The King had a stammer and in his radio speech tried to get the words out: “We all know what it is to t… t… toil up a steep hill. Only to f…find that what we thought was the t…t…top was not the t…t…top after all.” On the radio entertainment came from Arthur Askey, Joe Loss, Vera Lynn and Wilfred Pickles. Wilfred Pickles and ‘Have a Go’ is the first radio programme I can remember having sat through many a broadcast with my grandmother.
And then on top of all this in the early months of ’47 Britain ground to a near halt as a winter of arctic harshness brought the most appalling conditions. Snowdrifts reached a depth of 14 feet in some areas. The sea froze in many places, temperatures of minus 9 were common, and icebergs were seen off the coast of Norfolk. The weather drove the ailing power and fuel industries to their knees. Unofficial strikes and absenteeism hampered the coal mines (where many footballers like Wilf Mannion worked) and the dilapidated and damaged railways could not deliver what coal there was quick enough as line after line was blocked. Factories closed down, people went around the house by candle light and stayed in bed to keep warm.
Only those in their seventies now might remember in detail how grim that winter of ’47 was; the havoc that it played with peoples’ daily lives, the shortages of fuel, the impassable roads, and its endless grip on the whole country. That the football season was completed; that clubs fulfilled all their fixtures was in fact a minor miracle. Until the season was extended into June there were real concerns that the games completed so far would count for nothing if the season was abandoned. Abandonment was a real prospect as this never-ending winter of snow, blizzards and gales went on and on and on. The Cup Final was played on April 26th but after this Burnley went on to play six more League games in May and one in June.
The mood was still one of post-war austerity, of bleakness, of rationing and constant shortages, of a government exhorting workers and factories to work till they dropped in order to get the nation back on its economic feet again. Poverty was endemic. The housing shortage was chronic and in football this manifested itself when footballers returning from the war could find a club to play for in many cases, but there was no house for them to live in. We had won the war. You would not have thought so. The nation was wrecked and half starved and now this unprecedented bitter winter blew in for month after month and blanketed the place in a level of hardship we can scarcely image today.
I was not much more than two years old and certainly have no memories of any of this. The first real memory I have is of being wheeled round Todmorden market in a sort of tiny, bumpy, metal push chair and my grandmother getting me a biscuit from a stallholder. It was cold but I don’t recollect snow. And that’s it. That’s the sum total of my recollections other than being taken to school for the first time ever when I was a toddler just turned three. The school was where my mother taught and the cold cloakroom floor was stone, the hooks and coats towered above my head, and lined up were rows of clogs. I had a pair myself when I was a little older and loved the sparks that the ‘irons’ made on the pavement. I know I was petrified in that tunnel-like cloakroom but there were no tears when I went into that dark, forbidding place for the first time. The class I went to was the ‘babies’. There were pictures on the walls, tiny canvas beds to sleep on in the afternoon, and the tiniest drink of orange juice in the morning. And it was cold. I remember it was so cold.
What a season 1946/47 was for Burnley with promotion from Division Two to Division One and a Cup Final appearance at Wembley. But what a miracle it was that those successes occurred.
When we think of the triumphant Burnley team captained by Alan Brown, managed by Cliff Britton, with the twinkle footed Peter Kippax, the awesome pair of Harold Mather and Arthur Woodruff, and the golden haired Harry Potts, it is seldom realised that they spent that winter making the most horrendous journeys on icy roads or in freezing, unheated railway carriages, and then playing in the most atrocious weather on ice covered pitches. Or that their diets were limited by rationing and the availability of even the most basic foodstuffs. It makes their achievements even more remarkable.
The relationship between government and sport at this time was an uneasy one. Sport fulfilled a real need in an age when there was little to cheer or to enthuse about. So, massive crowds gathered for the football matches and the big occasions like the first Grand National after the war, the boat race and greyhound meetings. But where it interfered with the need for productivity and a full work force, the government was clear. Work and productivity came first. Saturday was fine for sporting fixtures but midweek was a definite no. It did not approve. But football had a huge pull on the population and to catch up on abandoned and postponed fixtures midweek games became essential if the season was to be finished properly with promotion and relegation issues sorted. To both the government’s and employers’ consternation midweek games caused huge absenteeism problems. Neither this disapproval nor the ghastly weather stopped spectators from gathering in their thousands and midweek games were essential to complete the season.
The midweek Cup game between Burnley and Middlesbrough was a case in point. Local employers Joseph Lucas sacked 50 employees for attending the Burnley-Middlesbrough Cup replay on Tuesday afternoon, 4th of March.
Several years later referee Arthur Ellis recalled the game on radio saying that conditions were so bad that it seemed hopeless to even think about playing. But the spectators rolled up in their tens of thousands. Ellis climbed up onto a police horse to see the problem at first hand. The kick-off was delayed, an almost unheard of occurrence, to let spectators in. 35,000 of them packed the surrounding streets. A lorry load of them had come from Middlesbrough, all of them miners straight from the pit. That ride must have been the journey from hell. While this sea of humanity milled around outside the ground, the ice and ridges of snow covering the pitch were levelled out by volunteers. Within an hour of the gates being opened just under 50,000 people were admitted paying £4,124.
