In the Army now! Matt Busby, Jack Balmer, Jim Harley, Willie Fagan and Don Welsh walking in uniform
By Colin Rogers for LFChistory.net
“Well, that’s it, then!” said my mother. It is my earliest memory, and all I had to worry about was the horrified look on her face, waiting for the grim nod of agreement from my father, as they had just listened to Chamberlain declaring war on Germany. They’d each lost a brother during the First World War. That scene must have been repeated millions of times across the country; but, in contrast to me, George Kay, the Liverpool manager at the other end of the East Lancs. Road, was entering a waking nightmare, which would get even worse with time. Let’s see what would soon be keeping him awake every night.
Players’ contracts, part of the cement which holds a club together, were to be declared null and void by the FA, and all professional football cancelled. Admittedly, the commitment was to have players restored when hostilities ended (perhaps by Christmas, some hoped) but some might no longer be wanted by then. George was not to know that he would manage 303 games before normal First Division service was resumed. The now ex-professional footballers were encouraged to join the Territorial Army, leaving them available to exploit their physical abilities for the benefit of country and fellow soldiers, but in consequence, control of their freedom, let alone their whereabouts, was transferred out of the club’s hands and into those of their commanding officers. Altogether, seventy-six Liverpool players served in the armed forces. Strict controls were placed on the number of spectators, especially in the early months of the war when we still feared a mass bombing even worse than the one that finally did arrive. The FA Cup was cancelled. All divisions of the English League were cancelled, including the first three games already played. A fifty-mile travelling limit was imposed, and for the time being football stadiums were closed. It was up to George Kay to find a pitch-side way for LFC through this impossible mess.
Football as we had known it was dead – but it would not lie down, and even authorities totally devoid of any sporting instinct soon realised that it represented a way of life we were actually trying to preserve, and to which we would return to one day – Covid-19, are you listening? Over the next two years, the government relaxed many of these early regulations following pressure from the clubs, though some softening of the rules was not made public. For now, however, compromise was needed. Yes, there had been a nominal precedent in 1914, when the leagues continued for another year – but even before conscription was introduced in 1916, they were formally called off as war devours the very age group that football employs. What spontaneously developed now was a system of local ‘friendly’ matches such as that between Liverpool and Chester on 16 September, 1939, a fortnight after war had been declared. Only three of our eleven players that day were not in the armed forces. After the Football League met four days later, the Home Office gave formal approval for local leagues to be set up, with police control of events as required. Still fearful of bombs falling, limits were set on the number of spectators, and even the distribution of seating within the grounds, as an uncanny precursor to Covid-19 easing. Payments to players and cost of admission were also to be limited.
Harry Race (right) with teammate Bob Done.
A few players who had been on Liverpool FC's books didn't survive the war. The most famous one as far as football enthusiasts were concerned was the excellent right-back and England international Tom Cooper. The Sergeant died in a motorcycle accident when serving with the military police in Aldeburgh on 25 June 1940. Cooper collided with a double deck motor bus and an enquiry took place into his death with the outcome being an order that stated despatch riders were no longer allowed to ride their motorcycles without wearing a crash helmet. Forward Harry Race played 43 games for Liverpool from 1928 to 1930 and scored 18 goals. Race was killed in the battle of El Alamein in Egypt on 24 October 1942 while serving as a Corporal for Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. Goalkeeper, Pilot Officer Albert Yoxon died on 7 December 1944, only 22 years of age, after an on-board explosion in his aircraft during a training flight in Lancaster. Yoxon had played one game for Liverpool in a 6-4 win over New Brighton on 14 December 1940. A dozen amateurs and club reserves associated with Liverpool perished in World War II while others survived having been in great danger as reserve forward John Roberts who served with the Irish Guards. Roberts had a daring escape after he was captured in Tunisia. He attracted widespread attention when he escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy and walked 400 miles to freedom despite a broken neck.
This image of Cooper with the trophy in his hands published in the Liverpool Evening Express on 25 May 1940, one month prior to his death, is possibly the last picture taken of this fantastic competitor.
