SADLY, it’s almost 28 weeks since the death of Ivan Hollett and 28 years since we lost John Harrison, Roger West pays homage to these two outstanding former Red’s footballers.
Ivan Hollett and John Harrison, iconic names that will, without question, figure forever prominent within the folklore of Alfreton Town Football Club.
Between them they amassed a total of 646 appearances for the Reds, 560 for Harrison and 86 for Hollett leaving a goalscoring legacy much to be admired by all; 303 goals for Harrison and 47 strikes for Hollett.
Breaking that down it’s a 1.8481 per game scoring ratio for Harrison and 1.8297 for Hollett. For the footballing statistician- cum-purist and everything considered, this legendary footballing duo between them were worth almost four goals per game.
This is the stuff soccer dreams are made from.
Ivan Ronald Hollett was born in Pinxton in the April of 1940 and like many lads before and after him the coal mines were calling. But Ivan’s footballing skills were to take him away from the gloomy prospect of subterranean employment at Swanwick Colliery towards the Baseball Ground Derby via Somercotes Athletic FC.
Chesterfield FC were showing an interest in the tall 16-year-old centre forward in the October of 1956, but he was invited for trials at the Baseball Ground Derby where he signed amateur forms in the New Year of 1957.
This proved a somewhat fruitless venture for the teenager in search of professional football, and his next move was a brief sojourn to Priestsic Road and Sutton Town FC signing as a part-time pro later that same year.
Around this time he was being watched by agents from Mansfield Town FC and in the summer of 1958 he signed for the then manager Sam Weaver for a fee of £300.00.
Six solid seasons at Quarry Lane followed with Hollett netting 47 goals in 107 appearances.
Indeed, Hollett became an ever-present in the promotion-winning team that 1962/63 season and scoring a hat-trick the same term in a FA Cup tie 9-2 demolition of Hounslow Town.
Arsenal FC were taken in by the young goal-scoring machine when he netted a hat-trick against the Gunners reserves in a 3-3 draw at Quarry Lane in a Football Combination fixture; it was reported a transfer fee of £20.000 was being bandied around but this move south to London and Highbury never materialised.
It was during his spell in the early days with the Stags that Ivan eventually threw away his toolbox and tools into a slurry pit vowing, “the coal mine will never see me again.”
Raich Carter, with whom Hollett had a sound and solid relationship handed over the Stags managerial reins to Tommy Cummings who showed a preference for Roy Chapman rather than Hollett; this eventually saw Hollett’s name being circulated around league clubs.
Queens Park Rangers were rumoured to be interested but nothing came of it and Millwall had an offer accepted in June 1964, but Hollett rejected the move staying at Field Mill where he was unhappily in and out of the first team until December 1964 when fate intervened.
His next football calling was ironically at Saltergate where he was signed from the Stags by Chesterfield FC to replace Ralph Hunt who sadly lost his life in a road traffic accident.
Hollett made his first appearance in a Spireites uniform on December 22nd at Bradford Park Avenue but had to wait until the next game to bag his first-ever Chesterfield goal, it proved the only goal in a best-forgotten 7-1 Boxing Day thrashing at the hands of York City.
However, by the end of that season he had scored nine goals in just 22 games ending as club joint top goal scorer more than justifying his low transfer fee of £1.000.
It was here in the blue and white Spireites kit that Hollett continued his goalscoring prowess with 62 strikes from 157 games.
The managerial legend that is Neil Warnock, once described by Ivan in his own words “a cocky bugger even back in the 60’s,” claimed the rugged striker that was Hollett was his “idol” when they played together at Chesterfield.
Warnock told The Talk of the Town matchday programme, “Yes, as a junior player I looked up to Ivan so much. He was such a honest bloke who enjoyed his football immensely, he was without doubt a breath of fresh air to us youngsters. I recall he had this bicycle trick that used to fool defenders every time, and off the field Ivan was such a wonderful guy, a true gentleman.”
As if to underscore Warnock’s remarks Ivan’s goal-scoring feats began to attract attention from the likes of Everton, Manchester City, Stoke City and Aston Villa all making enquiries.
In the New Year of 1967 and in his spare time away from Saltergate and Chesterfield FC Ivan began operating coaching courses at the then Mortimer Wilson Secondary School Alfreton, an indicative move towards an extension of his footballing career and for the first time ever he became a more frequent visitor to North Street coaching the players at Alfreton Town FC.
Hollett, dissatisfied at the time, went on the transfer list at his own request and an offer of £6.000 from Crewe Alexandra was accepted in the season of 1968/69.
His time at Gresty Road Crewe lasted two seasons and saw him hit the back of the net 19 times from 58 games.
Ivan was then transferred to struggling league newcomers Cambridge United with a total of 13 goals from 38 games, his experience on the field helping the U’s avoid the relegation trapdoor.
Edgar Street, the home of Hereford United was the next port of call for Hollett as they ascended to Football League status where he scored twice in 11 outings: his full-time professional playing career drawing to a close.
Many a football fan young or old will remember The Bulls epic FA Cup run during the 1971/72 season. Hereford drew 1-1 at Newcastle United in the third round forcing a replay at Edgar Street soon after. Ron Radford’s much-televised screamer of a shot combined with Ricky George’s winner saw them through into the fourth round to face Bobby Moore’s West Ham United and yet another replay.
Unfortunately for Ivan Hollett, he would have remembered the Newcastle United victory for one reason in particular; he was cup-tied at the time.
Ivan played out many roles in the latter part of his football career which took him to Durban City South Africa, and to the south coast at Poole Town FC in the Southern League where he enjoyed the position as player/coach at both clubs.
