World Cup 1930

With World Cup fever gathering pace, let’s look at how the concept got off the ground but without the Home Nations participating over the contentious issue over “shamateurism”. For the record, the uncompromising stance over professionalism ended up a contentious issue. The British delegation protested in no uncertain manner that other countries outlandish out-of-pocket expenses far outweighed what they considered reasonable. The International Olympic Committee had earlier adopted England’s strict definition of an amateur in order to determine eligibility. Not that Switzerland were listening too much when calling the shots in 1926, proposing that countries could compensate the amateur lads for loss of earnings, and subsequently accepted by a two-thirds majority. Further disagreements saw the Home Nations eventually withdraw from the Olympics and resign from FIFA.

The idea of a World Cup competition with its own identity separate from that of the Olympics began with two visionary Frenchmen in 1904. A concept accepted at the Antwerp Olympic Games in 1920, commencing amid chaotic scenes and uncertainty in Uruguay in 1930, while thriving today, mega-rich at its unveiling every fourth year. At loggerheads with the Olympic Committee for many-a-year, Jules Rimet and Henri Delaunay finally persuaded the world governing body they should hold their own unique World Cup competition. Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay all lodged applications for the honour of showcasing this prestigious event, finally going to the miniscule South American nation, in recognition of its Centenary celebrations from Spanish rule. Of course, being current Olympic Champions added considerable clout in support of their bid.

The Uruguayan FA responded positively, posting invites to all FIFA affiliated members requesting their presence, this being the only World Cup not requiring pre-qualification. For whatever reason, non-affiliated England received an olive branch peace offering but snubbed the overtures. Other European countries remained non-committal, stating the long, hazardous travel and monetary outlay as prohibiting. Flying the European flag, France Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia joined the jamboree to provide the competition a degree of respectability and worldwide appeal. Romania entered under royal approval when King Carol II selected the squad. In a morale boosting gesture, the monarch allowed all his players three months’ paid leave and a promise of job security afterwards. Not that he kept to his word! It appeared some players sought political asylum after the team failed to progress in the tournament.

On 13 July and fully rested from a three-week arduous boat trip, the French amateur team trooped onto the field faced with snowbound conditions prepared to meet Mexico. Frenchman Lucient Laurent made history after scoring the first World Cup goal in a 4-1 victory. Incidentally, the French goalkeeper walked off the pitch with barely 10 minutes on the clock after being kicked on the jaw, and in a competition marred by further roughhouse play.

In its early stages, the game between Romania and Peru attracted an unenviable record when registering the smallest World Cup attendance of 300. Notwithstanding the Home Nations boycott, the US, made up of former Scottish and English professionals, gained a passage to the semi-finals without conceding a goal. Concluding the initial matches, Argentina and Uruguay topped the final table to secure their place in the final play-off. On the big day, 100,000 passionate South Americans gathered in the recently built Centenario Stadium, Montevideo. The two sides had clashed previously when contesting the 1928 Olympic final. Uruguay gave a repeat performance in a fully contested game befitting the current Olympic Champions up against the South American Champions. Regrettably, the hostile atmosphere betrayed a magnificent contest. Dozens of boats had transported a huge contingent of Argentineans across the River Plate from Buenos Aries to Montevideo the previous night, the quaysides packed as the Argentineans chanted “Victory or Death”. Tight security held spontaneous checks for firearms, mounted police escorted the Argentinean players, while soldiers with fixed bayonets patrolled the stadium. Breathing a sigh of relief on the final outcome, the host nation declared a national holiday in order to celebrate the victory. Seething over the result, Argentina suffered rioting which saw the police open fire following a mob riot at the Uruguayan consulate.

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Law 8: A goalkeeping dilemma

No matter the Laws of Football written down throughout the course of time, flouting the rules is part and parcel of the sport. Perhaps it happens more often in modern-day football, where you can see ludicrous play-acting bordering on the bizarre. I find it rather amusing watching a player writhe about in agony clutching his head, when in truth a clipped ankle caused the tumble. Like a professional Shakespearean actor, certain players mimic the so-called ‘dying swan act’ without actually encountering bodily contact. Feigning injury is commonplace when out to nick a penalty or free-kick. The cunning players know every trick in the book. Sometimes the histrionics and deception would even shame nursery school children!

This story isn’t about cheating, rather more to do with bending the rules to gain the initiative. Leigh Roose, born 26 November 1877, exploited the offside law for the benefit of the team. Goalkeepers were once allowed to roam freely in their own half, although carrying the ball wasn’t permitted outside the penalty area. In effect, it created an extra sweeper in defence. Under controversial circumstances within the letter of the law but against the spirit of the game, this wily goalkeeper developed a unique style of play enabling him to skate round Rule 8 which stated: ‘The goalkeeper may, within his own half of the field of play, use his hands, but shall not carry the ball.’ Rather than carry the ball illegally, he would bounce it to the halfway line before launching an accurate throw or kick. Not all keepers favoured this tactic, forever mindful of leaving their goalmouth unattended against a sudden counter-attack.