The club kept control of their own stadium throughout the conflict, despite heavy bombing raids on the city between August 1940 and May 1941. Goodison Park was damaged, but Old Trafford fared far worse, being closer to industrial targets. The wreckage could still be seen when former Liverpool captain Matt Busby arrived as Manchester United's manager in October 1944. Sheffield’s Bramall Lane was bombed, as was Roker Park in Sunderland. Several other stadiums were requisitioned by the armed forces – Molyneux in Wolverhampton, for example; Shankly’s Preston North End had to finish playing football there altogether in May 1941 when the army moved in. The club was recompensed by H.M. Government, as was Blackpool when the military use of Bloomfield Road brought the club out of the red! Manchester United played at Maine Road, Sheffield United at Hillsborough. Arsenal played all their wartime ‘home’ games in Tottenham’s stadium. Meanwhile, adding insult to aggression, the Germans organized games in the occupied countries.
It is easy to understand why these wartime matches were, and are still, not to be counted at ‘official’, and therefore not contributing to a player’s CV or to a club’s formal record. Given the travelling limits, the new leagues had the immediate characteristic of mixing clubs and players from what had been very different levels before the war – Liverpool, in the ‘Western Division’, would now face Chester, Crewe Alexandra, Everton, the two Manchesters, New Brighton, Port Vale, Stockport County, Stoke City, Tranmere Rovers, and Wrexham, most of which were from the old Third Division. During the season, friendlies continued, but normally against the teams in the same division, with the result that we played Everton seven times in 1939/40! Further complicating matters, some local matches could be counted as contributing to more than one competition at the same time! Another consequence was the likelihood of some extraordinary scores – even in that first wartime season, we beat New Brighton 6-0, Crewe and Manchester United 7-0, Port Vale and Tranmere 8-0; later in the war, we overcame Burnley 9-2, Chester 9-0, and Southport 12-1. Norwich City gave itself a nice 1940 Christmas present by beating Brighton 18-0. Brighton’s team consisted of one proper club player, three juniors, one pro guesting from Norwich, and six boys and soldiers who volunteered from the crowd!
The now defunct FA Cup was revived as ‘The Football League War Cup’, with a complicated structure leading to a final at Wembley, which broke many of the rules originally set out by the Home Office. Among the 42,000 spectators at Wembley that day were evacuees from Dunkirk. Don’t ask how Liverpool had fared – just add it to the list of Cup banana skins of which we are so proud. For those brave enough, it can be seen in Appendix 3 on the next page. That Cup remains one of the few that LFC have never won – but even for the most hardened fan, hardly worth going to war again!
Tom Cooper signing autographs with George Kay standing by
In the summer of 1940, the sky fell in, as it were. The intense bombing, which everyone feared at the start of the war, now became the dreadful reality called "The Blitz". The correct judgement was that even the 1939/40 league arrangement could no longer be sustainable, such was the predicted disruption to the games themselves, the players’ availability, and even the ability to play ninety minutes without an air raid siren ending the proceedings. Accordingly, a simplified version was introduced – two large leagues, north and south, with final positions to be decided on the average number of points scored over the season in order to allow for the likely outcome that not all clubs would have played the same number of games. The method was heavily criticized, and lasted only one season. But did I say a simplified system of leagues was introduced? Forget it. The organization of football in England and Wales from 1941 until the end of the war was so complicated as to defy understanding of the arrangements and the reasons behind them, which I will try to hide as an appendix for fear of losing readers.
It has been a matter of dispute as to how seriously these games were taken by the spectators. On the day before war was declared, over 19,000 had watched the Chelsea game at Anfield. On October 28, only 4,000 watch Liverpool v Port Vale, close to the national average. Low figures were recorded for most games – 2,000 for the visit of New Brighton, over 7,600 on Christmas Day for an Everton friendly, 3,000 for Crewe on New Year’s Day, only 1,000 for Western Division games against Chester and Tranmere, and so on. On May 25, 1940, instead of the usual 55,000 plus who would have been expected to watch Liverpool v Manchester City, only 2,000 turned up. Clearly the large drop in attendances was a result of the war and its social consequences although the quality of opposition might also have played a part. The government had also imposed restrictions on how many could attend.
Nationally, crowd sizes were further halved in 1940/41, recovering to 1939/40 levels the following season. Many newspaper reports of attendances look suspiciously like guesswork, but the upward trend recovery at Anfield commenced in the first half of 1942, two years before D-Day, as people realised that the Luftwaffe usually bombed at night, and anyway now had a more serious problem to the east against Russia. The Everton game, always a good barometer, pulled in 13,761 on May 30 and five-figure totals were not uncommon once the 1942/43 season was under way. As fear of air raids diminished further, so the crowds rose until 51,512 watched the second of three meetings with Everton within the space of ten days on 31 March 1945.
