When one South Shields footballer played against Best, Law and the rest

Former footballer Joe Jopling.
Former footballer Joe Jopling.

Today we continue the Boy’s Own story of South Shields-born Joe Jopling who started his working life as a welder, but retired as a professional footballer.

Yesterday we heard how the former Brinkburn School pupil had just started playing for Aldershot Town when “big guns” Leicester City came in with a £500,000 transfer offer for him.

“I wanted to stay at Aldershot because I had only been there a short while, and I didn’t think I was ready,” explains Joe.

“But it was a lot of money for the club, and the manager said you have to go.

“When I got to Leicester (who I played for from 1969/70 to 1974), they were top of Division Two.

“I was substitute for a few games, and just missed out on a medal when they got promoted.”

At Leicester Joe got injured and was out of action for two years.

“They were taking x-rays on my leg where I’d been kicked, and they eventually revealed that a bit of bone had broken off and become lodged under my left leg.

“When they opened it up, they found that a piece of bone about an inch and a half had grown, which meant I could hardly run.

“They put it right, but I missed two years’ of training, but at least I was on the road to getting fit again.”

Despite the set-back, there was an unexpected silver lining.

“The lovely thing about it, was that the manager at the time, Jimmy Bloomfield, said I’m going to put you in the reserves at centre forward, and playing there, I scored 17 goals in 15 games.

“After that, I became a regular sub for the first team, and came on three or four games as centre forward.”

Joe says he remembers one particular game, against Birmingham, when the manager said “rough up Kenny Burns”.

“After the first tackle I ended up in row C of the stand.

“Because I was scoring goals, the manager said ‘a couple of sides have come in for you’, so I went to Torquay on loan. I was there for a month and made a good understanding with their centre forward who had stopped scoring, but who started scoring again when we played together.

“After that first month, they extended the loan to a second month, and two weeks into that second month Aldershot came in for me.

“Jimmy Bloomfield said he couldn’t guarantee me first team football, which I wanted to play, so I went to Aldershot where I was going to play centre forward and then centre half.

“I was there for 10 years and had a great time.

“There were about five Geordies at Aldershot, the first time I played for them, and two the second time.

“I retired from Aldershot after playing 460 games for them.”

One of the highlights of Joe’s footballing career was when, in the 1969/70 season, Aldershot drew Manchester United in the League Cup.

“That was the fantastic side of Best, Stiles, Law and Kidd.

“I was playing left back at the time. It was fantastic for Aldershot, the crowd was about 16,400, they crowded everyone in. What an atmosphere it was.

“It was fantastic playing against those players. We did absolutely fantastic, we were a Fourth Division side playing them, and we gave them a good game, though they won 3-1.”

But the match was also memorable for another reason, as Joe explains.

“I was knocked out by Brian Kidd before half time and ended up in hospital which was a shame because my mam, dad and brother were at the match. We played them again in a friendly charity match when they had all the other favourites playing for them such as Bryan Robson.

“But the big highlight of my career was when Aldershot played Carlisle United away from home in the FA Cup.

“They were top of Division Two and we drew 2-2.

“We were two nil down and Jack Howarth scored our first goal and I scored our second.

“We took them back to Aldershot for a replay and they beat us 4-1.

“I have been very fortunate to have been able to play football.

“I never went looking for it, it just happened, and that was fantastic. It’s been a wonderful life.”

And what of today’s football?

“The game is a lot quicker; the lads are more physical, more muscular and the football played by some teams is quite unbelievable.”

And that pretty much sums up Joe’s footballing career – “quite unbelievable”.