The first game at Middlesbrough had been even colder with a temperature of minus 4. There were burst pipes in the dressing rooms. Over 53,000 saw this game with thousands locked out. The crushing was appalling. People could scarcely breathe let alone move. Burnley supporters had made a 100 mile journey on treacherous roads. People stuck outside, especially those from Burnley, were in a foul mood and were threatened with a hosing from the Fire Service. Tragedy and violence was averted only when the Chief Constable broadcast a commentary on the game from his seat in the grandstand.
Meanwhile the government became so incensed at the wasted industrial hours caused by mid week games that they threatened a two year ban on them. They backed down when told that life was severe enough without them compounding the problem with such draconian measures. This was an age when Sunday football was unheard of, there was no way that day could be used to clear the backlog. Evenings were out of the question since there were no floodlights.
The government tried to promote the idea that miners were the heroes, not footballers. Miners were seen as the key to surviving this horrendous winter and keeping the home fires burning and the factory machines operating.
The bad weather refused to relent but somehow Burnley were becoming the sensation of the season. They had a cast iron defence and the magical Peter Kippax on the wing.
And then on March 4th they beat Middlesbrough in the replay at Turf Moor. At Middlesbrough the pitch consisted of melting snow on top of hard ice. At Burnley it was simply an ice rink and not even a smooth one at that. It went on into extra time. Wilf Mannion wrote about it in his biography. He was not pleased to have lost and felt that referee Arthur Ellis was terrible. Burnley scored after Ray Harrison had collided with the Middlesbrough goalkeeper. There were accusations that Harrison kicked the goalkeeper and pushed the ball into the path of Billy Morris, who then scored. Boro’ players were incensed and surrounded the referee. Mannion was bitter for years about this result. The result finished their season and they slid down their division.
On March 6th a blizzard cut Britain in half. Games that went ahead depended on players actually arriving there, their journeys made near impossible in these conditions. Training was abandoned more often than not as players were stuck at home. For the game at Middlesbrough, Harold Mather and Jackie Chew took a bus to the rendezvous but were held up by a blocked road. They then walked back into Blackburn and got a lift on the tailboard of a lorry to Accrington. Eventually, somehow, all the team met up at Sowerby Bridge railway station. The story is told that Chew and Mather held up the train until the others arrived.
More blizzards arrived on March 15th and were then followed by 100mph gales. Floods affected 31 counties.
The semi finals were played in better conditions although rain lashed the windows of the Harrogate hotels where Newcastle and Charlton were staying in readiness for their Elland Road game. Counterfeit tickets for the Burnley game against Liverpool, Albert Stubbins and all, were easy to spot because the word ‘competition’ had been mis-spelled. The first game at Blackburn, in front of a crowd so big it spilled onto the pitch in the corners, was drawn. The replay at Maine Road was on a Saturday and prevented Kippax gaining an England cap against Scotland, a game played on the same day. In both games the Burnley defence was likened to ‘the Maginot Line since it had conceded just seven goals in the last 26 games. Harold Mather was described as a brick wall. Alan Brown was always a brick wall in every game he played. Kippax was the star of both games and the replay was won 1 – 0. The opponents at Wembley would be Charlton. They had one thought. Stop Kippax (left)and we’ll win.
If the snow by now had stopped, the vicious weather was not quite done. In November the previous year the appalling pitch conditions at Turf Moor for the game against Leicester were as nothing to those experienced on Easter Saturday, April 5th. This was a day of merciless rain, an incessant downpour, and then a wind which made little waves ripple across the waterlogged grass. It made football farcical and several players began to suffer intensely from the cold and endless soaking. Two Burnley players were carried off and three Chesterfield players. Some were put into a warm bath complete with sodden kit simply to thaw them out. Other players collapsed with near hypothermia as soon as they entered the dressing rooms.
In the Cup Final Burnley were favourites largely on account of the defence and Kippax. They relaxed in Morecambe before the game. When they appeared at the Floral Hall the dancing stopped and they were loudly applauded. It was the same at the Winter Gardens. They visited the Lancaster versus Netherfield Lancashire Combination game and were cheered loudly. Their fans were told they were always in bed by ten.
The public were keen to hear the details of their preparation. Charlton had donations of clothing coupons to obtain their new shirts Burnley lunched on fish, toast and coffee.
But the game was disappointing. In contrast to the freezing winter, the heat on this day was draining. Burnley did not play well. The crowd was so quiet they could hear Brown shouting and bellowing his commands. Kippax had a poor game by his standards. It was not surprising; he had a temperature of 103. Perhaps the most exciting moment was when the ball burst. There were endless throw-ins and Burnley’s Billy Morris missed the best chances. Middlesbrough fans were delighted. They had not forgotten the controversy of the semi final. There was a possible extra time penalty when Burnley’s Harrison was going through and was brought down from behind. Potts hit the bar. Duffy scored the winner for Charlton and celebrated wildly, deliriously running the length of the field nearly. Burnley fans headed north downhearted but still had League games to come which would ensure promotion. The team came back to Burnley as heroes and good times would come the following season.