The Liverpool players showing off their weaponry. Cyril Done doesn't look too confident.
Goalkeeper Arthur Riley handling his rifle with Matt Busby, Willie Fagan, George Kay and Cyril Done looking on as well as other lesser known Liverpool players
Liverpool FC were clearly more concerned than most about the welfare and proper care of their players as they wanted to induce clubs to pay players' bonuses for results achieved in the regional competitions in wartime. George Kay was vocal in this matter and told the Liverpool Echo in November 1939: "We note the statement by Mr. Fred Howarth, the Football League Secretary, that only three out of the 82 clubs were anxious to pay bonuses to players. The question we would like to ask is have the League clubs been circularised and asked for their opinion on this question?’ As far as Liverpool Football Club is concerned, we have had no such notice. It would clear the air and quickly settle this question if the eighty-two clubs were asked by the Football League to say 'Yea’ or 'Nay' to our proposal." Only a paltry sum had to be paid by the clubs to the players of 30s a week, whether playing or not, as in theory they were all in the armed forces or in full-time reserved occupations. In some seasons, the successful Preston NE wage bill reportedly fell to £12!
In 1939, Everton showed their immediate support to Liverpool's bonus proposal as well as Newcastle United. These three clubs, at least, wanted to ensure the welfare of the players by paying them a £2 bonus for a win and presumably £1 for a draw as players had had their earnings cut down from a possible maximum £8 wage plus a possible £2 win bonus to 30s per week. Their argument was that the players' careers were finished when they were in their early thirties and they had to make as much money to support their families as they could before it was over. According to the clubs this wasn't an incentive to get the players to perform better as they were already doing their very best in these difficult circumstances.
The Football League rejected their bonus scheme out of hand and its president William Charles Cuff and Everton director stated his opinion very clearly in January 1940: "When you give player a wage you expect him to do his best without other inducements," he said. "In my view the payment of bonus for winning is tantamount to an admission of insincerity on the part of the player; a sort of feeling he will not do his best unless you make it worth his while." Cuff concluded that in order to avoid that the players suffer financially, they should get an increased standing wage when the war was over. That conclusion hardly appeased worried players in 1940.
Bonus payments were though allowed in the Football League's War Cup played home and away with a week separating the ties commencing in April 1940. Liverpool's attendance jumped from 5,000 for a Western Division game against Stoke to just over 9,000 for the second leg against Barrow in the first round of the cup. Despite their strong line-up including Riley, Liddell, Paisley, Fagan and Nieuwenhuys, Liverpool lost the second leg just as the first. Further attempts to make the players' lives a bit easier were made by the Lancashire FA by offering a bonus for competing in the Lancashire Senior Cup, making it possible for Everton and Liverpool to utilise the bonus system. The Football League advised them from doing so, even though each regional association could apply its own rules in local competitions.
Liverpool tried their utmost to keep their players fit for football and in late summer 1939, George Kay joined his players in their camp in Langrove in South Wales where they were as soldiers of the 9th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment. Kay provided accommodation for the club's trainer, Albert Shelley, even though he was not in the Territorial Army. In addition to their military training, Shelley made the players do gymnasium work, sprinting, and ball practice just as they would do at home. The Reds against Whites annual trial game held by Liverpool was due to take place there. Matt Busby, the club captain, was enthusiastic about camp life: "No sooner had we arrived here, then up went the cry 'Good old Reds!’ We were not surprised when those shouts were followed by 'Come on the Blues!’ When we got to the camp we found that the pitch had been well watered! It was one sea of mud, but we are used to this and it did not bother us much." A teammate of Busby likened it to Wolverhampton Wanderers' ground, jokingly. Busby continued: "After a good meal we went off to bed, and I was one of ten in one tent! It was a bit of a squeeze. As a matter of fact, whenever anyone wanted to move we had to wait for Tommy Cooper to give the signal. Then we all moved at once! Trying to find places for our clothes was a scream. Jack Easdale kept on asking where he could hang his coat, and Willie Fagan at last said, 'Put it in the wardrobe in the comer.’ The first morning we were up at six o’clock, as soon as the bugle went. We had to shave in cold water! Still, all the boys are revelling in it and are full of beans. We were given physical training at 6.45 a.m. and then had a good breakfast of liver and bacon. Afterwards the rest of the battalion went off on parade, but we were taken out and put through marching order and gun drill. I wish you could have seen the antics of some of us with the rifles!" Busby concluded.
