Exiled Valiant Barry Edge lives in Perth, Western Australia. In this memoir he tells us when and why he put away his football boots forever.
For instance, one headline read…”21-goal salute for a rampant United. Chesterton have no answer to striker power…” Then went on to say…”Fulford United took the plaudits in the under-15s League with a 21-goal salvo against Chesterton United. Despite having little to play for in third place in the League table, United showed no mercy to the bottom-placed club, turning a 9-1 interval lead into a totally one-sided victory romp”. Chesterton’s only goal came early in the opening period.
There were some other high scores reported. Such as: Crusaders 10 goal haul against Rocester Juniors; Athletico Juniors put 16 past the Surburban Allstars; and Windmill Warriors took care of Wolstanton Scorers 12-4.
Although the ‘Sentinel reported other similar scores of 10, 11 and 12 nil, it was Fulford United’s 21 goals against Chesterton that found me taking a trip down memory lane to the time we played a team known as Ebenezer. It was the same day that the ‘Lads had gone to South Wales to meet Cardiff in the FA Cup.
In the early 1950s I was a choirboy in St Mary’s Church of England, Bucknall. One of the ‘extracurricular’ activities associated with being a chorister was the chance to play soccer for the choirboys’ team in the local Church League. We would play upwards to ten games a season, and these would be against other church teams as far away as Leek and as close to home as Ebenezer – who were no more than one kilometer from St Mary’s.
Now Ebenezer was a chapel at the Trent Bridge end of Werrington Road – near the old mill. As far as I can remember Ebenezer was one of those dissenting chapels from the mainstream religions – of which there were many in the 1950s including Presbyterian, Wesley, Methodist and Baptist. I’ve long forgotten which one Ebenezer belonged to. But not that soccer match.
My earliest contact with Ebenezer was when my sister, Jocelyn, and I were attending Townsend Primary School. One of the services provided by the education department was a two-course lunch which would cost parents nine pence per day. Mum and dad both worked back then and during the school holidays mum would insist that dad buy holiday lunch vouchers so that my sister and I would get a regular lunch when they were not at home. My Dad would pay Townsend Primary School who, in turn -as did the ‘Bottom and ‘Top Schools – arranged for us and other students to attend Ebenezer for our school holiday lunches. Why the Ebenezer? I don’t know. But we used to get some great lunches there.
One of the conditions of eligibility to play in the Church League was regular attendance at church, and for many of the choir teams this presented no problem. Most choirmasters would not select a boy with a poor church attendance record – no matter how good a soccer player he might have been. However, there were several chapel teams in the competition and it was sometimes suspected that the boys playing for them were more likely to be church refusers than church attenders. Such suspicion was often harboured against Ebenezer players.
It was late January, and the venue of this particular St Mary’s versus Ebenezer game was on a sloping pitch tucked in behind the ‘Duck Pond’ in Fellbrook Lane – on the Abbey Hulton side of Werrington Road, Bucknall. I remember thinking how much taller and bigger they were compared to us. But what the heck! We had won our last game 1-0 against Cheddleton at Cheddleton, and in front of a crowd too! It wasn’t until much later that we were to learn that the Cheddleton onlookers were members of the local asylum, and that we had been using the asylum’s sporting facilities. Boy, was that an embarrassing knock to our egos.
The game against Ebenezer was a dirty affair which ended with our goalie being hurt in a goal mouth tussle resulting in him spending the second half of the game watching from the sideline. Picking a replacement goalie wasn’t easy because nobody wanted the job. But in the end yours truly was ‘volunteered’ to put on the green jumper with the instruction to stem the flow of goals. That was just before half time and we losing 12-0.
Well, I have to say that the second half was no different from the first with yours truly getting somewhat miffed chasing the ball each time they scored or went wide. Had there been goal nets the number of ‘long chases’ would have been substantially reduced. We went down 24-0.
As we were walking home, a dejected lot to say the least, it occurred to me that the best thing we could do would be to throw away our football boots forever. One of our fellow choristers said something like…”you know, if we could have tucked away a couple of early goals there would have been a different score line altogether”. I remember thinking that somehow he had missed the point of the day’s experience.
We traipsed our way home via Fellbrook Lane and Werrington Road. Upon reaching the junction of Pennell Road and Werrington Road we said goodbye to each other and I made my way towards the bottom end of Corneville Road.
