Wednesday 29 May 2013
If Liverpool signed a centre-forward in 2013, and he went on to score 35 goals in 75 games for the club, he would be hailed as a sensation and valued at many millions of pounds. But when Alan Arnell did just that in the 1950s, he was discarded by the Second Division Reds, and saw out his playing days in the lower reaches of the Football League.
Perhaps it was the tall, rangy marksman’s misfortune to have arrived at Anfield when the club was going through a slump, destined for imminent demotion from the top flight and with more than half a decade’s sojourn at the lower level in prospect.
Having first attracted attention with his home-town side, Chichester City, before sampling brief amateur experience with Portsmouth and then joining Worthing of the Corinthian League, Arnell was completing his national service with the Royal Sussex Regiment when he was recruited by Liverpool boss Don Welsh in March 1953.
A powerful, energetic six-footer, the 19-year-old was a menace in aerial combat, willing to labour selflessly in the common cause – and while his ball work was hardly of the delicate variety, neither was it overtly clumsy, so that he could join in passing movements without squandering possession.
On his senior debut in December 1953, he scored in a 5-2 home victory over Blackpool, but he made only two more appearances that term, which ended with Liverpool bottom of the First Division.
There were only sporadic outings during the following campaign, which the Reds finished in mid-table anonymity, but in 1955-1956 Arnell began to blossom encouragingly, netting 15 times in his 27 games as Welsh’s men missed out narrowly on promotion.
However, over the next three seasons, despite continuing to convert a fair proportion of his scoring opportunities – certainly a hat-trick at Huddersfield in 1956 after pulling a muscle early in the match demonstrated his courage and commitment – he could not persuade the new Liverpool boss, Phil Taylor, that the club’s outstanding player, the magnificent Scottish international Billy Liddell, would be better regularly employed on the wing rather than as a central spearhead.
Thus, gradually, Arnell slipped from contention, even dropping behind the moderately gifted Louis Bimpson in the pecking order, as Liverpool repeatedly fell marginally short of regaining their place among the elite.
By decade’s end, the acquisition of the infinitely classier Roger Hunt, who would go on to World Cup glory with England in 1966, and the rugged Dave Hickson, pretty well sealed the fate of Arnell.
His last chance was to impress Bill Shankly, the man who would transform the chronically underachieving Reds into a top European power after succeeding Taylor in December 1959. But the messianic Scot found no place in his plans for the unassuming southerner, who perhaps lacked the raw aggression and single-minded drive to carve a niche with the ambitious Merseysiders.
Duly he was freed to join Third Division strugglers Tranmere Rovers in February 1961, and come spring he was enduring further disappointment as the Prenton Park club were relegated to the basement grade.
Now, though, Arnell showed admirable character, going on to net 33 times in 68 League outings for Rovers before switching to divisional rivals Halifax Town in the summer of 1963. There followed one season at The Shay, in which he played only 14 times and contributed six goals before he finished his career with two years at non-League Runcorn, where later he served as a director.
Away from the game he was a newsagent in Liverpool, then ran pubs in Sussex before working as a jockeys’ declaration officer in racecourse weighing rooms at Lingfield Park, Fontwell, Goodwood and Plumpton.
Ivan Ponting The Independent
Alan Jack Arnell, footballer: born Chichester, Sussex 25 November 1933; played for Liverpool 1953-61, Tranmere Rovers 1961-63, Halifax Town 1963-64; died 5 May 2013.