The Football Tournament 1957 ©

© john cropley

 The lads I grew up with loved to play football - but not all of them were good at it. Our games that took place in a local Paddock usually took the shape of a bunch of enthusiastic noisy lads all chasing one poor half inflated leather ball and the ball in turn doing its best to escape and deliberately spinning around and coming down with its loos leather lace flapping and causing us all to shout “look out lace!”, the ball then bounced free as if to make a run for the long grass, but soon was pounced on again by the pack and it was all arms, legs and shouting once again.

We loved our football, but when I say I say that not all of us aware good at it, I’m being generous - some were absolutely dreadful. I supposed every village had them - the ones that no one ever picked and in the end two of them were herded together and swapped for one reasonable player. 

We had them all, it was as if all the surrounding villages had given up their and sent them to Dunston. We had Archie, whom I think his parents named after Archie Andrews the wooden puppet - as that is just how he played! It was as if he had wooded stakes down his trousers and sleeves which would cause him to run like some large demented praying Mantis, he would attack the pack with all appendages flaring. He never hit the ball, but he got menacingly close from time to time and could take out several of his opponents at any one time, so he was useful in your team, for the mere sight of him bearing down on the pack. flaring and puffing was enough to cause concern for the opposite side.

 

Then there was always the one who just stood there watching play around him and producing endless streams of lollipops. Every time the ball came near him, he’d duck or try to avoid it - why then did we always pick him early in the team selection and usually made sure he was on the winning side? the answer was that it was his ball - plain common sense, either he played, or we didn’t.

 

There were many others, but the greatest of them was Jack Pilsworth. Most of the match Jack ran from one end of the pitch to another shouting ‘ over to me’, ‘here Reg, on my head!’. Sadly most of the time when Jack got the ball, he would mutter something about being ‘Pushcus?’ and try some elaborate movement and end up tripping over the ball. Occasionally one of his tricks came off and it was nothing short of brilliant, but that was rare.  However there was a time in the Summer of 57’ that marked Jack out to be one of the heroes of the village - still today the event is spoke of by grown men with tears in their eyes.

 

It was the Kesteven Village Schools 6 a side Football Tournament, held this year in the village of Billinghay. We were to field two teams: An ‘A’ team comprising of the older boys of 10 years old and a ‘B’ team, which usually consisted of those boys that were too young to make the ‘A’ team and ‘the rest’.  At the time I was just 9 and was chosen to Captain the ‘B’ team and to play in goal. It wasn't that I was any good in goal, it was just that every one else was rubbish and I have perfected the art of diving and with the same movement catching the ball. We did think that our ‘A’ team had a bit of a chance this year, on the other hand the ‘B’s were planning how we could keep our defeats down to a single figure.

 

The Tournament was a matter of all the ‘B’ teams playing each other, with the top four entering into a semi-final. Each team had to play their games with around ten minutes between, without nets, just posts - sometimes you would end one game and have to run to another pitch, take up your positions and start again. This ensured that the greatest number of teams could play in the shortest amount of time. The ‘A’ teams did the same, except they played for thirty minutes each way and we only played for twenty each way. Whoever thought of this was a genius, or someone who had played in a ‘B’ team - for it was just enough time to get slaughtered, but not enough time to go into double figures! Our games were touch ‘end to end’ battles, which usually ended up with a score of about 8 - 1 to them!

 

I remember one match against our old enemies, Metheringham B. With around five minutes to go we were dangerously close to going into double figures. We were 9 -4 down and time was running out and our reputations were at stake.

As the minutes ticked by the ball was picked up somewhere in the midfield by a Metheringham player and as the dust cleared I could make out a figure coming my way. The figure was Walt Harby, the very name made me shudder. At all cost the team had been told to mark Walt, he was huge in all directions a massive snorting nine stones of ill will and he was heading my way with the ball. To give credit when it’s due, the lads had taken their marking seriously, both Podgy and Badger were hanging onto Walt as he forced his way goal wards. Podgy let go of Walt’s leg first, but Badger, who was my best pal, held on, to be dragged a further five yards before his shorts slipped beneath his knees and modesty dictated he let Walt go. At this point I didn’t really care about double figures  if the alternative was three weeks in Lincoln County Hospital.

