Weekend Interview: Why Ces Podd ditched retirement to help Scarborough make history

Neil Warnock and his Scarborough players celebrate promotion to the Football League back in 1987.
Neil Warnock and his Scarborough players celebrate promotion to the Football League back in 1987.
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THIRTY years ago tonight, Scarborough made history as the first team to win automatic promotion to the Football League.

Ces Podd, as captain and an ever-present during that title-winning season, played a key role in that success under Neil Warnock, but it took an unusual promise during transfer negotiations to get him on board.

“Neil sorted out an ingrowing toenail I didn’t even know I had,” laughs the 64-year-old when speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post from his home in St Lucia.

“I had retired from football a few weeks earlier, but Neil was his usual persistent self and insisted I go to see him. He was still a chiropodist back then and offered to have a look at my feet as we talked.

“After a while, he said, ‘Do you realise you have an ingrowing toenail?’ I didn’t, but he started shaving my toe and then got me to stand up. I felt totally different when I walked on it.

“Neil, sensing his chance, immediately promised to do my feet every day if I signed. And that was that, I was no longer retired.”

Warnock’s unusual deal-breaker in that summer of 1986 paid spectacular dividends in a season that had seen the League ditch the re-election process, whereby the fate of the bottom four in the Fourth Division was decided by their fellow clubs, in favour of a straight one-up, one-down arrangement with the Conference.

Scarborough were not expected to feature, as reflected by their pre-season price of 50-1 to lift the title. But Warnock’s side prevailed, pipping favourites Barnet during a thrilling run-in. Podd was back in the Football League at the age of 35, a remarkable turn of events for one of the game’s true pioneers.

Podd’s first stint in the League had begun in September, 1970, with Bradford City. He went on to make 565 appearances for the Bantams, a record that is unlikely to be broken. It is also one made all the more remarkable by the difficulties Podd had to overcome at a time when racism was rife in the English game.

“There weren’t many black players back then and I would face a lot of racism,” recalls Podd. “Bananas being thrown at me, all that sort of thing. It wasn’t a nice time.

PIVOTAL ROLE: Ces Podd

PIVOTAL ROLE: Ces Podd

“But I was doing something I loved so I didn’t take any notice of what was being shouted at me. Plus, the Bradford fans were brilliant with me. They still are, to be fair, and I always get a warm welcome if I go back to Valley Parade.”

Podd’s time at City stretched to 14 years and included a testimonial in 1981 that underlined his stature in the game.

Garth Crooks, Luther Blissett, Justin Fashanu, Vince Hilaire, Cyrille Regis and Terry Connor gave up their time to play in what was the first testimonial for a black player. All had suffered the sort of discrimination that had come very close to ending Podd’s football dreams as a teenager.

“I was scouted by a couple of clubs, but once they found out I was from St Kitts that was it,” recalls the former right-back, whose family had left the West Indies when he was just nine. “The attitude seemed to be, ‘They play cricket there, not football’.

Neil, sensing his chance, immediately promised to do my feet every day if I signed. And that was that, I was no longer retired.

Ces Podd, on his decision to play for Scarborough.

“I went to Wolves for a trial, but didn’t even get a chance to play. I was the only black kid there, two teams were picked and I didn’t make either.

“The scouts had watched me and thought I was good enough. But the clubs took one look at me and didn’t want to know.

“The same thing happened at Manchester United, and after that I’d had enough. Instead, I went to Bradford College. But the dad of one of the boys I played with was a scout for Bradford City.

“He got me a trial, but, again, I didn’t make either team in a trial match. But then the manager Jimmy Wheeler came in and said he needed a left-back.

“I was right-footed, but I put my hand up. At half-time, he pulled me aside and said he wanted to see more of me. I went home that night and practised over and over again with my left foot. I played a full year without daring to tell him the truth.”

Podd’s persistence was justified by those club record 565 appearances, most made on his more natural side of the Bantams’ defence. There were chances to leave during those 14 years, but he remained loyal.

“Liverpool were interested at one stage and Portsmouth got in touch,” said Podd, who for the past seven years has been technical director for the Football Association in St Lucia.

“Their manager seemed really keen. But then I looked on a map, saw where Portsmouth was and that was that. At the time, I was in contract negotiations so I told Bradford about the interest, but that I wanted to stay. I got a pay rise from that.”

His departure from Valley Parade eventually came in 1984. Two years and 64 appearances followed at Halifax Town before Podd made the decision to call time on his career. Or at least that was the plan until Warnock, appointed that summer by Scarborough, got in touch.

“Neil wanted me to be captain and also coach,” says Podd. “I wasn’t keen, but agreed to meet Neil, who started talking me through his plans and the team he had put together. It was flattering, but my mind was made up until he found that ingrowing toenail. I am glad he did, as we had a year to remember.”

Scarborough were part-time back then and one of Warnock’s first moves was to move training away from the east coast and closer to where his players lived. Todwick, just off the M1 near Sheffield and Worksop, became their usual meeting place for those evening sessions as day jobs and footballing commitments were juggled.

For Podd, these involved his duties as Leeds United’s community officer. Promotion was secured on April 29, 1987, on an evening when Scarbrough were not even playing. Barnet were hosting Stafford Rangers in their penultimate game of the season and had to win or the North Yorkshire club were champions.

Only goalkeeper Kevin Blackwell, the club’s Player of the Year, was present at Underhill from the Scarborough camp after agreeing to co-commentate for BBC Radio York.

Stafford ran out 2-1 winners, but those listening back in Yorkshire were denied hearing any post-match reaction due to someone at Barnet deliberately cutting the live feed. Three days later, a record 5,640 crowd packed into Seamer Road for the title celebration.

“It was a proud day when I lifted that trophy,” added Podd. “I have a video somewhere of the whole thing, a really special time.

“That was a special group and Neil was a great manager to play for. We had a reunion a couple of years ago, a lovely dinner together and Neil paid for everything. It was great to see everyone again.”

Factfile: The Ces Podd story ...

CES PODD moved to England from St Kitts with his family at the age of nine and settled in Leeds.

He joined Bradford City as a teenager and went on to make a club record 565 appearances during a 14-year spell that included two promotions from Division Four. A move to Halifax Town followed in 1984.

Two years later, the full-back joined non-League Scarborough. He was an ever-present in the season that ended with promotion to the Football League, but made just three appearances in 1987-88 due to a knee injury. He was appointed Leeds United’s football in the community officer in 1988 and later worked at Sheffield United.

Since 2010, Podd has been the St Lucia FA’s technical director.

“My job is to oversee the development of football on the island,” says the 64-year-old, who still has a house in Leeds and returns every Christmas. “It involves all ages and is really rewarding.”

Podd had a similar stint with the St Kitts and Nevis FA between 1999 and 2003, his first year in the role seeing his former club Bradford, newly promoted to the Premier League, fly out to the West Indies to take part in a pre-season competition along with Canada’s Olympic team and the hosts.

“It was great to be part of such a special time for my old club,” he says. “Having a club like Bradford in St Kitts was a big thing for us all.”