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John 'Bonny' Archer

Whitstable Town FC: John 'Bonny' Archer

 Ten Games for Grimsby
The Short League Career of Whitstable Football Hero Bonny Archer 

by Ian Johnson

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On 20 February 1954, a local lad named John Archer who had been playing for Whitstable Reserves made his first -team debut in goal for Whitstable in a friendly match against Crystal Palace Reserves at Belmont. He was then just 17 years and 10 months old. On 7 March 1954 he made his Kent League debut in a match versus Deal and, by April, he had made five appearances for Whitstable’s first team.

Grimsby Town, of the Third Division North, were taking an interest in John Archer’s performances and, before the end of April 1954, they signed him up.

Grimsby's manager at the time was Billy Walsh, an Irishman who had had a long playing career with Manchester City both before and after the Second World War and had then, from 1951 to 1954, had a three-year spell as player-manager for Canterbury City. He became manager of Grimsby Town in February 1954, succeeding Bill Shankly. So, if we were wondering how it came to be that Grimsby Town came to sign John Archer, I think we can assume that Billy Walsh knew about him from his time with Canterbury.

Grimsby Town had never been a big league club. They spent three short spells in Division 1 during the first half of the 20th century, the last one ending in 1948, but by 1954 they had been relegated twice in six years and were in Division 3 North.

John Archer must have impressed the manager  in training during the summer and in pre-season friendly matches, as he was lined up for his first-team debut when the 1954-55 season was due to start.


Report from the Grimsby Evening Telegraph


Special interest was being shown in the teenager from Whitstable.



He made that league debut on Saturday 21st August 1954 in Grimsby’s opening league game, away to Rochdale, and straight away made an excellent impression in a match which Grimsby won 3-0.


"John Archer passed his league “blooding” satisfactorily. He made some excellent saves particularly a one-handed save from Anders, and none of the 6,000 spectators could have thought that he was playing in the Kent League but a few months ago".

(Grimsby Evening Telegraph)  


The following Tuesday, Grimsby were due to play their local rivals Scunthorpe United in their first home game of the season. Grimsby lost this match 4-1. Archer was said to have made several brilliant saves and no blame at all was apportioned to him for what was a very poor defensive display. He retained his place for the next match.



"Town have to thank Archer that the final score against them was not much heavier. He brought off spanking saves from Gregory, Haigh and Jones, coming to the rescue of a defence that was at times mesmerised by some precision footwork by Scunthorpe’s eager forwards."

(Grimsby Evening Telegraph)  


The following Saturday, 28th August, Grimsby played at home to Tranmere, and drew the match 2-2. Archer was not singled out in this match report, but must have had a satisfactory game as he was retained for the return match against Scunthorpe on the following Thursday, 2nd September, when Grimsby again lost to their local rivals, this time by the margin of 1-0.  

John Archer distinguished himself in this game by making a good save from a penalty taken by Scunthorpe’s ace penalty-taker, Jack Brownsword. This is the only game John Archer played for Grimsby where the local paper featured a photo of him during a game, albeit of poor quality (the photo that is, not the save!).





Jack Brownsword was in his time one of the most deadly penalty-takers in the English league. I remember reading a story that illustrates this well. In the late 1950s or early 1960s Tony Macedo, a goalkeeper who played for Fulham, began to experiment with new techniques when facing penalties. One was for the keeper to stand not halfway along the goal-line as was and still is normal, but to stand two-thirds of the way along the line. This presented the penalty-taker with a dilemma: should he aim for the two-thirds of the goal, where the keeper would be sure to dive and just try to place it out of the keeper’s reach, or aim for the narrow one-third, being sure that if the aim was accurate enough a goal would be certain. The problem would be that aiming for one-third of the goal would require deadly accuracy, and few penalty-takers would be THAT confident of their skills. Jack Brownsword was said to be one of the very few who took a penalty against Tony Macedo, aimed for the narrow gap, and succeeded in scoring. He had a long and distinguished career as a full-back with Scunthorpe United, and still holds the record number of league appearances for the club, 595.

