THE TEAM OF AVENGERS
episode from The Skipper issue: 217
THE HOODED FOOTBALLERS OF THE FIRST DIVISION
The Torture of the Flying Footballs
Mysterious, weird figures filled the old vault. It was early afternoon, but in this dank, underground chamber it was always gloomy. “Lights!” growled someone, and half a dozen flares were lit. The flickering light showed up two shifty looking individuals whose clothing showed signs of a struggle, and whose ferrety faces were pale and drawn with terror. But there was sufficient reflection from the walls to reveal the other men who surrounded these two. Eleven in number, all husky and well built, they wore white football shorts, black stockings with red tops, and studded footer boots. The lower part of their attire was conventional enough, but their jerseys were missing. Instead of these they wore close-fitting jerkins of black, the black collar of which extended upwards and over their head to form hoods which completely masked their faces. The effect was terrifying, especially to the wriggling pair who were held on either side by members of this strange team. In the intense light the two victims’ faces worked and their eyes blinked. One tall figure stood out before the rest. He pointed grimly at the two prisoners. “Jem Todd and Crimp Evans, you know why you’re here?” “N-no!” faltered one of the pair. “It’s an outrage an’ –” “Don’t lie!” snapped their accuser. “You know very well why you were kidnapped and brought here. You are two of the crooks who are ruining British football today. You have been found guilty of bribing the left-half of Cranford United, and you are found guilty of kidnapping the inside-right of the same team when he refused to listen to your propositions.” “Look here—!” protested the shorter of the pair, sweat showing on his forehead. “Shut up!” hissed the hooded figure on his right, and his arm received a wrench which made him squirm. “You have been given a fair trial,” went on the speaker, “and the Avengers have decided to punish you. You’ll be leathered, and then you’ll be sent out of the country. Put ‘em in the cage!” Lights were turned towards the back of the big cellar, and there was revealed a three sided iron cage which reached to the ceiling overhead. The three sides were of close iron mesh, but the front of the cage was open, and in through this the struggling pair were forcefully thrown. They stood there wondering what was going to happen to them, but they soon knew. The eleven men lined up in front of the cage at a distance of not more than fifteen feet. Half a dozen regulation footballs were thrown on to the floor, and then began the strangest shooting practice ever staged. Eleven pairs of hefty feet proceeded to bang those balls into the cage with every atom of their weight behind the kicks. The cage was only a quarter the width of a real goal. At that range a football landed with almost enough force to stun a man, and within half a minute the two in the cage were howling for mercy. Bang! Bang-bang! Bang-bang! The balls thudded in and out of the cage with monotonous regularity. There was always a foot waiting to kick them back when they bounced out again. They caught the two victims in the face, in the stomach, in any part of the body which happened to be turned to the front at the moment. Every time the ball landed there was a yelp. In vain did Todd and Evans strive to fend off the balls with their hands. They were not strong enough to keep the speeding leathers back. As they guarded their faces they uncovered their stomachs, and as they became winded the balls landed with more and more frequency on their faces. Their noses began to bleed, their lips and mouths were cut, and their cheekbones were bruised badly. Their ears were scraped and torn; even their knuckles were skinned. Each one of them was being hit at the rate of a dozen balls a minute. It was savage punishment, and it lasted about five minutes, at the end of which time the pair had collapsed to the floor, moaning and groaning, almost unconscious. Nobody would have recognised them.
“That’s enough, boys,” said the
leader of the Avengers. “Get them blindfolded and on their way. They’ll leave
on a tramp steamer tonight for a country where there is no football for them to
ruin.” Two of the eleven bound and blindfolded the unresisting pair, and they
were practically lifted through a door at the back of the vault. “That’s that!