Starring for his university team, North Wales Combination side Aberystwyth were suitably impressed enough to sign him on as an amateur, during which time a solitary Welsh Cup medal was pocketed. Although quite eccentric, nevertheless the Welsh international selection committee still awarded their star goalkeeper two dozen caps. Following his graduation, Roose went on to study medicine for a short spell at King’s College, London, but never qualified as a doctor. During his time residing in London, Stoke Football Club offered him a most generous out-of-pocket expenses package to compensate for loss of wages. The ‘sweeteners’ included first-class train travel, upmarket hotels for overnight accommodation, top of the range made-to-measure suits, designer shoes and other unnamed ‘extras’. Not a bad deal and Roose duly signed for the Potters.

Newspaper journalists soon picked up on Roose’s goalkeeping antics. The Bristol Times reported: “Few men exhibit their personality so vividly in their play as L. R. Roose…. He rarely stands listlessly by the goalpost even when the ball is at the other end of the enclosure, but is ever following the play keenly and closely. Directly his charge is threatened, he is on the move. He thinks nothing of dashing out 10 or 15 yards, even when his backs have as good a chance of clearing as he makes for himself. He will also rush along the touchline, field the ball and get in a kick too, to keep the game going briskly.” Once described as the ‘Prince of goalkeepers’ by best pal Billy Meredith, Roose played for Everton beginning in November 1904, which punctuated his spell at Stoke. During an eventful end-of-season rally, Everton finished a mere point behind Newcastle United in the First Division and also reached the last four in the FA Cup.

Keen to recruit their former entertainer and prankster, Stoke offered a top of the range package the following season. In a show of unison, Stoke’s attendance trebled on his first home outing. Fans were overjoyed to be able to see their hero don the club’s colours so soon again. Quite remarkably, Roose kept 40 clean sheets at Stoke in 147 appearances. No mean feat considering that Stoke flirted dangerously with relegation in 1901, 1902 and 1904, on each occasion finishing third from bottom. In 1907, Roose played his part in helping Wales to clinch the Home Championship for the first time. This achievement was especially remarkable under the circumstances, with the Football League not too generous in allowing players to be released for Welsh international duty.

Roose’s incredible journey led next to Sunderland in January 1908, on amateur terms. Before long, scurrilous rumours came to the attention of the authorities over advanced illegal payments, supposedly offered as an inducement. Asked for clarification from the Football League, a tongue-in-cheek reply made for hearty laughter. Four pence allegedly purchased a pistol to ward off the opposition; three pence bought a coat and gloves to keep warm, with two toilet visits costing two pence! Due to a lack of incriminating evidence, the case was eventually dropped, much to Roose’s relief. With Roose suffering from a second badly broken wrist in his career, Sunderland terminated his contract in the summer of 1910. Numerous other clubs were then briefly represented through nomadic wandering between Port Vale, the Druids of Ruabon, Celtic, Huddersfield Town, Woolwich Arsenal and Aston Villa. Roose’s antics attracted unsavoury criticism from certain quarters within the game. Several influential people were quite forthright in condemning a style of play they considered hindered the game as a spectacle. Journalists also dished out their forthright opinions regarding the way Roose performed. The Athletic News published an article following Sunderland’s 4-1 win over Liverpool in September 1909: ‘The great man of the side was Roose. His one failing is his habit of running out with the ball, a failing which I suppose will be with him (for the rest of his career), but he is a brilliant goalkeeper without doubt.’ Finally exasperated from the intense pressure, an agreement was reached to amend the rule in June 1912. Law 8 then stated: ‘no handling of the ball outside the penalty area.’ From then onwards, goalkeepers were restricted to bouncing the ball in the penalty area only. As well as possessing an unorthodox style of play, Roose would often be seen larking about in setting up mischievous capers. During half-time in one game, he sat perched on the crossbar until play resumed.

On 23 April 1910, Roose, by then a very famous former Stoke player, guested along with Herbert Chapman for Port Vale, in a match against Stoke reserves that would ultimately decide the winner of the North Staffordshire and District League. In an act of bravado, or foolhardiness whichever way you look at it, Roose not only insisted on playing against his former club wearing his old Stoke shirt, but aroused the ire of the 7,000 strong crowd with some breathtaking saves. Displaying arrogant ease, he caused a near-riot as fans spilled onto the pitch, with only the brave intervention of the local constabulary saving him from a ducking in the River Trent. In the course of the same fracas, Stoke’s chairman, the Reverend AE Hurst, ran onto the pitch to appeal for calm, only to be felled by one of his own forwards. The Staffordshire FA subsequently declared the championship void and Stoke’s ground was closed for a fortnight for the forthcoming 1910/11 season. In his defence, Roose is reported to have said: “that he had believed the game to be a friendly and had not realised a championship was at stake.”

The influence of his behaviour was retained in the game, with larger-than-life Bruce Grobbelaar of Liverpool fame once taking on the ‘challenge’. Quite hilariously, ex-goalkeeper Brucie would often wobble his knees hoping to distract a penalty taker. As it so happened, Roose did likewise in a match welcoming the visit of Manchester City. Always game for fun and frolicking, this unsung hero faked the nerves during a spot kick. Roose did save the penalty but then got pelted with objects from disgruntled opposition fans after raising his arm in salute. Roose also starred for Sunderland in the 1-9 victory over Newcastle I touched on previously.

