Very occasionally there comes along a footballer with the precision and power of Rudolf Nureyev. Lindy Delapenha, who played for Middlesbrough Football Club between 1950 and 1958, was one such. That lethal right foot helped: at only 5ft 7in Lindy still had the most dangerous penalty kick in the game.
Boro’s first black player
Lindy was also Middlesbrough FC’s first black player and the first Jamaican to play in British League football.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1927, Lloyd Lindberg Delapenha showed his athletic abilities early, excelling at football, cricket, hockey and tennis. As a schoolboy, he memorably completed 16 events over a one and a half day period.
He travelled to Britain in 1946 and signed up for the Armed Forces, serving in the Royal Fusiliers. Playing for his battalion’s team in Egypt, he caught the attention of the talent scouts. Arsenal rejected him after a trial which he thought had gone well.
Lindy declined the chance to play for Britain in the Olympic Games of 1948, preferring to go into professional football.
He played for Portsmouth from 1948 to 1950 and caught the eye of the Boro coach during a game at Ayresome Park. Middlesbrough signed him up for £6,000 in April 1950.
Lindy played at the Boro as wing or inside forward for nine seasons, becoming top scorer in three of them. In total he played 270 matches for Middlesbrough, scoring 93 goals. In the 1950-51 season, he helped to push the Boro up to number six in the First Division.
Relegation came at the end of the 1953-54 season, but the arrival of local talent Brian Clough in 1955-56 reversed the club’s fortunes. In less than three seasons Clough scored 85 goals, helped by Lindy’s crosses in an inspired double-act.
A broken net!
The strangest story about Delapenha the “Spot-kick King” concerns a friendly match against Sunderland held at Ayresome Park on 16th October 1957, before a 27,000 crowd. The game was to celebrate the newly-installed spotlights. Clough had been felled by a Sunderland defender and the penalty kick was down to Delapenha.
The ball went through the net. Some say he hammered it so hard the ball bounced back out of the goal. Others claim the ball shot through a small hole in the net’s corner. Others say the high-velocity ball broke the net itself. Whatever the version, the referee couldn’t believe his eyes and didn’t recognise the goal.
Popular but a racist undercurrent
The players’ ambition was all about the football, not flash cars or designer clothes – there was a salary cap in 1958 of £20 a week. Lindy was the only squad member to have a car – an old Ford Anglia.
Delapenha turned down a transfer offer from Manchester City to stay with his wife-to-be, local schoolteacher Joan Crawford. The decision endeared him to the fans. He was always popular, but there was a racist undercurrent, and with any minor mistake the racial epithets would fly. Remarkably it didn’t put Lindy off his game.
Lindy also played for Jamaica and in 1955 captained a side against an English FA touring team. He was offered a player-coach job but returned to Middlesbrough.
After the Boro Delapenha moved on to Mansfield Town, then Hereford United and Burton Albion. In 1964 he retired back to Jamaica where he had a successful career as a TV sports journalist.
In 1974 he was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame at a ceremony in New York.
He died on 26th January 2017 aged 89.
Julia Mazza grew up in Middlesbrough, the descendant of Irish Famine refugee ironworkers and a Tyne shipyard union organiser. She is in awe of how the North East industrial workers, enduring intense hardship, still managed to create a formidable labour movement. Retired after a career in campaigns and commercial and policy research, she now lives in London