A nation at war – but the football show must go on

  • November 08, 2018 15:42
  • Jon Henderson

In 1939 the government decided to suspend the national game altogether would deal a severe blow to national morale.


After Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s solemn declaration in September 1939 that Britain was at war with Germany, his government quickly determined that suspending professional football indefinitely would be a self-inflicted wound to national morale.

In the First World War competitive football had been suspended, which meant many professional players signed up to fight – and die in their hundreds. But in the Second, although the Football League programme was abandoned with only three rounds of matches completed at the start of the 1939-40 season, the decree from above was that the show must go on even if no one was quite sure what form the show would or should take.

This decision did not mean players were spared joining up – and many more lost their lives. Those who died included two Bolton players, Harry Goslin, a defender who represented England against Scotland at the start of the Second World War, and Walter Sidebottom.

Goslin, the Bolton captain, told a crowd of more than 20,000 at Burnden Park in April 1939 that after the match against Sunderland he would lead his teammates to the local Territorial Army hall to sign up. He was killed in action in Itay in 1943 when a mortar exploded in a tree under which he had set up an observation post.

Sidetbottom, aged 22, died the same year, drowned when his ship was torpedoed in the English Channel.

But many top players in particular were given home postings rather than sent to the front in order to ensure the football that was played was as entertaining as possible.

The format settled upon was for Football League teams to take part in regional competitions and for regular helpings of international matches between the home nations, which proved especially popular.

In 1943 and 1944, a strong England team scored 45 goals in 10 unbeaten matches against Scotland and Wales. The great Backpool winger Stanley Matthews, who was serving in the RAF and was a huge favourite with crowds, appeared in nine of these.

A crowd of 133,000 saw England win 3-2 at Hampden in April 1944 and six months later 90,000 were at Wembley to watch a 6-2 win over the Scots.

This was way above the turnout for club matches, although, in time, even some of these games started to attract gates that compared to pre-war figures.

Blackpool, once Matthews became a regular for them, were a particular magnet and the team achieved a celebrity that has never really been recognised. Attendances swelled wherever they played. A showdown between a Matthews-inspired Blackpool and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in the spring of 1943 engaged the interest of the whole nation, drawing a vast gathering to west London.

But even more mundane matches in the makeshift regional leagues attracted substantial crowds and it was men such as Colin Collindridge, a fleet-footed forward, who kept these going.

Collindridge, who was conscripted in 1941, served in the RAF as a bomb armourer while at the same time turning out for a number of Football League clubs competing in the wartime competitions.

Taking advantage of the temporary freedom to guest for whichever club wanted him, Collindridge wore the colours of his peacetime club Sheffield United, Notts County, which was close to his RAF posting, Lincoln City and Oldham Athletic.

Although he admits to some resentment that the war coincided with what would probably have been his best footballing years, he counts himself lucky. ‘A local lad, Ernest England, was captured by the Germans at Dunkirk. He’d worked down the coalmine at Woolley and when he was taken prisoner they stuck him down a coalmine in Germany.

‘He came home and he’d been back for a week when he died. I’m not sure what he died of, but what happened to me was nothing compared to that.’

The war also threw up instances of grim humour. Just before a match at Preston’s Deepdale ground, an air-raid siren sounded. As the players hurried to the nearest shelter, one of them remembered he had left his top set of false teeth in the dressing room. He had to be forcibly persuaded not to go back to retrieve them.

Not surprisingly, given football’s paranoia at this time about how much players earned, wartime gave officials an excuse to be even more parsimonious than usual. Earnings that were capped in peacetime were now set at no more than 30 shillings (£1 50p) per game.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


Neill thought Docherty was going ‘to punch my lights out’ – but he never did

  • November 06, 2018 10:05
  • Jon Henderson

In fact, after words of encouragement from the veteran midfielder, Neill marked his Arsenal first-team debut with possibly the best goal he ever scored.


Terry Neill missed his home in Northern Ireland when, as a teenager, he joined Arsenal in 1959. It was only after he made it into the first team a year later that he really settled at the north London club – but not before a moment of sheer panic shortly before his debut.

