Roy Summersby's contribution to Crystal Palace."/>
April 25 2012
Iain Gordon applauds inside forward Roy Summersby's contribution to Crystal Palace.
Watching football on television the other night I saw a Premier League player waste a great opportunity by casually passing the ball with the outside of his foot resulting it going out of play. That kind of showboating pass is quite common these days but the accuracy of it cannot always be guaranteed.
It cast my mind back to Roy Summersby, an inside forward, who was signed from Millwall aged 23 in 1958, not long after Barry Pierce had gone in the opposite direction, and had five seasons at Selhurst Park.
Summersby was a Lambeth boy, small in stature but stocky with an immaculate swept back hairstyle. He was one of new manager George Smith’s first signings and coincided with Palace’s first season in the inaugural Fourth Division and the emergence of the highly talented Johnny Byrne.
Byrne, still under 20, had scored seven goals the previous season but following Summersby’s signing he scored 10 in the second half of the 1958/59 season while the ex-Millwall boy scored nine. The following season they scored 31 between them.
Signing Summersby was a shrewd move by Smith as the player had not exactly shone at Cold Blow Lane. He may well have seen Roy as a steady Eddie distributor of the ball complementing the flamboyance and foresight of Byrne, the future England player.
Whatever the case the partnership between the two flourished and came to fruition in the following seasons, during which Summersby proved himself to be a fairly prolific goalscorer as well as a supplier.
He was though extremely meticulous and technically precise about his passing, no outside of the foot stuff or leaning back when releasing the ball. My abiding memory of him was his exaggerated drop of the shoulder, head right over the ball, whilst dispatching a pinpoint side foot pass to a team mate.
That sort of passing definitely benefited us in our promotion season of 1960/61 when Summersby was the main provider for speedy wingers Johnny Gavin and another ex Millwall man, the late Ron Heckman. In a season of 110 goals Byrne, Summersby, Heckman and the languid looking Alan Woan (13 in 16 games) scored 82 goals between them.
Roy himself clinched promotion with three games to go by scoring in a 2-1 over Aldershot in front of a crowd of nearly twenty thousand. Not content with that he signed off the season with great aplomb by scoring four times in the remaining games.
It is true to say that Palace and Summersby struggled to make their mark in the Third Division. Byrne, one of a handful of players to play for England while in the third tier, made his international debut in November 1961 (I bunked off school to watch it) and his transfer to a top team was inevitable.
His departure to West Ham in March the following year affected Palace badly and they downward spiralled into a period of 19 games without a win over two seasons. I was in the much relieved and delirious crowd of almost twenty two thousand which saw Summersby arrest that slide with a solitary goal in a 1-0 defeat of QPR.
That was his last for the club, with the exception of one, in a deeply embarrassing 7-2 defeat in an FA Cup replay at Mansfield who were a league below us. By then Dick Graham had taken over as manager from the much revered but ailing Arthur Rowe.
Not long afterwards Roy played his last game for Palace in an ignominious 4-1 defeat at Port Vale in December 1962. He could well have been injured as he stayed until the end of the season before transferring to Second Division Portsmouth.
They were undoubtedly impressed by his scoring record as an inside forward, although they employed him as a wing half in his 12 games in two years, during which time he scored just one goal before moving on to high flying Southern League team Chelmsford City.
Palace reversed the slide with the influx of prolific and experienced goalscorers like Cliff Holton, Dickie Dowsett, Ronnie Allen and another much underrated ex-Millwall player Peter Burridge. The following season they gained promotion to the Second Division using only 21 players
Summersby should have been in his prime when he joined Pompey at the age of 28 so his lack of games and his swift transfer to Chelmsford tend to suggest that he did have a career threatening injury.
It was quite common in those more medically naive days for injured players to be swiftly transferred in order for them to get one last hurrah and a slice of the transfer cake, meagre though it was. Millwall did it to us more recently with Anton Otulakowski who managed 14 games and one goal before succumbing to the scrapyard.
Nevertheless, despite him, Nicky Chatterton and Barry Pierce we’ve had the best of the exchanges over the years and Summersby epitomises that. I appreciate it was a different time and a higher league but I can’t help feeling that both he certainly, and Ron Heckman possibly, should feature above the one season wonder that was Andy Roberts.
It would be interesting to know what happened to Roy at Chelmsford and beyond. He would have been 77 years of age last month. With 60 goals in 190 appearances, despite being in the shadow of Byrne, he deserves every accolade as a fine servant of the club.
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