Our first job as Avengers is finished,” said the spokesman, and set the example
by taking off his jerkin and hood. The others all did the same, and if one of
the many thousands of waiting spectators in the ground above had seen them then
he would have recognised them as the well-known
The power of this man was spreading through the football game like the tentacles of an octopus. There was hardly a match now that was free from his evil influence. So Bill Sutton had collected the team and invited them to join him in a campaign to smash this sinister influence in football. The vault was their headquarters, and so far they had been very successful in their operations. Calling themselves The Avengers, they intended stopping at nothing to ferret out the mysterious leader of the crooks. It was a game of wits, fascinating, but dangerous, but now as the clock struck they knew there was another game to be fought and won. It was Saturday afternoon, and Branchester United were waiting to spoil their home record.
The Knock-Out Kick
A mighty cheer went up from the
packed stands as the home side trooped on to the field. The Branchester captain
won the toss and elected to kick with the wind. The whistle sounded, and they
were off. It was a keen, hard-fought game, well matched and at first very
clean. Branchester were a good team, and Bill knew his side would have to play
hard to keep up their end. But his men were determined to win, and they forced
the game so well that most of the play took place around the Branchester goal.
The crowd worked themselves into a frenzy of excitement at the prospect of early
goals. They stood in their seats and waved their hats when Dick Martin got one
of his lightning shots from bang opposite the centre of the field. It beat the
goalie easily, and Bill at centre-half ran across to slap their centre-forward
on the back when the signal of the referee checked him in his stride. Dick had
been ruled as offside! It was no use grumbling, but there was a good deal of
muttering and growing as the ball went into play again. The home side were
perfectly sure Dick had not been offside. Branchester rallied mightily after
this close call, and there was some sharp work on the halfway line. Their
outside-left was particularly clever, and he made one or two runs which
resulted in Saunders being tested. Then came a mix up right opposite the
They kicked off again, the crowd
having quietened down as football crowds always do when play restarts. Very
grim and forbidding did Bill Sutton look, and out of the corner of his eye he
watched the referee closely. “I suppose he’s in the pay of the same gang,” he
thought. “I expect he’s one of the hirelings of the Octopus. Well, there’s only
one thing to do with a crooked ref!” His chance came five minutes later, when
he was in the act of sending the ball across to his own left-half who was
waiting near the line to trap it. Bill noticed that the referee was only just
out of range, so instead of giving a normal kick he fired with every ounce of
strength he could raise, sent the ball flashing past his own amazed left-half,
and caught the referee with it slap on the side of the head. The ball bounced
back into play, but a yell went up from the crowd. The referee had been knocked
flat. So powerful had been Bill Sutton’s kick that the man was quite
unconscious. They carried him off the field on a stretcher. “I must have
miscalculated and kicked harder than I thought,” muttered the
He did not see Bill’s eyes following him in a puzzled fashion as he went out to find his car. Crake had forgotten all about Bill Sutton by the time he reached his big house on the outskirts of the town. He was thinking of the Football Octopus instead, and wondering what sort of an excuse he could make. The least the Octopus would do to him would be to deprive him of his chief source of income for a month or two by refusing to let him make any of the “safety” bets arranged for the benefit of the gang. So Crake reached his home in a very ugly frame of mind, and he passed the evening uncomfortably enough, torn by suspense, pacing his room and trying to calm himself before his master arrived. came at last, the rest of the household had gone to bed, and when Crake had turned out the lights in his big sitting room he did a strange thing. He opened one of the French windows leading to the garden, left it open, and pulled the thick curtains back in place. Then he stood tremblingly at the other end of the room to await the coming of the Octopus.