What Neill did appreciate in his early days ay Highbury was the coaching he received. ‘The youth-team coaches – George Male, Ernie Collett, Alf Fields – were great people, really looked after us. Under their guidance I progressed to making my first-team debut in 1960 when I was 18.’

He had played in the reserves regularly and had started to train with the first team under Ron Greenwood, who by now was Arsenal’s assistant manager. On 23 December he travelled with the first team to play Sheffield Wednesday.

‘We were about to play a Wednesday team that included players like Springett, Kay, Swann and Bronco Lane,’ Neill says, ‘and, after the pre-match meal, George Swindin [the manager] sought me out in the hotel lobby, sat me down and asked if I thought I was ready to play in the first team.’

Neill says his immediate reaction was to say he needed a little longer. But he declared his readiness without being convinced, which is when Swindin passed on the really shocking news. Neill was going to take Tommy Docherty’s place.

‘Ah Jesus!’ was Neill’s reaction, which he still clearly recalls. ‘What is going to happen. Tommy is going to punch my lights out.’

By this time Docherty, a rugged Glaswegian, was a 32-year-old veteran who had built his reputation making more than 300 appearances in midfield for Preston North End (1949-58) and 25 for Scotland.

It occurred to Neill that this was no way to repay Docherty for all his kindness when he, Neill, had arrived at the club, and Docherty ‘put his arm around me, being concerned about my welfare…

‘But Tommy sought me out ten minutes later – George Swindin must have told him, “You’re out. Young Terry’s taking your place” – and, true to form, he sat me down and reassured me, “You’ll be fine, just continue what you’ve been doing, I’ve been watching you in the reserve games”.’

So, Neill played against Wednesday. ‘We were struggling after John Snedden, a young Scots lad who could have been another John Charles – could play anywhere, a good athlete, great in the air, skilful and a bit of pace – had to go off with an ankle injury.

‘Down to ten men, we had a corner, the ball was headed out, by Swann, I think, and I cushioned the ball on my thigh and volleyed it into the top corner. Don’t ask me where I got it from. I don’t think I ever did it again.’

After his part in a 1-1 draw, away from home, against a star-studded Sheffield Wednesday team, Neill reckons Swindin was sitting on the bench calculating that for two and a half grand he had landed the club a steal. ‘If I remember it took me another four months to score my second goal,’ Neill says, ‘but for the moment anyway George thought he’d got a bargain.’


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


Manchester goalkeepers were in the front line during Wembley’s injury hoodoo

  • October 26, 2018 10:35
  • Jon Henderson

In the days when the FA Cup was regarded as English football’s greatest prize, the modestly paid players strove that much harder for victory – often with agonising consequences.


By the 1950s, the Wembley sports complex had been a hub of sporting events for many years.

In 1937, Fred Perry, by now a professional tennis player, contested matches at Wembley’s indoor arena, earning an estimated £4,000 for less than a week’s work in front of crowds of 8,000. Boxers Henry Cooper and Cassius Clay, soon to be Muhammad Ali, would be paid a percentage of the gate when in June 1963 they fought a memorable heavyweight bout in a ring erected over the FA Cup Final pitch. Cooper was reckoned to have received 25 grand and Clay double that.

But the Cup Final itself was by far Wembley’s greatest attraction and yet the wages of the players who took part in the 1957 and 1958 Cup Finals were still pegged at a weekly £17 maximum.

And looking back it is now possible to see that such was the competitive urge to win the Cup Final, sadly devalued since the rise of the richly endowed Premier League, that players were not only short-changed in terms of what they were paid for entertaining a vast audience. It would not have been outrageous if they had claimed danger money.

Because of the great fixture’s special status either side of the Second World War players almost certainly strove that little bit harder, causing a disproportionate number of injuries compared to other matches. Things became so bad in the 1950s that the epithet the Wembley hoodoo was born.

Mostly it was outfield players who suffered, but goalies copped it, too.

