For fans of a certain age, it is impossible to reflect on the achievements of Altrincham Football Club without immediately thinking of Noel White. For the younger element, the name might not resonate quite so powerfully, yet even they will know Altrincham’s standing in the game has been built on a golden age that was inspired by Noel’s leadership.
Days when Alty were the best non-League side in the land, when teams feared setting foot inside Moss Lane and even the biggest names from the Football League dreaded their number following ours out of the bag when the draw was made for the FA Cup third round.
Halcyon days that are very much Noel’s legacy. It is a fact that our successes down the years have nearly all been under Noel’s tenure, and the club wanted to ensure all our supporters were aware of the central role he played during a quarter of a century of notable achievement.
Here, then, is a history of the Noel White years - a detailed breakdown of an unforgettable era, presented by current Alty director BILL WATERSON - as well as news of a special plaque that will act as an enduring reminder of our former chairman's invaluable contribution.
In the 1961-62 season, Altrincham FC had the worst season in their history to that point, finishing 21st in the 22-team Cheshire League. The club had never reached great heights, with a highest post-war position of 6th, and, at the start of most seasons, sights were set no higher than finishing mid-table or even slightly lower. These were dark days; the club was in debt, short of cash and there was a serious risk it would fold.
Noel White and Peter Swales were two local businessmen, amassing their fortunes from a booming TV rental business, with stores across Cheshire and South Manchester. Both were keen on football – Noel, in particular, after turning out for the Cheshire FA in his youth. A challenge presented itself at Moss Lane. It was an onerous one, given the club’s parlous state, but that had never put them off in their business successes, and it wasn’t about to now. They took over Altrincham FC during this calamitous season and began the task of turning one of the game’s underperformers into a powerhouse of non-League football.
After a couple of years of improvement, a step change was achieved with the appointment of Freddie Pye as manager for the 1963-64 season. Our first trophy under Noel’s stewardship was secured that season with a 4-2 win at Macclesfield Town in the Cheshire League Cup, in front of just under 5,000 spectators. That 63-4 campaign was memorable for something else that became part of Alty’s DNA – progress in the FA Cup. For the first time since 1933, we reached the first round proper, where we were drawn against Wrexham, then in Division Three (now League 1), at Moss Lane. We held them to a 0-0 draw in a match that attracted a crowd of over 7,000, before going out in the replay.
The seeds for success were sown at the end of the following season, as the club signed the incomparable Jackie Swindells, who had been the leading scorer for Accrington Stanley in the Lancashire club’s final campaign in the Football League. On to 1965-66, and what a season it proved to be, one of the most successful in the club’s history, with the team unbeaten in all competitions until January and making our debut in the FA Cup third round, with a trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers, after claiming our first League scalp of Noel’s tenure with a 3-1 win at Rochdale in the previous round.
The Cheshire League title was ours for the first time, with only two defeats and some remarkable goalscoring feats. An overall tally of 132 league goals was incredible enough, but wait for this … in all competitions, no fewer than 82 came from the scoring machine that was Jackie Swindells. That’s 82 goals in a single season from one player. Absolutely astonishing.
We won our second league title the following season and finished runners-up in 67-8. Peter Swales left the club at this time to take up a role on the board of Manchester City, assuming the Chairmanship in 1973.
Noel White was one of football’s great innovators and had the vision and determination to create a bigger stage for Altrincham FC to showcase their undoubted talents on. With Peter Swales, he was one of the driving forces behind the Northern Premier League, and, later, he would be instrumental in the creation of the Alliance Premier League (now known as the National League).
Alty took their place in the NPL and challenged for the title almost every season throughout the 1970s, without actually winning it. We did, however, in a way that spread our name far and wide, make it to the FA Cup first round nine times over that period, scalping Hartlepool, Scunthorpe United, Crewe Alexandra and Rotherham United in the process. Our three third-round appearances produced memorable draws at Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as at home to Second Division (now Championship) side Leyton Orient.
The decade also saw our first trip to Wembley in the FA Trophy. Having gone so very close in the 76-7 season, with a marathon four-game semi-final against Scarborough, we swept aside Leatherhead in the final 12 months later to lift our first national trophy.
The 80s was the high point in our club’s history so far, a decade that began in spectacular fashion and just kept producing moments to savour. We were founder members of the Alliance Premier League, and in its inaugural season, 1979-80, we fought off a determined challenge from Weymouth to lift the title, which we retained the following year after overtaking Kettering Town in the closing weeks.
In between, we suffered the heartbreak of the Football League re-election process (no automatic promotion back then), missing out on promotion by one vote to Rochdale, who retained their place in the old Fourth Division. Little did we know at the time, but, to date, we would never come so close again to a place in the League.
Our FA Cup record in this decade was unparalleled for a non-League club, as we uniquely made it to the third round four seasons running, despatching Scunthorpe United and Rochdale (both for the second time), Blackpool (two wins at Bloomfield Road in consecutive seasons), Sheffield United, York City and, most memorably, Birmingham City, one of only four times a top-flight club have lost at home to non-League opposition.
We also saw further success in the FA Trophy, losing in extra time in the 1982 final but lifting the trophy for a second time in 1986, Noel’s final season with Altrincham before joining the board at Liverpool FC. This second FA Trophy triumph was the last major honour the club achieved.
Such an unprecedented success story, achieved over a quarter of a century, would not have been possible without Noel’s leadership, his drive, energy and investment over that period. The club therefore feels it entirely fitting to honour his immense contribution with a commemorative plaque in the Community Sports Hall, closest to the Golf Road end.
The plaque lists all the club’s many achievements during this glorious era, a lasting tribute to the Noel White years. Please, if you can, take a moment or two to inspect it and reflect on the telling input of our greatest-ever clubman.