Former City captain Fred Middleton has sadly passed away at the age of 85.Born in West Hartlepool in August 1930, Frederick Thomas Middleton was a pupil at the Hartlepool Technical Day School and carried on playing for the school old boys’ team after leaving impressing enough to be selected to play for Durham County U-18’s and it was whilst playing for the county that he was spotted by Newcastle United and signed amateur forms for them in April 1948.
He was to remain at St James Park for six seasons, signing as a professional in August 1953 after returning from National Service, but didn’t make any senior appearances. Whilst serving in the army though he did appear in the Highland League for Elgin City.
In May 1954 Fred joined City for a reported fee of £1,000 beginning the following season in the reserves where he scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 Midland League victory over King’s Lynn before making his first team debut replacing Doug Wright at right half at Ipswich Town on September 11th where he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win.
Afterwards manager Bill Anderson said of the debutants (Dick Neal had also made his debut) "they earned their chance in the reserves but today they played better than I ever expected. They look as if they’re there for keeps" and so it proved as he kept his place for a few more games before Wright returned to the team. When he left at the end of November it was Fred Middleton who became his successor appearing in the final 21 games of the season, taking his total of appearances to 31, and scoring once more in a 4-2 victory at Liverpool.
From the beginning of the 1955/56 season until 1960/61 he rarely missed a game other than through injury being praised as "always in the thick of it and never pulls back" although one such spell on the sidelines with a chipped bone in his foot kept him out of the final four games of the 'great escape' in 1957/58 when the Imps won the last six games of the season to escape relegation by one point.
Returning to the side, as captain, after another brief absence in December 1958 his performance, despite a 2-0 defeat to Bristol City, was praised as "he worked really hard, trying always to inspire his side. If the other ten had played like Middleton Lincoln would have had a good team."
After missing just a handful of games since 1955 Fred picked up an injury in just the second game of the 1961/62 season which marked the beginning of the end of his professional career. In a programme feature in 1999 he recalled the incident saying: "I did my cartilage at Bradford. I went home after the match and only went to the hospital the next day. I had to wait a week for the swelling to go down before they could operate and I was never the same again."
He returned to the side the side the following January and finally left Sincil Bank in August 1963 having made exactly 300 Football League appearances (a total which has only been beaten by eight other players) and scoring 16 goals. He also appeared in 13 FA Cup ties including the 3-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion in 1961 which is the only time we have beaten a top flight team in the competition and two League Cup ties.
He carried on playing for a few more seasons with Worksop Town, Skegness Town, Gainsborough Trinity, Boston FC and Ruston Bucyrus for whom he also played cricket.
Initially after leaving school Fred began a plumbing apprenticeship but after moving back to the north east in 1967, where he continued to play Sunday football for Seaton Holy Trinity for two seasons, he worked in the steel works for 18 years and later at a plastics factory before retiring and it was in his home town of Hartlepool that he passed away.
In 2007 to celebrate the Club’s 100th season in the Football League Fred Middleton’s performances for the Imps some 50 years earlier were honoured when he was voted number 60 in the Top 100 Lincoln City League Legends.
Our thoughts are with his family.
Frederick Thomas Middleton
02/08/1930 – 08/04/2016
Sources: Hartlepool Mail, Lincoln v Hartlepool programme 28/12/1999, Lincoln City Who’s Who, Lincoln City Official History.