LINDY DELAPENHA: JAMAICAN PIONEER AND SPOT-KICK KING
On the night of October 16th, 1957, Middlesbrough and local rivals Sunderland played a friendly to commemorate the first floodlit game to be played at Ayresome Park.
Cheered on by 27,000 home fans, Middlesbrough striker Brian Clough was running in on goal, looking to shoot, when a Sunderland defender took him down. As he hit the turf, the referee blew for a penalty and pointed to the spot.
For the first time under the floodlights’ glare, Middlesbrough’s right winger and expert penalty-taker, the Jamaican-born fans favourite Lindy Delapenha stepped forward.
Delapenha took the ball and placed it on the spot.
All eyes were on Lindy Delapenha as he took a few steps back, ran up and blasted the ball past Sunderland keeper Ron Routledge before he could even move.
Lindy kicked the ball so hard that it burst through the bottom corner of the net, emerging from behind the goal making it appear as if he’d missed.
As Delapenha turned away to celebrate and the referee looked to give the goal, Sunderland midfielder and future Boro manager Stan Anderson grabbed the ball and placed it on the ground for a goal kick.
Upon hesitating, appeals from the Sunderland players and disbelief from the home team, Billingham referee Kevin Howley consulted his linesman and was swayed.
The referee awarded a goal kick. Delapenha shook his head in disbelief as he walked away.
Lindy Delapenha had just scored the “goal that never was.”
Born in 1927 as Lloyd Lindbergh Delapenha in Kingston, Jamaica and known by many as a pioneer, Delapenha was the first Jamaican footballer to play in the English game.
After failing to knuckle down at school, the mischievous youngster was sent to boarding school, where he excelled in all sports, including cricket and athletics. Lindy placed in every event he entered, but football was his passion. After turning down the chance to become a professional cricketer, he set his sights on playing football in England. Spotted playing at school by a sports master, Delapenha was given a letter of recommendation to take to Arsenal for a trial.
The 18-year-old had yet to complete his national service, but he booked a ticket for a 14-day boat voyage from Jamaica to England on a prisoner-of-war ship containing Japanese soldiers. After arriving in Southampton, he made his way to London, where he impressed his hosts at his trial. Lindy claimed it went well, but Arsenal did not offer him a contract.
Lindy decided to join the Physical Training Corps and was later stationed in North Africa with the Royal Fusiliers. There, he again excelled at sports and represented the army in a number of different events including running, boxing, cricket and even exhibition diving.
After turning down a chance to represent Great Britain at the 1948 London Olympics, Delaphenha was spotted playing for the army. After completing his national service and returning to England, Lindy traveled to Portsmouth for a trial. He performed well and was signed on at half time.
Delapenha was with Portsmouth when they won back-to-back league titles in 1948-49 and 1949-50 – the most successful period in the club’s history. Delapenha struggled to break into Pompey’s greatest-ever side, which contained more experienced players, and he endured an injury-plagued two seasons at Fratton Park.
He was restricted to just seven appearances and scored just one goal. After not making enough starts in his first season, Delapenha picked up a medal after his second for the games he played for the championship-winning side. He was the first black player to do so.
SIGNING FOR BORO...
By chance, one of those games was against Middlesbrough in a 5-1 victory for Pompey at Ayresome Park.
Delapenha must have impressed since Middlesbrough later extended a £12,000 offer and he became a Boro player in April 1950.
Luckily for Boro, just before leaving Portsmouth, Delepenha had an operation to remove a blood clot from his thigh. After that, his injury problems seemed to cease altogether.
In Delapenha’s first full season with Middlesbrough, he helped them reach 6th place in the 1950-51 First Division, making 41 appearances, scoring eight goals.
During this period, Boro’s team managed to contain England internationals Wilf Mannion and George Hardwick, along with the popular Italian Rolando Ugolini in goal.
Wearing the Number 7 shirt, Lindy became a regular on the Boro side for nine seasons and was the club’s leading scorer for three seasons: 1951-52 (17), 1953-54 (18) and 1955-56 (18) all while playing right wing.
