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Midland League Duties 1921-22: Out of the cup and heavy going in the league

2 February 2022

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

CAPTIONS: Headlines of a heavy defeat to Rotherham Town, while Duke scored his first Nuts goal at Denaby.

One hundred years ago on this day, Scunthorpe and Lindsey United had booked a taxi for three away matches. However, it had not been an easy time for the club, and after a promising start to the season, results had turned against them. The reports of the day suggested that there had been no lack of ambition or effort, and a combination of near misses and meeting better opposition was responsible for the recent lack of success.

During the past six league matches, three defeats had been accompanied by a couple of tied games and only one victory. The draws had been at Wombwell and on the Old Show Ground against Worksop. All of the defeats were on the club’s travels, during close encounters with Gainsborough Trinity, Barnsley Reserves and Mexborough. During that period, the solitary victory had been on home soil, when the Nuts gained the upper hand over Mansfield Town.

During this autumn period some progress had been made in the FA Cup, and over inferior opposition the club made it through to the Third Qualifying Round, having beaten a weak Hull Holderness by a record 10-0 score. Unfortunately the cup draw paired Scunthorpe United away to the only other threatening force in their section, and Gainsborough Trinity were a huge barrier to the Nuts' ambitions. It was in the mud of the Northolme that the FA Cup journey came to an abrupt halt, and despite a courageous effort, Scunthorpe succumbed by a 2-0 score. It was a great disappointment, but the team had now look to the future and seek improvements in other direction.  

On Saturday, November 12th, 1921 Scunthorpe journeyed through agricultural Lincolnshire and into industrial South Yorkshire, in order to meet their commitment in the Midland League at Clifton Park with Rotherham Town. Expectations were high in the visitors' camp, because the teams were of similar position in the table. The Nuts were not without a small degree of support on the terraces, and with the exception of a couple of positional changes, the team was the same as had valiantly lost at Gainsborough in the FA Cup. Thus, the following formation was chosen: Bates, goalkeeper; Ackroyd and Betts, fullbacks; Richards, Lloyd and Broadhead, halfbacks; Meredith, Whitham, Gibson, Reed and Maycock, forwards.

There were almost 2,500 supporters on hand at the perimeter rope and in the stands when play began, in cool autumnal conditions, and it was not long before the crowd judged this to be a close and exciting match. The only part of the game that was not so even was the score, and whenever the Town attacked, a goal was produced, but when the Nuts did the same, they had misfortune to either shoot fractional wide, or witness a dazzling save from the Rotherham custodian. At the end of 90 minutes of honest endeavour, the Nuts had equalled the Town club in most departments, but were astonishingly 5-1 in arrears. The only sunshine on this gloomy day, was a goal scored by Gibson in the Scunthorpe number nine shirt. 

On the following Monday, Scunthorpe United had another away tour of South Yorkshire, where there seemed to be a chimney smoking at every turn, when Bramall Lane was the destination. This time it was in the Wharncliff Charity Cup First Round, which was for another coveted trophy that could attract the crowds, especially in the later rounds. The Nuts were up against the Junior Blades on this afternoon, which was always a difficult task, when considering the depth of talent Sheffield United had to supply the first eleven in Division One of the Football League.

Team selection was not advertised, but it is thought that the Scunthorpe side would have been close to full strength. The teams fought an evenly contested first half, but whereas Broadhead missed two golden chances, the Blades took two of theirs and led 2-0 at the interval. In the second period the Nuts made every effort to gain parity, without success. This took the steam out of their game, and Scunthorpe were punished twice more. The 0-4 reverse was yet another disappointment.

Once the team was in a rut, it was proving difficult to get out of, especially as spirits were naturally low. They say that when you fall off a horse, the best cure is to remount, and the Nuts had a similar opportunity on the following Saturday, when they headed for the compact ground that was the Midland League home of Denaby, situated in coal mining territory. If the wind was in the wrong direction in 1921, then coal dust could be seen in the air, and would blackened the cleanest of faces.

The wars of the previous week had taken a toll on the team members, and changes were the order of the day. Betts was out of action, and a young player named Smith stepped up from the Reserves. In the middle of the park there was a debut for an experienced stalwart called Duke, and because Meredith was also unavailable, Broadhead moved into the forward line at centre forward, and Gibson transferred from that position, over to the right wing.

The crowd may not have been large at Denaby when the game started, but those on hand witnessed a hard ding-dong battle, full of commitment and, above all, goals. Seven in total, but once again it was the sorry tale for followers of the fortunes of Scunthorpe that they had the deficit by 3-4. The home side had the impetus to take a first minute lead, as the new faces, and unaccustomed positions of the visitors, began to sort themselves out. At the interval the lead had swelled to three goals, one of which was a cracker, which no goalkeeper would have got a finger nail to, as in whistled at express speed into the top of the net.

After the interval, not that they had been lacking in the game, the Nuts began to find their feet in front of goal. Eight minutes into the second half, a glorious header by Broadhead reduced the arrears. He was unlucky not to score on at least one other occasion, before young Reed, from the village of Epworth, fired in a second goal. Scunthorpe went on the offensive to find an equaliser, which they probably deserved, but in going out of the front door, they left the gate open at the back, and Denaby made the score 4-2.

Hopes were dashed at this setback, but the Nuts kept on knocking on the door, and the reward came when Duke scored his first goal for the club. Unfortunately, the rest of the game was marred by some rough tackling, which needed firm refereeing. When the final whistle blew, once again, there had been no magic spells cast in favour of the willing Nuts.

IT'S A SCUNTHORPE FACT: St Lawrence Church is the oldest church in Scunthorpe. It dates back to the twelfth century, and was rebuilt in the nineteenth century, and the chancel extended in 1913.

IT'S A SCUNTHORPE UNITED FACT: The last two senior performances of Andy Crosby’s career included a penalty goal in the shootout in the Play-off Semi Final, at MK Dons, and an impeccable display in the Final, at Wembley, with Millwall.


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