Looking Back At: Rod Fletcher

Our resident historian and fountain of knowledge Malcolm Johnson has been pressing keyboard buttons once again to pay his tribute to Rod Fletcher.

Rod Fletcher

Date of birth: 23.9.45

Born: Preston

Height: 5ft 8in

Position: Striker

 City appearances: League: 86(6), goals: 29

                              FA & League Cups: 8, goals: 2

                              Total: 94(6), goals: 31

 

Lancashire-born James Rodney Fletcher, usually known by the shortened form of his middle name, was with Lancashire Combination club Nelson as a teenager before joining the youth set-up at Leeds United in December 1962 as a professional at the age of 17. After two years playing for the junior teams and feeling that he might not make the grade at the top level he decided to take up another profession in preparation for his future. He left Leeds to start a teacher training course at Madeley College in Staffordshire, playing for the college team, and in his last year being on the books of nearby Crewe Alexandra. He made one first team appearance for the Alex towards the end of the 1966/67 season.

During the summer of 1967 Imps manager Ron Gray had a clear-out of most of the players who had seen City to three re-election applications in a row and brought in several new ones. These included several who were obviously intended to be no more than a backup to the first team such as full back Alan York, midfielder Bobby Samuels and Rod Fletcher. The former Leeds junior had now left college and having taken up a post as a PE teacher at the Western Comprehensive School in Grimsby it obviously suited him better to play for a more local club than continue with Crewe. He was off the mark with a goal in his first game for the reserves and at the end of October was called up for his first team debut with recent signing Norman Corner out injured. A 2-1 defeat at Barnsley then saw him back in the reserves as defender Jim Grummett was preferred up front instead of the increasingly disappointing Corner. After 12 goals for the reserves Fletcher was back in the first team picture, making the subs’ bench for the visit of York City at the end of January, then taking over from Grummett in attack for two games which saw defeats at Crewe and to Notts County on his home debut. He was then out of the side again, and with the signing of Peter Kearns and the revitalisation of Norman Corner was confined to the reserves for the rest of the season.

With fellow back-up players Samuels and York released at the end of the 1967/68 season Rod Fletcher was retained after finishing top scorer for the reserves with 17 goals. He was called into the first team in mid-October 1968 to deputise for Dave Smith on the left wing for one game but then it was back to the reserves for the part-timer. Although with City well-placed in the league table a lack of goals was proving a concern and as Fletcher had not so far looked up to the mark when tried in the first team manager Ron Gray attempted a solution by signing Leicester City reserve Bobby Svarc. Although still in a top four position Gray then made further changes to the attack replacing the effective but goal-shy Norman Corner with the 30-year-old former ‘Golden Boy’ Alick Jeffrey. But by the middle of March the Imps had slipped to 8th place and with Jeffrey and Svarc having mustered a total of one goal between them and Jim Grummett tried again in attack Gray turned at last to Fletcher on a run of 7 goals in 7 games for the reserves.

The now 23-year-old responded immediately, a fierce shot securing a 1-1 draw at Chesterfield. Keeping his place, he was on the mark again as Darlington were beaten 2-1 at Sincil Bank. Injured in that game he was forced to miss the next two but was back for a Good Friday visit to Aldershot, scoring the only goal of the game. He followed this up the following day with what was to be his only senior hat-trick as Workington were beaten 4-1 at Sincil Bank. In another home match Fletcher completed a remarkable holiday weekend with two more goals in a 3-2 win over Bradford (Park Avenue) on Easter Monday.

Although failing to score in the next match at Grimsby, he was on the mark again with the winner against Aldershot at Sincil Bank but City’s late season run inspired by Fletcher had come just too late, as having played more games than the teams around them they ended up in 8th place. Although not scoring in the last two games of the season Rod Fletcher’s record since he had come into the side was of nine goals in nine games. The impact he had made on the side was expressed by Maurice Burton in the Echo as “…like a fresh Spring breeze blowing away the Winter cobwebs. His enthusiasm has had a beneficial effect on the entire team, and the sight of a lone red shirt chasing every ball, generally stirring up the opposition defences, has had the effect of bringing new life to the terraces.”

Having previously played third fiddle to Bobby Svarc and Alick Jeffrey, Rod Fletcher, following his end of season scoring burst now found himself the main striker, initially partnered by Svarc, at the start of the 1969/70 season. Although hopes were high for a promotion challenge the season got off to a poor start with the Imps barely escaping with a point in a 3-3 draw at home to Colchester despite two first half goals from Fletcher in the space of 30 seconds putting them 2-0 up. After defeats in the next two games Jeffrey replaced Svarc as Fletcher’s partner and both scored in another 3-3 draw at Sincil Bank, this time against Southend. City’s winless start to the season came to an end with a 2-0 win over Chester in mid-September, and this was followed by the same scoreline at Grimsby in the next match, Fletcher heading the first goal, doubtless with some of his Western School pupils looking on. Things had begun to look up for City as Fletcher starred in a 4-0 win against York, scoring the opening goal and winning a penalty in a performance which had Maurice Burton enthusing as being perhaps the best individual performance by a City player in the whole of the 1960s! But having climbed above mid-table results deteriorated again although Fletcher made it 6 goals in 7 games as his brace earned a point at Swansea. With Jeffrey now out of the side through injury the striker now found himself partnered by big Trevor Meath, newly signed from Walsall although as a midfield player.

