Scouting some of the biggest stars of football – Meet Leyland member Colin Fairhurst!
At Sporting Memories, we welcome a diverse and wide range of people to our clubs from many unique backgrounds. Our groups provide an opportunity for our members to share stories and reminiscence of sport achievements and occasions from their past.
At our Leyland club, one member has been involved in shaping the success of Premier League winning football teams!
Rod Graham caught up with the former Manchester United scout Colin Fairhurst to detail his journey from playing football, to searching for new talent and now his involvement in our Leyland Sporting Memories club.
Physique, stamina, awareness of how to expect a pass and give a pass. These are the essential ingredients Colin Fairhurst looked for when he was scouting for, amongst others, one of the most famous clubs in world football.
Colin, 88, started off his football apprenticeship on the parks of Leyland and Chorley. Playing in the same team was Trevor Hemmings, who went on to become a multi-millionaire and the owner of Preston North End. His life, like most boys of the 50s, took him into the army where he completed two years National Service. He then returned to civvy street and employment at Leyland Motors, subsequently spending much of his working life in engineering posts in and around Preston.
Colin continued playing football for local teams, later taking over roles as team manager. In 1969 he decided to write to every top flight football club, offering his services as a scout. It was a move that would dictate much of his life for over 50 years.
Most clubs did not bother to reply but Bolton Wanderers was one that did; “They told me if I could find them the type of players they wanted I could have a job with them. I must have managed that as they took me on”, Colin said.
Colin spent around seven years at Bolton before being invited to join Blackburn Rovers, where he stayed for 24 years. One of Colin’s most memorable moments was joining the team on the pitch at Ewood in 1995 after the club won the Premier League. “I danced on the pitch with them all, including Kenny Dalglish, Colin Hendry and another Leyland Sporting Memories boy Tony Parkes. It was a great time”, Colin said.
A new century heralded a big change for Colin as he was invited to take on scouting duties at Manchester United. The lure of working for the club was too much to turn down and he was to spend the next 20 years in and around the Theatre of Dreams.
Colin’s role was as a Junior Scout and he ran three centres on behalf of the club, at Blackburn, Preston and Wigan.
During this period, he came across the player who he describes as his greatest ‘find’. Colin took up the story; “I could see from the age of five that Scott McTominay had everything needed to make it to the top of the game,” he said. “He had the stature, the vision and the physique, even at that early age, to shine above the other boys. I recommended him to the club and they signed him up to their academy. I was proved right as he has gone on to play an integral part for both the club and as a Scotland international.”
Colin also discovered goalkeeper Sam Johnstone. He moved on from Old Trafford to West Bromwich Albion and currently plays for Crystal Palace, also making three appearances for England.
In past years Colin would watch a player three times before deciding whether or not to recommend them but in today’s cut throat world by the time he has watched them three times they would have been signed by someone else. Colin added, “It’s important that the games are against good opposition.”
More latterly, if a player caught his eye, he would speak to the team manager and the player’s family and invite them to training. After a month, a decision would be made whether to keep them on.
Colin brought to our meeting a folder packed full of mementoes, newspaper cuttings and photographs of his time scouting youngsters across the north-west. The respect for him shone through with notes and cards from parents and boys he had helped along the way. Although, many didn’t make the professional levels, it was clear he had made an impression in the way he treated the boys and families he came across.
Amongst the many mementoes was a poem written by the mother of one of the boys he had scouted and presented to him on his 60th birthday. To this day he still receives Christmas cards and phone calls from the families he has met on his journeys.
On his retirement two years ago, he was invited to Old Trafford to watch a match from a private box. He also fondly recounted to us the time he was sat in the canteen at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground. A figure appeared at his shoulder and none other than Sir Alex Ferguson poured red wine into his plastic cup. Colin took a sip and told Sir Alex, who is renowned for his fondness of red wine, that his tipple was considerably better then the fiver bottle he usually drinks.
Colin now lives alone, after his wife passed away 12 years ago and his interest in Sporting Memories started shortly after the Leyland group was formed. Knowing some of the members, he started attending meetings and has been going ever since.