Passion for Football.

Silsden Secondary School Under 13 team (1950’s).

Early memories: passion for football.

Passion for football consumed my early life; the game seemed to be woven into the fabric of my daily existence with other interests taking, very much, a secondary role.   As a boy soprano, I competed in music festivals, featured in village pantomimes, school plays and even in opera.   But these artistic talents never stood a chance of blossoming; my obsession with the round ball took precedence over everything.   I kicked a tennis ball, a rubber ball, a plastic ball, in fact any kind of circular object that I could get hold of, against our backyard wall at every opportunity.    I played for hours with my mates, in the back streets, school yards, recreation grounds; anywhere!   When the dark winter nights kept us indoors, my brother Tom and I would spend hours in our small front room playing every invention of football we could think of, tiddlewinks football, marbles football, subuteo football, and; much to the chagrin of my mother, (and her prize vases) the actual physical game.

Two years older than me, my brother Tom was an accomplished footballer, he was strong, fast, and held the respect of  the other local youths because of his ability to excel, not only in football, but in most sports.   The positive spin off for me, as Tom’s younger brother, was that I was tolerated by the older kids, and therefore, allowed to join in the highly contested ‘make up’ games which took place anywhere we could find the space to play.   It was soon recognized, by the older youths, that I had the ability to dribble past opponents, and that scoring goals came quite natural to me.   When it came to the, often humiliating, ritual of choosing teams (the best players were picked first and the worst players last) I found myself quite high in the pecking order.    At school, when I played with kids of my own age, the experience of playing with older youths made things easier for me; in fact in their eyes I was a star.   My self-esteem was further enhanced when my Primary School teacher informed me that he had been asked to release me to play for one of the local Secondary School teams.   This was a most unusual request and unheard of in our district, however, the invitation was politely but firmly turned down by our Headmistress; Miss Clark, much to my annoyance…

Our family house in Silsden.

Although my early memories are dominated by playing the game, I find it difficult to recall exactly when my passion for football began to foster, however, I do recall my father listening to the 5 pm football results, on the wireless, each Saturday evening.   He had no particular interest in any of the teams as such, but I suspect he had ambitions of winning the seventy five thousand pounds, which was on offer each week throughout the English football season.  That of course, depended on achieving the almost impossible task of selecting eight draws from the matches being played in the four divisions of the English Football League.   Through this medium, I was duly introduced to the names of all the exotic clubs in that particular era of the late nineteen forties and early fifties.   Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Newcastle United and all the other clubs, large and small, rolled off the tongue of Eamon Andrews the BBC results broadcaster, as his smooth Irish brogue lowered and raised, contingent on the outcome of each game.   As a consequence of each score, he condemned thousands of football supporters throughout the country to a further week of misery, or ecstasy, depending on whether their team had won, lost or drawn their game.

Eamon Andrews (Football Results).

I can also remember, enviously watching my brother Tom, cutting the football action photos out of the Daily Herald, in order to paste them in his scrap book.  I desperately wanted to do likewise, but with only one daily newspaper delivered to our small terraced house, there were no more photos available for me to extract.   Tom condescendingly told me that I could cut out pictures of horse racing, but this seemed to be a feeble compromise.   At the time, however, horse racing could have been a viable option for me as I was so skinny that neighbours often remarked that I would make a good jockey.   My father seemed quite keen on the idea, but fortunately for me the National Health system must have kicked in during those early post war years.   I began receiving free school dinners, free cod liver oil, free milk and other supplements all contributing to offset the effects of the impoverished diet inflicted on me as a result of the Second World War.    Over a period of time these nutritious supplements started to take effect, and combined with my normal diet of porridge, jam and bread, meat and potato pie (not much meat), bread pudding and other rudimentary foodstuffs, my previously bare ribs began to become less defined against my scrawny torso.

Silsden Secondary School Under 15 team (1957).