The following game was away to Stockport two days later on Saturday 4th September, and ended 0-0. Again John Archer was acclaimed for his performance in goal.



Archer holds fort in tip-top style

A fighting display, especially in defence, earned Grimsby Town a point at Edgeley Park this afternoon. Stockport County always had much more of the play and were always threatening, yet the Town defence held on. The hero of the game, as far as Grimsby were concerned, was John Archer, who made many first-class saves.

(Grimsby Evening Telegraph)  


With only one win in the first five games things were not going well for Grimsby. In the sixth game, at home to Chester, an unconvincing display by Grimsby resulted nevertheless in a 3-1 win, in front of a home crowd of 9,982.

John Archer had strained a tendon in that Chester game and the regular goalkeeper, Clarrie Williams, took his place in goal and kept that place for the next seven games, even though those games consisted of two wins and five defeats, and even though Archer was soon fit again.

Archer’s return came a whole month later, on Saturday 9th October, in a home game against Wrexham. Grimsby lost that game 3-1, and the main comments about Grimsby’s performance concerned their lack of fire-power up front, rather than any failings in defence. Wrexham were adjudged to have achieved a lucky win.

The following Saturday, 16th October, Archer kept his place in goal for the game away to Accrington Stanley. Grimsby lost this game 3-0 and, for the first time, Archer was adjudged to have had a bad game, being held directly responsible for two of the goals, although he also made some good saves.

Despite this, and despite playing in a Lincolnshire Cup game in midweek against Lincoln City on Tuesday 19th October, when he scored an own goal, he retained his place for the next league game at home to Mansfield Town on Saturday 23rd October.

This proved to be a hard-fought game and ended in a 3-2 win for Grimsby, which lifted them up to fifth from bottom of the table. John Archer’s performance in goal was described as sound and he distinguished himself with another penalty save, from Mansfield’s Oscar Fox, when Grimsby were already 3-2 ahead.


"John Archer, the Mariners’ goalkeeper, gave a praiseworthy performance culminating in the saving of the penalty taken by Fox after the Town had built up a 3-2 lead."

"A goal at this stage might have meant the loss of one point – or possibly both – and Archer must take a share of the honours for Grimsby’s success."

(Grimsby Evening Telegraph)  


This was his second penalty save of the season. (N.B. Jeff Trice writes on his website that John Archer made three penalty saves in his time with Grimsby Town, but I have only been able to establish two – which is still a pretty remarkable record! And it’s a hundred per cent record: two penalties faced, two saved.)

The next game was on Saturday 30th October away to Workington, then managed by Bill Shankly, who had had a spell as Grimsby manager and had left the club just nine months previously. (This was several years before his famously successful era at Liverpool began in 1959. Between Workington and Liverpool Bill Shankly had a spell as manager at Huddersfield Town, where he is still fondly remembered by those with long memories here in my present home town, especially for signing a shy bespectacled 15 year old boy from junior football in Scotland and introducing him to league football with Huddersfield at the age of 16. The boy’s name was Denis Law.)

The game against Workington turned out to be a pretty even game ending in a 2-2 draw. Both keepers were said to have made good saves. This turned out to be John Archer’s last league game. Clarrie Williams was recalled for the next league game, and continued in goal for the rest of the season, which included a good F.A. Cup run where, after defeating Halifax Town and Southampton in the first two rounds, Grimsby Town were drawn at home to the mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers in the third round. They went 2-0 up in this match, only to fade later in the game and end up losing 5-2.

There is one more game in which John Archer took part which is worth mentioning. On Wednesday 2nd November, four days after what turned out to be Archer’s last league game, Grimsby Town played at home to an International XI in a friendly under the floodlights of Blundell Park and John Archer played in goal for the home side. He found himself attempting to save shots from the likes of Jackie Milburn and Wilf Mannion. Before a crowd of 10,914, Grimsby played against a team comprising of ex-internationals and other guests, several of them still players, other ex-players, some of whom were now managers. Grimsby managed to win the game 6-4, though. 