It was our very own Alfreton Town FC who welcomed Hollett back to his Derbyshire footballing roots becoming player/manager in 1975 following on from Maurice Firth, and under his stewardship, the Reds won the Midland League Championship in 1976/77 with a very strong team of capable footballers; a feat he repeated at Belper Town FC with his erstwhile friend John Harrison.
Latterly, Ivan moved “over the brook” into Nottinghamshire and a return to Quarry Lane and full-time employment with Mansfield Town as a successful scout, youth team coach and even a stint as assistant manager.
His last footballing post was with Derby County carrying out many of the similar duties as he had at Field Mill, always giving of his best, never less than 100%.
Away from football Ivan had worked as a sales representative for mining and mineral companies, an affable, agreeable gentleman, still with a voracious appetite for the game, always welcomed at every local football ground he visited where he became a regular attender.
He retired to live in Riddings until ill health led to him moving into a nursing home where he finally passed away just a few weeks shy of his 82nd birthday.
Ivan Hollett goes on record singling out some terrific players in the teams he was part of throughout his career; no doubt these same footballers also held him in the same high esteem.
JOHN Harrison was never cut out to become a nomadic journeyman footballer, he was a home-spun lad, a one football club man who plied his trade to terrific effect over the non-league football grounds of the East Midlands.
Born in South Normanton in 1945 he proved a precocious footballer at youth level representing Frederick Gent Comprehensive School at district and county levels scouted by several clubs, but eventually became part of the Alfreton Town FC fabric in 1963/64.
Bill Draper, the Reds historian remembers Harrison’s debut game for our club when he recalls,
“I was privileged to witness his first outing for Alfreton Town, a reserve fixture in a friendly at Clay Cross & Danesmoor Miner’s Welfare in July 1964 on Sharley Park. An awful pitch full of cowpats, but John managed to dribble round them as well as the opposition.”
I myself saw him play in the Reds colours many times and that ball control description by Bill suits John to a T.
If memory serves John was never a box-to-box player, never one for an explosive burst of pace, never one to get embroiled in a 50/50 ball, and one that never took kindly to shuttles and doggie runs in training sessions, and never a great header of the ball when chest control would suffice, he was a sublime classy footballer.
He was a Rodney Marsh, a Stan Bowles, a Matt Le Tissier, a cruiser, a jinky dribbler with the ball glued to his boots who dictated play from the centre of the park, a football architect and anchor man whose pin-point dead balls into the danger zone used to test many an opposing centre half.
Legend is an oft-used adjective these days within sport, but John “ARROW” Harrison was without question, an Alfreton Town Football Club legend; as previously mentioned he made 560 appearances (one as sub) and 303 goals in 13 seasons, a feat that Bill Draper says, “will probably never be repeated.”
Some of Harrison’s former teammates remember the man and the footballer with considered feeling.
David “Griff” Griffiths the hard tackling tenacious midfielder of the time, veteran of 303 appearances himself for the Reds remembers John with affection,
“We were the best of mates Johnny and me. He was an incredible footballer at our level. He had it all, ball control, expert dribbler on the ball and could shoot or distribute the ball to perfection with either foot. There was no-one to touch him. He was an incredible footballer, and it was better for all of us that he was in our team and not the opposition’s.”
Brian Bonsor, the long-haired tricky winger from those days also remembers John when he says,
“John Harrison was such a lovely bloke and a wonderful footballer, a dead ball specialist. He was as good a football player that I’ve ever seen and an all-round decent guy.”
Barry Walker often described as a midfield general had nothing but praise for John Harrison when he said,
“John was terrific fun and a good guy to be in the company of. He was without doubt a first-class chap and should have played league football, he was certainly good enough to hold his own as a professional, he was way above the level he played at. I played with him and against him. He had everything ability-wise and a hard shot from both of his boots.”
Harrison did leave the Reds for a short time when he went to try out on the south coast at Brighton & Hove Albion FC in the mid-sixties scoring three times over nine reserve outings.
Jim Bullions, the Alfreton Town manager at this time lost several senior players due to injury resulting in an unsettled team with many younger inexperienced and untried amateurs taking time to find any pattern of play, and the club lingered in the wrong half of the table for some time.
Fortunately for Bullions John’s south coast experience wasn’t to his taste and thankfully he was back at the “Town Ground” by Bonfire Night of that same season where they instantly began a recovery finishing in eighth place.
Harrison scored 38 goals in a season (twice) and still holds the record for most goals scored in a single game; seven in a 15-0 drubbing of Loughborough United in 1972/73.
With their playing days behind them, the pairing of Hollett and Harrison left the Reds and teamed up together to become joint managers of Belper Town FC.
Graham Brentnall who played for the Nailers under Ivan and John remembers them both with affection,
“They were absolute magic to play for, they were certainly not the teacup throwers in the dressing room.
“I thought I knew all there was to know about football, but Ivan and John knew their football inside out and taught me and the lads so much about the game. Training was extremely hard but fun, yes it was really hard but exciting and interesting.
“They were very professional in their outlook, the perfect football managership pairing, never a raised voice, never a cross word. I felt privileged to play for them, we all did.”
Under that knowledgeable stewardship in 1979/80 Belper Town FC won the Midland Premier League Championship, and they also won the Derbyshire Senior Challenge Trophy over two-legs that very same season; ironically overcoming Alfreton Town FC.
They eventually took over as joint managers at Arnold Town FC for a short while before parting on excellent terms and remaining constant friends for the rest of their lives.
The names of John Harrison and Ivan Hollett will never be forgotten wherever they played or wherever they managed, and nowhere more than at Alfreton Town Football Club.
With credits to Chesterfield FC, Mansfield Town FC, Brighton & Hove Albion FC, Bill Draper ATFC historian/archivist, Neil Warnock, Barry Walker, Brian Bonsor, Graham Brentnall, Dave Griffiths, and Graham Hunt (photographs.)