Turning out for Wales against Ireland on 2 April 1906, the match was captured for posterity on film by pioneers Mitchell and Kenyon, and is the first surviving film covering international football.

Leigh Roose was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during the fierce fighting at the Battle of the Somme. His life was cruelly cut short in 1916 during an attack on a German position at Gueudecourt. Last seen running at the enemy firing his gun, mystery surrounds the exact details of his death. To this day, his body remains buried in the battlefield. The citation read: “he threw bombs until his arms gave out, and then, joining the covering party, used his rifle with great effect.” Within a few months of his own death, three former team-mates, namely Albert Milton (Sunderland), Wilf Toman (Everton) and Peter Johnstone (Celtic) also perished on the Western Front. Although never setting foot on these shores again, the ‘Prince of goalkeepers’ bequeathed a legacy of abiding memories, and some comedy also in the bargain.

Footnote: Here is a passage from an article written by Roose for The Book of Football in 1906. “Some men are born great, others achieve greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them. A goalkeeper may be of all these, but the best goalkeepers are principally the first.
They are expected to be perfection personified in their form – never to lapse or make a mistake, and to possess all the virtues of the man who was sorry he had only the Ten Commandments to keep and no more. Granted perfection is desirable, but it is usually presentable only to the imagination of this imperfect world.” Poetic words, indeed!

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Three sporting heroes

Military brasshats harboured grave misgivings once Queen Victoria unveiled the idea of bestowing a medal on the ‘common’ soldier for outstanding gallantry. Their headstrong opinion questioned whether it could well undermine team spirit out on the battlefield. Remaining resolute in their desire to see the award happen, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced the concept in 1854. Jewellery firm Hancock’s pride themselves on having commissioned the VC since its inception, the medal itself struck from an antique Chinese bronze cannon supposedly captured during the Crimean War. Historians dispute this theory, more convinced it hadn’t seen any action at all. Several medals are kept on deposit ready-in-waiting for awarding. Although worthless blank, when inscribed they can fetch upwards from £30,000 to £250,000 at auction. Over 75 per cent of the 1,357 medals awarded up to 2013 were achieved by a person, who as a sibling made personal sacrifices for family betterment in difficult circumstances. Although possibly coincidental, duty, dedication and responsibility to others in troubled times are essential characteristics in achieving the top honour.

Brave footballers not only placed heroism on the field of play, but also scattered it across the battlefields worldwide. One such hero named Willie Angus signed pro forms for Celtic in 1911. Taking the call to arms, he excelled on the frontline at Givenchy. Bombarded by heavy shell-fire, Willie noticed a seriously injured soldier lying prostrate beneath a German machine-gun turret desperately pleading for drinking water. Showing no clemency, a German soldier tossed a grenade at the helpless chap. In an outstanding act of bravery and fearless for his own personal safety, Willie mounted a charge through the hostile terrain to reach his fallen comrade. Adrenalin and heartbeat pumping uncontrollably, a rope was instantaneously secured around the wounded soldier’s waist in attempting a rescue mission. Cutting fine an escape bid under intense duress, he began worming a safe passage back, ever aware of a counter-attack. The Germans didn’t hesitate in their anger. Firing off a volley, 40 bullets riddled Willie’s body. Although stumbling on numerous occasions, his thinking remained resolutely focused on delivering his comrade back into safe hands. This bravest of soldiers would never kick a football again, suffering the loss of an eye and eventual leg amputation. Incidentally, his rescued buddy, Lt. James Martin, was a fellow native from Carluke.
Willie gained an honourable distinction as the only Scottish territorial soldier to be awarded the VC.

Englishman Donald Simpson Bell turned out as an amateur for both Crystal Palace and Newcastle United. In 1912, Bradford Park Avenue stepped in offering a professional contract. On the outbreak of war this fearless soldier demonstrated great courage and patriotism. Setting a precedent, he became the first professional footballer to enlist in the British Army. Rising rapidly from Lance Corporal in the Yorkshire Regiment, he worked his way through the ranks to attain Temporary Second Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment. At the age of 25, he also excelled during trench warfare at the Somme, bravely carrying out the initiative after British troops encountered an incessant bombardment. Accompanied by two comrades armed with grenades, they sped across open, hostile territory to take out the enemy positions. The story goes, a letter arrived back home from Donald explaining the action must have been a fluke. Five days later, his life was cruelly cut short attempting a similar act.

Donald Simpson Bell VC… the only Football League professional recipient of this award.