The Football Octopus
There was usually a little social celebration at the clubhouse following a match, but it never went on later than ten thirty, and just after that hour Bill Sutton bade goodnight to the last of his pals and prepared to stroll homewards. The affair with the crooked referee still rankled in his mind, and somehow he could not help linking the man up with Si Crake. Bill had never liked Crake, and neither had his father before him. Another thing which had caused Bill to study Crake a bit more closely lately was the fact that the man seemed suddenly more prosperous than hitherto. “He only bought that big new house out at Bankside a month ago. He’s got a new car, yet I haven’t heard of him inheriting any money. I think I’ll have a dekko at Si Crake’s new abode,” decided Bill, and he turned abruptly towards the outskirts of the town. It was a dark night, but when he reached the grounds which surrounded the house he pulled out his black jerkin and hood and donned these. It was wise to take precautions in case he was seen. The house was in darkness. This encouraged Bill to believe the occupants had gone to bed, and he prowled around softly seeking a method of entrance. “Hm!” he muttered at last. “French windows on that side. They’re always easy to open. I might be able to—Hullo!” He suddenly bobbed down behind some ornamental shrubs, for he had just seen a tall figure crossing the lawn, a figure that was certainly not Crake’s. The man’s face was turned from Bill, but the unusual height of the stranger at once made an impression on the captain of the City team. The fellow must have been six – six, and he was as lean as a pit prop. His limbs were exceptionally long and angular. His movements were awkward and jerky, lithe and panther like. Altogether he was a striking figure in his long coat with the upturned collar. “Funny time for Crake to have a visitor!” mused Bill. “Maybe it’s a burglar. Strange if I came to save Crake’s new house from being burgled.” Then he frowned, for the tall man had stepped up unhesitatingly to the French windows, and had opened one of them with a readiness which proved it had been already ajar. He parted some thick curtains which hung inside, and disappeared from view a moment later, the curtains dropping into view behind him. Bill Sutton crossed the lawn as quick as a flash. He was outside that open French window only a few seconds after the other had entered. Only those curtains separated him from the figure of the tall stranger.
“Crake, are you there?” came a harsh, powerful voice, a voice which was so metallic and forbidding that it made Bill shiver. “Ye-es!” came Crake’s shaky voice from somewhere within the darkened room. “Then stop where you are and listen to me. If you switch on a light or try to see my face I’ll kill, you, do you understand?” Crake’s reply was even more inaudible. It was obvious to Bill that the stout director was shivering with fright. “I—I won’t turn on the light, Octopus. I—I wanted to tell you about this afternoon. It wasn’t my fault. I fixed Grainger right enough and he was doing as I ordered. He would have won the game for the United only—” “Only!” snarled the sinister visitor, still from near the window. “I don’t allow any hitches in my plans. You bungled it. You’ll lose your income for two months, and the next time you fail me I’ll see you’re put in hospital.” “But—but I swear I—it wasn’t my fault, or Grainger’s. Young Bill Sutton must have rumbled there was something wrong with the ref, and he deliberately knocked him out with the ball so that the ref should be changed.” The Football Octopus stirred angrily, and Bill heard the man’s joints creaking. “Do you mean that? Do you think Sutton could place a ball as accurately as that?” “I do. I’ve seen him do it. I’m prepared to swear he did it on purpose. He—” “Then he suspects too much!” thundered the tall stranger. “He is dangerous. I won’t take any risks so early in the football season. All opposition has got to be crushed. I will overlook your offence today, and see that you are not the loser by it, but on one condition.” “Yes? Yes, what shall I do?” demanded Crake, with a thankful catch in his voice. “You must make certain of Bill Sutton before he suspects any more or has a chance to bring off any more of his fancy kicks. You must get him!” “G-Get him!” stammered Crake, from the darkness of the room. “You mean k-k-kill him?” “Certainly I do! What are you squeamish about? It’s not the first man I’ve had put out of the way by a long chalk. He must be wiped out, and I don’t care how you do it. I’ll allow you one hundred pounds as expenses for the killing.” “I—I’ll do it!” gasped Si Crake, from inside the room. Bill chuckled to himself inside his hood. “Will you, my lad? Not if I know it. If someone is going to get it in the neck it will be you two, and the Avengers will see to it.” His eyes were fixed on the curtain beyond the window, his ears strained to catch the next words of the Football Octopus.
He quite failed to notice that something was happening behind his back. Four tough looking men had separated themselves from the bushes and were creeping towards him. The Octopus never moved far without a bodyguard. Bill Sutton ought to have realised that.
THE TEAM OF AVENGERS 18 Episodes The Skipper issues 217 – 234 (1934-1935)
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2007