When a frail looking goalkeeper signed on as an apprentice at the County Ground over 35 years ago, it was hard to imagine that JIMMY ALLAN would go on to register more appearances for Swindon Town than all but two keepers in the entire 127 year history of the club.
It was the late Fred Ford who first saw the potential in the young Scot, acting on a tip-off from a Sunday newspaper reporter - John Ross - who had seen the 16 year old Inverness-born keeper in action for Brora Rangers in the Highland League.
The Town boss recognised Jimmy’s undoubted ability and gave him his first taste of League action in September 1971. But, despite keeping a clean sheet, it was another three months before a second chance came his way as there were two keepers, Peter Downsborough and Roy Jones, ahead of him in the pecking order.
When Downsborough fell out of favour at the County Ground, Jimmy became first choice keeper for 1973/74, playing in the first 32 fixtures before he was faced with a personal dilemma.
The nation was then in the grip of a power crisis, with a ban on floodlighting in force. Mid-week afternoon fixtures attracted paltry gates, so a switch to Sunday soccer was a viable alternative.
But being a committed Christian, Jimmy decided not to take part, becoming the first professional to do so and the first Town player since Harold Fleming to decline playing on religious grounds.
Jim Barron restricted Jimmy to just a handful of appearances in 1974/75 but between September 1979 and May 1983 there were no serious challengers to his position as he missed just one game. Jimmy clocked up more than sixty appearances in 1979/80, when he helped the Town to reach the semi-finals of the League Cup, seeing off Portsmouth, Chester, Stoke, Wimbledon and Arsenal before going down to Wolves by the narrowest of margins.
By the age of 29, Jimmy was now less than two full seasons away from surpassing Sam Burton’s mammoth total of 509 games. But then tragedy struck on an autumn afternoon in October 1983, when his immense bravery saw him race from his line to prevent a certain goal and collide with Rochdale striker Steve Johnson.
The collision shattered Jimmy’s left arm - which to this day does not straighten fully – and also shattered his career hopes. “I think it was through being brave to a fault that he suffered the injury that forced him to quit”, said Andy Rowland, the man who was passed the green jersey from Jimmy that day.
But Jimmy quickly came to terms with his change in fortune. “Finishing early did have one advantage as it meant that I had to knuckle down and get a job !” he said. And for the past 17 years he has worked for a box manufacturing company. “They were based in Barnstaple, but they have now been taken over and the head office is in Yeovil. That’s 90 miles away, but I only have to go there about once a month .I work mainly from home now”, he explained.
Home is in north Devon, near Torrington, where he spent some time as goalkeeping coach in the 1990’s and even turned out for his local village side, despite not being able to fully extend that left arm. Now 52, Jimmy lives with wife Claire and children Stuart 22, Kaylee 18 and Craig 16.
(First published by Wiltshire Newspapers/Swindon Advertiser November 2005)