A game fit for heroes

We’ve all heard tales of the many heroes of The Greatest Game on the field of play but there’s certainly been no shortage of rugby league players who have distinguished themselves in their off-field activities also. One such person is 2nd Lt. John Harrison VC MC. Born the fourth of seven children, to John and Charlotte Harrison on 12th November 1891, the first son to this boilermaker/plater and his wife was also given the name John but was soon called Jack to distinguish him from his father. Life in East Hull in the late 19th century was difficult at best and young Jack soon learned to look after himself, growing up strong, courageous and well able to fight his corner. In 1901, Jack became a pupil at Craven Street School, where he remained until he reached the age of eighteen, leaving with a Preliminary Certificate in mathematics. It was the usual practice for male children of manual working families to leave school at twelve but John and Charlotte had decided to set aside whatever the family could afford to help develop the talents of their children. Their unselfish sacrifice was eventually rewarded when Jack gained entry on a teacher training course at St John’s College, York. Jack’s departure coincided with a lock out in the shipbuilding trade, bringing yet more hardship to the family. Strife such as this coupled with the death earlier in the year of King Edward VII brought to an end the golden era of Edwardian England. The principal of St John’s College, Revd. Henry Walker, was a strict disciplinarian, believing in regular attendance in chapel as well has hard work in the classroom and on the playing field. Jack thrived in this environment, excelling at football, cricket, tennis, swimming and athletics but it was his prowess on the rugby field that first brought him to the attention of York Northern Union Rugby Football Club. It was during this period that Jack’s leadership qualities first surfaced when the college made him Captain of Rugby Football.

In 1912, Jack returned to his native city as a certificated teacher at Lime Street Senior Boys School, at an annual salary of £80. Jack’s exploits with York preceded his return and an invitation to join Hull NURFC was accepted, making his debut in the black & white irregular hoops on 5th September 1912. Between that date and 1916, he played 116 matches, scoring 106 tries and two goals and was selected for the 1914 tour of Australia and New Zealand. In the 1913/14 Challenge Cup final he scored one of Hull’s two tries that ensured a 6-0 victory over Wakefield Trinity and in the following season clocked up 52 tries, a club record that stands to this day.

There was of course another side to Jack Harrison, away from the rugby field, he was a more than competent violinist and pianist and was once described by a female friend as being “a handsome chap who was attractive to women, he knew it and took full advantage of it.” On 1st September 1914 Jack married Lillian Ellis at Hull Registry Office. The Great War had already been in progress for one month at this time, although it had little impact on this new family in Hull. By September 1914 the introduction of ‘Pals Battalions’ saw men enlisting at the rate of 33,000 per day although at this time with a new wife and soon a child on the way, Jack saw no reason to join them. On 15th June 1915 a son named John was born to Jack and Lillian, although he was known to the family as Jackie to avoid confusion. Meanwhile, the battles across the Channel were taking their toll on officers and men and it was felt necessary to offer immediate entry for officer training to men whose qualifications were deemed appropriate. It goes without saying that Jack’s qualifications were more than appropriate and on 4th November 1915 Jack reported for nine months training at Berkhamsted. It was during this training period that two of the bloodiest battles of the campaign were started which, before the end, would see the deaths of over a million men. On 5th August 1916, Jack Harrison was commissioned as Temporary 2nd Lieutenant and posted to the 11th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment and was posted to active service on September 19th. It is interesting to note that during October 1916, when the Hull Brigade was sent back from the front for rest and recuperation, the 11th Battalion won the Brigade Rugby Tournament.

Life in the trenches was as just as horrible for junior officers as it was for enlisted men. Extremes of heat and cold, bluebottle infested corpses, putrefying in No-Mans-Land, where rats and feral cats also fed and infested the trenches, accompanied inadequate rations. Disease was rife, pneumonia, meningitis, dysentery and typhoid took their toll, as did trench foot which was caused through standing in freezing water and could cause toes or even feet to fall off. Constant barrages from heavy artillery, shrapnel shells, machine guns, trench mortars and flame throwers all combined to ensure a death rate, even in ‘quiet’ periods of 300 Allied men per day. By the war’s end, one man would be killed for every minute it lasted. This is where Jack Harrison learned the trade of a front line officer.

The 11th and 12th East Yorks re-entered the frontline at Arras on 20th February 1917 and at 2.30 am on the 25th, they were ordered to stand to. The attack started at 6.00am and by 7.50 Jack had sent word back that the battalion had taken the German frontline. By 9.00am they were in the German third line, by 9.40 they were ordered to withdraw and for his courage that day, the following appeared in The London Gazette on 17th April 1917, under the heading ‘Military Cross’. “T/2nd Lt. John Harrison, East Yorks Regiment. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He handled his platoon with great courage and skill, reached his objective under the most trying conditions and captured a prisoner. He set a splendid example throughout.”