 

Onward Walt came and I had no intention of being between the posts when he arrived. By now he had reached the six yard line and I thought it was time to move so I dived for the safety of my right hand post, as the same moment Walt hit the ball with a toe punt - the ball caught me full in the chest and my instinct was to draw my arms inwards to protect myself, as I did this I inadvertently caught the ball and landed right of the post, still in my own penalty area and still clutching the ball.

 

Walt, however couldn’t stop, he was committed, he just kept going and would have collided with the Ice Cream van behind the goal, if the goal post had not broken his run. Walt hit the post with such force then slid down in and lay there like a beached Whale. He was out. The cheers were deafening! Everyone thought that I had saved the goal, the Head and Miss Crocket rushed over to me and lifted me up, some girls in my class showered me with kisses and Miss Crocket looked as if she might do the same - but I anticipated the action, broke free, and ran off doing victory cartwheels round the pitch. The Referee decided that enough was enough and ended the game. That was my moment of football glory.

However I want to get back to the main story I have to tell. Our ‘A’ team was doing very well, they entered the semi-finals without a defeat and quickly disposed of Walcot A 5 - 2 and were through to the Finals. For our little village Junior School this was a great honour. We were one of the smallest schools in the Kesteven region and usually didn’t do too well - but this year it would seem that our practice in the Paddock had paid off.

 

Our first team comprised of lad that are now just legends, whose names are spoken in reverent tones to our children and who still command admiration from those of us going through our middle age crisis. In fact it would be true to say that the older we get the better they were!.

 

There was ‘Counce’, the village gang leader and team Captain, everyone admired him, for many of us although only a bit older than us, he was to us like a film star. Alongside him was Reg, who was one of the real village tough characters and one of our best players - unless he had a nose bleed, which he frequently had.

 

  In goal was the ‘Cat’, ‘Needy’ Needham, he always timed his dives just right and in the same direction as the ball. Needy always wore his mum’s leather gloves which looked impressive on a ten year old boy and certainly went some way in intimidating the opposition.

 

The line of defence was also impressive, in the main due to Herbert, who should have gone on to Secondary School but due to an illness and his parents getting the year he was born mixed up, he was still in Primary School. Herbert was a big strapping lad who always wore large heavy boots, even in Summertime. No one ever knew if his feet went to the end of them, we suspected they didn’t  but he was never seen without them (I remember once in a hot Summer, we all went swimming in the local ‘beck’, we waited to see Herbert without his boots, but he swam with them on!). He had them on for the tournament and we all knew that if he connected right with the ball that he could boot it the length of the pitch. Herbert played Right Back, but tended to cover both sides!

 He was complimented by Mick, who was a tough, wiry charactor from the fens. He father had been a Polish pilot, who like many had stayed in Lincolnshire after the war. Mick had a Polish name that was difficult to pronounced, we just called him Mick.

 

That’s about the team - except for one- Jack. Everyone of us liked Jack, he was the village character and always getting in trouble, it was a common sight to stand at the beck bridge and see Jack running out of his house, followed by his dad, wielding a leather belt. Once on the way to school he had grabbed an electric wire hanging down from a pole and the voltage flung him spinning a good ten yards in the air - he spent six weeks in hospital and had two birthday cakes and collected eight pounds for his imaginary disabled brother. I could probably fill a whole book about his exploits.

 

 He was in the team to make up the numbers and most of the time the rest kept the ball out of his reach - however we all knew that he could have one moment of brilliance and for that reason he was worth having in your team.

