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NAPPER TODD– Football is his game

Taken from The Hotspur issue 860 May 2nd 1953

Napper’s arms and head are covered with bandages—But he still has two good legs.


“Cheer up, Napper,” said Grandpa. “Don’t you like getting up on a Monday morning?” Napper Todd did look a bit mournful as he ate his breakfast. “I was just thinking it’s tough the United were pipped by a point for the League Championship,” he explained. “They can’t bring off the ‘double’ now.”

“Well, they’re in the Cup Final,” snorted Grandpa. “They meet Branston Wanderers at Wembley on Saturday. Napper’s favourite team was Riverport United, the town’s First Division club. They had had a grand season but an unexpected defeat had lost them the League Championship at the last minute. Napper’s ambition was to play for them when he was older. He was nuts about football and played for South End Rovers, a bunch of under-17’s in the Riverport Minor League. They had “double” worries too! They’d won the Minor Cup, and on Wednesday evening were due to play Castle Park Scarlets in what was to be a decider as to who would win the Minor League. Napper’s play had attracted the attention of Mr Stoner, the United manager, who had wanted an interview with him. But Brad Bales, the United boot boy who was jealous of Napper, had made sure the lad had not received the manager’s invitation. Grandpa and Napper lived on an island in the middle of the estuary at Riverport. They had made a home in the hut there, when Napper’s mean relatives Aunt Cora and Uncle Herbert, had tried to force Grandpa into an Old Folk’s Home and to send Napper to an approved school. When Napper and Grandpa had saved a cargo ship from going aground during a gale, the authorities had discovered Aunt Cora’s and Uncle Herbert’s trickery and meanness, and in gratitude, had let Grandpa and Napper stay on the island rent free. “Have another cup of tea,” said Grandpa, and reached for the tin teapot. “There’s nothing like a cuppa to cheer you up.” Napper looked at the clock. It was nearly seven o’clock. “No, I’d better be off,” he exclaimed, and went out, followed by Grandpa. He launched the dinghy and sprang nimbly over the gunnel. “Napper ahoy, don’t forget the kippers,” roared the old man suddenly. “I’ll tie a knot in my handkerchief,” answered Napper. He pulled for the foreshore. A police launch forged by and gave him a toot on the siren. Napper pulled the dinghy up the beach, fetched his ponderous bike, which was made from parts from a scrap-yard, from behind Mr Bell’s cottage, and pedalled away. On the corner he met a gawky lad wearing a British Railways cap and overalls. “Hiya, Storky,” he whooped, to the Rovers’ outside-right. “Hiya, Napper,” exclaimed Storky Stookey, who was an engine-cleaner. “Going to work?” inquired Napper. “I am if the foreman’s about,” said Storky. “I’ve been thinking,” exclaimed Napper. “If the United win the cup, can you wangle me into the station to see them come back? There won’t half be a crowd.” “It’s a date,” said Storky. “We’ll have a close-up view.” Napper turned up a thumb. “Don’t forget the Scarlets on Wednesday,” he chirped. “I ‘ope I’ll be able to get away,” replied Storky. “We’ll be getting the engines ready for the Wembley excursions.” “You’ll be there or—” growled Napper. The pals went their different ways and Napper arrived at the shop of Mr Billingham, the newsagent, for whom he delivered the papers. “There’s a letter come for you,” said Mr Billingham, who was marking up the newspapers. Napper’s eyes popped as he saw the name of Riverport United F.C. on the envelope. Maybe he could guess what was inside. He’d given Miss Ada Harper, the manager’s secretary, the address. Excitedly, he jagged open the envelope with his thumb, opened the letter and read:—

“Dear Napper,

Mr Stoner is very busy this week but will see you on Wednesday at 12.45.

Please confirm that you will be there.

Yours sincerely

A.      Harper.”

“Yipee,” whooped Napper. “Go easy,” gasped Mr Billingham. “You’re not at a football match.” “I reckon I’m halfway to getting a job with the United,” exclaimed Napper. “Then when I’m old enough I can sign on if I’m good enough.” “Being a professional footballer is no life,” warned Mr Billingham. “It’s the life for me,” said Napper, and stuffing the newspapers into the big bag, set off on his rounds. He was in the street not far from the football ground, when Brad Bales came along on his new bike. He was bitterly resentful of the prospect of Napper getting a job with the United. “You won’t win the league,” he said as he went by. He turned his head. “The Scarlets will wipe you up—” There was a crunch as, not looking where he was going, he bumped over a low kerb and into a lamp-post. Brad fell backwards into the gutter while his bike, with a buckled front wheel, dropped on top of him. “Lummy, you want wiping up now,” chuckled Napper.



On Wednesday morning Mr Tasker, the School Attendance Officer and no friend of Napper, backed his small saloon car out of his garage and into the road. He was getting out to close the garage doors, when Brad came along and touched his cap politely. Mr Tasker knew him well as he played for the Select, the School team run by the Truant Officer.

