Arnold Bennett’s “The Card” is generally regarded to be based upon Port Vale FC – and FA Cup visitors Maidenhead United played an unlikely role in the film version…
The Card plot
Warning contains spoilers: Arnold Bennett’s 1911 novel charges the rise of Edward Henry (“Denry”) Machin from washerwoman’s son to Mayor of Bursley (a fictitious town based on Burslem). This is accomplished through luck, initiative and a fair bit of character (hence the title – “The Card”).
Set in Bursley (Burslem) the crowning achievement comes when Denry decides to become the youngest mayor in the history of Bursley. To sway the voters, he purchases the rights to footballer and native son Ted Callear, the “greatest centre forward in England”, for the failing Bursley football club (which of course is based on Port Vale FC). Denry’s gamble works and he is made the youngest-ever mayor of Bursley.
Here’s the book’s final exchange…
“What a card!” said one, laughing joyously. “He’s a rare ‘un, no mistake.”
“Of course, this’ll make him more popular than ever,” said another. “We’ve never had a man to touch him for that.”
“And yet,” demanded Councillor Barlow, “what’s he done? Has he ever done a day’s work in his life? What great cause is he identified with?”
“He’s identified,” said the speaker, “with the great cause of cheering us all up.”
A 1952 film was made of the novel and starred Alec Guinness. It was largely filmed in Burslem and in Llandudno, North Wales but for the football scenes (see the video clip above and the newspaper clippings below) the Ealing Studio turned to Maidenhead United’s York Road ground.
Thanks to Maidenhead United historian Mark Smith and James Smith for their help with this article.