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Blog: Foreign Legionnaires

19 September 2013

In the second of his series of peeks at the past, Historically Speaking, Mick Chappell reviews the ‘Foreign Legionnaires’ who have played a part in the Magpies progress, or lack of the same!

The ‘R’ word first entered my vocabulary in 1958 when Lincoln City’s remarkable late season revival condemned the Maggies to Third Division football at end of Tommy Lawton’s ill-fated managerial spell at the Lane. Hopes had been understandably high when Tommy succeeded Frank Broome in the hot seat in May 1957, but the euphoria didn’t last long after a 0-1 defeat at Sheffield United kicked off a campaign that started with County drawing two and losing five of their first seven matches in a familiar-sounding sequence that doesn’t bear too much thinking about right now! 

Still, the gloom lifted a little following a couple of wins over Swansea and Lincoln City and things were really buzzing when Lawton’s charismatic reputation tempted the Maggies’ first big name, foreign signing to join him at Meadow Lane. The player in question was Chilean international, Ted Robledo, whose better known, older brother, George, the former Newcastle United star striker, had topped the 1951.52 First Division scoring charts and scored the winning goal against 10-man Arsenal in the 1952 Wembley Cup Final. 

Despite their exotic pedigree the Robledo brothers and their younger sibling, Walter, had grown up in Sheffield after being brought back to England as children by their Yorkshire-born mother. They started their professional footballing careers at Barnsley where George’s goalscoring feats soon tempted the counterfeit North Eastern Magpies to top the record £20,000 fee that had brought Lawton to the Lane four years previously by paying £26,000 for his talents in a deal that included defender Ted as a ‘make-weight’. 

Even so Ted went on to win an FA Cup winners’ medal against the Gunners so his eventual arrival in Nottingham from the exotically entitled Santiago Club, Colo Colo was the talk of the Town. Unfortunately, however, the fizz seemed to have gone out of Ted’s football when he made his debut in a 2-5 defeat at Bristol Rovers and, although the novelty value of his one and only home appearance attracted the season’s best attendance of almost 24,000 to see a 1-0 win over Derby County, Ted and his wife, a famous dancer, decided Nottingham was not for them and rapidly disappeared back to Chile. 

Subsequently Robledo sought solace by working on oil rigs in the Gulf after the collapse of his marriage and his life eventually ended tragically when he went missing from a ship off Dubai under mysterious circumstances one dark night in 1970. So there was no happy ending to the bizarre story of probably the most interesting member of the ‘Foreign Legion’ of overseas players who’ve worn the black and white stripes over the last 90 years.  

Oddly enough the first two foreign-born players thus honoured were Walter Hills (1924-26) and Paddy Mills (1925-28), both of whom first saw the light of day whilst their fathers were either serving with the Forces or working in India. According to my Dear Old Dad, Mills, who scored a very respectable 36 goals in seventy-nine appearances, was a bit of a legend in his day, which is more than can be said for the next three on the list. 

Cyril Matthews (1927-29), the first of a pair from the Isle of Wight (anyone name the second of more recent years?) is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek inclusion, whilst Canadian born Fred Whittaker (1946), was the first genuine foreigner to join Notts, and Josef Praski (1948), was the first of the 10 native Frenchmen who’ve represented the ’Pies. The afore mentioned Robledo apart, with the exception of another somewhat questionable candidate in the shape of Guernsey-born Ron Farmer (1967-68), no new Legionnaires signed up before St Kitts born, but Nottingham bred, Tristian Benjamin (1974-86­) became the first child of the Caribbean to join County; the second such player, Jamaican-born Lloyd Richards (1975-77) soon followed. 

Outstanding Croatian ’keeper, Raddy Avramovic (1979-82) and then record £600,000 signing, Nigerian John Chiedozie (1981-83), were then a major factor in securing Notts promotion to the top flight in 1981, whilst the Maggies’ only Finlander, Aki Lahtinen (!981-84) helped to keep them there for three memorable seasons. Ian Hesford (1985) from Zambia briefly became County’s second foreign net-minder in a team that also featured New Zealand International winger, Declan Edge (1985), who was actually born in Malaysia where his father was a serving soldier. 

Right-back Craig Short (1990-95) appeared on this Earth in Germany under similar circumstances. Other Neil Warnock acquisitions were Australians, Frank Farina (1991), a striker, ’keeper, Bob Catlin (1992-93) and rugged centre-back, Shaun Murphy (1992-96), as well as Dutchman, Meidert Dijkstra (1992-93), who played well at left-back until he incurred Mick Walker’s wrath on a dismal evening at the old Baseball Ground. 

Still, Dijkstra was rather better than his replacement Michael Emenalo (1994), who our Mick reportedly signed on the basis of video evidence of his performances for Nigeria in the World Cup. Clearly some ‘constructive’ editing must have taken place, but having said that, the unfortunate Walker had done little better with free-scoring Bermudan striker, Shaun Goater, (1993), who managed to play just one game before it transpired that his paperwork was illegal! 

Howard Kendall was the next manager to bring in overseas-born talent, when he persuaded promising Aussie custodian Jason Kearton (1995) to sign on loan from his former club, Everton. Kearton certainly earned his corn, but after that there was something of a watershed for the Legionnaires until the far-sighted Sam Allardyce went on a bit of a foreign binge by signing Argentinean Gabriel Mendez (1996), the Gallic Tony Garcia (1998), Ghanaian Kim Grant (1998), Didier Rabat (1998), a native of the former French South Seas colony, New Caledonia, and Jamaican, Jerome Samuels (1998). 

Of that quintet only Garcia made any sort of impact, but Gary Brazil displayed far more discerning taste when he signed Australian, Danny Allsopp (1999-2002), who scored 54 goals in 188 appearance during his three seasons at the Lane thereby ensuring Notts retained their Division Two status against all the odds. The popular Allsopp (pictured) was the last of the 27 overseas players who represented Notts prior to the turn of the Millennium, but 36 more have followed since then as ‘imports’ have become the norm rather than the exception. 

To be continued...

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