AS a young and enthusiastic supporter of Crook Town Football Club, one opposition player I really feared was Ray Oliver, the Bishop Auckland centre-forward.
Ray bless him, because he was a lovely fella, spoiled more of my Saturday afternoons than I care to remember.
If he wasn’t scoring goals against Crook – and he scored plenty – then he was physically putting himself about, setting up knockdowns and chances for his team-mates.
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Former Bishop Auckland inside right Derek Lewin recalled: “I spent a lot of time at Old Trafford, Manchester, both before and after the Munich disaster, and Ray’s style of play was very similar to that of Manchester United centre-orward Tommy Taylor. Tommy used his strength and physique to create knockdowns for Dennis Violett, who would stick them into the net. Ray did a similar job for Bishop Auckland, which helped me to score numerous goals.”
GOALMOUTH ACTION: Ray Oliver (dark shirt number 9) challenges for the ball against Second Division Ipswich Town at Kingsway, Bishop Auckland in an FA Cup 3rd Round replay on Wednesday January 12th 1955. Teammate Derek Lewin is close by hoping to pick up any knockdown from Oliver's challenge. Bishop Auckland beat the Second Division club 3-0 with Oliver scoring one goal and Frank McKenna two
Perhaps Ray’s greatest game was against Second Division Ipswich Town at Portman Road in an FA Cup 3rd Round tie in the 1954-55 season.
“Ray was virtually unplayable that day as he dominated the Ipswich Town defenders, both on the ground and in the air. They couldn’t handle him, and he was the main reason why we drew 2-2 at Portman Road and then beat them 3-0 in the replay at home,” says Derek.
“When Ray came into the dressing room before a game the whole atmosphere changed. His Geordie accent, often accentuated for effect, took over as he told us all about his most recent fishing exploits before he picked on one of his local colleagues, usually Corbett Cresswell, for a friendly confrontation. The two of them kept us amused and relaxed before a game.
“There was apparently great rivalry between Ray and Corbett because Corbett would often mark Ray when Durham played Northumberland, Ray playing for Northumberland and Corbett for Durham. Ray would tell us all how easy it was to play against Corbett and how easy it was to make life difficult for him on the field. Then we would get Corbett’s version.
“Off the field he was a quiet, unassuming person, the most uncomplicated and contented person that I have ever met. He was very close to his wife and when she died he just about lost the will to live in later life.”
Bob Thursby, another playing colleague of Ray’s at Bishop Auckland, recalled a very honest person whose word was his bond.
“You could trust Ray implicitly,” said Bob. “He was very good friends with our right-back, Dave Marshall, and often myself, Dave and Ken Chisholm, who played for Sunderland, would travel up to Cullercoats to do a bit of training with Ray on the beach.
“Afterwards, we would go back to Ray’s house and his mother would make us fish and chips or something else with chips; there was always chips on the plate.
“He also had a fantastic memory and could remember incidents and players from games going way back.
“In the 1956-57 season Ray was injured just before the FA Amateur Cup semi-final with Hayes. Ray said that he was fit again to play in the semi-final but the committee ruled otherwise and left him out of the team, and Seamus O’Connell played centre forward. When we got to Wembley, the committee picked Billy Russell (his first game in the Amateur Cup).
Ray took it badly, and quite rightly so, after all his years service. He fell out with the committee for a long time but later relented and played again.
“Ray had a friend who was a doctor and this doctor had a boat, One afternoon the doctor took a few of us out for a trip on the sea near Cullercoats. The sea was very choppy and my stomach was starting to turnover when the doctor pulled the boat up and decided to return to the harbour. Ray, who was a coxswain on the lifeboats stepped up and said ‘I’ll take it back.’ The sea was still choppy but Ray rode every wave and surf like a professional; you would have thought the sea was calm, my stomach soon settled and I enjoyed the journey home.’ “Ray was a lovely guy. If he had a fault, it was that he could be stubborn. Once he had said or made up his mind about something, no matter what, he wouldn’t change his view.”
Ray Oliver died on Wednesday, April 27, 2011, aged 82.