Preparations for the Spring Offensive were soon underway, and on 20th April the Hull Brigade were moved to Ecurie, north of Arras, to await orders. By this time, the thousand or so officers and men of the original Pals Battalions had been reduced to half that amount, their replacements literally joining from anywhere. Casualties meant that the original Pals had virtually disappeared. The area around the village of Oppy was well fortified, the Germans had laid a blanket of barbed wire in front of their lines, machine guns and trench mortars complemented the defences. The line itself was guarded by crack troops from the 1st and 2nd Guards Divisions. The men of the Hull Brigade set out on the night of 2nd May under a clear sky with a full moon and had to surmount a ridge that left them clearly silhouetted against the night sky. This led to an immediate bombardment of the holding areas behind the British line, No-Man’s-Land and the Brigade’s assembly area. When the British barrage opened up at 3.45am, the Germans responded, the dry weather meant that the area was soon enveloped in thick choking dust. The British barrage was timed to advance a hundred yards every four minutes and soon outran the attacking battalions, leaving them exposed to heavy machine gun fire, which decimated the Yorkshire men. Two attacks by ‘B’ Company were repulsed with heavy losses. Jack Harrison, leading ‘B’ Company, made another attempt to penetrate the barbed wire defences, only to be pinned down by a machine gun firing from the Southern end of Oppy Wood. Exploding shells rained steel splinters and shrapnel balls to the rear of the Company, while machine guns poured six hundred rounds per minute to their front. Desperate measures were required and Jack showed no hesitation in taking them.

Telling his men to keep the machine gun under constant fire, he left the line. Armed only with a pistol and a Mills Bomb, he ran towards the source of the enemy fire. Using his skills of side-step and speed gained from the rugby field, he dodged and weaved his way from shell-hole to shell-hole until he was close enough to hurl his grenade. Silhouetted by flares, Jack’s men saw him fall forward as soon as he had thrown the bomb, with the machine gun silenced. On 14th June 1917 The London Gazette announced that King George V had approved the award of the Victoria Cross to Harrison with the following words. “T/2nd Lieutenant John Harrison, MC, 11th (S) Bn. East Yorkshire Regt. Oppy, France, 3rd May 1917 for most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice in attack.”

Jack’s body was never found. Sadly, Jack’s son John lost his life during the evacuation of Dunkirk and is buried in the town’s cemetery. An excerpt from Rugby League In Its Own Words.

Next up, an eccentric Welsh goalkeeper

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The freezing hand of winter

During the so-called Cold War President JF Kennedy brought the world to the brink of nuclear conflict in 1962. The Cuban and Russia governments began to surreptitiously build bases in Cuba, for a number of medium and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs), with the ability to strike most of the continental United States. The ensuing crisis ranks alongside that of the Berlin Blockade. Sporting events also felt a shiver down the spine, but more from the worst winter ever experienced since the Great Frost encapsulated Ireland and the rest of Europe from December 1739 and continuing into 1741. In London, the locals held Frost Fairs on the completely frozen over River Thames.

The extreme conditions of 1962/63 created mounting problems just to see the various competitions through. As a matter of fact, very few football seasons pass by in Britain without postponements, caused in the main by fog, waterlogged pitches, frost and snow, either localised or more widespread. For instance, take Carlisle. On the weekend beginning 7 January 2005, severe storms and heavy rainfall saturated large swathes of Cumbria compounding the previous downpours. Throughout Friday night and into Saturday morning, the bleak conditions caused unprecedented flooding and storm damage to property. Sadly, three people lost their lives, as well as 300 people rendered homeless. Over at Brunton Park (home to Carlisle United), 20 million litres of mucky brown water flooded the ground after the River Petterrill burst its banks. Initially, the water levelled up to the height of the crossbar before subsiding. The chaos afterwards was one of utter despair for the ground staff, who witnessed a pitch not dissimilar to a muddy wetland. Several weeks passed by before the pitch was deemed playable again.

Thinking back to the 1962/63 football season, a different landscape emerged as gale-force blizzards and severe snowstorms battered Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. With the country beneath a blanket of snow, football matches ground to a halt on a large scale and so placing a burden on finances. Up in Scotland, the freezing hand of winter gripping the country was the worst weather conditions experienced since 1829. An unrelenting blizzard hitting parts of Wales and south-west England caused havoc not seen since the winter blitz of 1947. Villages lay stranded, power lines crashed and transport severely disrupted. Farmers were unable to tend to their flocks, resulting in many animals perishing in the extreme cold. Seagulls froze in Poole Harbour and double-decker buses were buried roof-deep in snowdrifts. Commercial output dropped from between £300-£400 million. Fifty people lost their lives outdoors, many trapped in their cars. The Scottish Borders were impassable, the country strewn with abandoned cars.

In an effort to keep the show on the road, willing supporters mucked in shifting snow by the barrow-load. In other instances such as braziers, flamethrowers, a tar burner, a hot-air-tent (used at Leicester City) and straw were tried out. Down in Brighton, a local builder who sat on the club’s board managed to unfreeze the pitch using his tarmac-laying equipment. Unfortunately for him, this destroyed the pitch, and Brighton still dropped down into Division Four. The FA Cup final ended up being delayed until 25 May. Manchester United, having escaped the clutches of relegation, defeated Leicester City 3-1. In fact at one stage Leicester had eyes on the prized Double. Fully prepared with shovels and bath tubs, an army of workmen, supporters and officials pitched in to shift the snow in readiness for the League Cup first-leg semi-final of 1963. However, the second-leg was delayed further.