Liverpool tried to utilise their players as best as they could in wartime but as other clubs had to rely on the ‘guest’ system to keep a club’s head above water, another idea borrowed from the last years of the First World War. This was no doubt another factor in dwindling interest in the games on offer. A Mass-Observation report on the state of wartime football in November 1939 observed that the “free borrowing” of players had “annoyed real supporters” and “killed much of the incentive to go and see ‘my team’” (M. Taylor, People’s game, people’s war p. 288.) Several forces were at play here. Contracts of all professional players had been cancelled. Clubs were deprived of the majority of their able-bodied players so they could no longer be sure always of making up a decent eleven – indeed even Arsenal could not always find the required eleven, once facing Watford with only eight men. The War Office encouraged those on military service to play for the club nearest to where they were stationed, and that certainly aroused the interest of fans who, otherwise, could no longer see good players from top leagues in other parts of the country - Appendix 1 provides the host clubs of the Liverpool guests concerned.
The Liverpool Echo reported on 14 October 1939 on the difficulty facing George Kay and other club managers in wartime. "A football manager's job at the best of times is anything but a sinecure. In these chaotic war-time days it is nothing but a succession of trials and tribulations. With players scattered all over the country, in either the Army or civilian occupations, the job of raising a team sometimes takes a couple of days or more of really hard work." What was it worth to a player was also the question asked as he was only allowed an income of 30s a week for his troubles, often taking the earliest train on matchday from his army barracks at 6 am and taking the last train back after the game at 11 pm.
The club tried to turn what was a managerial headache into an advantage, by advertising the presence of guests in advance – but calling them ‘stars’. For the ‘double’ over Tranmere on 29 May, 1940, ‘the Reds will have the assistance of international stars from other clubs. It was a fine stroke on the part of Mr. George Kay to secure the services of so many outstanding players from other clubs, for it brings added colour to the game’ (Evening Express, 28 May). The problem with stars is that they don’t always come out, but there were always ‘pre-war stars’ or ‘young stars’ to call on in times of personnel crisis. Primus inter pares as far as the Liverpool faithful are concerned must be Bill Shankly whom they had already tried unsuccessfully to have as a guest; but no-one reading the predicted line-up in the Daily Post of 4 June 1942 would have reacted as we do with hindsight:
Liverpool (from): Alf Hobson, Roy Guttridge, Arthur Owen, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Fred Finney, Harry Kaye, Billy Liddell, Jack Balmer, Andy McLaren, Cyril Done, Fred Haycock, Jack Wharton. The two Bills had played together for Scotland, of course, but, alas, neither played in this match. Shankly’s only appearance for Liverpool FC as a player had been a few days earlier, on May 30, one of no fewer than seven guests playing for the club at Anfield against Everton. We won, 4-1, to take the Liverpool Senior Cup title.
In the first half of the 1939/40 season, the club tried to fill the gaps with players with whom it had close ties already – Eastham, Leadbetter, and in goal Mansley, none of whom had to be lent, with permission, by a host club. By the summer of 1940, however, four genuine guests had played for us more than once. Into the following seasons, guests quite often formed the majority in a team, relying heavily on Charlton Athletic’s goalkeeper, Sam Bartram, and later Chester’s (ex-LFC) Alf Hobson. The number of Liverpool’s guests increased during this first season, culminating in six of the eleven starters on June 1 against New Brighton – Frank Swift of Manchester City, Roy Guttridge of Aston Villa, Jack Tennant from Stoke, George Murphy of Bradford City, Alan Brown of Huddersfield Town, and George Walton, Cardiff City. Liverpool’s lacklustre performance in the 0-0 draw, even that of Billy Liddell and Berry Nieuwenhuys, was roundly condemned by the ‘Daily Post’. The same paper which had praised Swift’s goalkeeping for Manchester City only four days earlier (‘saves … were alone worth going miles to see’) now delicately described his efforts as a Liverpool guest ‘attractively nonchalant’.
