In another instalment of our series, our in-house historian Malcolm Johnson looks back at the career of record-breaker Billy Cobb.
Date of birth: 29.9.40, Born: Newark
Height: 5ft 8in, Position: Midfield/forward
City apps: League: 67, goals: 10, FA & League Cups: 6, goals: 2, Total: 73, goals: 12
Walter William Cobb, to give him his full name started his football career playing for works team Ransome & Marles in Newark before joining Nottingham Forest in 1958 where he earned himself a footnote in their history.
If you’re ever asked a quiz question to name the first player to score for Nottingham Forest in European football the answer would not be Garry Birtles (1978) or even Joe Baker (1967), but Billy Cobb in 1961.
In the early days of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the forerunner of the UEFA Cup, league positions were irrelevant as clubs were invited to enter from cities which held trade fairs. Forest were drawn against Spanish side Valencia and trailing 2-0 from the first leg made an immediate exit from the competition as Billy Cobb’s goal from a free kick was only a consolation in a 5-1 defeat at the City Ground.
Something of a utility player, Cobb played in six different positions for Forest making a total of 37 appearances over five seasons and scoring 7 goals before he joined his former manager Andy Beattie at Plymouth Argyle for a fee of around £8,000 in October 1963. He made a total of 33 appearances for the Division Two side, and although not registering a goal it was said that his foraging and keenness for work was a factor in the Argyle escaping relegation that season. However, he was on the move again after less than a year as Third Division Brentford paid the substantial fee for the time of £12,000 for him in September 1964. After a total of 71 league games for the Bees with the respectable total of 23 goals he became the first permanent signing of recently appointed City manager Ron Gray in late November 1966 for an apparent bargain fee of around £2,500.
Billy Cobb earned himself instant popularity with the supporters by becoming the first player in the club’s history to score a hat-trick on his debut.
Cobb’s debut for the Imps came in one of the most remarkable matches in City’s history. Rooted to the foot of the Fourth Division as they often were at the time they pulled off an amazing 8-1 win over Luton Town at Sincil Bank. Three of the goals were contributed by Billy Cobb to earn him instant popularity with the supporters and become the first player in the club’s history to score a hat-trick on his debut. His first goal came after 16 minutes from a pass by full back Alf Jones to make the score 2-0 and his second 18 minutes later, taking a pass from Roger Holmes in his stride to easily beat the Luton keeper. In the second half Cobb set up Joe Bonson to make it 4-1 to City and then completed his hat-trick with a spectacular overhead kick for City’s seventh goal of the match.
With his popularity assured he became the subject of two terrace chants or songs: ‘Billy Cobb – King!’ and ‘Give us a goal, give us a goal – Billy Cobb!’ to the tune of the hit song of the time ‘Give it to me’ by the Troggs.
Despite more new signings being made by Ron Gray the manager was unable to prevent a bottom-place finish in the league that season, Cobb mostly playing in an attacking role, but the following season he was employed in midfield as Gray’s revival of the club took hold and featured in all the games of the epic League Cup run ending in the Fourth Round defeat by Derby County in front of Sincil Bank’s record crowd.
A particular memory of him is in the 5-1 win at Sincil Bank in December 1967 against Bradford (Park Avenue) when City scored one of the fastest goals in their history. The ball was played back to Cobb from the kick-off and he lobbed it forward into the goalmouth for Clive Ford to head into the net after just 10 seconds.
City’s form in the 1967/68 season was rather up and down following the excitement of the League Cup and although Cobb kept his place in the side following the signing of Jim Smith towards the end of the season it became clear that the latter was seen as his replacement and he was rather surprisingly released at the end of the season. Turning part-time, initially working as a taxi-driver, he joined Boston United in the Northern Premier League staying with them until 1971.
After retiring from football with a total of 199 Football League appearances and 38 goals he became a publican, keeping the Sherwood Inn on Mansfield Road in Nottingham for 20 years before managing bars at Nottingham Ice Stadium and elsewhere.
Cobb is featured in the main picture in action against Notts County