Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Geoff Strong 1937-2013 RIP

The former Coventry City defender Geoff Strong died on 17 June 2013 after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. Geoff was one of the country's top players in the 1960s and but for his versatility in numerous positions he would have probably won international honours. His time at Coventry was quite brief - from 1970-72 - but his experience & defensive ability was instrumental in the Sky Blues' outstanding defensive record in 1970-71.

Born in Kirkheaton in Northumberland in 1937, Geoff's first club was Stanley United where his goalscoring ability was spotted by Arsenal. National service delayed his league debut until he was 23 years old but over four years he was a regular goal scorer in an unimpressive Gunners side. In 1963-64 he scored 31 goals and formed a formidable partnership with Joe Baker, the pair netting 62 goals between them.

Arsenal were going through a period of transition and were not in the hunt for honours. Geoff was ambitious and in 1964 sought a transfer. Liverpool manager Bill Shankly paid £40,000 to take him to Anfield and after just 16 appearances in a red shirt Geoff, deputising in midfield for the injured Gordon Milne, won an FA Cup winners' medal as Liverpool beat Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley.

A year later Geoff was a member of the League Championship winning side but missed out on a European Cup Winners Cup final through injury sustained in the semifinal against Celtic when, despite limping with his injury, he scored a stunning headed goal to win the tie.

Over six seasons at Anfield he played almost 200 games and in virtually every position before finally settling at left back. In 1970 after a shock FA Cup defeat to Watford Shankly rang the changes & Strong found himself out of favour. Noel Cantwell signed him for a £30,000 fee as a replacement for the injured Roy Barry who was expected to miss most of the season following his broken leg.

Strong made an inauspicious debut in central defence at Nottingham Forest in a 0-2 defeat but quickly developed a good understanding with Jeff Blockley. City had qualified for Europe by virtue of finishing in sixth place the previous season & it was always going to be difficult to improve on that achievement. The defence however was the strong part of the team, conceding just 38 league goals, a club record which still stands. Geoff played 40 games that season including three of the club's European games and the 6-1 defeat to Bayern Munich. However after the disastrous FA Cup defeat at Rochdale he was one of a number of senior players who  were dropped by Cantwell. He later returned to the side at left-back.

In 1971-72 with Roy Barry fit again & young defenders Bobby Parker & Jimmy Holmes emerging, Geoff's first team opportunities were limited & his solitary appearance was in a 0-4 defeat at Manchester City. At the end of 1971-72, aged 35, he decided to retire.

Post-football he became a successful businessman from his base in Southport, running a hotel furnishing business & later co-owning a pub with his former Liverpool team-mate Ian Callaghan.

As Alzheimer's took its toll in recent years Geoff was in a care home in Southport but still managed the occasional trip to Anfield. In a poll to find 100 players who shook the Kop, Geoff was voted in at number 98.