Taking these six as a sample, I believe Swift and Walton never played for Liverpool again; Guttridge returned during 1943/44 as a frequent player; Tennant had been a regular between 1939 and into 1941 – but he was a former Liverpool player, sold to Stoke before the war. Murphy returned for a few games in the summer of 1943; Brown had played during May 1940, but came back to Anfield only as an RAF player in 1945. One can only imagine the chagrin of the manager who had to put so much effort into getting a team together in the first place. This discontinuity made the pressure on George Kay much greater off the pitch than on it.
Sometimes the crowd might have been equally disappointed when the players they expected to see did not (or often at the last minute could not) appear. On Christmas Eve 1942, the Evening Express predicted a line-up against Tranmere next day, (from) Alf Hobson, Fred Williams, Roy Guttridge, Jack Westby, Harry Kaye, Erick Keen, Jack Pilling, Steve Hughes, Dick Dorsett, Willie Fagan, Jack Balmer, Cyril Done, Fred Haycock, Michael Hulligan, Jimmy Logie. Only Hobson, West, Hughes, Fagan and Done were included from that line-up in the team that featured on the day. Army players were not readily available and a definite answer if a player could feature on a Saturday (provided the club could ensure a quick transport to and from army barracks) was often only given on a Friday for a Saturday game. Managers of clubs had to act quickly to replace their chosen players with guests.
While, occasionally, ten of the starting eleven were LFC’s own players, the culmination of this trend was on 30 May 1942 when seven in the line-up were guests. It could not have felt much like a Liverpool team any more, though LFC also liked to bring back any available former players to plug the gaps – Alf Hanson and Jack Tennant for example. And there’s the rub. Few had played long and often enough to be regarded as an integral part of ‘the Liverpool way’. On the one hand, guests were now playing for a former opposition club, though it was usually for the love of football, certainly not for the money. Continuity could not be offered, let alone guaranteed. Thirty-seven of the 103 guests listed in Appendix 1 played only once for the club; seventy-four played fewer than ten times. A common pattern was to appear for a few games consecutively, probably a result of being temporarily stationed nearby.
One anticipated consequence of the guest system, particularly disliked by various authorities, was the possibility that a guest might end up playing against his own club. There was a strong argument for introducing what we now incorporate into a much longer-term loan system – the player on loan does not normally play against his parent club. Such was the enthusiasm for football, however, that rule was never introduced, so we do find examples of a practice that is fraught with problems. Three occurred for Liverpool’s guests during the 1940/41 season. First was the unusually-named Osborn Lloyd Iceton, a Preston winger whose only appearance for LFC was against his own club before 3,000 spectators on the Leyland Motors ground on 21 September. Preston won 5-0. Eighteen days later, 2,000 at Maine Road saw their own Jack Robinson in goal (his first time as a guest for LFC) let five through his fingers as Manchester United won 5-1. In that game Liverpool’s team included another guest, George Jackson the Everton defender. The twelfth occasion he played for us was on that fateful day, 8 February 1941.
Imagine the scene. Everton are the visitors at Anfield for a Northern Regional match. The good crowd of 5,000 knew that our regular guest keeper, Sam Bartram, would be unable to ‘make the long journey North’ and Eric Mansley was expected as his stand-in. There must have been a few open mouths when they saw Evertonian George Jackson, dressed as a goalkeeper, run to his place between the posts. Was this some sort of joke or clever ploy by George Kay; a team sheet error, perhaps? An underhanded scheme by Everton to place a fifth columnist in our ranks! None of the above – Kay was simply short of players (made even worse when Bob Paisley went off injured in the days when no substitutes were allowed), and he knew that Jackson’s versatility had already been exploited by his home club. George had played for Everton in goal, as well as almost everywhere else on the pitch. However well he played that day, he mishandled on the half-hour mark and carried the ball into the Kop net when failing to save the first goal of Harry Catterick’s hat trick that day. It’s just possible that the Liverpool Echo’s reaction – ‘the Kopites had a few sarcastic remarks to make’ – was a touch understated.
It would not have been lost on George Kay that Liverpool had lost – and lost heavily – each time one of their guests played against his own club, but that would be correctly explained as a coincidence from which lessons should not be learned. George Jackson played for Liverpool at Goodison Park in a 1944 friendly match, which Liverpool won 5-2.
George Jackson - Everton's full-back in goal for Liverpool!
