Arthur Riley: Fifty years a Red


October 1, 1977
Liverpool pride themselves on the family atmosphere within the club – a togetherness on and of the field which is the main plank of their stability and continuity. That spirit which helps to maintain them as a great club in every sense of the phrase has no better example than in the Anfield Family Riley, now demonstrated in the person of 65-years-old Arthur Riley, the head groundsman at Anfield who this year completes 50 years’ service with the club.

Arthur Riley.

But the Riley links with Liverpool go further back than that – 70 years ago exactly. It was then that Bert Riley, father of Arthur, became the Anfield chief groundsman to start the Riley tradition and to be succeeded eventually by his son.

Yet it was more than just a father and son relationship during those 70 years. Arthur’s mother Mary and his sister Hilda (now Mrs. Bateman) prepared refreshments for boardroom guests at Anfield matches for more than 40 years. And as if that was not enough, the whole Riley family used to be involved.

Talking to Arthur Riley this week was to turn over the pages of Anfield history … great players, famous incidents, were recalled as he looked back over the years. His first memory of Anfield was when he was a boy, less than ten years of age.

He said: “There were ten of us, five boys, five girls. A fortnight before the start of the season, my father used to take us all to Anfield, give us each a scrubbing brush and we would scrub down every seat in the two stands. It took us a week.”

That’s just how involved the Riley family have been at Anfield. Arthur went on: “My father started there in 1907. He came to Liverpool after working with Young’s, the nursery people at West Derby. It was Percy Young from that family who was head groundsman at Wembley for more than 30 years.

“My father refused to retire when he was 65. He stayed at Anfield until he was 75 and for his last few years there he literally ran the place. He died when he was 78. “In those days, the ground staff did everything as well as care for the pitch. We were responsible for the general ground maintenance and my dad used to work in the office, paying out wages, selling tickets, the lot. He knew every inch of the place, every nail, every nut and bolt – as I do now.

“I was 15 when I joined my dad at Anfield. That was in 1927, the season the Kop opened. In those days the steps were wooden railway sleepers, with ashes in between, but the general size of the place is the same today although there is a new roof and the terraces are concrete.

“There were four of us – my dad, myself, Alan Constantine and Joe Hewitt, an ex-player who eventually ran the reserve team. My dad had very strict rules about the pitch.

“In the early part of the season, he would only allow us to cut the grass with a hand mower to prevent damage. It took us two days. After a few weeks of the season had gone, we could use the motor mower.

“The Anfield pitch got much more wear and tear then because the players trained on it as well. The club did not get the training ground at Melwood until about 1950.

“I worked as my dad’s assistant until 1940 when I joined the Army. I served during the war until 1946 and when I came home on leave had to go to Anfield to help dad – there was regional football every Saturday and the ground had to be kept in good order. He ran the place.

“When I returned after the war, dad didn’t do a lot on the ground and I eventually was made head groundsman in 1950. One of my brothers, Len, helped me for about 20 years – he is now in charge of the Crawfords Sports ground in Wavertree.

“For the past eight years or so, my work has been solely on the ground and I have two men to help me. Ground maintenance is done by a separate staff.

“My week really starts on Saturday night, after the game. We replace divots and complete this work on Sunday. On Monday, we usually cut the grass in the early weeks of the season, particularly if there is a match on the Tuesday and then there is general work on the pitch, getting it well forked at foot intervals all over. I’m a great believer in forking.

“Anfield has always been a good pitch, a good draining pitch. Yet there are no drains in it. About two feet of good topsoil lies on top of an ash bed and below that is a layer of sandstone. This helps to drain away water but I think it is the regular forking which helps most.

“I don’t like seeing groundsmen having to fork a pitch an hour before a kick-off. It makes it look as though we haven’t done our job in the week.

“The ground staff work particularly hard in the summer months, restoring the pitch for the start of the following season.

The last time Anfield was re-turfed was in 1920. Every year since then, nearly 60, it has been re-seeded only. It is a tribute to the all-the-year-round care which keeps it in such fine shape.

Arthur said: “We order 25 tons of good topsoil for delivery at the end of the season. This has to be riddled. We order 6 cwt of grass seed, 10cwt of fertiliser for the pre-seeding period and a ton of fertiliser once the new grass is growing.

“In the last few years, we have had sand-slitting done at Anfield and I think this is the best idea to help pitches I’ve known.

“There have been a lot of other queer ideas over the years but this is a good one.”

So that’s Arthur Riley, the head groundsman and his way of life. But he is also a lover of football and never misses seeing an Anfield match, from his viewing spot in the passage leading to the Press Box. His memories go back more than 50 years and it is the Liverpool team of the 1921-23 era, winners of the championship in successive years, which hold first place, I think, in his enthusiasm for great players.

He said: “I can name them now … Elisha Scott, Donald Mackinlay, Ephraim Longworth, Tommy Lucas, Tom Bromilow, Walter Wadsworth, John Bamber, Jack Sheldon, William Lacey and Dick Johnson. Harry Chambers came into the side a bit later.

“The players I like are those who can beat a mean with the ball. In the days between the wars, every team had players who could do that. There are very few around today but that’s why I liked Kevin Keegan as much as any player I’ve seen since the war. He could beat men with the ball.

“The best I ever saw were Hugh Gallacher and Harry Chambers. Gallacher could get the ball with four or five men between him and the goal and beat the lot in a dribble.

“Chambers – they called him Smiler – was one of the greatest Liverpool players ever. He could swerve a ball years before Continentals ever thought of it. He could do anything with a ball and played a lot for England.

“He was a character, was Smiler. He got into a bit of bad company and would turn up at Anfield at 2 o’clock a bit the worse for drink. They’d stick him under a cold shower and he’d go out and play a blinder.

“That team of the early 20s was equalled by the team of the mid-sixties, with Ian St. John and Roger Hunt. I liked those two, and Gordon Milne and Willie Stevenson.

“I think Scott was the best keeper I ever saw although Ray Clemence is a great player. But in those days Scott would have to make six saves while Clemence would be making one … the game was very different. Scott never trained. All he did was use the punchbag in the Anfield gym.

“We’ve had some great wing halves at Liverpool – Tom Bromilow, the master of the body swerve, Tom Morrison, Jimmy McDougall, Matt Busby. Albert Stubbins was another great player, wonderful skill for a big man.

“Warney Cresswell was the best full-back I ever saw but the best forward was the Sunderland five in the match against Everton, the famous 6-4 cup replay which was the finest game I’ve ever seen – Davies, Carter, Gurney, Gallacher and Connor.

“Of course, we’ve got a great team at Liverpool now but the game is very different from what I liked. I prefer more individual play and there isn’t much of that nowadays.”

Although 65, Arthur Riley is not contemplating retirement. “I’ll go on as long as I’m wanted, like my father,” he said.

But there won’t be a Riley to follow him at Anfield. His only son is an optician – living in Bolton!


(Source: Liverpool Echo: October 1, 1977)

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