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Midland League Duties 1921-22: The practice matches

8 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.

CAPTION: Harry Allcock, secretary in charge of arranging practice matches and fixtures, and Shem Hill, a pre-Great War veteran in harness for 1921-22.

The nights were closing in over the Old Show Ground, 100 years ago, and as August waned away, the moon put his hat on an hour earlier, around 9pm. Football had gone to bed for its summer siesta, but was about to wake with a yarn, as the Midland League fixtures were released. The United Secretary, Mr Harry Allcock, had arranged for practice matches, not only to sharpen the player’s fitness, but to also provide the directors with a window in which to choose the new men for the coming 1921-22 campaign.

Scunthorpe and Lindsey United had enjoyed a more than satisfactory season in the Midland League, finishing in fourth place in the table. Gates had been maintained at around 2,000 per game, on average, and Ernest Lemon had topped the goal scorers with 17 in Cup and League matches. Money was very tight, and every spare penny counted, especially with the up keep of the Old Show Ground costing greater amounts. It was not unheard of for the directors of the time to put their hands in their pockets occasionally. At least there were plenty of employment in the steelworks, and the supporters club regularly raised substantial amounts for the club.

However, the 1920-21 season was not without an unexpected windfall. Scunthorpe and Lindsey United had signed Fred Tunstall at the beginning of the season, and the dashing right winger had become the talk of the Midland League, not only as a goal provider, but also as a goal scorer. The queue of Football League scouts banging on the Old Show Ground was endless, as they reported back to their own clubs with tales of brilliance. Then Sheffield United made the first move, offering the fabulous amount of £1,000, a figure previously never placed on the table for a player of a non-league club. The ink had barely dried on the cheque, when the directors of both clubs shook hands on a deal which would pay dividends to both parties.  Scunthorpe were desperate for cash, whilst Tunstall would score Sheffield United’s winning Cup Final goal in 1925.

When the fixtures were released from the Midland League headquarters at Nottingham there was a dash to scour through the list published in the Hull Times, Lincolnshire edition, and the Saturday Telegraph football section. The season was to start with two home matches, first as hosts on August 27th to Rotherham County Reserves, to be followed by the visit of Wath Athletic. A glance further let supporters be aware that the first local derby against Gainsborough was on September 17th, scheduled at the Northolme, and the return was not to be until April 8th 1922 on home soil.

Scunthorpe and Lindsey United followers could, in addition, look forward to a pair of fixtures at Christmas against the Reserve team of Lincoln City. In the 1920-21 season, Lincoln City had been relegated from the Football League, and it was the first team that was encountered. City won the Championship of that league, and was voted back in as a result. In clashes with the Nuts, the 1920-21 season saw City win 2-0 at Sincil Bank, but United triumphed 1-0 at the Old Show Ground. Surely it would be a happy Christmas for the Nuts against the Junior Imps! Another extra bit was a couple of matches involving the Young Mariners of Grimsby Town Reserves, as well as news of a tricky FA Cup Preliminary Round tie in late September at Retford.

It was a warm afternoon on August 13th 1921, and groundsman Charlie White had worked over time to cut the rough grass on the Old Show Ground pitch to a manageable size for football, which was difficult enough on the hard surface baked by the sun, and for players in leather boots, softened by dubbin to stop blisters as they rubbed on woollen socks hopefully to prevent blisters. Shin pads were a must, because not all opponents played soccer like a ballet! There again, the leather ball was an interesting sphere, which doubled in weight when the summer storms caused a deluge. Nevertheless, 22 combatants lined-up to try and impress the directors into signing them for the following season.

In the first practice of the season the team labelled ‘A’ came from a goal in arrears at half- time to win by a score of 3-2. Blackburn and Eggleston scored for the ‘B’ team, and Meredith, Gibson and Whitham replied for the eventual victors. Although these games were never attended in great numbers, the tradition was to donate the proceeds to local charities. When the dust had settled, Harvey was selected for his signature, having previously performed last season in the Reserves. In addition, Chambers, at 5ft 7in, and weighing 11st, formerly of Rotherham, was given the nod, along with Richards, a player from Sheffield United’s second team.

However, what was noticeable about the Old Show Ground on that pleasant afternoon was the new extension to the stand, which now stretched the full length of the pitch with wooden bench seats.

Before the season commenced there was still another practice match to play, before the final signatures could be endorsed on the Midland League signing on forms. This event took place just seven days later, as would be expected, at the Old Show Ground. This time it was billed as the Maroons versus the Blues, and the former won a decisive 4-1 battle. It came as no surprise that Broadhead was offered another contract at the Old Show Ground, because he scored all four for the Maroon side.

The solitary goalscorer for the Blues eleven was Hill, but it is not clear as to which one of the Hill brothers notched it. By now, folks on the terraces were all well aware of Shem Hill, who had made his debut in 1912, but now his younger brother John was on the scene, and the directors decided to sign both men from the same household, although it would still be Shem who would take the lion’s share of the appearances. After this final preparation, the directors had the signatures of the required number of professionals for first team duty and all was ready for the start of the 1921-22 season.

It was seven short days until the leaf on the turnover calendar would display the date of Saturday August 27th 1921. When the Lincolnshire Star dropped on the door mat prior to the season opener, for those interested in Scunthorpe and Lindsey it was a rapid thumb through the pages, until the sport section came into view. The team to play Rotherham County Reserves and the predictions for the coming season took up a column of its own, and for those who had not seen any of the two practice games there were pen pictures of all signed players, both old and new.

Thus the Scunthorpe and Lindsey United side was announced as follows: Bates; Ackroyd and Betts; Richards, Brandon and Lloyd; Meredith, Gibson, Bagnell, Witham and Maycock. Could this side deliver the first points of the season? The next article will answer the vital question. 

IT’S A SCUNTHORPE FACT: The trademark name that everyone knew as Woolworths had its store next to the HSBC Bank, in what is now Bargain Madness, as at the time of writing, but later moved to the bottom of the shopping precinct, before closing for good.

IT’S A SCUNTHORPE UNITED FACT: It was in 1988 that the Old Show Ground closed and the club transferred to Glanford Park. Overseeing the management of football side of the organisation was Mick Buxton.


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