I left Dublin for England in 1950, just as many others did during the Irish migration. I believe, during this time of post-war boom, a maximum entry age of nineteen was set. Luckily I didn’t look my age, so wasn’t questioned when I wrote ‘seventeen’ on my entry papers. I made roots in Birmingham and was employed not far from Coventry, but not before attempting to get a job I’d heard was available at a nearby pub. Full of hope, I approached the landlady, who in return gave me a form to complete. As I was about to put pen to paper she asked if I could read and write. ‘Of course,’ I replied. I then questioned why she asked. Well, she said, if you could you’d have read the vacancy on the door correctly, where it says ‘Irish need not apply’. I have to say that, years later, I never experienced any anti-Irish prejudice when me and my family moved to Harlow.
What brought me to Harlow was a combination of work and football talent. It began when I met a young lady at Butlin’s holiday camp in Skegness – I was smitten. Although she lived in Hayes, Middlesex, that didn’t stop me from heading back with her – marriage followed soon after. Shortly after moving, I began playing for Hayes Football Club. After one such game I was handed a letter by my manager. The letter was from Jack Kavanagh – Harlow Town FC manager and housing manager in Harlow – a handy combination. With Harlow looking to establish itself as modern town, it needed a football team to match. The letter was a lure to come and play football for Harlow. A transfer of sorts, but without the money that’s involved these days. Instead the lure was the promise of a new house. I wasn’t getting the house for nothing – I still had to pay rent like everyone else. However, at that time (likely even now), the waiting list for a house in Middlesex was measured in years.
I had nothing to lose by paying Jack a visit. I went to meet him at the club grounds near the Green Man pub in Old Harlow. The club later moved opposite the show ground in the town centre, before more recently relocating further out of town. When I got home my wife asked how it went. ‘Very well,’ I said. I then explained that we could take our pick from six new houses – she couldn’t believe it! We signed the paperwork and soon after moved into our house that was so new the pavements weren’t even in place.
I was keen to share this good fortune, so I tempted another handful of players to switch allegiance from Hayes to Harlow FC. They included Derek Hoddle, father of Glenn Hoddle – who became a student at Burnt Mill School and went off to do rather well for himself. I couldn’t live off the wages a footballer was earning in the early 1960s. Therefore, to make ends meet, I worked shifts at Key Glassworks. The shifts played havoc with my game; I’d be knackered by the time Saturday’s match came around. The management at Key Glassworks understood the importance of football within the town; after all, many of the big employers in Harlow had their own social clubs and football teams – something that has all but disappeared now. As often as possible I was given time off to get ready for a game, but eventually I chose to work for a company with more football-friendly hours.
I played at left-half for the club for ten years – they were great times. Back in the day I was known around town. My daughter would often comment after returning from a walk that ‘today Daddy spoke to lots of people who knew him’.
I love the town; it’s been good to me. I’m now eighty-four and content with my lot. I’ve got a lovely flat that’s close to the doctors and near to the Poplar Kitten – my local pub ever since it first opened its doors. The population of Harlow is getting bigger, but I’m accepting of new folk arriving because I too was a newcomer when I came to England and later Harlow.