When Newcastle United asked their fans to vote on the club’s all time greatest XI back in November of last year, only 38 candidates were shortlisted. Between them, they had racked up 10,836 appearances in the black and white of Newcastle, an average of 285 each. Yet one of the candidates only ever played 39 games in fourteen months at St James’ Park. Younger voters or those from other clubs may have wondered how Tony Green’s name was being mentioned in the same breath as Shearer and Beardsley, but it was no mistake or misprint.
From the very dawn of the codified game, Scotland has been the nation of midfield schemers, dazzling dribblers and precision passers. Going back to Alex James in the 1920’s and 30’s, to the likes of Gordon Smith and Willie Moir in the decades that followed. In the mid-1960’s, another player with that rare creative spark began to announce himself in North Lanarkshire.
Tony Green was born in Glasgow a year after allied forces had defeated the axis powers in World War II. He began his football career straight out of school, about ten miles east of Glasgow in the town of Coatbridge. Those familiar with Scotland’s geography and football will know that Coatbridge’s team is Albion Rovers, Scottish Cup winners back in 1920. Despite his slight frame, Green broke into the first team at Cliftonhill, at the same time that he was representing Scotland at youth level.
After three years with the mid-table second tier Scottish minnows, Green headed south of the border to Blackpool. The Tangerines had already been relegated from the First Division when Green arrived for more than £15,000, and manager Ron Stuart had been replaced by club legend Stan Mortensen. A brilliant inside-forward himself, Mortensen scored a hat-trick in Blackpool’s thrilling 1953 FA Cup triumph.
In his first full season at Bloomfield Road, the Seasiders were denied of an immediate return to the First Division on goal difference. They made amends in the following campaign, but Green played little part in the triumph, as an Achilles injury ruled him out for over a year. So he returned as a top flight player one month into the 1970-71 season, and the diminutive Scot looked like he’d never been away.
In January 1971, Blackpool’s FA Cup Fourth Round tie with West Ham was chosen to be televised. It would prove to be one of Green’s most notable performances, as he bagged a brice in a devastating display of trickery as Blackpool beat West Ham 4-0. Blackpool won the Anglo-Italian cup that year, with wins over the likes of Roma, Verona and Bologna in the final, but they were knocked out in the next round of the FA Cup by Hull City, and finished the season in the relegation places. Green scored a famous goal in Blackpool’s last game of the season against Manchester United in a 1-1 draw.
Blackpool may have been relegated to the Second Division, but Green returned to the First Division only a month or so into the next season. Newcastle United were the suitors, signing him for £150,000. The transfer made him the second most expensive player in Newcastle history, behind Malcolm MacDonald, and both players quickly set about justifying their high price tags.
After a poor start to the season, Newcastle soon started climbing the table, with Green considered the ‘brains’ of the team in attacking midfield. Adored by the Geordie faithful for his confidence, skill and vision on the football pitch, Green scored in a 3-1 win against Southampton which kick-started the Magpies season. The midfielder found Old Trafford to be a happy hunting ground once more, in a game where he assisted two goals and left George Best flat on his back with an audacious run during a 2-0 win. The Magpies finished the season in eleventh place.
In September 1972, seven games into the 1972-73 season, a tackle by Crystal Palace centre-back Mel Blyth caused Green to feel a pain in his knee. It turned out to be severely damaged cartilage. An injury that we are far better equipped in treating today, during the first half century of professional football, it was a regular season and career ending blow.
That is exactly what it proved to be for Tony Green. He was 25 at the time of the injury, and 26 when he officially retired at Christmas 1973, the same age as Ryan Mason who we sadly saw forced into hanging up his boots far too early last week. The Newcastle United manager Joe Harvey, who described Green as his best buy, stated, “After they made Tony Green, they threw away the mould. I couldn’t hope to buy a similar player, not even for twice the amount.”
He went on to form part of the Pools Panel alongside Roger Hunt, Arthur Ellis and Ronnie Simpson, as well as working as a maths teacher. Green has since been inducted into both Newcastle United and Blackpool’s Hall of Fames. He missed out on Newcastle United’s all time XI, winning 10% of the vote, which still meant he received more votes than the likes of Bobby Mitchell, Colin Veitch and Chris Waddle.