Barry Bridges at 80 - the Norfolk footballer who was made in Chelsea
- Credit: PA
You could say he was born in Norfolk and “Made in Chelsea.” Derek James meets up with former top footballer Barry Bridges
He is a well-travelled gentleman you could listen to for hours…even if you are not interested in football.
But, if you are….well, you are in for a rare treat.
Although he never played for Norwich City he is a sporting hero in these parts and across the land where he played for some of the great football teams and his country.
Barry Bridges has just celebrated his 80th birthday at his Horsford home and he can look back on a life which took him out of the village and across the world before returning to become a milkman, popular newsagent, and now a devoted father and grandad.
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And what a life.
It was back in the summer of 1956 when the Norwich Evening News published a letter from a reader, signed ‘Disappointed Bridges Fan’, asking him to think twice before heading off to the bright lights of London.
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The fan wrote to the paper after hearing the news that the 15-year-old Hellesdon Secondary Modern schoolboy had caught the attention of Chelsea after playing for England Schoolboys.
He could run like the wind, swerve passed the opposition and score great goals.
“I would remind Barry that it is far easier to fall off the top of the ladder than to climb up from the bottom rung. Surely regular Combination appearances in the City colours for a couple of seasons would be far more beneficial than playing for the Chelsea B team or even being lent out to some obscure London nursery club sponsored by the pensioners,” wrote ‘Disappointed’.
By then young Barry, inset above, had packed his bags and was on his way to one of the most famous football grounds of all time, Stamford Bridge, which could hold 100,000 fans, making it the largest ground in England after Crystal Palace.
Barry was born during the Second World War in 1941 and so was the young fella he met up with at Chelsea, Bobby Tambling, and what a double act they turned out to be – and still are legendary and much-loved figures at the club.
A glamorous life in the 1950s? Hardly.
“Bobby and I had digs together. We were on the ground staff and part of our job was to sweep and clean the terraces after a game. Not nice but we did it,” he said.
They played for the youth team and, if good enough, they would be taken on as professionals when they were 17.
It was a different world for this young Norfolk lad and on the pitch he was a class act became a leading member of the first team. A great goalscorer.
How times have changed for young footballers.
“You can’t believe the difference. From £15 a week to £15,000 a week,” said Barry.
“Good luck to them. The football is better. They are fitter. The facilities are fantastic. These are different times. We had a maximum wage of £20 in those days,” he added.
At the beginning they were paid £4 for a win and £2 if the game was drawn.
And he earned his money when he scored for Chelsea in his first game for the club against rivals West Ham. They won 3-2.
Barry went on to be a Stamford Bridge hero and a striker in the famous team put together by manager Tommy Doherty. He was playing alongside the likes of Terry Venables, Ron “Chopper” Harris, Peter Bonetti, George Graham, Peter Osgood.
They were one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch…and what a great place to be as the 1950s turned into the swinging 60s. They were very much a part of the Kings Road scene.
Barry had been capped for his country at schoolboy and youth level but now came his proudest moment. Chosen to be a member of the England squad.
They had been playing away at Everton when manager Tommy told him he had been picked for the England team to play Scotland. He was playing up front with Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton. The game, in April of 1965 in front of 98,000 fans, was a draw. He went on to score in a game against Yugoslavia.
“I was so proud to be playing for England. I had the Union Jack in my heart. It was such a fantastic feeling,” he said.
Barry played four times for England but just missed out getting into Alf Ramsey’s squad for the 1966 World Cup.
After making almost 180 appearances for Chelsea scoring many goals (27 in 42 matches in the 64/65 season) he went on to be a leading scorer for Birmingham City. The club bought him for a record £55,000 in 1966 and he was paid £75 a week. “A decent wage in those days.”
By 1968 he was playing for Queens Park Rangers with the likes of Rodney Marsh and then he was centre forward at the notorious Den for Millwall scoring plenty of goals in a couple of seasons.
The Den was not a place for the faint-hearted. “It was a tough ground. Not many visiting supporters. We played some good football.”
Then, in 1972, he was off to Brighton where a certain Brian Clough was the manager.
“Cloughie told me I would be signed again when my contract ran out but it wasn’t…so I went off to play in South Africa in 1974 for Highlands Park which is where I met my wife Megan,” he said.
By 1976 he was player/manager for St Patrick’s Athletic in Ireland where he tempted World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks to come over for a game which packed out the little stadium. People climbed up trees to watch Gordon in fine form.
A couple of years later he was at Sligo Rovers in Ireland before finally coming home to Norfolk where he managed King’s Lynn for a while.
Remember that in those days footballers didn’t drive around in sports cars, live in mansions and have homes around the world…Barry arrived back in Norfolk to take over the family milk round.
After delivering milk for about five years he and Megan took over the West Earlham Paper Shop in Norwich which became Barry Bridges’ Newsagents and then just Barry’s.
“It was hard work but we loved it. In fact I loved every day.
“Our customers were the salt of the earth. They were our friends,” said Barry who said they sold 750 copies of the Evening News every day and 500 copies of the News of the World on a Sunday.
They ran the shop for 25 years before finally retiring in 2008 when they received 350 cards from customers wishing them well.
Today Barry and Megan are happy and devoted parents and grandparents.
They have daughter Kate and her son James, daughter Emma with her daughters Hannah and Olivia, and Barry has a son Andrew with sons Albert and George. Sadly Barry’s son Mark died.
“I have been very lucky. I have had a good life and I love Norfolk and Norwich so much,” he said after celebrating his 80th birthday.
What now for the $64,000 question.
How will Norwich City get on in the Premier League next season?
“I hope they spend some money. They need three or four good quality players. They have got to spend some money and make sure they stay up. I really hope they do. It is a lovely and fantastic family club,” said Barry.
Thanks for the memories Barry. As I said…what a life.