Having failed to make an impression at Southport, Barrow, and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Peter Withe spent 1975 with the USA soccer team Portland Timbers in a season that would revolutionize his career.
When he got the call from America, Peter Withe was 23 years old and a reserve at Wolverhampton Wanderers. His career was not going as planned in England, and he had been planning on returning to play in South Africa, where he had had a successful two years with the Arcadia Shepherds and Port Elizabeth City. His appearances in the football league for Wolves, Barrow, and Southport were a minuscule 21 games.
Moving To Portland Timbers
He had received a call from the General Manager of a new franchise in the NASL called the Portland Timbers, who started to play in the 1975 summer season. Portland was a new market, not just for football, but for pro sports in general in America, and the team behind the franchise was eager for it to catch on. Don Paul (an ex-NFL pro) had tried to establish the Portland Storm in the gridiron World Football League (a rival league to the NFL) but had quit having grown disillusioned with his job and the future of pro sports in Portland. Then, while visiting his mother in Tacoma, he was invited to attend a Seattle Sounders match in the North American Soccer League (NASL), which so excited him he rushed to get investment to set up his franchise, the Portland Timbers.
Ex-Aston Villa manager Vic Crowe was named as Head Coach, and he quickly set about scouring England to sign up players for the inaugural season. He approached the Wolves manager Bill McGarry about signing Peter Withe on loan. McGarry was willing to let him go, and Withe was happy just to be playing regular football, having had quite a slow start to his career. However, he and his colleagues were going to get a lot more than they bargained with when they agreed to move to America’s northwest coast.
That First Training Session
It started in a fairly mundane manner. The team’s first training session was attended by a number of the local sports press – many of whom had never seen soccer before and knew nothing about the game. As there were no other local sports franchises to write about, they decided to go and have a look. Unfortunately, they seemed unimpressed; too many, it was just a bunch of English people running around aimlessly, and the camera crew who had turned out to record the first training session didn’t have much to focus on. After training, Withe asked fellow Brit Stan Anderson to cross over a few balls for him to head in, pretty standard fare, you would think, but this electrified the press who were in attendance, as this was something they had never seen before. By the next day, the positive press was appearing, with Withe the centerpiece –he had even acquired the nicknames “The Wizard of Nod” and the “Mad Header.”
To put it mildly, the Timbers took off in the NASL, especially in Portland, where capacity crowds would watch them play. Portland was even crowned “Soccer City” due to the game’s popularity in such a short time. Withe was the undisputed hero of the team with his heading skills, goal scoring, and never-say-die physical style of play. It was undecided whether he would return the following year, however, as he moved from Wolves to Birmingham City during the summer, who may not let him play summer football in the States. By the end of the season, the Timbers had won their division with the joint-best record of wins and losses. Peter Withe had scored 17 goals from just 22 games as the team entered the playoffs.
Breezing through the playoffs, the Timbers reached the Soccer Bowl, a fantastic achievement for a new franchise. Over 33,000 fans watched their home semi-final against the St. Louis Stars, and their win signaled a victory lap, a standing ovation, and finally a pitch invasion by Soccer-crazed fans. With, of course, they had scored the game’s only goal in the 55th minute.
However, Withe’s appearance in the Soccer Bowl and some of his English teammates in the final was a doubt. Due to the Timbers playoff campaign, there was an overrun between the NASL season and the new season in England. His new manager at Birmingham City, Freddie Goodwin (who would achieve success in America himself), wanted him back ASAP. Peter Withe seemed hamstrung – he wanted to play in the Soccer Bowl. Still, he didn’t want to jeopardize his future career in England. Finally, NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam said that the players had to fulfill their contracts in America, and they were left to decide. Like all the others, Withe elected to stay and play against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
No Happy Ending For Peter Withe
However, there was to be no happy ending for the Timbers, with them going down 2-0 in San Jose against the Rowdies. Withe was kept quite throughout the game by the Rowdies rosbif defender, Stewart Jump, who played quite a physical game against the usually burly frontman. Jump was voted the Soccer Bowl’s MVP, with the Rowdies coach Eddie Firmani saying that the Timbers man threat “was supposed to be good. What did he do today? Nothing, that’s what”. With countered by saying that the Rowdies’ MVP “wasn’t all that good.” The Rowdies has managed to stifle the supply line by closing down on the Timbers wingers who had set up most of Withe’s goals during the season with their wing-play.
Withe returned to England, along with some of his teammates, never returned. They left, however, a successful brand that still competes and resonates today, and a legacy of Soccer in Portland that was never to go away like it did in some cities. And it all started with Peter Withe’s head.
Winning The Football League Title
When Withe returned to the West Midlands in 1975, he joined Birmingham City. He scored nine goals in just over a season in 35 league games. Having signed for Nottingham Forest at the age of 25, he made his first appearance on 25 September 1976. Forest won the Football League First Division and League Cup in 1977-78. He finished the season with 19 goals to his name after forming a solid strike partnership with Tony Woodcock.
Winning The European Cup Final
For a transfer fee of £225,000, Peter Withe joined Newcastle United in Division 2 before joining Ron Saunders at Aston Villa back in Division 1 on the eve of the 1980–81 season. At the time, it was a club’s record signing of £500,000. Within his first season, Aston Villa and Withe won the Football League Division 1 title. He also scored the winning goal against Bayern Munich in the 1982 European Cup Final. He participated in the European Super Cup victory over Barcelona during the following season. During his time at Aston Villa, he scored 74 goals in 182 competitive matches. Villa fans will always remember Peter as the striker who scored the winning goal in their only European Cup victory.
During his three seasons with Sheffield United from 1985 to 1988, Withe scored 18 goals in 74 league games. He finished his senior playing days at Huddersfield Town. He’s scored 177 goals in 539 total appearances were main scored from his head.
Capped by England 11 times, he made his England debut in Brazil’s 1–0 home friendly defeat in May 1981. Not bad for a player who had to move to the USA to get his soccer career rolling.
Peter Withe Life After Playing
A managerial career was Peter Withe’s career path after retiring. Withe had a brief spell as manager of Wimbledon FC before being a reserve team coach at Aston Villa. He decided to move over to Asia and worked in Thailand and Indonesia. Among his accolades were winning the Gold Medal with the Thailand National Team at the 1999 SEA Games, winning the Tiger Cup twice in 2000 and 2002, and winning the King’s Cup in 2000 for the Thai football association.
Peter Withe Facts And Figures
Full Name: Peter Withe
- Southport 1970–1971
- Barrow 1971–1972
- Port Elizabeth City 1972–1973
- Arcadia Shepherds 1973
- Wolverhampton Wanderers 1973–1975
- Portland Timbers 1975
- Birmingham City 1975–1976
- Nottingham Forest 1976–1978
- Newcastle United 1978–1980
- Aston Villa 1980–1985
- Sheffield United 1985–1989
- Huddersfield Town 1989–1990
- England 1981-1984 (11 appearances, 1 goal)
- 1977–78: First Division Champions
- 1977–78: Football League Cup Winners
- 1980–81: First Division Football League Title
- 1981–82: European Cup Final Winners
- 1982: European Super Cup Winners
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!