It is worth taking a closer look at some of the players who were on display that night for the international XI: ...


Jackie Milburn ... showed that he still had electrifying pace and scored twice past the helpless Archer. Milburn was still playing for Newcastle and had not played for England since 1951 but, a year later in 1955, he played one more game for England.  
Wilf Mannion ... had just left Middlesbrough after a long career as an inside-forward which included 26 caps for England. He was one of Middlesbrough’s greatest footballing heroes.  
Ivan Broadis ... of Manchester City (previously of Carlisle and Newcastle) had six months before, played at inside-forward for England against Hungary away in the famous 7-1 humiliation of England. He distinguished himself by scoring the one goal! He won a total of14 England caps.  
Ted Burgin ... of Sheffield United was the goalkeeper. He had no England caps but had been an England reserve.  
Billy Cairns ... had no caps but had been a prolific goalscorer with Newcastle and later with Grimsby, and had by now retired from playing.  
Tim Ward ... was at this time Barnsley manager, but had won two England caps as a wing-half while with Derby County.  
Frank Broome ... had won seven England caps as a winger while with Aston Villa, and was now on the staff at Notts County.  
Sammy Crooks ... was manager at Shrewsbury and had won 26 England caps as a right-winger during a playing career with Derby County.  
Joe Harvey ... played for Newcastle for many years, and later had a 13-year spell as Newcastle manager between 1962 and 1975.  


This must have been a truly memorable game for John Archer and it turned out to be his last game for Grimsby’s first team.

John Archer continued to play for the club reserve team in the Midland League and sometimes for the “A” team in the Lincolnshire League. He must have still been regarded as a fine prospect for the future by the club but, as an 18 year old lad living so far away from home in the middle of what turned out to be a harsh winter with a lot of snow, it is no wonder that he began to get homesick. 

Playing for Grimsby reserves or “A” team in front of at most a few hundred spectators cannot have felt much different from playing for Whitstable at Belmont. He must have also begun to feel that the prospects for his football future would be better served back home in Kent and, on 18th January, it was announced by the club that John Archer’s contract with Grimsby Town had been cancelled by mutual agreement because of his homesickness. The club were very reluctant to agree to this.

The following reports come from the Grimsby Evening Telegraph on 19th and 22nd January:...


Grimsby Evening Telegraph


Grimsby continued to struggle through the rest of the season. In March 1955 Billy Walsh left the club, and he was replaced by Allenby Chilton, a man who had a long career as a centre-half with Manchester United and two England caps, but had recently been replaced in the Manchester United team by Mark Jones, one of the “Busby Babes” who later died in the Munich disaster. Chilton came to Grimsby as player-manager.

Allenby Chilton was unable to save Grimsby Town from finishing 23rd in the Division 3 North that season, and having to apply for re-election. However, the following season he took them to the Division 3 North championship, and they spent three years back in Division 2 before being relegated again.

John Archer’s football career back home in Kent has been well-documented by Jeff Trice. To summarise briefly, Archer came straight back to play for Whitstable. He then had two seasons with Canterbury (while he did his National Service). A second spell with Whitstable was followed by spells with Ashford and Margate. He finished his career with a third spell with Whitstable. Apart from football, he finished his apprenticeship as a boat builder and later went into the building business with one of his brothers. He is also remembered as a solid wicketkeeper-batsman for Whitstable Cricket Club.

John 'Bonny' Archer died in 1987 but is fondly remembered by a whole generation of Whitstable football fans.

It would be good to know how the nickname “Bonny” originated. There is no indication of his being known as “Bonny” while at Grimsby.  I look forward to comments and additional information from the Simply Whitstable readership.

My thanks go to the Grimsby Telegraph for permission to reproduce extracts from reports and to Jeff Trice of .  


Ian Johnson


On behalf of Simply Whitstable, I would to add our thanks to the Grimsby Telegraph and Jeff Trice. I would alos like to thank Ian for all the time and effort he has devoted to preparing this article. 

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