Heroes and Villains
Sam Wadsworth, born in a little terrace house at Lynwood, Darwen, overcame the horrors of the Great War, illness and rejection by his beloved Blackburn Rovers, to become captain of England in the Twenties.
What's this? An England football captain extolling the virtues of fair play and sportsmanship? No, I haven't got that wrong. It really did happen although, admittedly, it was a long time ago.
Sam Wadsworth, captain of England in the 1920s, set a standard of sporting conduct which could now hardly be imagined.
In those days, spitting, obscene swearing, "diving" – pretending to have been fouled to get an opponent sent off or to win a penalty – and mean and nasty fouls were almost unheard of.
And Sam Wadsworth led by example. In his later years he looked back on his career and advised young players as a benevolent uncle: "Please try to be sportsmen. Always play fair. Be always ready to congratulate your conqueror and you'll never be sorry for it.
"I've always played fair and tried to play fair. Even today, many years since I left the field of play I am welcome in all circles. Why? Because I played fair. You do the same. You'll never regret it."
Sam Wadsworth in his England shirt
Admirable sentiments, especially as life had hardly been fair to the young lad who had come back from years in the trenches of the Great War, wounded, shell-shocked and traumatised by the horrors he had witnessed.
He recovered over several painful months – "I began to realise that I had to forget all the rough times when we still stood up for more. I had to get on with my life." – and he hoped that he would be able to resume his promising pre-War career with Blackburn Rovers. Instead, he was shown the door. He had volunteered at 17. "It was my duty," he said simply.
"It had been all that I had lived for over four years of life and death in the trenches," he recalled in hours of tape recording he made in the 1950s. "My heart was broken. My life's dream had gone with the wind. I was very bitter after nearly five years service. It was not very nice treatment.”
The harsh rejection by his beloved Blackburn Rovers left him vowing never to kick another ball and it took an iron will, and the support of his family, for him to pick up the threads of his ambition. He had a trial with Nelson and played with them before being bought by Huddersfield Town in 1921.
It was the start of a career which took him to the very top as a left full-back with both Town, who carried all before them and with England.
As manager of the pre-war PSV team
Huddersfield won the FA Cup in 1922, three successive Championships in 1924, 25 and 26 and were runners-up in 1927 and 1928. Sam won nine caps in an era when international matches were much fewer than today. A rare clash with a team other than one in the Home International series was against Belgium who were given a 6-1 hiding in March 1923.
Wadsworth was injured in the three-game FA Cup semi-final in March 1928 against Sheffield United and didn't get to play in the final against Blackburn Rovers, the once-loved club that had given him the elbow. He had reported fit but the doctor didn't think he should risk it.
He could only watch as Jack Roscamp bundled ball and 'keeper Billy Mercer into the net in the first minute. Huddersfield, struggling with injuries and illness, folded. Their League season tailed off and they were pipped for another title by Arsenal.
The knee injury virtually ended Wadsworth's career although he had a few games with Burnley whom he joined in September 1929.
It was a hard time for the Wadsworths. Not for Sam and his wife the big house, the fancy cars, and the Continental villa. They had lost all their money in a failed garage venture and his wife's health suffered with the worry.
He was struggling and desperately missing his playing days when the FA told him that the Delft club in Holland were looking for an English manager. It was the start of a successful new career. He went on to manage PSV in two spells before and after the Second World War and stayed on in Holland.
Lancashire lad Sam Wadsworth, a fine footballer, a war hero and a real gentleman who spoke modestly about the virtues of duty, comradeship and fair play, died in 1961 aged 64.
Article sent in by website user Harold Heys.
The views expressed on this page are those of the contributor and the opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the BBC.
last updated: 28/04/2009 at 08:37
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