To describe Albie Roles, who has died aged 91, as an ‘unlucky’ footballer would be a considerable under-statement.
An all-round sportsman as a teenager – with plenty of medals to show for it, as the photo, above, shows – he signed for Southampton in 1938. But war broke out just before his 18th birthday. That didn’t stop him playing football. Far from it. He was in a ‘protected’ occupation, making engines for torpedo boats at Parsons on the Town Quay, and so was able to play more war-time games (188) for the Saints than any other player, narrowly pipping Ted Bates, who was working at Folland Aircraft.
None of those games ‘counted’ in his career record and it would be January 1946 before he made his ‘official’ debut. League football was still on hold, but the FA Cup had resumed and Albie featured at left-back in all four matches before the Saints went out of the competition at QPR.
But then he was called up. While he was away, the new manager, Bill Dodgin, signed an experienced left-back, Bill Rochford, one of the Pompey stalwarts who had played with Dodgin and Bates for Follands. Rochford was made captain and, over the next three seasons, hardly missed a game.
One of his absences was for a calamitous game at Bradford Park Avenue in April 1949. Bradford had gone 10 games without a win, while their visitors had won 22 points (at two for a win) out of the last 24 and were sitting pretty at the top of the table. With Rochford nursing ‘a slightly pulled muscle’, Albie made his League debut. Nobody is blaming him for Bradford’s shock 2-0 win – the inquest, which continues to this day, concerns the problem of coping without the injured Wayman.
Be that as it may, Albie’s first-team career at his home-town club was over. After all those games that didn’t ‘count’, he had managed only five that did. He had a short spell with Gloucester City before becoming player-manager at Cowes. But then came another setback. He was still only 31 when, in 1952, his wife, Vie, and he were both hospitalised with TB for two years.
There would be no more football – apart from ‘a little bit of scouting’ for Ted Bates in the late 1950s, until Albie decided that standing on windswept touchlines, without a single ‘discovery’ to his name, was a fruitless exercise. A job at Harland & Wolff was followed by nearly 20 years as a technician at the Southampton Institute of Higher Education.
ALBERT JAMES ROLES
29th September 1921 - 3rd October 2012