The Deptford Brothers – part 1

The small Northumbrian town of Lavington has existed for centuries, but until the industrial revolution it was merely known as a curiosity: due to a mix-up in the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman boundary surrounded the settlement on all sides. The industrial revolution came, though, and it was decided that Lavington was the ideal place for a port to handle Newcastle’s imports of coal from around the world. It’s this heritage that gives the town its unique dialect: the uninitiated may think it’s a variant of Geordie, but it is in fact almost indistinguishable from a Rotterdam accent.

Perhaps, too, the dominance of the trade explains the apparent wanderlust among Lavington residents, among whom a high number went on to find notability elsewhere, including such names as Jimmy Dickinson, Laurence Oates and Gavrilo Princip. The brothers John and Bill Deptford were therefore part of a long tradition, and from part of a footballing family too. They could count nine relatives who had played league football, most notably their uncle George Westcombe, who won the league with Liverpool in 1947, during a career largely interrupted by World War 2.

Both brothers showed early footballing talent, tearing up the local leagues, with outside-left John providing the chances for Bill at centre-forward. John had always been considered the leading talent though, earning England schoolboy caps, and when it came time to leave school, Bill, reasoning that he would never be more than a lower division player, opted to pursue a career on the docks, where he could earn more. Despite interest from his boyhood club Newcastle, John signed for Liverpool on his uncle’s recommendation. They were languishing in the Second Division at the time, but George sold the club’s potential to his nephew, and moreover, it was a chance to train with Billy Liddell, a player the young John had idolised. The boys’ mother Ada was pleased too, knowing that her brother could look out for John all those miles from home.

John impressed for the youth and reserve teams, but despite this, and the club’s struggles, manager Phil Taylor wouldn’t give the youngster a chance. Frustrated, John considered leaving and returning to the Northeast, but in November 1959 Taylor was sacked, and his replacement would change the course of John’s career. Bill Shankly saw John’s potential, and the need to freshen things up, and was unfazed by his young age. “I don’t see it as a risk at all. The boy’s got that something special, it doesn’t matter how old he is” said Shankly in response to doubts about John’s selection.

So it was that John Deptford made his league debut on Boxing Day 1959, just a week shy of his 23rd birthday. He scored twice in a 7-6 win against Birmingham City, and would notch almost 50 goals by the time Liverpool were promoted to the top flight in 1962. However, in that time, Bill Deptford had, to everyone’s surprise, overtaken his brother. Bored of working on the docks, he was offered a trial at Carlisle United by their scout, Sid Cup, a family friend. He jumped at the chance, caught the next train to Carlisle, and made his debut for their third team that afternoon, scoring five times in a Cumberland Cup match against Aspatria. Bill was given a contract until the end of the season, although this nearly fell through after Carlisle’s chairman, W.M. Penge reacted with fury at having to pay off Bill’s former employers. Ever impulsive, Bill had neglected to tell anyone he was leaving, and simply never returned to the docks.

Bill spent the next few months gaining fitness in the reserves, but when popular striker Grenville Dunton was ruled out with injury, manager Ted Crayford took a chance on the young striker. Bill scored a creditable six goals in ten games, but this wasn’t enough to prevent the club dropping into division four. He began the 57/58 season as first choice, and continued to score prolifically, with 30 goals that season as Carlisle narrowly missed out on promotion. They would go up as champions the following season, with Bill’s 41 goals earning him an England U-23 call-up and the attention of bigger clubs. There was a brief suggestion that Bill may join his brother at Anfield, but of all his suitors it was West Ham that appealed to him the most. He liked their style of play and was excited by the idea of moving to London, even though the move would mean a £3 per week pay cut.

The story continues in part 2...

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