Terry Bly: The Modest Marksman

Credit: The Independent
Credit: The Independent

Terry Bly is rarely mentioned among the pantheon of great English strikers. He never played for England, he never played in the top flight and he never won a trophy. Yet the record books will tell you that Terry Bly has scored more goals in a single season than any other post-war player in the Football League, and at Norwich City and Peterborough United, he will be forever enshrined in folklore for his goal scoring prowess. Often described as an ‘old-fashioned’ centre-forward, even during his playing days, Bly was not the most technically gifted, but his power, anticipation and enthusiasm ensured that he was a nightmare for any defender.

Bly was born in Fincham in Norfolk on October 22nd 1935. He began playing football in 1947, at the age of 13, with local village side Fincham. The teenager had a clear knack for goal-getting, and it was whilst he was with Fincham that he would be called up by Norfolk Schoolboys for a clash against local rivals Suffolk Schoolboys. Norfolk won the game by 5 goals to 1, with Bly getting himself on the scoresheet. He later revealed that the game made Bly’s mind up, and after it, he had his mind set on becoming a professional footballer. Despite the promise he had shown at schoolboy level, local league club Norwich City were not convinced. After trials with the Canaries, Bly was rejected, with the simple verdict that he was “not good enough”.

The decision was a bitter blow to the young man, but he wasn’t prepared to give up on the game just yet. He joined nearby non-league side Bury Town. Bly was prolific at non-league level with Bury, so much so that he soon caught the attention of Norwich City once more, who suspected they may have made a mistake in passing up on the forwards services. Bly was now into his 20’s and it was not until the age of 21 that he was officially invited back to Norwich to train with the first team and eventually offered a contract with the club. A late starter in the Football League, Bly joined Norwich in 1956. Stalwarts of the Third Division, Norwich had been stuck in the third tier for eleven seasons when Bly joined, but his first season was to be their most miserable yet.

Bly couldn’t cement a first team place, playing only nine times and scoring twice before being struck with a nasty injury. Norwich finished the season in bottom place, a hapless 24th placed finish was compounded by an embarrassing 4-2 FA Cup First Round defeat at the hands of non-league Bedford Town. The injury ruled Bly out for both that season and the entirety of the next, which was a big improvement for the club, finishing 8th. However, financial difficulties struck, and the Canaries were forced into selling their two top scorers, Johnny Gavin and Ralph Hunt. The sales and lack of available funds meant the club reluctantly had to give a chance to the unproven Bly. Despite the sales, he was still in and out of the team, failing to find any kind of rhythm, scoring eight goals before Christmas.

In January though, things turned around. A regular run of games was twinned with a run of goals, and from January onward, Bly scored a very impressive 21 goals, giving him a total of 29 goals, the second highest in the league, made all the more remarkable by Bly’s total coming from just 32 games. Norwich improved once more with a fourth placed finish, four points behind promoted Hull City, but it was an FA Cup run which really defined the 1958/59 season. The Canaries experienced unprecedented success in the competition for a Third Division side; beating Ilford, Swindon, Manchester United, Cardiff, Tottenham and Sheffield United, as they reached the semi-finals where they were eventually knocked out by Luton Town.

The victory against Manchester United was the one which really put Norwich and Bly on the map, shocking football fans across the country. A bumper crowd of 38,000 turned out to watch Bobby Charlton & co take to the field at Carrow Road, but little was expected of the home side. Less than a year after the Munich Air Disaster, Matt Busby’s side were still formidable, and traveled to Norfolk on the back of eight straight First Division wins, as they tussled with Wolves for top spot. The game was a remarkable one; Norwich attacked in waves and United could not live with them. Bly was the focal point as Norwich plowed on, and they were 2-0 up as full-time approached. It was at this point that Bly scored perhaps the greatest goal of his 15 year career. He jinked past defender Ronnie Cope, before unleashing a wild and audacious attempt from range. The ball rocketed past Northern Ireland international Harry Gregg in the Manchester United goal, who simply applauded the strike by Bly; one newspaper ran with the headline ‘Bly Babes’ the next morning.