Sixty years ago in 1958 Harry Gregg of Manchester United was the third keeper – all representing Manchester clubs – to be unceremoniously clobbered in successive finals. There had been Ray Wood, also of United, the year before and in 1956 Bert Trautmann of Manchesrter City had been the unfortunate victim of a very nasty collision.

Trautmann, who had settled in Lancashire after being captured and imprisoned by the British towards the end of the Second World War, was knocked unconscious when he launched himself at the feet of the Birmingham City inside-forward Peter Murphy. It would turn out that this was much more than just a nasty blow on the head.

Bill Leivers, City’s right back, was a few yards from Trautmann when the incident happened.

‘So many times I’d seen him in goal and he was absolutely fearless,’ Leivers says. ‘He’d go down head first and he’d get up and go “Woooo…”, but his pride wouldn’t let him do any more than that.

‘At Wembley he did his usual thing and went down for the ball head first. When he came round I was saying to myself, “He’s really badly hurt”, because he kept feeling his neck, which he wouldn’t normally have done.’

Trautmann kept playing until the end of the match, which City won 3-1, and it was not until four days later that he was found to have dislocated five vertebrae the second of which was broken. His recovery took seven months.

During this time, Leivers became his chauffeur. ‘Bert had a plaster on right down to his waist with four pins into his skull.’

When Ray Wood was injured in the 1957 final after a collision with Aston Villa’s Peter McParland, the BBC TV commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme said immediately that what happened was a pure accident.

Even so Wood was left with concussion and a broken cheekbone and although Wolstenholme’s contention that it was a fair challenge was not the universal view there was a far greater acceptance then of the fairness of such collisions.

McParland, who scored both Villa’s goals in their 2-1 win, apologised to Wood after the match and says he has no argument with United’s goalie not being happy. ‘He wouldn’t have been happy, I wouldn’t have been happy if I had been taken off. He reacted in a sporting way to my apology but you always had the feeling that he felt he was hard done by.’

In the 1958 final Bolton’s captain and centre forward, Nat Lofthouse, scored both his team’s goals in their one-sided 2-0 victory over a United team that, tragically, had lost a number of key players in the Munich air crash earlier in the year.

Like McParland, though, Lofthouse emerged from the match a controversial figure, his second goal having had distinct echoes of the previous year’s final. A no-nonsense shoulder charge in the fiftieth minute laid out Gregg in the United goal and sent the ball spinning into the net.

Later it became clear that the effect of Lofthouse’s challenge, within minutes of which Gregg was back in action, might have been so much worse. He had started to develop headaches soon after Munich and it was only when he visited a neurosurgeon that he found out the knock to his head when the plane crashed had fractured his skull.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


REVIEW || Jeremy Corbyn and the Strange Rebirth of Labour England

  • October 25, 2018 13:32
  • Lauren Kirton

Jeremy Corbyn and the Strange Rebirth of Labour England by Francis Beckett & Mark Seddon

|| REVIEW Lauren Kirton @kirton_lauren


How did Jeremy Corbyn become the person responsible for the Labour Party’s 2017 resurgence? Whether you love him or hate him it cannot be denied that there is something about him that obviously resonates with many Labour supporters.

Originally intended as an analysis of the collapse of the Labour party, Beckett and Seddon were forced to change the book’s direction after the undeniable success of the party in recent years. In this book the authors offer an explanation as to how the Labour party managed to flourish when the left-wing parties of Europe have almost all faced the opposite.

The book begins with a look at the sad journey of Labour England from the 1970’s describing the trade unions with an appearance of power, into the 80’s when the Conservatives introduced the Right to Buy scheme and destroyed the high-standard council estates of Bevans time. It then turns to look at reversal of fortunes that occurred in the recent Corbyn years, and consider what a new Labour England could look like.                              

Though both men have been immersed in Labour politics for decades, they remain impartial simply analysing events, without enforcing their personal loyalties. Described by Alistair Stewart as “an elegant statement of belief from two masters”, this book is well worth a read. 



Stranger in the night who backed a hunch that led to goalkeeper Roy Wood becoming a Leeds United legend

  • October 25, 2018 11:35
  • Jon Henderson

Wood worried for the man in the trilby and military mac who was standing behind his goal and getting soaked to the skin.