 

The B teams had finished playing and a great mass of bodies moved to number One pitch for the Final. Dunston were to play Metheringham, captained by Wally Harby, Walt’s brother. The Harbys were all big lads, on account of their live-style. The lived in Metheringham wood and were Poachers by trade, everyone knew it, but no one mentioned it.

 

Both teams lined up, Metheringham in their red and white stripes and Dunston in their green shirts with white sleeves - the two villages,  being only a mile apart, were no strangers to combat on the football field and we could expect a passionate game!

 

The ball had been newly ‘dubbined’ and the lace tightened, making it almost round. The crowds closed in, right up to the touch lines, pushing and tugging at each other. Everyone was there, all our ‘dinner ladies’, teachers and kids from over twenty local schools. P.C. Ballentine, plus bike, moved  along the lines of people trying to keep them two foot away from the wobbly white line that marked the pitch.

 

The tension was incredible, each team member dealt with it in their own way. Reg had a nose bleed and his bucket and hankies had to be sent for. Herbert was adjusting the angle of his boot for maximum effect and Needy was leaping around practicing his dive. Counce stood silent and Mick was muttering in Polish and crossing himself, whilst Jack was singing in an imaginary mic’ and shouting to the team to remind them to pass to him, as he felt that his moment of brilliance was well overdue.  Upon these few lads rested the hopes of our School and the whole village.

The teams took their positions. Our Headmaster, Mr. Pantlin, looked heavenward as to pray and the whistle blew.

 

It soon became clear that this was going to be an interesting match - within the first five minutes a fight had broken out between Mick and one of cousins, a Polish lad playing for Metheringham. Apparently it had nothing to do with the match - but some Polish thing about the war and Mick’s mum and his cousin’s mum. There were no rules about being sent off in those days, but the Ref’ insisted that they shook hands and tried to keep the game clean - so we started again.

 

In the main it was the usual end to end stuff with an occasional string of passes, but mostly it was everyone except the two goalies chasing the ball in a great mass of arms and legs and shouting - it was during this time that old scores were often settled and new ones begun!

 

However for those who prefer their football in a more organised fashion, they ought not to despise this kind of play, we learned to live with and use it best effect. The object was to skillful move or push the ‘scrum’ towards the opposing goal, then break loose with a toe punt and hope you got lucky. The goalie had a difficult time, it was not as simple as seeing someone approaching you with the ball so you could perfect your defence, no, you needed a different skill, an ability to keep your eye on the pack and be able to discern where the shot was going to come from.

 

One of the popular ways in which you could win the ball from the pack, was to use your weight and charge into the scrum and by sheer force take the ball - for that you need a very large frame, and an ability to make a lot of noise.  I should mention at this point that the Referee very rarely blew up for a foul, it was pointless. Usually the game is only stopped if someone got knocked senseless or a fight started up which caused the spectators to stop watching the match and gather round the pugilists.

 

The match itself was very even and Metheringham would have been ahead if the ‘Cat’ hadn’t played a blinder - he was everywhere - we all gasped in amazement as he dived, punched and stuck his leg out, sometimes doing all three at once to pull of an incredible save. Reg and Counce at the other end got a lot of shots off at the Metheringham goal. Remarkably the score was kept down to two each. The tension was unbearable. Miss Crocket took a weakness and had to sit down on Miss Pringle’s punting stick and Mr. Pantlin was so nervous that he smoked five Woodbines and borrowed one Park Drive from Mr. Hickson, the village Postmaster .

 

We were now into the last minute of the final, no such thing as extra time existed, we would just have to share the coveted ‘Shield’. On the face of it this seemed to most people a fair option - but to us lads we knew what that would mean - weekly blood matches arranged on a neutral ground between both villages. These would be nothing short of blood baths, this would carry on for a year until by the time of the next Tournament a total of casualties, teeth, bruises, black eyes and of course goals would be added up and winner would be declared. We didn’t want a draw!

