BIG INTERVIEW: Preston-born former Lancaster City semi-professional Ian Innes has produced a book detailing his career in non-league and amateur football

Sue Innes frantically motioned to her daughter Jackie as she peered out of her front window.

By Craig Salmon
Friday, 21st January 2022, 4:45 pm

“Quick...quick...he’s coming,” Sue implored as they quickly covered their tracks in a hail of desperation as husband and father Ian obliviously walked down his home street.

With the key just about to turn in the lock of the front door, Jackie managed to scramble the mountains of paperwork – which had been sprawled out across the dining table and floor – back in the brown box and out of sight, just in the nick of time.

Cloak and dagger it may have been but there was certainly nothing surreptitious about Sue and Jackie’s intentions.

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Ian Innes with his football autobiography (photo: Neil Cross)

Indeed mother and daughter were in the process of providing Ian with the perfect Christmas present surprise.

Former non-league football ace Ian, who hails from Preston, enjoyed a semi-professional career to be proud of.

A stalwart of Lancaster City, the striker also enjoyed spells with Workington and Southport during the 1970s and 1980s.

A left-winger well known for his talented ball skills and eye for a goal, Ian had grabbed the headlines in local newspapers such as the Lancashire Post and Lancaster Guardian on a regular basis in his heyday.

Ian Innes in action for Lancaster City

Always pleased to see his exploits recorded in the local Press, he made a habit of cutting out and keeping the various articles and reports. The former semi-professional footballer had also kept a raft of letters, telegrams and invitations from several Football League clubs, including Burnley, Blackpool, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and hometown club Preston North End.

Unfortunately over the passage of time, the letters, telegrams, clippings and cuttings had become an unorganised mish-mash, gathering dust and long forgotten about – hidden away in a cupboard in the Innes household.

That is until Sue and Jackie decided to bring the contents of the box back to life.

After many painstaking hours while Ian was out of the house, mother and daughter brought some sense of chronological order to the precious artefacts – and then presented them neatly in a folder to the former Dolly Blue one Christmas Day morning.

Walking out at Maine Road in 1979

To say it brought a tear to the eye of Ian – who turned 70-years-old on Wednesday – as he looked back at his past life playing the beautiful career is an understatement.

The various cuttings and clippings have since been made into a book – a kind of autobiography saluting the player’s life in non-league.

It is sure to interest many former footballers in the area of a certain age.

“Ifs, Buts and Maybes” recounts Ian’s flirtation with the professional game as a young man, his ever-so-slightly-pushy father and the three broken legs he suffered over the course of his long playing career.

A pupil at Brookfield Primary School and then later Fishwick Hall Secondary School, Ian’s football career began in earnest when he was selected as a first-year pupil to play in the Dawson Cup final at Deepdale alongside, and against, boys who were two years older than him.

“My teacher Wilf Hall saw something in me and he allowed me to practice my football skills in the gym at lunchtimes,” Ian recalled.

Town and county call-ups followed and soon his father John decided to write to Football League clubs in the area.

“My dad wrote to Harry Potts, who was the Burnley manager at the time.

“He invited me to attend their trials and I managed to be successful and was signed as an amateur by the Clarets.

“I played for their B team in games against Preston, Liverpool and Blackpool but my dad was not happy that I was only playing in the B team so he wrote to them asking for my release.

“I then went to Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers – and the same thing happened with my dad.

“For some unknown reason my dad wrote to Gordon Taylor who was at Bolton at the time and he went on to become the PFA chairman.

“Gordon wrote back to him and I’ve still got the letter – it’s in the book.

“The letter reads: ‘At your request we have cancelled the registration of your son with the Football League, which leaves him free to sign for any other League club. It is evident that you think I am prejudiced against Ian, but it was I who recommended him to the Lancashire County Secretary for trials. The first match I saw Ian play was at Burnley and he was very good...”

Growing weary of going from one club to another on trial, Ian decided to turn his focus away from football and won an apprenticeship at BAC, in Strand Road, in Preston, after leaving school.

However, he remained much sought-after in local football circles and after representing the Lancashire Youth team and the representative side of the Preston Churches League, he was back on trial at a Football League club.

After playing in the reserves for Halifax Town – then managed by Alan Ball Senior, who later went on to take the reins at Deepdale, Ian was snapped up by Blackburn Rovers.

He spent a year in the reserves – memorably playing at Deepdale against his hometown club.

“With me being from Preston, I told Blackburn that I would make my own way to Deepdale,” said Ian, who is also father to Ian, the late Cheryl and Stuart.

“I didn’t drive so I walked to the ground and because I had arrived on foot and not on a team coach, the doorman asked me what I was doing.

“I just said, ‘I have come to play to which he said, ‘Oh I am glad to see PNE playing a local lad’.

“To which I replied, ‘I am not playing for North End, I am playing for Rovers’.”

As it was , Ian’s dream of becoming a professional failed to materialise and he drifted into local football.

He played for Lancs City United – a team run by his father – in the LEP Sunday League and later went on to play for Piper – named after a well-known nightclub in Preston.

On Saturdays, he turned out for Springfields in the West Lancashire League before being signed by Lancaster City of the Northern Premier League.

He went on to become a real crowd favourite at Giant Axe, scoring 42 goals in 173 games.

One of the highlights of his time with the Dolly Blues was reaching the final of the NPL Challenge Cup held at Maine Road – the former home of Manchester City – in 1979.

Having played 54 games that season and contributing 19 goals, Ian was one of City’s standout performers.

However, the final proved to be a step too far as Lancaster were beaten 2-0 by Runcorn Town.

Ian moved on to Workington – famously playing against future England, Newcastle United and Liverpool star Peter Beardsley when he was at Carlisle – before finishing his playing career at Southport.