Odds and Ends

A miscellany of topics from the 1908-39 period

Nicknames-the birth of the Eagles?

The club(s) that carried the name Bedford Association or Bedford Town in the late 19th century don’t seem to have attracted nicknames that were thought worthy of press comment. However, it was very soon indeed after the re-formation of the club in 1908 that what seems to be the first mention of the club’s perennial nickname appeared: reporting the 3-3 draw at Raunds St Peter’s on 7 November 1908, the Bedfordshire Times for the following weekend used the name “Eagles” twice, and after that it was to appear almost every week.

The first mentions of the Eagles nickname I’ve been able to trace, in the Bedfordshire Times for 13 November 1908

Why the Eagles? An eagle mounted on a castle has appeared in the town’s coat of arms since at least the 16th century[1], and it was adopted by the Harpur Trust schools for their own badges in the 19th. Whose idea it was to adopt it for the new football club we don’t know, but an eagle badge can be clearly seen on some of the players’ shirts in the 1910/11 team photo (see below and Seasons on the Field 1908-14)

(1) See http://www.bedford.gov.uk/leisure_and_culture/local_history_and_heritage/borough_of_bedford_coat_of_arm.aspx for the historical background

Harry Brown (left), Joe Ginger (right) and Jack Chapman (in front) sport the Eagle badge in this close-up from the 1910/11 team group photograph

The columns of the Pink ‘Un for the whole of the period from 1908 to 1939 take us into a world where nicknames abound, some of them still in use such the Eagles and the Poppies for Kettering, others long forgotten. Readers were assumed to know what they all denoted, but to a modern reader who’s unfamiliar with some of them, certain passages can be baffling, especially when the nickname gets attached to a single character who personified the club.

For instance, Higham Town were always known as the “Lankies”, because they played at a ground called Lancaster Field.[1] Stamford Town were (and still are) known as the Daniels, after Daniel Lambert, said to be the heaviest man who ever lived in England at 52 stone, who lived in the town[2] in the 18th century. When commenting on a match between these two which Stamford had won, the Pink’ Un columnist might say “Lanky took a tumble against Daniel last Saturday”, and Lanky even acquired his own cartoon, a tall, thin (“lanky”) man with a long nose. Similarly Rushden, the “Russians”, would be symbolised by a fierce-looking man in a beard and a Cossack hat, who then became known as “Ivan” (the Russian); their reserves were even called “young Ivan”. At times in this kind of writing the characters seem to take on a life of their own. Some of the symbolic characters, including the Eagle, survived in the Pink ‘Un into the 1960s and used to appear across the top of the back page (see 1965/6 in photos), smiling if they had won, looking grim if they had lost and somewhere in between if they had drawn- and also used to figure in larger and more involved cartoons inside (see the example in 1956/7 in photos) . An example from the very early days appears below.

This is a very early example of club nicknames and symbolic characters used in cartoons in the Pink ‘Un, for 23 October 1909, referring to a bad-tempered match between the Eagles and Rushden Windmill the week before which had featured fights between players and spectators and an attack on the referee. The “Miller” of Rushden is seen escaping from the angry Eagle overhead, saying “Well, I’m certainly robbed the Eagle’s nest, but wot a scramble”-the “Millers” won 5-2. (Reproduced courtesy of the Northampton Evening Telegraph)

[1] See http://www.rushdenheritage.co.uk/Villages/HF/HF-FootballClub-history.html. –which reproduces a history of the club written in the 1970s. The current Rushden and Higham United still use the nickname.

[2] See http://www.stamfordafc.co.uk/club-history/

Club colours

The only photo I have seen of any of the pre-1908 players is the team group from 1890/1, reproduced in the section dealing with the 1880s and 90s (see Earliest Days-before 1908), from which we can only say that the players are wearing dark coloured shirts and white shorts (which would probably have been called knickerbockers or knickers). In 1894, according to the report of their AGM, the club that had recently changed its name from Bedford Swifts to Bedford Town wore light and dark blue shirts (very similar to the colours of the Blues of Bedford RUFC)[1]. However, an early Beds FA minute book from 1894/5 says that for the new County Cup competition the colours were black and white[2]

From the account of its meeting in 1908, we know that the first colours of the re-formed club were amber and black stripes (see the picture of Ralph Chapman in “Twenty Key Players”). We also know that these colours had been superseded by the 1910/11 season if not before. The team group reproduced in the history section (see Seasons on the Field 1908-14) shows a dark colour, probably either red or blue. At home to Stamford on 28 January 1911, a reporter noted that the team played in the old colours of amber and black, which suggests a colour clash with Stamford-who are thought to have played in red[3]. In December of the same year the Eagles were reported as wearing red at Desborough, and it appears that this continued to be the first choice colour down to 1914. (The 1911 reporter says that supporters at the Stamford match gloomily speculated “Old colours-old luck?”, referring to the poor results in the first two seasons, but the Eagles won 7-0!).

