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Ley: Albie Was A Talent

21 January 2014

Former Fratton star pays tribute to McCann

George Ley has spoken of his admiration for former Pompey team-mate Albert McCann, who passed away recently.

The ex-Fratton defender was, like McCann, a huge fans’ favourite after arriving from Exeter in 1966.

He went on to make 203 appearances, mostly at left-back, and, again like his colleague, possessed a thunderous shot, scoring 10 goals.

One of Ley’s more noted strikes came against eventual double winners Arsenal at Highbury in an FA Cup fourth round replay in February 1971.

He made the score 2-2 on the night before Pompey eventually went down to a late Peter Storey penalty.

Earlier in the season the duo played at Old Trafford, coming up against George Best in a League Cup tie the Blues narrowly lost 1-0.

Ley would come up against the Northern Irish genius again when he was voted best looking player in the country by Football League Review, receiving 40,182 votes – three more than Best.

He performed alongside McCann for seven years before departing for Brighton – where he played under Brian Clough – in 1973.

Now aged 67 and coaching grass roots soccer in Texas, Ley said: “When I first came to Pompey I looked at Albert and thought he was a 15-year-old, with his height, blonde hair and boyish enthusiasm.

“But I soon found out that wasn’t the case and he was actually an extremely competitive player, but also such a nice guy.

“If you hit him hard in a tackle there would come a point when he would hit you hard, but was also a far better player than some gave him credit for.

“Pompey fans might think that I never had to come up against him, but with me a left-back and him a right-sided player, I did so regularly in training and even then he didn’t mess about.

“With his build he was very difficult to knock off the ball and had that famous step-over, which was his trademark long before Ronaldo was even thought of.

“When he got into an attacking position we all knew the step-over was coming and would invariably finish with a shot.

“And he was able to exploit any opponent because he had two quick feet and could go either to the left or right.”

But Ley believes that McCann’s usefulness at Fratton Park might actually have inhibited him.

He said: “Being honest, the unfortunate thing for Albie was that he was very much seen as a utility player at Pompey.

“There were times when a player would be injured and the manager George Smith would have no hesitation about putting Albie into that slot.

“That was a tribute to his talent because he performed the same all over the park, but it also meant he never really established himself in one position that he could call his own.

“He was a tremendous asset to Pompey because of his all-round ability, but I’m not convinced that was always good for Albie.

“Without doubt, though, he was a loyal servant to the club over 12 years – which is almost a lifetime in soccer – and it was easy to understand why he was a crowd favourite.

“I never saw him quit and if he was ever dropped – which wasn’t very often – people had to watch out because he would get very angry about it.

“But that was in a positive way because he very quickly got back into the side and would carry such an attitude onto the field.

“Albie had a tremendous shot on him and one foot was as strong as the other – the fact he was top goalscorer in three successive seasons backed that up.

“He scored some spectacular goals which is why they fans loved him, but always knew what he would do in advance.

“If it was a better option to put another player in then he would do that – he had a great soccer brain.”

Albert McCann’s funeral will be held at St Joseph’s Church, West Street, Havant at 10.30am on Thursday. Family flowers only, but donations to the Rowans Hospice are welcome.

Donations can be made here or at Carrells Funeral Services, 4 Town Hall Road, Havant, Hampshire, PO9 1AN. More than £600 has already been donated.

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