When Welsh international full-back Rod Thomas left the County Ground for Derby towards the end of 1973, the club moved quickly to sign a replacement. Although JOHN McLAUGHLIN was then only 19, he already had over sixty League appearances under his belt and went on to play 200 more for Swindon Town.
Born in north London, John played for Enfield schools and was offered an apprenticeship at Colchester United by Dick Graham.
He made his debut at Hartlepool in March 1972, before signing a pro contract a few weeks later. A dislocated shoulder at Hereford kept him sidelined for a month in 1972/73, but John had an early taste of success at the end of the season, when he was selected for England in a UEFA Youth tournament.
“We went to Italy and beat East Germany in the final” John recalls. “There was Steve Powell, Tony Morley, Ray Hankin, Brian Hornsby. I was the only lower division player in the side.”
Back at Layer Road in the autumn, the U’s were going well in the Fourth Division and were leading the table when John learnt of Town’s interest. “I had heard that Norwich, who were in the First Division, were after me. But you didn’t question things in those days,” he said. “Swindon were struggling in the Second, but it was still a chance to play in a higher division. The clubs agreed on £30,000, with Ray Bunkell coming to Colchester as part of it.” John made his County Ground debut against Orient three days before Christmas.
John had played at both left and right back at Colchester, but settled into the number two shirt at Swindon until Danny Williams - who had taken over from Les Allen in March 1974 - gave John a new role. “I enjoyed it on the right side of midfield,” he said. “Will Dixon and I used to cover for each other. If he went up, I used to drop in at right-back and he did the same.”
Town enjoyed a much better season in 1974/75, when they missed out on promotion back to the Second Division by only two points, with John featuring in all but a handful of games. He returned to defensive duties when Danny signed Scot Gerry O’Brien in March 1976, but John missed only two out of 55 first team games in 1977/78. Then Bob Smith took over in May 1978. “He was a new young manager, very enthusiastic, but with different ideas,” John remembers.
He made his 199th and last full League appearance for Town at Watford just after Christmas. At the end of July 1979, along with centre-half Steve Aizlewood, John signed for Portsmouth, who had just appointed former Town stalwart Frank Burrows as manager. John was there for five seasons.
Pompey were in the old Fourth Division in those days - but not for long. “We won promotion on the last day of the season,” he enthused. And three years later John played his part as they won the Third Division championship.
But when Bobby Campbell left Fratton Park in 1984 and Alan Ball took over, John decided to move on too. “I spent pre-season training with Harry Redknapp at Bournemouth. I actually signed a two-year contract there, but then I had second thoughts. I didn’t want to move house and didn’t fancy the travelling then. So I had the contract cancelled,” he explained.
John joined Fareham Town but spent only a few months there. “I took up French polishing then,” he said. “My brother-in-law is a cabinet maker. His firm is based in Bognor Regis and now I travel up to London and all over the place really - wherever someone wants a job done. I’ve even come down to Wiltshire !”
In addition to some long days he now spends ‘on the road’, John, who was 60 in October 2014, takes time out coaching Wessex League Club United Services in Portsmouth. His son Michael has also taken up the game, while the McLaughlin family now extends to two grandchildren !