City’s form continued to be mixed, although Fletcher was scoring regularly, reaching 14 goals by mid-December, over three times as many as any other City player. He was summed up at the time by Jonathan Lang in the Lincolnshire Chronicle as “A player with a big heart, an eye for the half chance and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy who buzzes teases and torments defences until they crack.” But City ended December below mid-table, with Jack Lewis the latest to be given a turn at playing alongside Fletcher up front. Maurice Burton again had more praise for Fletcher as being City’s stand-out player of 1969. Three wins in a row revived hopes of a promotion push but they were effectively ended by a serious injury to Trevor Meath, now giving powerful displays in midfield, which saw him miss the rest of the season. Fletcher then hit a lean spell for the first time, as the players alongside him continued to be rotated, going 11 games without scoring and in fact only managing two more goals by the end of the season. He finished with a total of 17 goals in all competitions having played in every game as City once again finished 8th.

Following boardroom changes manager Ron Gray then paid the price for City’s failure to win promotion as trainer Bert Loxley was installed in his place. The new manager evidently had different ideas about the nature of City’s attack, preferring big men up front, exemplified by new signing Percy Freeman. The 1970/71 season opened with Freeman partnered by another new signing, Derek Trevis with Fletcher, despite his scoring record, pushed out onto the left wing to the exclusion of Dave Smith. While this position made good use of his pace, it was soon evident that his reluctance to cross the ball with his left foot meant any advantage gained was soon lost. After four games he lost his place to Smith, taking the latter’s place on the bench. Replacing the injured Freeman for a game at Barrow he was then back on the bench again despite the game having been won 4-1 and Fletcher’s “honest endeavour and tremendous work rate” being praised by manager Bert Loxley.

The Trevis and Freeman partnership had initially worked well for City, but following two defeats, including letting in four goals at Stockport in early October, Trevis was switched to defence with Fletcher returning to the side and he responded with two goals in three games. A crop of injuries then took a hand, causing Fletcher to once more have to play on the left wing due to Dave Smith being required in midfield in an FA Cup win over Barrow with Bobby Svarc recalled from a loan to the Cumbrian club to play (and score) against them. Another goal came for Fletcher in the middle one of three games required to get past Bradford City in the next round of the FA Cup before he found himself now switched to the right wing to cover for the injured Gordon Hughes for three or four games. With Freeman injured Fletcher was then partnered with Svarc up front, the latter having hit a purple scoring patch since his return to the side. Another goal came in what was City’s fourth away defeat in a row at Darlington but it was then back to the wings for the previous season’s top scorer, first on the left again before shortly afterwards taking over on the right from veteran Gordon Hughes who had been allowed to leave the club.

Meanwhile, with City sliding towards the bottom four positions manager Loxley had acted to strengthen the side, continuing his apparent policy of preferring a big man up front by signing Alan Gilliver from Third Division Brighton. But with Gilliver injured in his first game his replacement up front was Phil Hubbard as new manager David Herd, appointed in place of Loxley, retained Fletcher in the side as a right winger. What was to be his last goal for the club came in what at the time was a rare win, this being against Oldham Athletic in mid-March. After an amazing 5-4 home defeat to York Fletcher was back on the subs’ bench for the next game and made his last appearance for City coming on for Bobby Svarc in a 3-0 home defeat to Barrow to finish the season with just 5 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions.

With David Herd having been unable to keep City out of the re-election places Fletcher was one of the players transfer listed during the close season as City had a surplus of strikers. Herd, like his predecessor preferring the likes of Freeman and Gilliver, plus Svarc, who had finished with a total of 15 goals, together with the up-and-coming John Ward, and Phil Hubbard who had been increasingly played as a striker and top-scored with 19.

Although some supporters considered he had had rather a raw deal, rarely being played in his best position during the season just ended it was no surprise that Rod Fletcher left the club when he did, nor that he joined another one close to his place of work. Scunthorpe paid a bargain £2,500 for the striker as a replacement for their leading scorer Kevin Keegan who had just joined Liverpool. Mostly playing alongside later Imps manager George Kerr Fletcher went on to have the best season of his career, top scoring with 20 goals in all competitions in the 1971/72 season and playing in every league game as Scunthorpe beat City to the fourth promotion place by one point. However, he was less productive in Division Three (League One) the following year, despite missing only one league game, finishing with a total of  11 goals as Scunthorpe made an immediate return to Division Four.

Fletcher started the 1973/74 season with one goal in 10 appearances before joining Third Division Grimsby in the November thus completing the round of the Lincolnshire clubs and being even closer to his teaching job. Unfortunately, he then began to suffer a succession of knee injuries and made only 12 appearances for the Mariners in the remainder of the season scoring one goal. He played just one further game for Grimsby in August 1974 before his league career came to a close at the age of 29. He then had a spell as manager of Immingham Town in the Lincolnshire League between 1975 and 1977 before finishing playing with Midland League side Louth United.

In Rod Fletcher’s day job in the Grimsby area, as well as teaching PE and English at the Western School he later moved to Clee Grammar School before retiring in 2003 as Deputy Head at Humberston Comprehensive School.

Abiding memories of Rod Fletcher are of him running on to through balls from Bill Taylor, his pace taking him clear of the defence to fire the ball against the goalkeeper and slot home the rebound – although how many of his goals really happened exactly like that I’m not sure!

Rod Fletcher’s Football League record totalled 201 appearances with 60 goals scored.

 

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