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20 Mar 2022 : In Memory of Peter Eales

Runcorn football is mourning one of its biggest characters after the death of Peter Eales.

Peter was an outstanding and larger than life goalkeeper, who ultimately turned from villain to hero in the eyes of Linnets supporters.

He was the veteran custodian in Runcorn AFC's 1980-81 Northern Premier League treble season, having so often been the Canal Street club's nemesis over a long and distinguised semi-professional career.

To say Peter was a shock Runcorn acquisition would be a major understatement; the announcement of his signing was a jaw-dropper.

But manager John Williams's confidence in him would be more than justified.

Peter rolled back the years with some accomplished performances - and a fair few remarkable saves along the way - as the Linnets memorably marched to a second NPL title, the competition in those days comprising just the one division.

Runcorn conceded only 22 times in 42 league games with three defeats, 'Ealesy' keeping goal for the majority of these matches, with Ian Holbrook occasionally deputising.

Not content with this, Runcorn lifted the NPL Challenge Cup for a second successive season thanks to a thrilling 4-3 defeat of Marine at Manchester City's then home, Maine Road - although Holbrook was in goal for this tie.

The NPL Challenge Shield, for which Linnets had qualified as the League Cup holders, was also added to the trophy cabinet.

Eales's heroics for the Linnets were a far cry from his earlier reputation as the goalkeeper Runcorn fans "loved to hate".

He had most notably held the Linnets at bay with Altrincham, in the second of Runcorn's three FA Trophy semi-final defeats in the 1970s.

An enduring memory of that tie was the sight of 'Ealesy' dribbling down the touchline in the goalless first leg of a tense affair at Moss Lane.

The only score of the contest came in the Canal Street return, courtesy of, as fate would have it, ex-Linnets favourite Malcolm Bailey.

The 80-81 season proved to be Peter's swansong in terms of regular action for Runcorn.

He was succeeded as No1 by Brian Parker, signed from Yeovil Town, for their successful 1981-82 entry into the Alliance Premier League.

Peter made six appearances as Runcorn took the higher (and highest non-league) division by storm to be crowned champions.

Peter's subequent 'retirement' after a spell at Macclesfield Town, waa intermittently broken by the odd emergency comeback.

A single appearance in 1984-85 and nine more in 1985-86 took Peter's appearance total for Runcorn in England semi-pro's top flight - under its various early guises of APL, Gola League and Vauxhall Conference - to 16.

In 1986, he had a place on the Wembley bench as a member of the Linnets' coaching staff.

The opposition, ironically, was from Altrincham, who again prevailed 1-0 in Runcorn's long-awaited first FA Trophy final.

Stories of Peter's antics on and off the field are as legendary as his playing achievements.

There are tales of him taking the pitch at Canal Street as a visiting 'keeper carrying a handbag and in his later Runcorn days being summoned from the bar at the Wilson's Hotel to deputise - after regular keeper Ray McBride had taken ill before kick-off.

Prior to arriving at Alty and later Runcorn, Peter had not only performed with distinction but in his unique style. He also served Wigan Athletic, South Liverpool and Bangor City.

His manager at Runcorn once said that "he (Eales) continues to do a Pat Jennings", comparing the ageing shotstopper's resurgence with that of the evergreen Tottenham goalkeeper's career-extending spell at Arsenal.

Peter's eccentricity and brilliance might just as easily have likened him to Liverpool's Bruce Grobbelaar.

But one thing is for sure - North West non-league football in general, and Runcorn in particular, are unlikely to see his like again.

RIP 'Ealesy'.

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