In the photographs of the Higham fixture in 1921/2 reproduced in the section on the 1920s (see Seasons on the Field-the 1920s) we can see that the Eagles are wearing striped shirts, white with a darker colour; this may be red or blue, but I haven’t seen any evidence either way.

In 1922/3 there was a change to white shirts and navy blue shorts, with the shorts varying somewhat in darkness as can be seen from some of the photos[4]. The FA Cup tie against Heanor in 1934/5 saw the players wearing a rather odd strip of black shirts with gold sleeves and white shorts-these are supposed to have been the reserves’ colours at the time and were used because of a colour clash. In 1935/6 the navy blue shorts became black. Finally on the eve of World War II, the players reverted to amber and black-plain amber shirts and black shorts. This kit emerged again in 1945/6, and the basic amber and black lasted until 1951- although in terms of results it brought even worse luck than it had nearly forty years before-when the familiar blue and white regime began.

This team group from early in 1935/6 shows the new white shirts and black shorts-black replacing various shades of navy blue-worn from that season until 1939. Back row-Alf Caves, Ron Branson, Percy Bowles, Tommy Cummings, Jack Bidgood, A Bell. Front row-Harold Parker, Neil Rogers, Bert Rogers, George Watson, Norman Watson. This team lost 1-4 at home to Rushden on 28 September 1935.

1] Bedfordshire Standard 25 August 1894

[2] Thanks to Brian Webb for his research here.

[3] Information from Stamford historian Jeremy Biggs

[4] This led to occasional references to the “Lillywhites”, although this alternative nickname never caught on.

Press reporting

In covering the 1908-39 period I have looked at a number of local newspapers, mainly the Bedfordshire Times and Bedford Record, with their onetime rival the Bedfordshire Mercury which closed at the end of 1912, and also the Northants Evening Telegraph, published in Kettering, with its Saturday evening sports edition, the Pink ‘Un[1]. Occasional material has been found in the Bedfordshire Standard, Biggleswade Chronicle, Luton Times, Leighton Buzzard Observer, Dunstable Gazette and Northampton Mercury.

In the early years of the period the style and language of reports is sometimes very odd to modern eyes. Words don’t always mean what we now think they do-for example, when someone is said to have made a “great save” the context sometimes reveals that he was not the goalkeeper but a full-back, “centre” can mean a centre-half or a centre-forward, and “pivot” could also refer to a number 9 and not, as later, only a number 5. Someone who had “shot by” had missed. A “free-kick” sometimes meant a penalty. Often reporters simply wrote a kick-by-kick account of a match without much attempt to summarise or analyse; this kind of report often gives more information about the first half than the second, as if the reporter has run out of space. Analysis doesn’t really start to appear in the Times or Record until the late 20s. In the Pink ‘Un, which in the 50s appeared on the streets of Bedford by 7pm[2], reporters inevitably had little time for anything except a minute-by-minute report, although a more considered analysis would sometimes appear in the comment columns the following week.

Reporters only rarely referred to players’ Christian names and typically used only an initial or simply an unadorned surname, especially with professionals (amateurs often seemed to have several initials). Sometimes, of course, they simply didn’t know them. And it’s easy to forget that players’ shirts weren’t numbered. Typically, a reporter may not have recognised more than a handful of opposing players, and if he was new to the job he may not have recognised all the Eagles players either. Identification of scorers was sometimes hard, especially in poor light or goalmouth scrambles, and reports sometimes admit that the reporter doesn’t know who scored-although it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to ask the players afterwards. In the 1932/3 public trial, supporters had the pleasure of watching not only that much-travelled veteran A N Other, but also A Newman, S O Else and A F Orward….!

These complex cartoon panels were a feature of much football reporting between the wars. This is how the Bedfordshire Times man saw a 3-3 draw at home to Biggleswade in January 1933

Occasionally I have suspected that a reporter was more familiar with rugby union, especially when words like “scrimmage” and “fly-kick” appear or a goal is referred to as a “point”. And of course, there is the perennial problem, in Bedford, of the preferential treatment of the rugby code, which was allocated much more column space than soccer (or “socker”, as the Mercury’s correspondent wrote it), at any rate before the 1930s. Not until 1928 did the club receive the accolade of a double column headline after an important win (at Market Harborough in the FA Cup).

