All connected with FC Halifax Town are saddened to hear of the passing of former goalkeeper Peter Downsborough on Thursday aged seventy-six. He was revered by supporters of all the clubs he played for, most notably at Swindon Town for whom he gave a man of the match performance when the then Third Division club pulled off a shock 3-1 victory over Division One side Arsenal in the final of the League Cup at Wembley on 15 March 1969. Whilst Don Rogers led the Arsenal defence a merry dance, it was Downsborough who performed heroics at the other end to keep the Arsenal forwards at bay. Victory in that match was undoubtedly the highlight of Downsborough’s career, though promotion to the Second Division the same season ran it close. The unprecedented success Downsborough experienced with Swindon was all a far cry from the time he spent with Halifax Town, his hometown club, whom he joined as a junior in May 1959, and where, with low attendances and money tight, it was a period of constant struggle. Born in Siddal on 13 September 1943, Downsborough was an all round sportsman, excelling at cricket, rugby union, football, and won boxing and swimming honours. He began playing football as a centre forward for Halifax Boys’ Brigade but an injury to the regular goalkeeper saw him take his place between the sticks, and so well did he perform that Town manager Harry Hooper snapped him up. Downsborough turned professional in September 1960, by which time he had already broken through into the first team, appearing in the final game of the 1959-60 season at Bournemouth. The promise he and another local lad David Knowles had shown prompted Hooper to release regular first choice keeper Arthur Johnson, and though it was Knowles who initially got the nod as his successor, the form Downsborough showed in the reserves meant that by the 1961-62 season, he had established himself in the first team. Most of Downsborough’s time at The Shay was spent battling against the odds though little blame could be attached to him when Town suffered relegation to the Fourth Division in 1962-63 and Downsborough continued to enhance his reputation over the course of the next two seasons. Agile and fearless, he became the club’s biggest asset by the mid-Sixties, and such was his value by the time he moved to Swindon in August 1965 that he netted the Shay club £3,000 plus centre forward Bill Atkins, and he left having made a total of 161 first team appearances in all competitions. Downsborough went on to become a fans’ favourite at the County Ground and was described in certain quarters as possibly Swindon’s greatest-ever goalkeeper, going on to make 274 league appearances over eight seasons. And having overcome Arsenal in the final of the League Cup, the Robins went on to make the 1968-69 season even more memorable when they were promoted as runners-up to Watford – on goal average – with Downsborough ever-present. At the beginning of the following season, Downsborough added an Anglo-Italian Cup winners’ medal to his collection after Swindon defeated AS Roma – their side included future England boss Fabio Capello – overcoming a 2-1 deficit from the first leg to defeat the Italian side 4-0 on an unforgettable night at the County Ground on 10 September 1969. At the end of that season, Downsborough was also part of the side which defeated Juventus 4-0 in another Anglo-Italian cup match. He remained a fixture in the side over the years but in November 1972 he asked for a transfer after feeling the club’s longest serving players were not being rewarded as well as the newcomers. He briefly fell out with manager Les Allen and was dropped from the side, only to be recalled following a poor set of results. In August 1973, Downsborough played three league games on loan at Brighton & Hove Albion, then finally made the move back to Yorkshire three months later, signing for Bradford City, initially on loan, and became something of a folk hero. He was part of the famous FA Cup side which reached the quarter-finals in 1975-76, only to lose controversially to eventual winners Southampton at Valley Parade, and the following season he missed only one game as the Bantams secured promotion from the Fourth Division. In 1977-78, Downsborough was ever-present but unable to prevent City’s instant relegation, though he still endeared himself to the supporters having saved four successive penalties between 19 March 1977 and 5 November 1977. Downsborough went on to make 252 league appearances for the Bantams, taking his career total to 650, then a record for a goalkeeper, and a total of 730 in all senior competitions. He retired at the end of the 1979-80 season and was afforded a testimonial against Huddersfield Town upon the season’s close, though he was unable to take part in the match on 16 May 1980 through injury. Downsborough returned to live in Halifax, latterly residing at Stainland, and was a school caretaker until his retirement.
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