Roy Wood had the most inauspicious start as a Football League goalkeeper. He joined New Brighton in 1950-51 when the club were about to be kicked out of the League never to return. And he joined them only because he cost the club nothing.

After that Wood’s story moved on – just as unpromisingly. He played what football he could while taking what he calls ‘little bits of jobs’, one of them working for a man in Wallasey called Broadbent. ‘He had a handcart and ladders, a tin of paint and some putty and was repairing all the damage that had been done in the war.’

Next he found work in Oxton, a suburb of Birkenhead. This time it was a job crushing brick and loading lorries with lime for the building trade.

He was pleased when he was approached by Clitheroe FC of the Lancashire Combination League to play for them but there were no great prospects of his moving on from there to anywhere more exalted.

Any such prospects seemed particularly bleak one foul April night when Clitheroe were playing Darwen in a Lancashire Combination match. The end of the season couldn’t come too soon as far as Wood was concerned.

Not only was the Clitheroe pitch a terrible one, Wood says, laid out on a pronounced slope, but on this particular night in the early Fifties the weather was awful.

‘There was just one chap behind the goal,’ he says, ‘and it was still banging it down with rain. He’d got a trilby on and a military mac and was soaked to the skin.’

Wood told him he was going to get his death of cold. ‘Don’t worry about me,’ the man replied.

Before leaving at halftime, the stranger approached Wood.

‘I’d like you to sign for Leeds United,’ he said.

Wood blinked in astonishment. Was this bloke for real, he wondered.

‘You don’t have to make up your mind now. You’ve got until the end of June. When you make up your mind, ring this number and we’ll do the rest, your travel and everything like that.’

The man was for real and his name was Major Frank Buckley, one of the most singular managers a Football League club has ever had.

Buckley had been a moderately successful player, an aggressive half back who served eight clubs between 1902-20. He had been capped by England but only once and that was in a shock 3-0 home defeat by Ireland.

He had fought with some distinction in the First World War, rising to the rank of Major. Although intended only as a temporary title, Buckley chose to keep it.

When he finished playing, Buckley was almost as ubiquitous as a manager. His seven clubs included Norwich City, Notts County and Wolverhampton Wanderers. But when he came to watch Wood in the banging rain at Clitheroe he was manager of Leeds United where he was the gaffer from 1948-53.

He was a great innovator credited with, among other things, introducing numbers on shirts, the first structured scouting system and developing a youth policy complete with a nursery club in Yorkshire, Wath Wanderers.

He also made shrewd signings, such as acquiring Wood for Leeds United.

His journey to Clitheroe and decision to sign Wood was based on the flimsiest of evidence that the gangling keeper could ever become what he did become, something of a Leeds legend.

And the early signs were not good that Buckley’s usually keen intuition would be rewarded as he had hoped.

In fact soon after signing Wood, Buckley quit as manager of Leeds and his successor, Raich Carter, must have wondered about this goalie he had been bequeathed. Carter gave Wood his first-team debut during the 1953-54 season when the regular goalkeeper, John Scott, was injured.

Wood played in ten games that season, letting in 20 goals, including five at Nottingham Forest on Christmas Day. Forest also won the return, two-nil, at Elland Road on Boxing Day.

As things turned out, though, Buckley’s judgment proved flawless. In the three seasons from 1955-58, which included the season, 1955-56, when Leeds gained promotion to the First Division, Wood played 125 out of 126 League games. In all he appeared in 196 League games for Leeds and seven FA Cup ties.

If Roy Wood did not always get the credit he deserved it was not his fault or Major Buckley’s – it was Ray Wood’s.

‘It was a funny thing,’ Roy Wood says, ‘that when I had a right good game the papers confused me with Ray Wood, which was the name of the old Manchester United keeper, and when I had a bad game I was always Roy Wood.’

He cites an FA Cup tie against Aston Villa in which he played a blinder even though Leeds lost. ‘Ray Wood the Leeds hero’ announced one newspaper headline.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.