Reporters would have worked in fairly primitive conditions on some grounds. Few are likely to have had phones handy, and in the pre-1914 period there are several complaints from junior club officials that they could not find a post office open on Saturday evenings from which they could telegraph their results to the local papers or League secretaries. However, the new stand built at the Eyrie in 1922 did have a “press table”, and the Times man, on his visit to Wellingborough in December 1925, found an enclosed press box, a telephone with which he could dictate his report immediately after the match, and half-time scores displayed for the crowd[3]. His delighted reaction suggests this was unusual. The sheer practical problems of getting information back by a deadline must explain why so many Pink ‘Un reports are very thin on detail of the latter stages of matches.

We are never told who wrote these reports. Reporters were not given byelines; sometimes columnists used aliases, like the Pink’Un’s “Licensed Crank”, a provocative opinion column that was still going in the 60s, though probably not with the same writer. In the Times and Record, reporters in the 30s were sometimes allowed initials, and the usual Eagles correspondent by then signed himself “G.W.” His name was Geoffrey Wilson, but readers only discovered that when it was semi-officially leaked- a report of his wedding in 1937 was printed on the sports page! He remained with the paper into the 1960s, when David Ingham recalls that as Chief Reporter he was an avuncular boss.

Perhaps the difficult conditions under which they worked gave some of the reporters a jaundiced view of football and footballers. They were sometimes downright rude about players’ lack of ability. Sid Cox, a triallist centre-forward at the start of the 1928/9 season, was described as “lamentable and practically useless”. No sooner had Arthur Russell arrived towards the end of 1927/8 (rushing by bike from Rushden for his debut after missing his train) than he was described as “much too slow”. When Harold Crockford scored five of the Eagles’ seven goals against Peterborough and Fletton Reserves in April 1929, the best the reporter could come up with was to say :"Although Crockford scored five he was not in the best of form and his leadership was weak”. In 1935/6 when Arlesey were beaten 10-0, “time and again scoring opportunities were lost”… There was no pleasing some people.

[1] The Pink ‘Un closed down in August 1914 and didn’t restart until August 1921. Also, the 1911 volume is missing at the British Library’s newspaper collection, and occasional weeks’ editions are missing in later years.

[2] It may have taken a little longer to arrive in the early days. Perhaps in an effort to compete with the Pink ‘Un, the Bedfordshire Times used to show selected results chalked up in its office windows on Saturday evenings. In the 1960s the match reports were written by the same writers who reported for the Bedfordshire Times and Bedford Record; David Ingham recalls that he phoned reports through to both the Pink ‘Un and the Northampton Green ‘Un to be ready by 5pm, and got 15 shillings for each report.

[3] Bedfordshire Times, 18 December 1925

The remarkable King brothers

I have found almost 450 players who appeared in first team competitive matches for the Eagles between 1908 and 1939, including at least 15 sets of brothers. The story of one set of brothers, however, is worth a few lines to itself.

In 1881, Frederick Henry King, a Bedfordian, married Ellen Oakes, a girl from Chaddesden in Derbyshire. By 1911, when they were living in Denmark Street, Bedford, they had had nine children, of whom two had died, and they were to have at least two more. Two of the nine who survived were daughters and the rest were sons. Five of the sons played for the Eagles, four of them on one occasion in the same match and three of them in the same match on several occasions. Between them they made at least 244 senior appearances and scored 42 goals. Their collective careers for the club spanned over 32 years and two world wars, from January 1914 to April 1946.

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph

The only image I’ve found of any of the Kings is this one of Eric, second from left in the front row. The others are (back row) Ron Branson, Len Potter, Bert Rogers, Percy Bowles, Tommy Cummings, Dickie Gunnell; (front row), W Peddar, Maurice Carr, Cyril Lawson, Jack Chester. This team lost 2-3 at Kettering in the East Midlands League in August 1933.

Freddie, the eldest, born in 1893, first appeared by name in January 1914. A winger, he had played for Goldington FC and, with his home in Denmark Street, had probably attended Goldington Road school. In the Great War he served with the East Anglian Royal Engineers and returned to the club when demobbed to play in the first five postwar seasons. The next brother, Cyril, also a winger or inside forward, also served in the RE’s and also played in the first few seasons after the war. Then there was a gap of some 15 years, occupied for the senior Kings by the arrival of two daughters and a son who doesn’t seem to have played football, before Sidney, the next brother, was born in 1910. He and his two younger brothers Eric and Joffre or “Joff”-born in 1915 and named after the French general –played from the early 30s almost to the next war, and in Joff’s case, also after it: he played in the club’s first Southern League season and his last appearance was in April 1946, although he continued to play for Bedford Avenue for some years after that.

