Whitby Town Nostalgia: Frater fall-out that led to harsh sacking of boss Jeffs

Football is an unforgiving business. All the success in the world doesn’t mean that your job is always safe; more so in the modern game.

Thursday, 4th February 2021, 12:35 pm
BILL’S BLUES: Bill Jeffs, second from the left in the front row, pictured at a reunion of the Whitby Amateur Cup final squad in 1990
BILL’S BLUES: Bill Jeffs, second from the left in the front row, pictured at a reunion of the Whitby Amateur Cup final squad in 1990

But even in the 1960s, success couldn’t guarantee you a safe position within a football club.

Whitby Town secretary George Frater was not a man to be messed with, and Bill Jeffs found that out the hard way in 1969, even though he was looking like guiding the club to another historic first.

Despite a lack of interest to date in the FA Cup - the people of the town believing it to be almost pointless considering there was little chance of success for a club like Whitby - the club had seen an upturn in form in the competition.

Bill Jeffs had guided his side to wins over West Auckland, Bedlington CW and Wingate so far, and was preparing to face Evenwood Town, who had knocked Blyth Spartans out in the previous round.

The FA Cup first round proper had thus far eluded the Seasiders.

As FA Amateur Cup finalists in 1965, the club should have made their bow in the competitions proper rounds the following season - however, with the paperwork not submitted, the chance to appear at that stage was denied, leaving Whitby to fight it out through the qualifying rounds as usual.

But something wasn’t quite right - while selection of the side had never been on Jeffs’ to-do list, it was never a million miles away.

Such was old school football, the head coach generally wasn’t the person to pick the team - often the committee would be taking charge of that matter.

For his years in charge, Jeffs had worked well with Alan Brown as secretary - while he wasn’t making the final decision on who was started, he was at least invited to meetings and listened to by the committee on matters of selection.

This changed when George Frater took over from Brown, and the end was starting to come for the club’s most successful head coach to date.

Things changed - Jeffs was no longer invited to meetings held by Frater, so his say in selection was gone.

ften the team was picked by the committee without very little in the way of knowledge on performances.

At the time, many of the committee never travelled to away games, thus saw very little of the side, other than when they played at the Turnbull Ground.

Jeffs, however, wanted to make his stand. He had his ideas on his selection and wanted to make them known.

He had met his match with Frater, at a point where the two were finding themselves having more and more altercations until Frater had had enough.

Jeffs was sacked on the spot, before going to the committee and declaring: “I’ve sent Bill Jeffs packing,” promoting Bob O’Brien from trainer to coach to replace him.

The decision came to a great deal of surprise to the committee and the town, when the news filtered out.

Before Bill Jeffs - Whitby Town were just another also-ran.

Another club who had never particularly amounted to a great deal, success-wise. They had only won the League Cup in 1929.

The former Crook Town man arrived in June 1961 and transformed the club, taking them from also-rans to a fine Northern League side.

In his near-nine years as Head Coach, Jeffs had guided Whitby to a Northern League Cup win, an Amateur Cup quarter-final, Northern League runners-up and North Riding Senior Cup runners-up.

He also guided the club to triumph on two occasions in the same competition.

The crowning glory, however, was leading the club to the FA Amateur Cup final in 1965 - Whitby’s first appearance at Wembley.

The Seasiders defied the odds after making the quarter-final the season previous, making it all the way to the National Stadium where they faced Hendon, arguably one of the finest non-league sides of their day who boasted a team full of England Amateur internationals.

Whitby lost out 3-1 on the day, though found themselves marred by an injury to Maurice Crosthwaite, effectively playing the majority of the game with ten men.

After Whitby, Bill Jeffs slipped quietly into the background and away from Northern League football, while Whitby continued their success that season, knocking out Evenwood Town and Scarborough to make the first round of the FA Cup, where they fell to York City at Bootham Crescent.