The guest system had its advantages, in addition to keeping a decent looking eleven on the pitch. The club could assess a guest player with a view to offering him a contract, with examples seen in Appendix 1 – Jackie Campbell, H. H. Hall, and especially Jack Westby. Some guests were head and shoulders above the normal standard of the host clubs – outstanding, for example, must be Stanley Matthews and Stanley Mortensen for Blackpool. Tommy Lawton played for Everton against Liverpool on the morning of Christmas Day 1940, and for Tranmere at Crewe in the afternoon. However, the odd example or anecdote still leaves many questions unanswered about the system itself, especially whether guests contributed more or less than those they had replaced.
Was there a chronological pattern to their use?
||No of guest appearances
||Most appearances during May, using 6 in each of two matches.
||Most appearances before February (7 against Tranmere, 7 December); later. Several games with only one guest or none)
||Appearances spread more evenly through the season
||Most appearances before New Year; several games with 5 guests
||More evenly spread again; only one game with more than three guests
||Evenly spread; no game with more than three guests
||Only 19 appearances before Xmas; we were normally able to play with no guests after 4 November 1945. As the iron curtain fell in Europe, it was final curtain for the LFC guest story when Dick Burke played against his own club, Blackpool, on 20 April 1946.
Whereabouts on the pitch was our greatest need to recruit temporary players? Evens Stephens, we would expect them to be in the ratio 1:2:3:5. Ignoring a few who could play both defence and forward, we hosted 8 goalkeepers, 23 full-backs, 24 half-backs, and 41 forwards. More significant, however, is the number of appearances, rather than the number of individuals. Guest keepers played a total of 205 games, full backs 298, half backs 121, and forwards 149. As with the nation as a whole, defence was the first priority.
What happened to the proficiency of goalscoring during the war – did guests enhance or diminish our ability to score goals? Did the small crowds during the war get their money’s worth compared to the earlier decade? From 1930 to 1939, 451 goals were scored in 1,254 appearances (36%) by our forwards (the players who, before the post-war period, were expected to be the main goal scorers). During the war, the guest forwards scored 68 in 150 appearances (44%). It is clear that George Kay sought out his temporary forwards with care, and chose them wisely.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to assess the performance of guest full-backs and half-backs, but goalkeepers are an easy target! How did their performance contrast with their pre-war counterparts? It must be recognised at once that the numbers here are skewed by the presence of our old friend Alf Hobson, who guested no fewer than 172 times, from 1940 to 1946 (well over half of all first team wartime matches). Hobson had a successful war, in contrast with his earlier spell at Liverpool. Sold to Chester in 1938 (which must have broken his heart at the time), he played against his new club several times between 1940 and 1946, and even bettered his own pre-war performance, letting in only 1.77 goals per game instead of 2.19 earlier. The other seven guest keepers played in only 27 games, averaging 1.9 goals per game, keeping two clean sheets (7%) , whereas Hobson’s tally was 34 (19%). Little wonder he was on the team sheet so often!
So far I have concentrated on the guest players as they are a unique feature of football in wartime which has been rarely analysed. We should not forget the many other professionals whose careers were wrecked by the war. It is often said that a whole generation might have had anything up to ten more years playing in the First Division, among whom I would count Jack Balmer (who was 23 in 1939), Matt Busby (30), Tom Bush (25), Harry Eastham (22), Willie Fagan (22), Jim Harley (22), Ron Jones (25), Dirk Kemp (26), Bill Kinghorn (27), Berry Nieuwenhuys (28), Bernard Ramsden (22), Fred Rogers (29), and Phil Taylor (27). More often forgotten are LFC players who missed up to six First Division years at the start of a footballing career – Cyril Done (signed at 17 in 1938 - first game at just about 26), Laurie Hughes (signed at 18 just turning 19 in 1943 - first game at 21), Bill Jones (at 17 in 1938 - first game at 25), Harry Kaye (signed at 21 in 1940 - first game at 26), Billy Liddell (signed at 16 in 1938 - first game when just about to turn 24), Bob Paisley (signed at 20 in 1939 - first game at 27), Eddie Spicer (signed at 15 in 1937 - first game at 23), and Albert Stubbins (first game for Newcastle at 19 in 1938 - first Liverpool game at 27.