Bly began the following season as he had finished the last, scoring goals for fun, but injury worries struck once more. Although they weren’t the long-term injuries every player fears, the niggling injuries simply would not go away, and Bly struggled for regular first team football that season. His struggles were not reflected by the club though, and on their fifteenth time of asking, the Canaries were finally promoted to the Second Division. Bly’s continued injury problems cast a shadow over his future at the club, and after much deliberation it was decided that the player would never reach the heights of the 1958/59 season, the level that would be required given their promotion. Their minds were made up when a £5,000 offer came in from Peterborough United in June of that year, and Bly left Norwich that summer.

The 1960/61 season would prove to be an incredible one for both Bly and Peterborough. The Posh had just been promoted to the Football League under the stewardship of Jimmy Hagan and took to the Fourth Division with a bang, as Bly lead their line. The striker who had been released due to injury concerns didn’t pick up a single knock that season, playing in every one of Peterborough’s 46 games, scoring a staggering 52 goals as Peterborough won the league. Bly scored 52 times and the Posh scored 134, both stand to this day as post-war records in English football. Of his 52 goals, there were an incredible seven hat-tricks that season, only George Camsell has scored more in a single Football League season.

Back in the Third Division, Bly continued his impressive goal scoring feats. He scored 29 goals as Peterborough finished four points off promotion to the Second Division the following season, an incredible achievement having been a non-league club only two years earlier. Bly left Peterborough after just two years at the club, yet he is still heralded as a legend there. He joined fellow Third Division side Coventry City, for a fee of £12,000. Coventry were building a squad intended to embark upon a ‘Sky Blue Revolution’, but they finished 5 points off promotion and despite scoring a very impressive 25 goals in 32 games, Bly was moved on after just a single season, as George Hudsen was chosen to lead the Sky Blues line. The Coventry fans were deeply unhappy with the decision to let Bly go, he moved to Notts County for £13,000 in the summer of 1963.

Bly struggled to form any kind of relationship up front with future England forward Jeff Astle at County, and after just a single season, the Nottingham club chose to place their bets with the youngster and let Bly move on. Aged 29, and still with injury concerns, Bly had one eye on management, and chose to drop down to the non-league, joining Grantham Town in 1964. Bly spent six years playing for the Gingerbreads, in which time he scored 125 goals in 199 games, before retiring in 1970 at the age of 35. Upon retirement, Bly was handed the managerial job at Grantham, a position that he would hold for eight years. He managed the club for 719 games, winning four Midland League titles, two Midland League Cup titles, one Lincolnshire County Cup title, one promotion and notable FA Cup scalps against league clubs like Stockport County and Rochdale.

Bly left Grantham Town in 1978, struggling to divide time between the managerial position and running his sports shop in the town. Bly spent the rest of his life in Grantham, where he past away on September 24th 2009, aged 73, having suffered a fatal heart attack. Bly’s obituaries took time not only to praise his goal scoring feats but also the modesty of the man. Bly never complained when he was arguably unfairly pushed out of Norwich and Coventry. When pressed about his goal scoring, he was always quick to praise those around him, claiming that any center-forward should score for fun with good service. Bly most likely would have had a chance to exhibit his abilities in the First Division, had it not been for his unfortunate injury troubles. It is wholly possible that Bly’s record of 52 league goals in a single Football League season may never be beaten, it is reassuring that the record books will remember him, even if the wider football world will not.

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One Comment

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  1. He is well remembered at Coventry. Fantastic goalscorer. Him and George Hudson would have worked well together. Nice account of his career. Last saw him on the Peterborough pitch at half time against Coventry in League Cup in 2001. He did seem to be walking with a limp then. He well deserves to be remembered.

    Liked by 1 person

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