Soccer Violence Is Nothing New (26 September 1975)
Over a period of many years I reported soccer at all levels from the second division of the Football League downwards. Curiously enough, I covered the game in that order; descending in the leagues, as it were, as time went by.
Actually, my earliest years of football reporting were not concerned with soccer at all. Rugby was the pre-eminent game in our neck of the woods, though we did take a bit of notice when Huddersfield Town, eight miles away, won the FA Cup. More important, however, was the fact that the Huddersfield Rugby Club won the Northern Union Cup (now the Rugby League Cup) in the same season.
That side is still spoken of in those parts as the best that ever stepped onto a field anywhere, though the old Northern Union rules have been so altered over the years that true comparisons are impossible.
I covered rugby for about six years, first the 15-man amateur game (which has recently been improved by an alteration in the touch-kicking rule) and then the 13-man professional game (which has been opened up by an alteration in the play-the-ball rule). I still like rugby. For years after coming to Bletchley I made the annual pilgrimage to Wembley for the Rugby League Cup final. And to my mind the Rugby Union international games are the most spectacular sporting events on television.
After those six years I joined the general reporting staff of an evening newspaper, which had the usual Saturday night sporting edition. When the season came round I was told to cover Bradford (Park Avenue), who were then in the second division. In those days a reporter dared not plead ignorance of anything whatever. So it was no use trying to explain that I hadn’t seen a game of soccer since school, where soccer was the official game, but a primitive rugger was always the game played at break-time and out of school.
The season began with a home match. On the way up to the ground I noticed that all the tramcars and hoardings were plastered with posters announcing “Soccer reports by our experts.” I smiled ruefully. Some expert! I knew a centre-forward from a goalkeeper and that was about all. However, I managed it for a season or two.
The only game I still remember was one in which Bradford beat Spurs 3-1. Spurs, then in the second division, have had a glorious first division run since. Bradford (Park Avenue) have disappeared from the league altogether, though Bradford City are still plugging away hopefully.
Playing for Spurs on the wing that day was little Fanny Walden, who, I believe, at some time played with Northampton Town. A number of local players have turned out professionally for Northampton including, of course, goalie Jack Ansell and forward Barry Lines.
But the very first I believe to have been Frank Kilsby. That was back in 1908. And thereby hangs a tale which shows that roughness on and off the field is nothing new in soccer.
In the season before he turned pro Frank played for Fenny Rovers in the old Buckingham League. The league had only recently been formed. But there was much enthusiasm on the part of the spectators, who were probably more numerous than those who attend today’s local Southern League matches, as there were fewer counter attractions.
On the day in question, the Rovers were playing Newport Pagnell at Woad (sic) Farm, alongside the river on the far side of Newport from Fenny. The game had been in progress about 20 minutes when Frank shot at goal. The goalie caught the ball and Frank charged him, but while Frank was walking away, the goalie kicked his rump. The ref spotted the incident, and immediately sent the goalie off the field. Newport’s supporters were incensed and the rest of the game, which Rovers won 2-1, was pandemonium.
When full-time was blown the spectators made a concerted rush, not for the ref, which would have been more in keeping with precedent, but for the Fenny forwards. Kilsby and another forward named Vince were collared and pitched into the river.
After that, the crowd made for the Ram Inn, where the Rovers were changing. They waited until the Fenny men were getting into or onto the horse-drawn brake – which was the usual means of team travel in those days – and then pelted them with stones, rotten eggs and anything else they could lay their hands on. The brake driver and several players were injured in the scrap and two cycles were destroyed.
The police arrived and took the names of the ring-leaders and the brake set off for Fenny. But that was not the end of the affair. Some of the crowd took a short cut through the town and caught up with the brake at another place beside the river. There they tried to push brake and all into the water. But the Rovers were a match for them and after a brief struggle were able to make their escape, “bloodied but unbowed.”
At Newport Pagnell Court the following week the three main Newport culprits were each fined 2s 6d, plus costs, or seven days. The league itself was more severe. The Newport club was sternly warned and heavily fined. They could not, or would not pay, and as a result Newport Town FC disappeared.
Talking about old times, one former regular match-goer swears that Cecil Hands was the finest inside forward who ever played with any local team. I have no other means of knowing.
But coming to my own time here, in 1947 the Gazette asked readers to name a representative Bletchley side from the clubs then playing. They voted the following combination – one that will bring back memories:
Goalkeeper Jack Ansell (LBC); right back Ted Read (LBC|); left back Ike Bond (LMS); right half Bill Happell (LMS); centre half Bob Sharpe (LBC); left half Bernard Lewis (LMS); outside right Bill Gee (LMS); inside right Roy Tink (LBC); centre forward Ernie Skipper (LMS); inside left “Jock” McCutcheon (LMS); outside left Charlie Gurnett (LBC); reserve forward Ted Stevens (Bletchley Social).