BRITISH COMICS

(Skipper page)

THE TEAM OF AVENGERS

First episode from The Skipper issue: 217 October 27th 1934.

THE HOODED FOOTBALLERS OF THE FIRST DIVISION

The Torture of the Flying Footballs

 

A Clean-Up

 

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 Brandon City team with white V’s on red jerseys. The players were a trifle warm after their strange experience, but in the pink of condition, and looked perfectly ready to enter the field against any team in the League. “Come on, chaps!” Bill Sutton, the captain, who had been directing the punishment of the two crooks, had glanced at his watch. “It’s nearly 2.30. We’ve got to take the field in a few minutes.” In one corner of the vault there was a ladder, and when they passed up this and through a trapdoor which was normally hidden by a locker they found themselves in the club dressing room. With the locker returned to its normal position there was nothing to show that there was a vault below the grandstand on the home ground at Brandon City. It was one of the many secrets of the team of men who unofficially called themselves The Avengers. Bill Sutton’s father, Joseph Sutton, had been one of the chief founders of the club about 25years ago. He had died two years before leaving his son not only the well-liked captain of the team, but practically the owner of the club as well. It was he who had first shown Bill that vault under the grandstand. Bill Sutton had collected around him a group of the finest and straightest sportsmen in the game. He knew perfectly well that they were as true as dies, from burly Bud Saunders, their goalie, to Dick Martin, the dapper little centre-forward. There was not a finer team of footballers in all Britain, and it was the sure knowledge of this which had impelled Bill to start his strange campaign. For Bill had started a feud against crookedness in League football. Recently it had become known that there were strange happenings in English first class football. All sorts of queer things were happening. Players were being bribed to lose matches, and if they did not agree they were “accidentally” kidnapped or crippled. There had been some terrible scandals, and it was becoming evident that there was one powerful gang, and one powerful figure, behind all this corruption.

 

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 two thirty 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 Brandon goal, when three or four of both sides went down in a struggling heap. Bill Sutton saw little Dick Martin with the ball at his toe even as he lay on the ground, and catching the quick look which was flung his way he waited for the expected pass. The Brandon City centre-forward was in the act of kicking when one of the Branchester halves charged up and deliberately swung a foot. The kick landed full in Dick’s stomach, and as he rolled in agony the ball was taken away from him and slammed into Bud Saunder’s net. “Goal!” “No, foul! Foul! It was one of the most deliberate fouls I’ve ever seen. He didn’t even pretend to kick the ball. He couldn’t have reached it in the time,” roared Bill Sutton. The referee was a stocky man with a moustache sticking out fiercely on either side of his pale face. “No foul!” he ruled. “It was an accident and the goal stands!” Bill Sutton opened and closed his mouth like a landed fish. He was too surprised for words. Some of his men began to shout and argue, but he waved them towards the centre of the field, Dick Martin being helped along doubled up and as pale as death. “What’s the use of arguing,” growled Bill, his face red with indignation. “We’ve got to play against twelve men instead of eleven, the referee.

 

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 Brandon City captain with a wink at his own men. “Poor chap! He’ll have a headache for a week.” There was nothing they could do to Bill because of this. Nobody could prove that it had not been an accident. But the game had to go on, and as another referee was not available the senior linesman took over the duties. He was an elderly sportsman, as straight as they were made, and henceforth the game proceeded according to rule, a club official coming on as linesman. There was no favouritism, no queer decisions, and when the game at halftime finished with one goal each nobody had reason to complain. In the second half Brandon pressed harder. They scored a goal at the end of the first five minutes and another three-quarters way through the game. The crowd howled itself hoarse. It was one of the finest exhibitions of football they had ever seen. But up in the special box reserved in the grandstand for the club directors there sat a stout, bald-headed man whose hands were twisting and turning at a folded programme as though his nerves were strung to breaking point. He had bitten his lower lip until it bled, and when Dick Martin scored the third goal for the home side he emitted a hollow groan. He proceeded to clap, as a director of the home team would be expected to do, but inwardly Si Crake was fuming. “This wouldn’t have happened if Grainger had been ref!” he muttered to himself. “What did the fool want to get knocked out for? There’ll be trouble with the boss over this.” Branchester did their best to equalize, but it was impossible. The home team now had their tails right up, and they won by the comfortable margin of two goals. The cheer that greeted the result could have been heard the other side of the city, but it found no echo in the heart of Si Crake. Pushing his way through the crowd at the foot of the steps, he was trying to beam affably on some of his fellow directors when something was thrust into his hand. His fingers closed convulsively on the scrap of paper. A cold chill ran up his spine, for he guessed what it was. He found time to glance down and read the penciled words before he dropped the paper underfoot. “Prepare for me tonight!” was all it said, and it was unsigned, but Si Crake knew it came from his terrible master, the Football Octopus, and he shivered at the thought of meeting the man face to face. The Octopus must have been at the match, and had witnessed the failure of his plan to secure a win for the United. It had been Crake who had bribed Grainger to behave as he had done, and Crake was afraid he was going to get the blame for the failure. In the club dressing room he found a jubilant crowd. The team was justifiably pleased with their success, and many were the compliments showered on Bill Sutton for his “luck” in outing the referee. “I hear he’s had to have two of his teeth taken out,” chuckled Walt Nugget. “You loosened ‘em so badly!” Si Crake pursed his lips as he eyed the bent back of the young captain who was pulling off his muddy boots. If looks could have killed, Bill Sutton would have dropped dead there and then. “Congratulations on behalf of myself and fellow directors, Sutton. You’re keeping up the traditions of the old club,” purred the shifty eyed director a moment later, and Bill ginned as he returned the fishy grip. “Thanks. It was a good game. We all enjoyed it, except poor Dick when he got that kick. The chap who did that ought to be run out of football, like some others I know.” “A protest will be made,” the director assured him. “I did not see the incident myself, but it seems it was an ugly one. We can’t let things like that pass.”

 

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. Eleven o’clock 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