Well bet that headline got your attention, but it’s true! This is the story of a player hailed as a ‘Boy Wonder’ during his career, which included playing at Sincil Bank writes Pajustka. Forget Messi, Ronaldo, Zidane, Beckham and the other modern day idols, this guy was destined for even better things! Those readers of more mature years the more will no doubt recall this player, his genius and the horrendous injuries he had during his career.
Superlatives and praise for this players’ skills abounded in his early career; Ex Newcastle and England centre forward Jackie Milburn, said, “This boy has everything. He is by far the best youngster I have ever seen”, Future World Cup Winner with England, Nobby Stiles said “Everyone knew he was special” and legendary England and then Blackpool winger Stanley Matthews when he saw him play for the first time quipped “The boy was a football genius”.
The player in question is – Alick Jeffrey. Little heard of today but in the 1950s’ and 60’s a player who had most football pundits and fans talking about him.
Alick Jeffrey was born in Rawmarsh near Doncaster on 29th January 1939. In his formative years he played for Rotherham Boys, Yorkshire Boys, England Amateurs and represented England at every level, except full international before he was 16 years old.
In 1954 on leaving school, he was signed by then manager Peter Doherty for Doncaster Rovers, a second division team at the time. On 15th September that same year he made his first team debut in a 4 – 0 win over Fulham, aged 15 years 229 days.
Skilful with both feet and having a bullet header, his goal scoring and performances gained the attention of the then Manchester United manager Matt Busby, a big friend of Dohertys’. Jeffrey spent a week at Old Trafford training, with Busby soon to start transfer talks to make Jeffrey one of his legendary ’Busby Babes’ along with the likes of Duncan Edwards, Eddie Coleman and Bobby Charlton.
However before any transfer deal could be done, tragedy struck for Jeffrey. On 17th October 1956, still just 17 years old, he was given his second Under 23 cap for England when they played France at Ashton Gate, Bristol. In the game Jeffery suffered a bad double broke in his right leg. Ironically the evening before that Under 23s’ match Busby had told Jeffery “I will come and get you in time”.
Picture courtesy GettyImages.com
The break was so bad that Jeffrey had to retire from football in 1959, but was given £4,000 compensation by the Football Association, as his injury occurred whilst playing for England.
Out of the game he became friends with George Raynor, who had managed Sweden to the semi finals of the 1958 World Cup. Raynor was then manager of non-league Skegness Town FC and he helped and coached Jeffery, despite his injuries, to play again. His come back however bizarrely ended in tragedy as on his debut for Skegness he broke his leg again!
Fit again after recovering from that injury, Alick wanted to resign for Doncaster Rovers, but couldn’t due to the compensation payout, so he emmigrated to Australia. He played for Sydney Prague in 1961 and Auburn in 1962, before returning to the UK later that year and played again for Skegness Town FC. In December 1963 he returned to Belle Vue, signing again for Doncaster Rovers and making his debut in a reserve match against Crewe Alexandra.
Tragedy struck Alick Jeffrey again in 1966 when after a night out in Stoke on Trent the car he was a passenger in crashed, killing the driver, his
teammate, and club captain John Nicholson. Jeffrey was left in a coma and after coming around spent several months recuperating before returning to play football.
He played 190 games in his second spell at Doncaster, plus one as a substitute, scoring another 95 goals, including 36 goals from 46 starts in the 1964/5 season. Overall in his Doncaster career Jeffrey played 262 games and scored 129 goals, approximately one every two games!
Following a disagreement with then Rovers manager Lawrie McMenemy, in January 1969, Ron Gray signed him for Lincoln City. Alick Jeffrey played only 19 times, plus 3 as sub, scoring three goals. A short career with the Imps, but one of memories of a bustling striker and a player, who could accurately pass a ball all over the pitch. Unfortunately in the twilight of his career he didn’t really light up Sincil Bank and despite a third time at Doncaster, without playing, eventually moved onto Worksop Town where he finished playing.
After his playing career he run the Black Bull pub in Doncaster for several years and was a popular figure about the town. When often asked what might have been if he hadn’t broken his leg in 1956, Jeffrey would, point out that the injury that destroyed his potential may have saved his life: he would probably have been on the plane back from Munich that crashed in 1958, killing eight of the Manchester United squad and 15 others.
In 1999 he was asked to become President of Doncaster Rovers and often travels at the front of the players coach.
In 2006 the road around the Doncaster Rovers Stadium was named Alick Jeffrey Way and one of five apartment blocks next to the old Belle Vue ground is also named after him.
Whilst on holiday in Benidorm Alick Jeffrey died from a heart attack on 22nd November 2000, he was 61 years old.
Alick Jeffrey was one of the most exciting players of the 1950s and 60s. His career was brutally disrupted by injury. Anyone watching English football in the 1950s would place his skills along side those of Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Duncan Edwards. I remember watching play for the Imps in 1969 and those memories have inspired me to write this articles to make others Imps fans aware of the ‘Boy Genius who Played for The Imps”.
Playing Record of Alick Jeffrey
Years Team Appearances Goals
1954/7 Doncaster Rovers 71 34
1959 Skegness Town 1 0
1961 Sydney Prague ? ?
1962 Auburn ? ?
1963/9 Doncaster Rovers 190 +1 sub 95
1969/70 Lincoln City 19 + 3 sub 3
1970 Worksop Town ? ?
TOTALS 285 132