The heavy snowfalls and icy conditions left many pitches at the mercy of the harsh conditions. For the lucky few, orange balls assisted play from pitches deemed playable. With temperatures plummeting well below average, little wonder games were virtually wiped out right across the country most weekends. Yorkshire’s bleak landscape bore the brunt of the weather. Many high, exposed windswept roads were impassable including the Shap. Even if a match was considered playable, it was virtually impossible to travel under treacherous conditions. You could say Barnsley were well and truly hospitalised, managing as they did just two games from 21 December until 12 March. Enterprising Halifax Town opened up the Shay for ice skating to bring in desperately needed revenue. It still ended up a labour in vain, with the side unable to stave off relegation from Division Three. Furthermore, the defenders must have been numbed from the cold when nursing 106 goals conceded.

The media hyperbole surrounding the cold snap and a few inches of snow in 2010, as well as not being dismissive to the more treacherous weather conditions of 2013, they pale in comparison to the “Big Freeze”. The number of postponements even surpassed the great white-out of 1947. Would you believe it, icebergs were spotted floating down the River Mersey during the year that the Pools Panel was formed? The rules pertaining stated at least 30 matches had to be postponed before the Panel predicted the outcome. Football legends Ted Drake, Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton and George Young sat alongside referee Arthur Ellis, with eccentric Tory backbencher Sir Gerald Nabarro waiting on standby. Come one Saturday in late January 1963, the selected team met for the first time when extreme weather put paid to 52 of the 55 games due to be played. A match between Lincoln City and Coventry City ended up being postponed 15 times. But nothing compared to a cup-tie between Stranraer and Airdrie which was called off a British record 33 times.

The winter of 1962/63 began unremarkably enough, with a dusting of snow falling on 20 November, followed by milder weather at the end of the month. The first few days of December witnessed temperatures fall below freezing point all day despite hazy sunshine, followed by thick, freezing fog. With Christmas fast approaching, there wasn’t anything untoward about the weather to be overly worried that apart from an odd shower and a gale or two. The severe conditions actually began on 22 December, but deteriorated further on Boxing Day. Bury had travelled up to Sunderland for a Second Division promotion clash under testing, hazardous conditions. Undeterred, a 42,000 crowd braved the elements, although the pitch was looking rather dodgy. Just maybe, the huge crowd huddled inside the ground swayed the ref into giving the match the go-ahead. The snow and sleet continued drifting that eventful day. As for twice-capped Brian Clough, he suffered an appalling injury. Chasing a stray pass, a collision with Bury’s goalkeeper Chris Harker caused severe cruciate damage to his right knee. Effectively, it finished an amazing career. For players having scored over 200 league goals in the English leagues, Clough has the highest goals per game ratio of 0.916.

With the “Big Freeze” causing severe disruption to both codes of rugby, Leeds R.L.F.C. took the decision to have under-soil heating installed. This was on the back of no matches played at Headingley for 17 weeks, and which left the club playing 18 matches in 55 days. Over in Lancashire, three fixtures at Widnes R.L.F.C. were made possible only by spraying the pitch with £500 worth of anti-freeze, although it left the pitch looking like a bog.

At the drop of a hat, more temperate condition arrived in early March, resulting in just 14 football fixtures succumbing to the weather. Over on Dartmoor, troops relieved a farm that had been cut off for 66 days, the surrounding snowdrifts at one point piled 20ft high. At least children enjoyed themselves!

Next up, a true sporting hero who played rugby league, as well as two from football.

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Well I never, what a mishap!

Injuries form part and parcel of any sport and can happen anywhere, anytime, but fancy colliding with a moose while out and about jogging! And before you start wondering where, it wasn’t in the backstreets of Wigan or Wolverhampton. Norwegian Svein Grondalen was noted for his “physical” style of play and possibly best remembered for a brutal tackle on Swede Ralf Edstrom. In total, Grondalen was capped 77 times for Norway from 1973 to 1984. It could well have been 78 but for the moose. On this occasion, the hapless player came off second best and had to cry off from international duty through injury. Injuries do occur during the pre-match exercises. This once happened to Everton’s goalkeeper Richard Wright in round four of a cup replay against Chelsea. However, I’m sure he didn’t want to see too many replays of the incident. Wright, taking no notice of a sign warning players not to practice in the goalmouth, promptly fell over it. A twisted ankle put him out of the match.

Goalkeepers prefer to keep a safe pair of hands during a game but can succumb to the odd calamity of a dropped ball, resulting in a goal. Veteran keeper Dave Beasant ruled himself out for eight weeks after dropping a bottle of salad cream on his big toe. I reckon his pride was more painful than the severed tendon! Staying focused on goalkeepers, Alex Stepney opened his mouth once too often in a match against Birmingham City in 1975. Yelling for all his worth at his defenders, he suffered a broken jaw. From time-to-time stray dogs encroach onto the pitch with hilarious consequences. Turning out for Brentford, “Chic” Brodie once collided with a pooch during play. Unfortunately the accident shattered the keeper’s knee. Summing up, he commented: “the dog may have been small….but it just happened to be solid.” Whatever!

