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Midland League Duties 1921-22: An unbeaten start

28 December 2021

Club historian John Staff turns the clock back a century to continue a new series reporting on the 1921-22 Midland League season.

CAPTIONS: Strong saves at Trinity and a cartoon of the previous Saturday at Hull.

Supporters of Scunthorpe and Lindsey United must have been pleasantly pleased with the early progress of their favourite claret and blue shirted heroes 100 years ago, at the beginning of the 1921-22 season. Although only four games had been played, three of which had been on home soil, at the Old Show Ground, the Nuts were still unbeaten. Rotherham County Reserves may have claimed a point from the 2-2 draw on the opening day of the campaign, since then three other results saw Scunthorpe as the victors.

The winning start came when newcomers to the Midland League Wath Athletic were comfortably put to the sword with a 2-1 scoreline, which did not reflect how superior the Nuts had been in controlling the play. This was followed by the best performance of the quartet of games played to date at Nottingham. It was in the tussle with Forest Reserves that the defence stole the limelight with a brilliant display of rearguard action, and late in the proceedings a solitary goal stole both league points.

The last result, a 2-0 beating of the Junior Tigers of Hull City was a routine affair, in which the score was never threatened, but the Nuts ought to have been more careful in front of goal, and then, surely, a great margin of advantage would have been achieved over a moderate opponent. There again, who could grumble after these returns, and the team sat high in the Midland League table to confirm this success.

Critics of the team might suggest that, so far, the Nuts had not been tested to the full, but two away matches during the following week would solve the riddle as if this was really the case. Next on the agenda was the mouth-watering visit to the Northolme for the first local derby of the year, against the Blue Boys of Gainsborough Trinity. Whereas the Scunthorpe mascot was the posh eccentric in top hat, and tails, supplemented with a cane and monocle, the Gainsborough equivalent was a boy in a feathered hat, in blue blouse and three quarter trousers. Blue and white being the colours sported by the Trinity side. Each of these characters featured in the newspaper in cartoon form.

The match took place on September 17th 1921, and it was not unexpected that United made only the necessary team changes. J.W. Ackroyd was still unfit at full back, and Roberts continued as a safe deputy, and Gibson was back in contention, able to resume in place of Calthorpe, who had distinguished himself when given his opportunity. Thus, Scunthorpe United ran from the dressing rooms represented as follows: Bates in goal; Roberts and Betts, full backs; Richards, Brandon and Lloyd, halfbacks; Meredith, Broadhead, Gibson, Witham and Maycock.

Straight up on the hour mark, at three o’clock, the referee set the first ball rolling. A large crowd of more than 4,000 supporters thrilled to a hard fought game, played in true derby fashion. It did not take long for those in attendance to notice which team was to gain the upper hand. In complete contrast to United’s 4-1 triumph of the previous season, it was Trinity who exerted the stronger grip. On the balance of play they deserved the 1-0 lead at the halfway mark, registered by Keen at the sharp end of the Blue Boy’s attack.

The pattern of the game continued as in the first period, with Trinity able to press up field more frequently than the Nuts, and far more chances were created by the Gainsborough front five players. Bates had to be at his best to keep the score down, and for once it was Ackroyd, possibly rusty after his injury, Betts and Brandon who were run ragged by the on rushing Gainsborough forwards, in rampant mood. With such pressure the Scunthorpe citadel was to fall twice more in the second 45 minutes, Keen and Talbot raising the spirits of their supporters with admirable strikes.

Those hundreds of Scunthorpe followers who made the journey had seen the Nuts brought back down to earth with a bump, and the players return home to lick their wounds, knowing that on Tuesday they needed to be ready for another Midland League battle at Wombwell in South Yorkshire, situated almost due west of Doncaster. There was no doubt in everyone’s mind that they would have to perform far better, or the superb start to the season would be frittered away.

After such a bruising affair at the Northolme, it was a surprise that no serious injuries had been sustained, but only commitments outside the game prevented Broadhead from being available. The team selection had a simple solution, and that was to recall Calthorpe to understudy. At least there was not too far to travel for a midweek match.

At kick-off a good crowd of 3,000 spectators had gathered around the perimeter rope, and within the meagre seating area, which was filled with shuffling bottoms to capacity. Both teams played up to their best ability, and each half was evenly matched. Most of the attendance agreed that at the end of 90 minutes they had witnessed a fine display of hard-fought and skilled football. This was reflected in the constant encouragement through a barrage of cheering, which was continuous throughout the duration of the game.

For the visitors, it was Harry Maycock on the left wing who caught the eye. He was a constant menace in his sorties on the flank, causing his full back to have a nightmare of an evening, with no time to actually snooze. It was from one of these dazzling runs that the Nuts inherited the lead after the half hour mark. Maycock tricked his jailor, and slipped a neat ball to Gibson, who fired home.

The play had been balanced in the initial period, and continued as such after the break. It seemed only justice that the home club should rightfully claim a share of the spoils with an equalizing goal from their sharp shooter, named Willis. Wombwell might even have boasted a greater number of chances in this second period, but excellent handling by Bates in the Scunthorpe goal preserved the score at 1-1. When the game was called to a halt by the referee, the 22 combatants shook hands with everyone satisfied on a fair result. Perhaps the Scunthorpe camp was happier, because an away point is usually considered better won than a home one.

Certainly these two results had shone a light on the reality of Scunthorpe and Lindsey United’s position in the Midland League. It was a reflection on how far the team was in its strength, and a yardstick on where they were in terms of winning the Midland League Championship for the first time. Nevertheless, it was still September and the Nuts had plenty of entertaining football yet to be delivered. Next Saturday the Midland League could be forgotten, because the club had a visit to play Retford in the FA Cup, and a chance to earn some extra much needed money for the empty coffers.

IT'S A SCUNTHORPE FACT: John Lysaghts Steelworks, otherwise known as Normanby Park, was built in 1912, and operated until it closed in 1982.

IT'S A SCUNTHORPE UNITED FACT: Graham Alexander, who not only started his senior career at Scunthorpe, but also managed them, made more than 1,000 first class appearances, including 40 in the Scottish International shirt. 


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