Sid and Eric were normally forwards like their older brothers, while Joff was more usually a wing-half. Freddie and Cyril played many times together, as did the youngest three, and although there’s no record of all five brothers in the same team, there was one occasion when four of them, missing only Cyril, turned out-at Wisbech in September 1937, when the three youngest brothers had been picked but were joined by 44 year-old Freddie who volunteered for service as an emergency goalkeeper when the selected player didn’t turn up. We know from his military papers[1] that in 1914 he was only 5 feet 2 ½ inches tall, and although the Army doctor noted his file “likely to grow”, it seems he was hardly ideal for the position, but did his best and kept a clean sheet until half-time. Quite a family[2].

[1] National Archives papers reference WO 363, available on Ancestry.co.uk

[2] I haven’t been able to trace any relationship between these Kings and Terry King, former manager of the present Bedford Town, but it would make a good story. Does anyone know?

Occasional characters

Some of the players who appeared only a few times for the Eagles nevertheless distinguished themselves in other ways. They included a Test cricketer, an Olympic gold medallist, a member of the famous Corinthians and a subsequently well-known sports journalist, as well as one of the few to have played both for the Eagles and the Blues.

Jack Durston, described as a “six foot three giant from Clophill” when he played a few games in goal in 1912/13, went on to play county cricket as a fast medium bowler for Middlesex during the 1920s, helping them to the County Championship in 1920 and 1921, and played one Test for England in the 1921 Ashes series-perhaps not the best one to pick as they were beaten 3-0. He also played in goal for QPR and Brentford before concentrating on the summer game. He died in 1965.

Bob Hawkes joined the Eagles for a brief postscript to his career in autumn 1920 along with his unrelated former Luton team mate Fred Hawkes. He had spent nearly 20 years with the Hatters and captained them from 1907 to 1914, a skilful forward who was famous for his ball control. He spent much of his career as an amateur and was a member of the Great Britain team that won the gold medal at the 1908 Olympics, beating Denmark in the final at the White City. He also won five full England caps despite spending all his club career outside the Football League-Luton had dropped out of the League in 1897 and were not re-elected until the year after he left. He died in 1945.

F W H Nicholas (Frederick William Herbert) was a young officer in the Bedfordshire Regiment when he played twice for the Eagles early in 1913, scoring three goals. The Bedfordshire Times correspondent regretted that Nicholas was only available briefly and called him “a brainy forward with abundant energy and spirit”[1] . After the Great War he played county cricket for Beds but also, as a wicket-keeper batsman, made 63 first class appearances for Essex. He had been a football “blue” at Oxford University and later won four England amateur caps in the 1920s as well as playing for Colchester Town (later Colchester United) and the famous Corinthian amateur side, appearing in one of their most famous exploits when they knocked First Division Blackburn Rovers out of the FA Cup in 1924. His grandson is the former Hampshire cricketer and now TV cricket pundit, Mark Nicholas. He died in 1962.

[1] 1 May 1914

Leonard Ashwell holds the rare distinction of having played for Bedford in both winter games. A Bedford Modern schoolboy, he was a regular member of the Blues’ senior fifteen in the early 1930s as a wing-threequarter, while working for the Post Office in Bedford, but also played in goal for their Thursday Football League team. There he caught the eye of the Eagles’ committee and was asked to play for the club several times, especially over holiday periods when others were unavailable. He also played cricket for the Bedford Town club and Bedfordshire.

Eric Litchfield (seen here some time after his playing days were over) had an unusual if brief football career. The son of a Baptist minister at Cranfield, he had, like Leonard Ashwell, excelled at sports at Bedford Modern School and was still there when he made his debut as a left-winger for the Eagles in 1936/7 at the age of 16. The following summer he was offered an apprentice contract by Newcastle United and was still on their books when the war broke out, but never made a peacetime first team appearance for them. He did make several wartime appearances for them and also for Leeds, Reading and Northampton. He also played cricket for Northumberland. After the war he emigrated to South Africa where he became one of the best-known sports journalists there, becoming chief cricket writer on the Rand Daily Mail and writing books on both football codes as well as cricket. He died in 1982.[1]

[1] See the Leeds United history site at http://www.ozwhitelufc.net.au/players_profiles/L/LitchfieldE.php