It is with great sadness that we have to report the death of Fred Pickering, aged 78. Fred started his career in Blackburn Rovers Youth team in 1959 before eventually being sold to Everton in 1964. He developed into a major force as a sensational centre-forward, scoring some magnificent goals and forming an impressive partnership with Andy McEvoy. Much to the dismay of many supporters, he was eventually tempted away for a then record fee of £80,000.
PICKERING, Fred (1956-1964 & 1971-1972)
Centre-forward, 5ft 11in, 12st 7lb
Born: Blackburn, Lancashire, 19 January 1941
Career: St Mary’s R.C. School/Blackburn Schoolboys, Lancashire Schoolboys, Blackburn Rovers non-contract player May 1956, professional January 1958, Everton March 1964, Birmingham City August 1967, Blackpool June 1969, Blackburn Rovers March 1971 to February 1972, Brighton & Hove Albion on trial February 1972.
Blackburn Rovers Record:
Senior Debut v Leicester City (a) 10 October 1959
Senior Appearances: Football League 134, F.A. Cup 10, Football League Cup 14, Total: 158
Senior Goals: Football League 61, F.A. Cup 5, Football League Cup 8, Total: 74
A former apprentice at British Northrop, Fred Pickering was captain of the Rovers’ F.A. Youth Cup winning side of 1959. At that time, he was a left-back of the rather plodding variety and seemed destined to progress no further than reserve team football.
Pickering made three senior appearances in the autumn of 1959 but had to wait until the following season before being given a more prolonged run in the senior team. Dave Whelan’s broken leg and the imminent retirement of Bill Eckerlsey provided Pickering with an unexpected opportunity to make his mark in the team. However, he remained unconvincing and returned to the backwater of Central League football.
It was while playing with the second string that Jack Marshall experimented with Pickering in the centre-forward position. Although he led the line against Preston North End in the Central League in December 1960, it was his three goal performance against Newcastle United in March 1961 that earned him a place in the senior team. Pickering’s first game as a centre-forward, in the First Division, resulted in a 4-1 win over Manchester City, on 18 March 1961. His two goal performance was sufficient for him to be retained in that role for the rest of the season.
During the early stages of 1961-62 his sheer physical power and athleticism persuaded Marshall to switch new signing Ian Lawther to inside-forward in order to utilise the swashbuckling attributes of Pickering at centre-forward. Although he only scored half-a-dozen League goals that season there was no doubt that Pickering was beginning to mature into a player of immense promise. The 1962-63 season found him in imperious form as he bagged 23 goals in 36 League games. Fed by the mastery of Bryan Douglas, Pickering developed into the complete centre-forward. Powerful in the air, Pickering became a strong running target man who also developed more subtlety into his game with his careful flicks and astute passes. In 1963-64 he found the perfect foil in Andy McEvoy and with Douglas prompting from the middle the two produced a glut of goals as the Rovers looked like a team capable of challenging for the title.
Unfortunately, it was at this point that the ramifications of the lifting of the maximum wage hit the Rovers hard. Pickering, who had become an England Under-23 international, wanted, quite naturally, to maximise his earning potential in what were to be the prime years of his career. The Ewood directors felt unable to meet his demands and the result was that in 1964, he was sold to Everton, a rival for the title, for £80,000, making him Britain’s most expensive footballer at that time.
Pickering stayed on Merseyside for three and a half years but failed to achieve the greatness that many had predicted despite being capped by England on three occasions. A serious knee injury disrupted his time at Goodison Park and, in truth, he never really regained the fitness that had made him such an outstanding player. In August 1967 he joined Birmingham City after the Rovers withdrew from the race to sign him.
Pickering moved to Blackpool in June 1969 and during his first season at Bloomfield Road he helped the club win promotion to the First Division. Pickering made a sentimental return to Ewood Park in March 1971 as the club was faced with relegation to the Third Division. Overweight and ravaged by injury, Pickering bore no resemblance to the young centre-forward who had previously terrorised the best defenders in the land. Unable to prevent the club slipping out of the Second Division Pickering found himself out of favour with Ken Furphy. He made just one senior appearance for the new manager before being transferred listed. He was released in February 1972 and, after an abortive trial with Brighton & Hove Albion, he called a halt to his football career and returned to Blackburn to find work as a driver.
At the end of his career, Fred returned to Blackburn and was a regular visitor to Ewood Park, where he liked to sit at the back of the stand, out of the way and quietly watching proceedings. He will be sadly missed by many of his colleagues and our condolences go to his family and friends.