In my mind I was formulating what I would say when asked the score. Boy, wasn’t this going to be a big laugh? And how was the ego going to cope? Exactly how do you say 24-0 without some embarrassment? My mum and dad would understand – wouldn’t they? But my second eldest brother and sister! Hmmm, a different ‘kettle of fish’ altogether. In my mind’s eye I could see them rolling around laughing, and giving me verbal stick for weeks to come. I begged the question that no one would ask, thereby sparing me the agony of having to own up to the loss, or of having to confess that 12 of the goals went past me. Yes, I was desperately trying to convince myself that the subject would not be raised.
When I reached the junction of Cornville and Langford Roads there were men, women and children in the street in a state of noisy excitement – near the house where Stan Turner had once lived before moving to Bentilee. Port Vale had won at Cardiff. Yes, Won! The village folk were so excited you’d have thought the ‘Lads were bringing home the FA Cup itself.
In those early moments of hearing the ‘Lads had won, and being caught up in the excitement of it all, my misery of 24-0 was temporarily forgotten. But by the time I reached the bottom of Millward Road, the road in which we lived, a little voice rather cruelly brought my thoughts back to the game against Ebeneza.
My first resolve was to simply say we had lost, and to leave it at that. But would I get away with it? When we were winners my gratuitous replays of the goals scored did not please my siblings, and my dad would simply say…”OK son, you’ve made your point.” No, it wasn’t go to be that easy. My second resolve was to simply refer to, and focus on ‘Vale’s victory against Cardiff. Yes, I was thinking, that should do it.
The junction of Alan and Millward Roads was at the bottom of a small rise, and it wasn’t until you reached house number 9 on one side, and number 8 on the other side of Millward Road, did the land level out. At the top of the rise some of my village peers were ‘knocking a ball about’ outside our house at number 17. They would have known I’d been playing soccer for St Mary’s, and it crossed my mind they were waiting to hear the score. There was no turning around to go back down the road to my Aunt Nora’s house in Langford Road because that would have spoken volumes. So my second resolve was the way to go.
As I approached the group, who were now looking in my direction, I started to chant ‘Up the ‘Vale’ and ‘Giant Killers’. Not surprisingly, they all responded in similar fashion and as we chanted and jumped up and down not one of them found time to ask how we had fared against the Ebeneza. Then one of the group suggested we go down to Woolliscroft’s fields, through which Bucknall brook meandered, to immediately re-enact ‘Vale’s glorious victory.
It was no more than 300 meters from 17 Millward Road to the gate entrance in Corneville Road leading to Woolliscroft’s fields. We found a spot to re-enact the ‘Victory, took of our jumpers and made goals some 50 meters apart, and our mate Billy started to select two teams. Naturally, none wanted to be Cardiff. So we all started to kick the ball in the same direction, each one of us pretending to be our favorite player; Tommy Cheadle, Ken Griffiths, Basil Hayward, Ray King, Albert Leake, Reg Potts, Roy Sproson, and Stan Turner. Yours truly was Dickie Cunliffe. In the happy ‘madness’ of it all we must have scored at least 50 goals – each one met with the chants of ‘Up the ‘Vale’ and ‘Giant Killers’.
On the way home one of my mates enquired about the game against Ebeneza. I simply stated we had lost. To my great surprise, indeed pleasure, the subject wasn’t pursued. We were basking in Port Vale’s great victory.
Mum was making a ‘cuppa in the kitchen, dad was sitting in the lounge reading by the fire. My siblings were nowhere to be found. At the same time as throwing my boots up against the kitchen sideboard I was excitedly declaring that we had won. Mum just smiled, and dad responded by saying something along the lines of…”Good. And guess what, so did the ‘Lads.” When replying that’s what I was referring to, dad just nodded and went back to his reading.
It was supper-time when the Ebeneza match was next mentioned. My second eldest brother claimed he was keen to know the score. My reaction was simply to say that we had lost, hoping no further enquiry would follow. But my siblings already knew, as did my peers in and around Millward Road, Bucknall. You see, in my earlier preoccupation of wondering how I would respond when asked ‘that question’, it had escaped my thinking that by supper time the Evening Sentinel’s coverage of all senior and junior football scores would have been read from cover to cover.
Sigh! That score line was the stuff of humour and ridicule for many weeks to follow, and it goes without saying that the ego was badly bruised. But with the passing of time less and less was said about it. Once in a while my dad would wink and smile at me – a kind of ‘never mind son’.
By the way, after Ebeneza I hung up my boots – forever.
See you later.
September 25, 2000