Paisley and Liddell lost a number of years of league football because of World War II
But there is also a third, ‘hidden’ group who gave LFC lots of active service during the early 1940s, and who are in danger of being forgotten altogether because the games were not recognised as ‘official’. Left winger Jack Campbell played regularly for the first team from 1943 to 1945. Like Hulligan and Shepherd, he was a product of the Norwest club in Bootle. Willie Hall appeared occasionally for the Reds between 1941 and 1944. Michael Hulligan was a regular winger when on leave from Xmas 1941 (turning professional a year later) to 1946. An Evening Express judgement in 1943 was that Hulligan ‘has proved a sensation after he took over after Liddell’s departure for the Royal Air Force’. Full-back Kenneth Seddon, son of LFC trainer Jimmy Seddon, came into the reserves at the end of 1939, and alternated between reserves and first team by 1941. He participated in the USA tour of 1946. Arthur Shepherd had his first team chance in 1942 after what the Evening Express called ‘his prodigious scoring feats which have had much to do with the non-stop run of the reserves.’ Like other amateurs, however, his was a very brief shining light in the gloom of wartime.
Liverpool Echo cartoon in 1939
In the face of a common enemy, the degree of cooperation between the rivals, Liverpool and Everton, is worth a special mention. ‘Liverpool are due at Preston this weekend, and as Everton have completed their programme, Mr. Bill Gibbins sportingly offered the Liverpool directors the loan of any available Everton player if the Reds have difficulty in completing their side.’(Liverpool Echo: June 3, 1941) This, in the greatly increased number of matches between them (47 first team encounters in seven seasons), reminded me of the aftermath of Hillsborough. Everton contributed four players who guested with Liverpool during the war. The collaboration across Stanley Park found significant expression in the ‘Liverton’ game against Western Command on 2 May 1945, in which the city was represented by a genuine, combined Anfield-Goodison team, not one of the modern, silly inventions beloved by pundits.
Yet I would argue that the ‘common enemy’ and the armed conflict, which made such great changes to the way football was both arranged and justified, made little long-term difference to the experience of attending a match, or awaiting the results at 5.00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon radio. It was indeed ‘a way of life we were actually trying to preserve’.
The ‘Abide with me’ feeling engendered by a Cup Final was essentially the same in 1946 as it had been in 1926 when it was introduced in honour of the visitor King George V (it was his favourite hymn); the leagues were arranged in exactly the same way, and by the same organization as before; old allegiances and rivalries were not broke, new alliances were not formed. There was one change of great significance, however - Anglo-German relationships on the football field. In 1938, the last friendly international had been characterized by the degree of politicisation in which our Foreign Office ordered the England team to give the Nazi salute in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Genuine friendlies between England and West Germany were restored in the 1950s, and the rivalry on the pitch with which we are now familiar stems, I believe, from the 1966 match, not from the war.
We started with George Kay, and we should end with him. He has to be the most underrated, undervalued manager in the club’s collective memory. He did not have the popular charisma of a Shankly or a Klopp, but his contribution to the club was extraordinary. Manager of Liverpool from 1936, he attracted quality players including Bob Paisley and Billy Liddell, took the club to Wembley for the 1950 cup final (a competition we had never won, and had been in the final only once before, 36 years earlier), pioneered pre-season touring, and use of diets during rationing; and won the First Division championship on the last day of the season in 1947 when we enjoyed record financial figures. In 1950, we were the first club to hand over £750 benefits to first team players who had been with us during the war – Balmer, Baron, Done, Fagan, Hughes, Jones, Lambert, Paisley, Payne, Spicer and Taylor (Liddell having already received his benefit). Anyone doubting Kay’s managerial quality should look at the club’s record after he retired in 1951!
Kay checks the Wembley grass with Albert Stubbins, Billy Liddell and Phil Taylor prior to the FA Cup final in 1950
More than all that, Kay steered the club all through the war years which made such extraordinary demands on managers, and emerged with a strong team at the end. Even limitless funds could not have helped in those circumstances, with income so tightly controlled by government decree. The charisma needed in those years was the sort which could persuade home players and guests, including at least 24 internationals, alike to produce such creditable results as Appendix 3 shows. The always thoughtful Billy Liddell commented: "He had no other thought but for the good of Liverpool during his waking hours, and also during many of his nights. He told me often of the times he had lain in bed, unable to sleep, pondering over the manifold problems that beset every manager, but which can be a curse to the oversensitive or excessively conscientious ones ...if any man gave his life for a club; George Kay did so for Liverpool."
APPENDIXES ON THE FOLLOWING PAGE