I often reflect how players overdo the celebrations following a goal. In this next incident Steve Morrow of Arsenal broke his collarbone after falling off the back of Tony Adams, when celebrating the 1993 League Cup final victory. Playing in the Swiss League, Servette midfielder Paulo Diogo scored against Schaffhausen before jumping into the crowd to celebrate. During the over-exuberance, he happened to catch his wedding ring on a fence, resulting in the top half of a finger being torn off. It was definitely a painful day all round, because he then received a booking in the bargain.

One of the pre-match exercises is stretching the limbs and body to loosen up. I feel former Aston Villa diminutive full-back Alan Wright started too soon! Stretching out to reach the accelerator pedal of his brand spanking new Ferrari, he strained a knee. No doubt, the incident caused a degree of anger, because the said car was subsequently traded in for a Rover 416. Finally, surely there shouldn’t be too much bother brushing your teeth. Try telling that to ex-England star Alan Mullery who missed a tour of South America in 1964, after injuring his back doing this simple chore.

Former Wigan rugby league player Jamie Ainscough was one forced to miss a match against Warrington after having a tooth pulled from his arm. Saints centre Martin Gleeson thought he had lost the tooth in a match between the two rivals until an X-ray to Ainscough found the said tooth embedded in his arm. Although his other teeth were wobbly and causing him concern, the coaches weren’t up to taking Gleeson off, so he had to remain playing for the entire game. As for the incident, it was more a clumsy tackle and perhaps as a result of the poor conditions. The injury to Ainsough put paid to his playing career but could have been much worse, as there was talk of amputation.

A serious accident in rugby league was narrowly avoided, in a match between St Helens and Warrington at the former Knowsley Road ground. The weather at kick off was dry and calm, before a sudden snow storm let loose its wrath. During the swirling wind, a section of roof on the main stand crashed onto the pitch and just missed hitting a Warrington wingman.

Playing for St Helens against Wigan at the former Central Park ground on a Good Friday, Kevin Ward sustained a horrendous leg injury and which almost ended up with the loss of the leg. I attended that match and such was the crack of Ward’s leg, the whole of the crowd hushed instantaneously. Today, Kevin still finds difficulty walking.

Join the union

With the arrival of the 1900s, strained relations between employee and employer continued on the slippery slope. Declining wages (10 per cent in real terms) and punishing price hikes sparked hostile confrontation. Moreover, just 120,000 people owned a disproportionate two-thirds of the national capital wealth. Fuelled by continued resentment and flexing their muscles, union subscriptions increased significantly. From an existing membership of 1,997,000 million in 1906, a massive increase in new joiners resulted in the number rising to 3,139,000 million at the onset of 1911. With industrial unrest mounting weekly, militant action became inevitable. From 479 stoppages, a near 100 per cent increase in strikes over a relative short period was a bold statement of intent.

A Printers’ dispute during 1911 led to the establishment of a new socialist daily newspaper. At first, the Daily Herald backed the printers’ grievances in the form of a newsletter. Gaining in popularity with the grassroots workforce, the paper went national in 1912. The situation at Bryant and May had already demonstrated how powerful the unions were. Draconian measures inflicted by the firm set the female workforce on a collision course. Fourteen-hour working-days, no real pay increases to meet rising costs, punitive fines for minor infringements, cynical exploitation and serious health hazards made life unbearable. Led by radical socialist Annie Besant, the young girls walked out in June 1888. Fearing a loss of business, the hot-under-the-collar bosses caved in after just three weeks, conceding better working practices and formal union recognition. During this restless period Besant penned a revealing story entitled: ‘White Slavery in London’. This hard-hitting dig informed the general public as to the horrors inside Bryant and May.

Player safety and welfare in bygone years was also a major concern, as serious injuries and death in football were all too common. Participants in other sports suffered appalling injuries and hardship as well. The St Helens Reporter, Saturday, 5 April 1890, brought bad tidings: “On Saturday, during the progress of a rugby football match between St Helens ‘A’ and West Leigh, a serious accident happened to Edward Smith, aged 19, of Waterloo Street, St Helens. Smith was a new player and had no bars on his shoes, and the result was that he slipped and fell on his head, which was crushed down upon his chest. Paralysis quickly set in, and Dr Jones was called in and ordered his removal to the Workhouse Hospital, where he lives in a dying condition. He was the only support of his widowed mother.”

Recorded incidents in between January and March 1889 revealed nine rugby deaths. From 1890 to 1893, the British Isles listed over 500 significant injuries, which included 121 broken legs. Several players died as a result of serious head injuries. A doctor’s report published in The Lancet forewarned of the dangerous practice of charging a ball-carrying player. In April 1899, The Lancet published other findings, reporting 96 deaths in football and rugby alone over the previous eight years. Charges of manslaughter arising from matches weren’t unusual.

In 1892, James Dunlop of St Mirren passed away at the tender age of 22 after contracting tetanus directly linked to a cut from a piece of broken glass when playing against Abercorn. Arsenal’s captain and right-back Joseph Powell suffered excruciating pain in a game against Kettering Town. On leaping high to boot the ball away, a foot got entangled in an opponent’s shoulder. The resulting downward thud caused immense grief for Powell and team-mates alike. If a broken arm wasn’t bad enough, the bone actually protruded gruesomely through the flesh. One poor soul intent on assisting the unfortunate chap fainted at the ghastly sight. Despite amputation, the fellow died, aged just 26.