As the years passed there was no respite in my passion for football, every weekend, after playing for my school team, I would set off on a bus or train, with three or four of my mates, to watch a Football League game.   Living in the small Yorkshire town of Silsden, conveniently positioned me within reach of several clubs.   Leeds United, Bradford City, Bradford Park Avenue, were easily accessible, and a private bus left Silsden, on a fortnightly basis, to make the comparatively short journey over the Lancashire border to First Division giants; Burnley.   Every week, during the football season, I had a choice of which game to watch, however; I paid a high price for my indulgencies.   There were no hand-outs in our hard-up and needy family, therefore, the nine shillings and sixpence that I earned by delivering newspapers, each morning before going to school, was gobbled up every Saturday on buying bus and train fares, plus the entry fee at the game.    None the less, considering my passion for the game, it was money well spent.

There was an atmosphere of safety and caring surrounding the communities of those post war years of the nineteen fifties where, as kids, we could merge among the large crowds at Leeds United or Burnley without any threat to our safety.   On several occasions, along with my friend Arthur, I made the trip to Manchester to watch both City and United.   This was the pre- Munich ‘Busby Babes’ team, therefore, I must only have been twelve or thirteen years old at the time; to make such a bold excursion, and find my way  from Silsden to the metropolis of Manchester took a fair amount of nerve.   In those days, with minimal seating at Old Trafford and Maine Rd, crowds of forty and fifty thousand crammed onto the terraces, yet youngsters were well minded and overseen by the ordinary football fan.   These occasional trips to Manchester would entail me leaving home early in the morning (no school games scheduled), catching a series of buses and trains and arriving back in Silsden late on Saturday evening.   If my parents were concerned about my whereabouts, and safety, they never expressed it or tried to harness my enthusiasm, they knew that my obsession and passion for football was unquenchable.

Jack Charlton.                 Jimmy Mcilroy.   

In financial terms the professional players of the nineteen fifties were very poor relations to their contemporaries of today, a miserly maximum wage of twenty pounds per week was imposed on them, despite massive crowds passing through the turnstiles to watch them play.   However, to the football fans who flocked to the grounds to watch the games of that particular era, the stars were every bit as revered as their counterparts in modern day football.   At Leeds United; I marvelled at the great John Charles, prior to his transfer to Juventus in Italy, whilst a fledging Jackie Charlton was starting to emerge on the scene.   At Burnley, the smooth Irishman Jimmy McIlroy; Jimmy Adamson and Tommy Cummings were the stalwarts of a club preparing to make a major assault on the First Division title.   However, they needed the assistance of youngsters such as the blonde headed striker; Ray Pointer, and full back Alex Elder, who were beginning to force their way into the starting line-up.   Even at the lowly Bradford clubs, I was enthralled by the Jackson twins, Martyn Bakes, George Mulholland and Derek Stokes at City; ‘Polly’ Ward, a tiny, abrasive but creative inside forward and Alvin Williams, a tough tackling centre half, at Park Avenue.

John Charles.

These were some of the players who I watched regularly, however, as with many things in life, the unaccustomed can always seem more alluring.   My infrequent sojourns to Manchester acquainted me with the glamour boys of English football in the form of United’s pre – Munich team.   I idolised Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Eddie Colman, Roger Byrne, Bobby Charlton and the rest of ‘Busby’s Babes,’ until that fateful day at Munich robbed English football of some its finest talent.

Duncan Edwards.             Tommy Taylor.

For many people, looking back from the twenty first century, football in the nineteen fifties may have seemed unsophisticated and drab, but in reality every visiting team who came to play at my regular haunts contained super stars of the game.   A teenage Jimmy Greaves at Chelsea, Tom Finney at Preston, Nat Lofthouse at Bolton, Johnny Haynes at Fulham, Bobby Mitchell, Len White (whom I later teamed up with at Huddersfield and Stockport) and Jackie Milburn at Newcastle, Billy Wright and Bert Williams at Wolves, Bert Trautmann (my manager at Stockport in later days) and Don Revie at Manchester City, Vic Groves and Jack Kelsey at Arsenal, Danny Blanchflower and Bobby Smith at Spurs and Blackpool’s two Stanley’s; Matthews and Mortenson.

Jimmy Greaves.Len White.

This list could go on and on, but suffice to say, these were a selection of players, in those uncomplicated days of the nineteen fifties, who the crowds flocked to see.  Their exploits in the football stadiums throughout England instilled a passion for the game in the many thousands of supporters who turned up each week.   In turn, this passion inspired many impressionable young minds (including my own) to strive for a career in professional football.

Danny Blanchflower.