 

Wally Harby had been quiet in the game so far, his socks were down and his shins bleeding due to relentless kicking by Counce and Reg and he had an half closed left eye and a bleeding lip. The taste of blood made him angry and he charged into the pack bellowing like a bull on heat and came out the other end with the ball. A revived Miss Crocket screamed and passed out again, missing the punting stick and falling on three of her netball team. Wally pushed on, cheered by his supporters, with under a minute to go, this looked like being the decider. I knew how Needy was feeling and I couldn’t believe it was happening again, at least I though, the Harby I had was the smaller one!

 

On he came, the Cat was ready, he prowled his goal line, shouting to Wally, “Come and get me, you big wassok..you couldn’t hit a barn door!”. I cringed, I wish he hadn’t said that - but Needy knew what he was doing, he wanted Wally to loose his cool.

 

Wally was closing and it was obvious that he was going to wait until the goal got bigger and he couldn’t miss. On he came, then the dreaded moment - he drew back his leg like a hammer on a musket - surely this was it. I closed my eyes.

 

What happened next I can only relate as it was told to me. As Wally’s leg was cocked back, suddenly, as from nowhere came a large boot and in it was big Herbert. The ball was lifted from Wally, whose swinging foot smashed against Herbert’s heavily padded right shin, both went down, but more importantly the ball was propelled by Herbert’s boot to the far right of the field and landed at the feet of Reg who was unmarked. He took off like a terrier after a rabbit. The crowd shouted “Take it Reg!..go all the way!..it’s yours!!” The Metheringham team, minus Wally, went after Reg and the whole mass moved right. At this point I opened my eyes again.

 

As Reg made progress down the right a thin voice could be heard shouting from the centre of the field. It was Jack, standing all on his own screaming to Reg “Over here, Reg, to me, to me..!”. The Dunstons supporters had heard him as well and it made them shout all the louder to Reg to take it himself - no one wanted Jack to demonstrate how easy it is to trip over the ball and hopelessly waste a chance of scoring, not this chance, as we only had thirty seconds left!

 

But as fate would have it, due to the pressure of the occasion, Reg developed a nose bleed, making his progress into football immortality impossible.  It was then in a moment of desperation that Reg booted the ball over the heads of the pursuing pack, high into the air towards Jack. The ball seemed to hang in the air, Dunston supporters groaned, the fountains of the eyes of grown men began to fill up - everyone one of us knew that Jack would try to do too much and trip over himself.

 

But this was the moment, that glorious Jack moment, that moment of sheer brilliance. As the large leather ball sailed towards him, lace flapping, Jack leaped into the air to meet it, we thought he was going to head it, but instead he took us all by surprise by swinging his right foot like a scythe, meeting the ball on its descent at around four foot from the ground. It was nothing short of spectacular to watch, he smashed the leather with his boot sending it at a forty-five degree angle to its trajectory straight into the top right hand corner of the Metheringham goal. The net nearly burst as the ball buried itself into it. The goalie just stood there. The crowd just stared. Time stood still, as if everything was on hold, whilst it was recorded. No one said a word, that is until Miss Crocket let rip with an ear bending scream and then we all followed our disbelief overwhelmed with joy.

 

The game restarted only to continue for a few seconds before the Referee blew the final whistle. A great shout went up. We had won the Shield - Jack had won it in his moment of brilliance. The shield was ours for this year and was to hang in our School with a new name on one of the small silver shields around it, engraved with ‘Dunston 1957’.

 

This story has often been told on one of those cosy story-telling nights in the Red Lion village Pub. Groups of men, staring at the flames, hardly looking up, poking the logs as the story of the Shield was related until it became part of our village folk-lore and those of us that were there were seen as heroes.  Most of us have now gone our separate ways, scattered to various parts of the country - but all of us carry in our hearts that sense of pride and that special moment when Jack in his moment of brilliance scored ‘that goal’ and we won the Shield.

 

 © john cropley

 

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