While playing for Manchester United’s reserves against St Helens Town in April 1907, Thomas Blackstock collapsed after heading the ball, eventually leading to his death. Reports are sketchy as to the exact cause. The resulting inquest returned a verdict of “natural causes”, but it’s also said that it could have been brought upon by a heart attack or seizure. Several players didn’t take too kindly to the shoddy aftercare treatment provided to his family. Responding positively to their concerns, they resurrected a dormant union. The body (AFPU) was ratified at the Imperial Hotel, Manchester on 2 December 1907. Manchester United’s captain and centre-half Charlie Roberts fronted the cause. Strong-willed and articulate, he gained true values of life from the down to earth steelworkers and trawlermen in his native North-East. The FA finally gave the union their full blessing in 1908, as well as consenting to a match between Manchester United and Newcastle United in aid of funds.

Footnote: Factory workers once hammered nails to the soles of their work boots in order to keep a firm footing when playing football. In 1863 the Football Association introduced Rule 13 that stated: “No one wearing projecting nails, iron plated or gutta percha on the soles of his boots is allowed to play”. The year 1886 saw the introduction of studs.


Next up, the freezing hand of winter causes havoc to sporting activity!

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Cup Final ‘Roses’ skulduggery

Skulduggery in sport takes many forms and sometimes hilarious when you look back at events. This next story certainly set the scene in the first Northern Rugby Union Challenge Cup Final. The eventual huge pulling power of this prestigious knockout competition was firmly rooted in the success of the former Yorkshire Rugby Union Cup competition, which was then known throughout the region as ‘T’owd Tin Pot’ and had attracted huge crowds even before the 1895 rugby ‘split’. ‘T’owd’ it might have been but it was certainly a money-spinner. Once the Northern Rugby Union had completed its first season in 1895/96, the first thing they did was to introduce their own version of the Yorkshire Cup, named the Challenge Cup. The first-ever final was contested by Batley and St Helens held at Headingley in Leeds on 24th April 1897. It was already a well-appointed venue and the Northern Rugby Union knew it was a suitable stage on which to allow their new competition to come to a conclusion.

Batley were then classed as a top dog outfit. The team contained such stars as the all-Welsh wing-centre partnership of Wattie Davies and Dai Fitzgerald. Dai had originally arrived from Wales to join Leigh but subsequently moved across the Pennines to sign for Batley. He was a driving force in the team – and such was his influence that two years later while being suspended for not having a proper job, Batley’s fortunes slumped. The suspension came about after a private detective hired by the governing body found out that his job as a coal agent didn’t actually involve any work! Returning to play again in 1900, the Heavy Woollen area outfit won their third Challenge Cup after defeating Warrington 6-0 in the 1901 final watched by 29,963. His wing partner, Davies, was the Victorian equivalent of David Beckham. Besides being a fine rugby player, he was also a notable athlete. One of his party tricks was to jump over a horse from a standing start. It must have been a fairly small animal!

St Helens had reached the final on the back of a poor season of league form but cup fever soon gripped the town. That said, once the big day dawned the contrast was stark. For a start, there were far more Batley and Yorkshire based fans in the ground than Lancastrians. There were suspicions of underhandedness, particular that the balance had been unfairly tipped by a patriotic Yorkshire railway worker in Huddersfield. Although more than 2,000 St Helens fans had trekked to Leeds by train, the journey, however, took three hours, most of which was spent waiting in the tunnels around Huddersfield, because it was alleged that the signalman who controlled the track kept giving priority to other trains. Eventually, the Saints fans arrived but found the St Helens lads trailing 7-0. Batley had also struck a psychological blow against their opponents even before the commencement of play, because they lined up wearing a snowy white brand new strip, whereas St Helens turned out in shirts of differing style and colour. Mind you, as ST Helens had just endured a period of financial uncertainty it is the opinion of many historians that they couldn’t have afforded a new strip for the game anyhow. The final outcome, played in front of 13,492 spectators, went Batley’s way 10-3 and hailed (‘Champions of the North’). Arriving back home by train, no fewer than 160 fog signals heralded the team’s homecoming.

The honour of scoring the first points went to Batley’s ‘fly-half’ Oakland, who dropped a goal (then a four-pointer). John Goodall then entered the record books as the first try-scorer to give Batley a 7-0 lead. Saints got back in contention through a Traynor try on the resumption of the second period, before Munns sealed victory with a try.

Footnotes: Cumberland side Workington Town did eventually break the Yorkshire/Lancashire dominance by defeating Featherstone Rovers in the final of 1952. They also reached two more finals in 1955 and 1958 but with the spoils going to Barrow 21-12 and Wigan 13-9 respectively.

Hull became the first club to lose three consecutive finals, with the last one going to a reply against Leeds in 1910.

Next up, bizarre accidents.

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