Here at Talking Bull we continue to build up our career archive detailing former Hereford characters, and in this article we take a look back at a bustling, all-action centre-forward who created havoc amongst opposition defences across the country.
‘King Eric’ is without doubt a Hereford legend. His fearsome presence and all-action style was to see him acquire cult status at Edgar Street. His arrival in October 1972 transformed the Bulls into a highly competitive attacking unit. I am convinced Eric scared the living daylights out of most opposition defenders and goalkeepers, and as long as the ball went into the back of the net he cared little about how it got there.
Eric was born in Wigan in August 1944 and was invited to play football or rugby union for his local town, but as a schoolboy he eventually accepted terms with Bolton Wanderers. After working through the youth sides at Burnden Park he became a full-time professional in February 1962, shortly after starring as an England youth international.
His opening goal in the Football League soon followed, with Bolton at that time plying their trade in the Second Division. An unsuccessful month at Colchester in 1966 ended with a transfer to Southport, then an established league side.
‘Big Red’ became an instant favourite with the regulars at Haig Avenue as his direct style of play, body checks and shoulder charges created plenty of openings. His first goal for Southport came in front of the television cameras as ‘Match of the Day’ broadcast highlights of a 3-3 home draw with Swindon Town in the 1967/68 season. This was one of his finest – a 25 yard screamer – although it was his strong physical frame and powerful running that caught the eye.
The then 16-year-old Workington goalkeeper, John Burridge, said of Redrobe, “He had a reputation for being a bit of a hardman. At corner kicks he would be growling under his breath that he was going to kill you. True to his word, he hammered into me and broke my rib. I was in absolute agony. I was still recovering from a smashed nose, and now I had a cracked rib to add to the broken bones collection.”
Eric was top scorer for Southport in 1970/71 and again in 1971/72, in all bagging 55 goals in 192 league appearances for the Sandgrounders.
Hereford were elected to the Football League in the summer of 1972, and it quickly became evident United needed a target man to compete in what was then a very physical division. Colin Addison wasted little time in bringing in Redrobe for a £5,000 transfer fee, with the striker setting up both goals on his Bulls’ debut in a convincing 2-0 win over Northampton Town. The match was also notable as Ron Radford scored his first league goal for Hereford.
But Redrobe recalled a strange meeting with boss Addison during his first week at Edgar Street, “He turned up at the house I was renting, took one look at the front lawn, and said, ‘Eric, what’s going on here? I want this lawn cut before you come to training tomorrow. “A few hours later he turned up with a Qualcast lawnmower, and told me to get it cut. I’ve still got that lawnmower in my garage!”
Redrobe was described as having a ‘wicked toothless grin who loved nothing better than trying to soften up the opposition’ and certainly his arrival at the club set Hereford on a remarkable run that saw them eventually gain promotion from Division Four as runners-up behind his former side Southport.
Asked why he was a fans favourite he replied, “It is not for me to say why I was popular with the supporters. I wasn’t a flash person. I played from the heart, with a tremendous passion. I wasn’t the most tactful on the pitch, but gave it absolutely everything. The Hereford fans know when they see honesty on the pitch, and I can still hear the crowd chanting my name in my head, ‘Redrobe, Redrobe’. I was on £27 per week, but I was in dreamland”.
He went on to score 18 goals in 87 appearances for Hereford, but it was his positive attitude that made the difference. His sheer presence lifted the supporters, and the decibel level at the Meadow End shot up whenever Eric was in the penalty area. Addison insists, “Harry Gregory gave us quality, David Rudge width, but Redrobe was our battering ram. After he arrived we went 16 games unbeaten and went on to gain promotion.”
One of Eric’s personal highlights as a Bulls’ player arose at Upton Park against West Ham on 5 January 1974 in front of a 23,087 crowd. His 23rd minute goal put Hereford one-up before substitute Pat Holland scored a late equaliser past Tommy Hughes. Eric had left the field with a knee injury early in the second half and apparently sat in the dressing room with cotton wool in his ears – not wanting to know the final score until the final whistle.
Hereford triumphed in the FA Cup replay as a phenomenal crowd of 17,423 crammed into Edgar Street. Even ‘Match of the Day’ broadcast a midweek ‘Cup Special’ as the Bulls beat the Hammers 2-1 in a fantastic match played on a Wednesday afternoon due to an industrial dispute and a three-day week.
Eric was also in the Bulls’ squad that lifted the Third Division Championship, making 20 appearances that season before being released in 1976.
He continued to play football for Bath City, Bridgend and Ledbury Town before returning to Edgar Street in 1978 as a non-contract player when Hereford had an injury crisis. Spells at Westfields and Presteigne St Andrews followed.
As always Eric has the last word’ “I think our era was a more honest one. It was about players who gave their all for the cause, and I don’t see that as much in the professional game now.
“I’m a very old-fashioned person, but when I look at the modern game at the very top level I think – where’s the honesty?”
Eric Redrobe, most definitely a Hereford Hero.
By Keith Hall.