Big Interview part two: Ex-PNE striker Peter Higham
Peter Higham burst out into a fit of laughter when he said: 'Me and Eric shared a bed long before Morecambe and Wise ever did.'
The ex-Preston striker was in the midst of describing his long-time friendship with fellow former North Ender Eric Jones.
The pair –just six months apart in age – first met as young professionals at Deepdale in the early 1950s.
Although their careers failed to take off at PNE – making just a handful of appearances for the club between them – they formed a close bond, a rapport which has stood the test of time.
Thick as thieves off the pitch, the duo also combined to great effect on it with winger Jones setting up many of Higham’s numerous goals for PNE’s reserves.
But they played just three times together in the first team at North End – during the winter of 1954, a run of matches which included a 2-2 draw against Lancashire rivals Burnley at Turf Moor on Christmas Day.
With the great Sir Tom Finney forming a barrier between Jones and a regular place in the first-team and strikers such as Charlie Wayman and Tommy Thompson ahead of Higham, the pair ended up moving to Nottingham Forest the following season.
It was at the City Ground where the pair’s friendship grew stronger still.
They became flatmates, including having to top and tail in the same bed at one point.
“I first met Eric when I signed for Preston,” said 86-year-old Higham, who scored 10 goals in 15 appearances for the Lilywhites.
“We have been friends ever since . We just have the same sense of hilarity.
“Eric was a very good winger and I played alongside him on many occasions for Preston’s reserves.
“We developed a really good understanding on the pitch.
“I would lay the ball off to him, turn and run.
“And he used to find me – he made a heck of a lot of my goals. I was sold for £8,000 to Nottingham Forest after Preston signed Tommy Thompson from Aston Villa.
“The manager at Forest was Billy Walker, who was the longest-serving manager in English football at the time.
“He was looking for a winger, so I told him about Eric.
“Billy signed Eric and we ended up in digs together.
“Neither of us were married, although I was engaged and he was engaged.
“We lived in a beautiful house in West Bridgford right next to the City Ground and the cricket ground Trent Bridge.
“Our landlady was a woman called Mrs Fletcher.
“Her husband had left her many years earlier and she was letting the house go to rack and ruin.
“She never used to cook for us. The house was always cold.
“We used to wake up in a morning and there would be frost on the inside of the windows.
“She never used to do anything – no wonder her husband left her.”
Sadly for Jones, his time at Forest was affected by the untimely death of his father.
“We had only been at Forest a few months when Eric received a call from back home that his dad had collapsed and died,” Higham said
“It was a bad time for him.”
But for Higham, he arguably enjoyed the best period of his career in the East Midlands.
He scored 20 goals in 61 appearances, helping Forest win promotion from the old Second Division to the top flight in 1957.
“I remember when I signed for Forest, Billy Walker put his hand in his back pocket and pulled out a tenner,” he said.
“He said, ‘There you go Peter, that’s your signing-on fee’.
“It was bit different back then to what you get now.
“But I had a good time at Forest.
“We won promotion to the First Division alongside Leicester City.”
For winning promotion, the club presented Higham and his team-mates with an expensive engraved watch.
Unfortunately, many years later, the watch was stolen after his house was burgled – something which did not escape the attention of a certain Brian Clough.
“My son-in-law James wrote to Forest after we had suffered the break-in to tell them that the watch I was presented with for winning promotion had been stolen,” Higham said.
“I received a letter from Brian Clough, who was the manager of Forest at the time.
“He wrote to say how sorry he was to hear about the break-in and sent me a limited edition plate, which Forest had commissioned after they had won the European Cup.
“It was a nice touch.”
It was while at Forest that Higham created his own little piece of sporting history .
He is perhaps the only footballer ever to play a game of football – and score – while wearing a boxing glove!
“This is a true story,” said Higham, who has been married for 61 years to Jo and has three daughters Jane, Sarah and Mandy, as well as a son Michael, who sadly passed away during childhood
“It was a local derby against Notts County at Meadow Lane. In the first half, I got barged into the goalpost and I broke my finger and also dislocated it.
“At half-time, our trainer Tommy Graham got hold of this boxing glove.
“God knows where he had got it from, but he had got permission from the referee for me to wear it to protect my finger for the second half.
“I ended up scoring the third goal and I have got a picture of me scoring with this boxing glove over my left hand.
“I remember at the time, the pain was excruciating and to this day, I can’t straighten my little finger.”
After leaving Forest, Higham moved to Doncaster Rovers – this time following his old mate Jones, who had departed for Belle Vue a year earlier.
He then moved into non-league football, enjoying spells with hometown club Wigan Athletic, Morecambe, Stalybridge Celtic , Rhyl, Buxton and Mossley.
Along with playing football part-time, he studied at Chorley College to become a teacher and later worked at Park Lane Hospital Prison for the criminally insane as lecturer in PE.
Higham also found work as a male model for various magazines and mail order catalogues.
“I was about 39-years-old when I got asked if I’d like to go to Liverpool and do some modelling for a travel agency,” he said.
“I was photographed on a cruise ship – the Reina del Mar, which was docked in Liverpool . I was dressed as a waiter helping to advertise cruises.
“I did a Liverpool fashion show on Sefton Park for Littlewoods. The theme music was from James Bond and we would model these men’s clothes.
“The great thing was that after it had finished, we used to get all the clothes that we had modelled for free – they paid you as well.
“I once advertised Wellington boots on a building site. I had to model while carrying this girl in my arms.
“The photographer couldn’t get the right picture.
“But after about five minutes , I turned to him and said, ‘Look if you don’t hurry up, I’m going to drop her’.
“My arms were aching.”