Meanwhile at Charlton’s West End celebrations the lid of the Cup was dropped and broken. A garage mechanic did temporary repairs for the Lord Mayor’s reception and then a silversmith did a proper job later. Today’s pampered overpaid players fill it full of champagne. In 1947 Seed filled it full of beer. Footballers then were in the lower social brackets. They were heroes but nevertheless regarded as common, working class blokes, unless they were an amateur like Kippax whose father owned a mill, or had that special something like the golden haired Harry Potts the Beckham of his day.
The dreadful winter of ’47 changed into spring and then summer. But even then the hardships were not yet over. In June the weekly allowance of milk was cut to two and a half pints, newspapers were cut to wartime size of just four pages. Next, the meat ration was cut; holidays abroad were banned, along with motoring for pleasure.
Of course at the grand old age of three by the end of ’47 I knew none of this although my father was a great Burnley supporter and listened to the game on the radio he told me years later. We had a little plum coloured Morris car as the fifties approached and chugged around the bumpy roads in it when there was petrol to spare, the longest journeys being to Southport for a week in a boarding house. My parents were both teachers and grandmother had a bit of money set aside. She and my grandfather had a bakery and then sold it to a relative. As a result we never went short although there were no luxuries in those days and petrol was limited. For years the old blackout curtains continued to hang in the top attic bedroom.
An early memory or two date back to that gloomy huge boarding house in a Southport side street. Great Victorian furniture filled the dining room, all the residents sat round the one gigantic table, and huge Landseer pictures of the Glens and stags hung on the dark walls. Grandmother always came along and a clear memory is of how she always bought the meat for our meal and supervised its preparation in the kitchen. The ration books came along in her purse.
Within a hundred yards of our house up Longfield Road in Todmorden, a cobbled road that went ever upwards, eventually to the moorland farms on the hilltops, were three shops. The one opposite the house was a Co-op. Sixty years ago it worked like this. There was the huge central Co-operative store in the town centre and its little satellite shops were dotted round the town almost on every street. For everything you spent you received a dividend and all these were noted by the shopkeeper in his ledgers and you were given a tiny ticket after each purchase. You had a number. And I remember ours to this day… 6014 it was, and then once a year your dividends were added up and you collected the total from the accounts office at the central Co-op on Dale Street. The more you spent the more you got back. It was like Christmas and for many one of the highlights of the year. As the years went by the dividend became less and less. The importance of the Co-op faded as competition grew. Then the dividend stopped altogether. There are still Co-ops but few folk now know of their origin and purpose, of how the first one started in Rochdale and their aim was to share profits with the people who spent their money there.
There were two other shops up Longfield Road, a fish and chip shop and then the tiniest of all shops that sold sweets and cakes and biscuits and the husband of the shop lady was the vice captain of the Todmorden Cricket Club. It was in that little house above the shop that I saw the first ever television set. I was in awe of the husband, our local sporting hero, whenever I saw him in the shop, a fireman in his normal life. Next door to this miniature treasure trove were the Helliwells, and John my pal, went on to become one quarter of Supertramp, one of the great bands of all time and Princess Di’s favourite. John is now a millionaire somewhere up on the Dales.
I’m getting maudlin’ tis true, not to the extent that I would wish to turn back the clock, but there is no doubt that though life was harder then and more uncertain, it was simpler.
Steam trains and horses and carts are the other abiding images of those childhood days. From its raised position above the valley the view of the great viaduct, the station and the steaming engines was wonderful and I spent hours watching them from the front room windows. This was the line from Leeds to Manchester and in the centre of the valley it branched off to Burnley up through Cornholme and the spectacular Cliviger Gorge. At the back of the house we could run out to watch the great farm horses pulling their cart loads of milk along the cobbles down to the Co-op or the market. In summer the tar melted between the cobbles. You collected globs of it and made lumps that you could fashion into little models. The farmer was called Tom, a ruddy faced man who dropped our milk off in quart and pint jugs. Great churns balanced precariously in the back of the cart and with a smaller measure he would ladle out the milk. Thanks to him we were never short of milk or eggs. In the opposite direction came the Co-op horses pulling carts of coal up the hill. We collected the bits that dropped off. And then the day came that Tom didn’t arrive in his horse and cart, he had a small, brand new, shiny, crimson coloured van that huffed and puffed all the way up and down. The horse was retired. Progress and the modern age had arrived at number 2 Cliff Villas, Longfield Road.
Happy days, until the Coronation in 1953 and the day came that in the town pageant and parade I was forced to dress up as a page boy carrying a crown on a cushion in the great procession that wound its way through the streets of the town with hundreds lined up watching until it reached Centre Vale Park. God did I feel an idiot.
But that dear reader is another story. Frank Hill was Burnley manager then. Jimmy Mac and Jimmy Adamson were emerging talents, Burnley finished 6th and it would be a few more years yet before I made my first appearance at Turf Moor.
(This article makes use of material to be found in Football’s War and Peace by Thomas Taw published by Desert Island Books 2003)