The Ghosts of Bellefield: Part two of a journey into Everton FC history
BELLEFIELD stood apart from other modern training grounds because of its intimacy.
The cubbyholes for letters to Everton FC players at Bellefield
BELLEFIELD stood apart from other modern training grounds because of its intimacy. Recognised as one of the most modern and well equipped complexes of its type, it was still small.
Consisting of a two-storey main complex, a sports hall with full sized artificial pitch and two full sized outside pitches together with a number of smaller training pitches, its compact nature meant that each visit entailed interaction with everyone there.
And there was nowhere to hide – as manager Harry Catterick discovered to his cost.
A large part of Bellefield’s appeal came from the characters who populated it.
And there were few more colourful than Bernie Wright.
Signed from Walsall in 1972, Bernie the Bolt, as he was affectionately known, was central to one of the most scandalously entertaining incidents to take place at the training ground.
It was witnessed first hand by one of the youth team players of the era – a well known personality himself who prefers to relate the tale anonymously.
“It was just before Christmas and all the first team players received a hamper from John Moores,” he explained. “Bernie came intro training one morning still worse for wear from the night before and spotted a hamper box which was left over.
“He knocked the top off one of the whisky bottles and started to drink from it – except he’d broken the neck of the bottle and there was jagged glass everywhere.
“Westy (Gordon West) was the only player big enough to have a word with him but the only way he could get him to stop drinking from the bottle was to pour what was left of the whisky into a milk bottle.
“By now the coaching staff had heard of the commotion and came down to investigate, but when Stewart Imlach tried to tear a strip of Bernie, Bernie smacked him!
“The lads had been winding Bernie up about why he was down to train with the reserves when he should have been with the first team and he decided to take matters into his own hands and go and have it out with Harry Catterick.
Inside the groundsman's shed at Everton FC's old training ground Bellefield
“He charged up the stairs to seek out Catterick, but the boss had been tipped off by trainer Tommy Egglestone about what was going on and he locked his office door and headed down the spiral staircase!
“While Bernie was pounding on his office door The Catt was making himself scarce in his car.
“Bernie eventually walked out of the training ground, thumbed a lift on the back of a passing coal lorry and headed off down Queen’s Drive still swigging from the milk bottle full of whisky!”
Colin Harvey recalled a lighter moment involving the big striker.
“Bernie was a great lad,” he smiled. “He often got himself into some kinds of bother, but he mucked in with the lads and enjoyed a laugh.
“He shouldn’t have done some of the things that he carried out back then, but he was a naive young lad and I think if he had his time again, maybe he would have been a bit different, especially so early on in his Everton career.
“A lot of people said that Bernie didn’t have any skill but one day Bernie was shouting his mouth off about how good he was, so Alan Whittle challenged him to a skills test.
“The challenge was that Bernie had to run two-and-a-half lengths of the pitch with the ball in the air, juggling it so that it didn’t touch the ground.
“He had three chances to complete the task – which if you think about having to turn round with the ball after you’d completed one length, wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
A rotting dartboard at Everton's Bellefield training ground
“Bernie did it, second go! It went down really well with the lads because a few players thought he would be able to do it and had fivers riding on him, which was a lot of money in those days.
“All the lads were on the bank of the training pitch clapping and roaring. I’ve never seen Alan so quiet, though!”
Like a real-life Tardis, a narrow entrance driveway to Bellefield, guarded by rows of semi-detached houses either side, opened up into one of football’s most celebrated training grounds.
But an oasis of tranquility it rarely was – and some of the noises emanating from the training pitches came straight from the African jungle.
Graham Stuart, a hugely popular player of the 1990s, explained: “Gonzo the kitman (Jimmy Martin) had been there for years and was top class, but the abuse he used to get was fearsome.
“He’s got a parrot’s nose, a right old beak. All the players used to squawk at him when he walked on the pitch. We would squawk at him everywhere. Out of windows, on the bus, wherever . . . or scream ‘Who’s a pretty boy then!’
“Jimmy would go nuts, spinning round, threatening people. He must have threatened more than 60 people while I was there alone. Gary Ablett had the best squawk I have ever heard in my life.
“Despite all the stick, deep down all the lads respected him deeply. You don’t give the amount of stick and abuse to people like Jimmy without secretly loving him.
“He was part of the team. I actually roomed with him on an end-of-season trip to Marbella rather than room with one of the players. I regretted it afterwards, though. His snoring is a disgrace!”
LINKS between Cheltenham and Everton aren’t numerous – but the Gloucestershire and Mersey clubs have shared three centre-forwards ... of vastly contrasting quality.
Brett Angell managed one goal in his 18 Everton appearances, failed to score in 10 Sunderland appearances and was similarly unsuccessful in front of goal for Queens Park Rangers.
But in the lower leagues he was prolific – and nowhere more so than at Whaddon Road.
Angell burst onto the scene in 1987-88 with 24 goals in 37 appearances for Cheltenham – a flurry which earned him a move to Stockport County where he made his name as a reliable marksman.
Bernie Wright took the opposite path to Cheltenham.
After a league career which embraced Walsall, Port Vale, Bradford City – and a short-lived but memorable spell at Everton in the 1970s – Bernie The Bolt wound his career down in non-League football, including a spell at Whaddon Road.
While Angell and Wright feature only on Everton lists of infamy, Andy Gray is a 24 carat Goodison legend.
And he took his last steps in competitive football for Cheltenham Town in 1990, after leaving Glasgow Rangers.
Predictably he scored, seven times in 20 appearances for the then Conference club.
Bernie Wright, nicknamed 'Bernie The Bolt' signed for Everton in Feb 1972 from Walsall. He made his debut against them across the park, but only played 10 times scoring 2 goals for the club before having his contract terminated for 'serious misconduct'.
It is rumoured that this 'misconduct' occurred when he discovered he'd been dropped and chased the club manager around the training ground. He was also known to like a pint and a fight.
He returned to Walsall in 1973 where he became a favourite with the fans, scoring 48 goals in 196 matches before moving on to Port Vale in 1978. He also played for two years at Kidderminster Harriers during the early eighties.