit to cover for him when he went up and this left the defence horribly exposed on the Bury right and the result was a terrible 3 – 1 defeat. Things improved after that with Eddie "Sticks" Lowe dropping back to cover as the rest of the defence became accustomed to Langley's style. The others' ignorance of the way Jim played could well have had something to do with the fact that he rarely seemed to train. My mates and I used to go to the ground often during school holidays and never saw Jim on the field training with the rest of the players. He kept himself very fit but not by training it seems.He was an all-action player whose seemingly elastic legs enabled him to use the slide tackle effectively and judiciously and who could wind himself up for throw-ins and propel the ball beyond the penalty spot. At times it seemed as if our most potent weapon was a Langley long throw towards the head of Maurice Cook.

He was also the penalty taker, rarely missing and relying on placement rather than power. One embarrassing miss was in the 6th round of the cup game at the Cottage against Blackburn in 1962. It was pouring with rain and Langley shot wide leaving us 2 – 1 behind with not long to go. Fortunately, Haynes scored the equalizer and Cook scored the only goal in the replay to set us off to Villa Park for the semi final against Burnley. Fulham were mighty unlucky in this game and Langley, whose only fault as a defender was occasionally not closing down his winger quickly enough, was caught out by John Connelly who had been given too much room and chose to shoot on sight instead of taking on Langley and scored from outside the area to equalize Leggatt's opener.

His most famous couple of games were the cup semi finals 4 years earlier against Man Utd. In the first game he was stretchered off just before half-time with what looked like a broken back. Tosh filled in at left-back and Fulham fought on with 10 men at the start of the second half but then, after about an hour, Langley returned to hobble along the left wing and to be a thorough nuisance to the Man Utd defence. That game ended 2 – 2 and we waited anxiously to see if he would make the replay. Of course, he did, having made a miraculous recovery but that game was Macedo's nightmare; he couldn't catch anything and fumbled and flummoxed throughout. My mum along with lots of other supporters fell in love with Langley in this game as it was live on tv on the Wednesday afternoon and the nation saw Langley commiserating with a crestfallen Macedo after another handling mistake cost another goal. A 5 – 3 defeat flattered Utd.

Langley was a great team man and a very good left back – in my opinion, the best to play for Fulham in my lifetime. He had his weaknesses against wingers who simply ran at him – Brabrook, Hooper, Grice all caused him endless problems – but no one who tried trickery or guile got the better of him. My weirdest memory of him occurred one Easter or Xmas, I can't remember which, but it was when there were games on consecutive days and Langley had cut his head open in the first game away somewhere. The next day the boys were at home and Langley turned out wearing a wig!! His head had been shaved and he sought to hide it with a syrup!! He was transferred to QPR when we thought he had not much left to give but starred for them later in their League Cup Final triumph over West Brom.

Anyone who remembers this era is welcome to reminisce with Gordon at gmills@cob.edu.bs

4 comments:

Brian said...

Fulham used to train at Harrod's sports ground in the 50's & 60's & I was brought up in the block of flats next door. We used to cut the wires to get in & watch them. Jim was always the nicest, & I remember him cradling my little sister when she was a toddler.

Smashing bloke, smashing footballer. I wonder, did anyone use the long throw before him?

Chopper said...

Lovely stuff Brian - thanks for posting it.

How interesting that we used to train on the Harrods sports gound and now have the same owner!

Brian said...

brianI know. It must be a coincidence. It's all based around the river when you think about it. The Boat Race goes past Craven Cottage on the right, Harrods' Repository on the left, then follows Lonsdale Road, Barnes where the Sports Club is.

It'd be nice to imagine them rowing up the river for extra fitness training to get to the session!

Chopper said...

Good plan, though we'd probably struggle to get Jimmy Bullard to leave his fishing rods at home!