Boro’s own future World Cup-winning coach, Harold Shepherdson, who coached Lindy, said the Boro star “possessed a lethal right foot in keeping with his very fine athletic physique… I can still remember his style of play, with fierce shots from 25 to 30 yards outside the box which would crash into the back of the net.”
At 5’ 7”, Delepenha was strong on the ball, had power and pace and one of the most powerful shots around. He also had a great relationship with the Boro fans, who really took to the Jamaican.
After relieving Wilf Mannion of penalty-taking duties during his second season, Delaphena became known as the “spot-kick king”. He rarely missed, and he hit those old laced-up leather balls so hard and fast they would slam into the back of the net before the hapless keeper could budge.
Although Delapenha had been playing some of the best football of his career, by the end of the 1953-54 season Boro were heading for relegation. The legendary George Hardwick had left the club to become player-manager at Oldham Athletic. Wilf Mannion was at war with the club and wanted a transfer.
Delapenha finished as the top scorer, with 18 goals, but Boro finished 21st and were relegated. “Golden Boy” Mannion headed to Hull City.
At around this time, Manchester City offered Middlesbrough £26,000 for Lindy Delapenha’s signature, at the time, the highest-ever transfer price stood at £34,500, so City had made a serious offer for the winger.
Lindy thought about it but was reluctant to leave his fiancé, a local school teacher named Joan Crawford. He declined the offer from the First Division club and opted to stay at Ayresome Park, this endeared him to the Boro faithful even more.
The 1955-56 season saw the emergence of new, local born goal sensation, Brian Clough, who later described Delapenha as a “marvelous player” and “one of the best I have ever played with.”
With Delapenha helping to supply the crosses and through balls, Clough scored 85 goals in the just under three seasons. Lindy undoubtedly set up a fair number of opportunities for Cloughie to score.
With local boy Alan Peacock in attack and Peter Taylor in goal, Delepenha helped Boro achieve 6th and 7th placed finishes, but was unable to win promotion back to the First Division, even with Clough scoring 40 and 42 goals in Lindy’s final two seasons.
Clough also remembered that Delapenha was the only Boro player to own a car at the time. It was a battered maroon Ford Anglia, and Lindy would give players lifts home, strictly in order of age.
This meant that Clough usually ended up catching the bus. But, recalls Clough, one happy afternoon Lindy drove Clough and his future wife, Barbra, to H Samuel Jewellers in Stockton to buy an engagement ring.
FAREWELL AYRESOME PARK...
In April 1958, after an injury-plagued season for Boro, Delapenha played his last game for the club, a 3-2 defeat at home to Blackburn. Two months later, he left for Mansfield Town, where he went on to make 115 appearances and score 27 goals over two years. There, too, he endeared himself to local supporters and became a firm fan favourite, where he is still warmly remembered.
Burton Albion was the 37-year-old Delapenha’s last English club. He was a Southern League Cup winner in 1964 and scored the winning goal in the final.
After finally heading home to Jamaica, Lindy took Boys’ Town FC from the Third Division to the first and ended his playing career at Real Mona. He was in his early forties.
Upon finally hanging up his boots, Lindy Delapenha forged a new career for himself in broadcasting and become the legendary sports commentator for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation and a director of sports for Jamaican television.
Lindy Delapenha will be remembered as a pioneering Jamaican footballer, a Jamaican sporting legend and, to a small group on the south coast, a cult hero who played for a First Division title-winning side.
For Boro fans, Delaphena will live on in folklore as a fans favourite who played some brilliant football alongside some of the club’s greatest. He was Middlesbrough’s first foreign import to come and dazzle the Ayresome Park crowd.
Looking back, Middlesbrough were fortunate to have Delapenha for nine seasons. Anybody who was lucky enough to see him play for the Boro will remember what a tremendous player he was.
Sadly Lindy Delepenha passed away at his home in Jamaica on 26th January 2017, aged 89.
As scorer of 93 goals in 270 appearances between 1950 and 1958 and a three-time top scorer, Lindy Delapenha was the club’s first great Number 7 and a Boro Legend who wont be forgotten.
Lindy Delapenha 1927-2017
Middlesbrough FC: 1950 - 1958