During the 1940s and throughout most of the 1950s, Everton possessed an inside right of incisiveness and skill, capable in a single devastating moment of alleviating the gloom in a moribund Goodison Park. Alfred Walter Fielding wore the Everton number ten shirt for a dozen seasons before departing to Southport in his late thirties. But while Fielding was one of Everton’s most distinguished and capable servants, he left Goodison without any trophies or international recognition from a career which had once promised to bring much success to his name.
‘NOBBY’, as he was affectionately known by both fans and fellow players, might never have become an Everton player had Charlton Athletic had their way. Fielding had turned out for the south London club as a junior, but the war intervened before he was able to sign professionally. While stationed in Italy he was spotted by Jack Sharp junior (who went on to become an Everton director and then chairman), a major in the Royal Ordnance Corps at Bari, who recommended him to the Everton manager, Theo Kelly. Kelly signed him, but in doing so sparked a furious debate with Charlton, who claimed that Everton had snatched their player.
EVERTON prevailed in the dispute, and over the following thirteen years Fielding proved a brilliant strategist and ball player, invariably at the centre of most creative moves in a succession of predominantly lacklustre Everton teams. Initially a master at floating past defenders with a deceptive swerve of the body, as age diminished his pace, his considerable skill still shone through. Even as he approached his 40th birthday he still possessed the cool authority and athleticism of a man a decade younger.
These were lean years for Everton, but rarely has Goodison been so well attended. ‘I can remember the days when the players had a shilling sweep on the attendance, and if anybody predicted less than 60,000 we thought he was off his trolley,’ said Fielding, later in life.
But despite his prodigious gifts, the nearest Fielding ever came to winning an England cap was when he turned out for the International XI in the Bolton Disaster Fund match at Manchester in 1946. ‘I really enjoyed that,’ he said. ‘But not long afterwards I was sent off at Goodison Park playing against Preston and our manager Cliff Britton told me that I might never get picked for England again. He was right and it was a major disappointment. I always felt that no matter how well I played I would not even be considered.’ There were other high points though and he was an integral part of the 1953 FA Cup run and of the promotion-winning side the following year.
One of the few Jewish players to ever pull on an Everton shirt, he had a fearsome streak, often encountered by team-mates with the temerity to make a mistake. As Johnny King, later manager of Tranmere Rovers, put it: ‘If you were playing, you were there to get him his bonus, which was four pounds.’
FIELDING was sold to Southport in 1959 after record-signing Bobby Collins, took his place in the team. By then he was nearly forty, and few doubted that Everton had seen his best years.
Although he had a spell working at the Vauxhall factory in Luton, Fielding spent most of his career in football, being appointed coach at Luton Town in 1960. He was also a coach at Watford before scouting for Spurs. He lived in Cornwall during his retirement, but Everton always remained close to his heart.
I still regard the greatest moment of my career as the day I signed for Everton,’ he said in 1991. ‘When I walked into Goodison Park, I felt 20 feet tall. I had achieved my ambition of becoming a professional footballer.