This season it had not brought him much reflected glory, as it was bottom of the Minor League. “Have you heard that Napper Todd is after a job with the United, sir?” asked Brad. It was like waving a red rag at a bull. Mr Tasker had always been Napper’s enemy. Also he’d been made to look a fool, when his efforts to send Grandpa back into the Old Folk’s Home, and Napper to an approved school had failed. “Tut, tut,” he exclaimed. “Is that really a fact.” “Yessir,” said Brad. “He’s going to see the manager at a quarter to one. The United are going away today but Mr Stoner is seeing him first.” “I shall intervene,” snapped Mr Tasker. “The boy is unreliable and deceitful. I will call on Mr Stoner and give him my views. He will listen to me. Brad grinned nastily. He felt sure himself that the manager would take the opinion of such an important official as the Truant Officer. Napper put in the morning handing the tools to Careful Cowell, the plumber for whom he worked. They were engaged in putting in a new cistern at a warehouse. Napper who was keeping a close eye on the time, remarked that it was getting on for half-past twelve. “No, it’s only twenty-past,” said Careful Cowell looking at his watch. “Still, you can push off if you like. I hope you get the job. Summer ain’t a good time for plumbers, so I might not have been able to keep you. A good hard winter with plenty of frost is what we want for our trade.” Napper had a good wash—he needed it—and then stripped off his overalls. He was wearing his best clothes underneath and, after he’d rubbed the dust off, the polish on his boots would have satisfied the eye of a sergeant-major. Full of hope, he rode to the football ground. He left his bike against the fence and walked through the gateway into the enclosure at the back of the grandstand. A motor-coach was standing there. That afternoon the United were leaving for a hotel near Wembley, where they were staying until the Cup Final. Billy Bindle, the trainer, and Brad came out of the grandstand carrying a big hamper. Watched by the driver, they lifted it into the luggage compartment at the back of the vehicle. “Now, are you sure all the boots are in?” Bindle asked sharply. “Yes, I checked them,” said Brad. “That’s the lot, then,” remarked Bindle. As the driver closed the luggage compartment, the trainer beckoned to Napper. “Come and wait inside, my lad,” he said. “Mr Stoner will send for you when he’s ready. He’s very busy as you can guess, but he’s going to fit you in.” Brad’s expression was sour, as he watched Napper go into the grandstand with the trainer. “What’s keeping Tasker?” he muttered. “Why hasn’t he turned up?” Brad hurried to the gateway and looked down the street. At almost the same moment, the Attendance Officer turned the corner in his car. He’d been held-up at the police court where he’d been giving evidence against parents for not sending their children regularly to school. Riding with him was Uncle Herbert whom he’d picked up to help blacken Napper’s character. “He’s in the nick of time,” exclaimed Brad gleefully and, with a swing of his arm, signalled Mr Tasker through the gateway. Brad turned and uttered a screech of alarm. In looking for Mr Tasker, he hadn’t noticed that the driver was backing the motor-coach. “Stop!” Brad yelled. With a bellow of alarm, Mr Tasker saw the back of the coach looming over him. He braked but was going too fast to stop. There was a tremendous crash as his car rammed the coach. The radiator was smashed and a wheel knocked off. The fender on the back of the coach was snapped off, but otherwise it did not appear to suffer a great deal of damage. The sound of the mishap brought people rushing out from the grandstand. Mr Stoner, Billy Bindle, Miss Harper and Napper were among those who dashed out. Dan Samson, the goalkeeper, Willie West, the inside-right, and Ron Harland, the right-half, were among the players who rushed to the scene. Mr Tasker tottered out of his car. Uncle Herbert discovered he had bitten his tongue and seemed to think he was bleeding to death. “Why didn’t you look where you were going?” shouted the bus driver angrily. Brad tried to slink away, but Mr Tasker pointed a bony finger at him. “That young imbecile waved me in,” he snarled. “I never,” wailed Brad. “Yes, you did,” snapped Miss Harper, the terror of the United. “I was looking out of the office window and saw you.” Mr Tasker looked at his damaged car and his rage increased. “I wonder you haven’t found out Bales before,” he roared. “He’s shiftless and untruthful.” Mr Stoner gave a stern nod. He had put up with a lot from Brad. This was the last straw. “We’ve finished with you, Bales,” he said grimly. “We’ll pay you and you can go.” Brad’s complexion would have matched up with a beetroot. He was wild. He’d lost one of the most-coveted jobs in Riverport because he’d tried to play a last dirty trick. Miss Harper snapped at him to come and get his money and his cards and with a sullen look at Napper, he trudged away. Mr Tasker turned on Mr Stoner. “I understand you are thinking of offering employment to Napper Todd,” he snapped. Mr Stoner eyed him coldly. “What business is it of yours?” he asked. “It is my business to know the character of all the boys,” spluttered Mr Tasker indignantly. “I don’t give much for your judgment,” retorted Mr Stoner. “You seem to have forgotten that you gave Bales an excellent testimonial. It was largely on your recommendation that we took him on.” Mr Tasker gulped as if he’d got a tennis ball stuck in his mouth and Uncle Herbert sniffed miserably. Mr Stoner told Napper to come along and took him into his office. The interview was held-up by a telephone call. Then the manager hung up the receiver and regarded Napper. “You’re team, the South End Rovers, had been doing pretty well, hasn’t it?” he asked. “Yes, sir, we’ve won the Minor Cup and now we’re after the league,” said Napper breathlessly. Mr Stoner smiled. He asked Napper a number of questions and seemed satisfied by the answers. “How will this suit you?” he asked. “You can help the groundsman during the summer and then take over Bales’ job as boot boy when the football season comes along.” Napper could not answer for a moment. All his dreams were coming true. “I can start next Monday, sir,” he blurted out. “Aren’t you going to ask how much we’re going to pay you?” inquired the manager. Napper, would have done it for nine pence a week, mumbled that he didn’t mind what he was paid. “We shall start you on three pounds a week,” stated Mr Stoner. “Mind you give us value for the money—” His phone rang and he told the boy to run along. Napper managed to walk calmly out of the room but, when he’d closed the door, he went down the corridor doing handsprings. He got outside to find that the coach had been drawn away from Mr Tasker’s car which resembled a concertina. For the moment nobody was about. Napper was walking by the coach when he gave a sniff. He could smell burning rubber. Then he saw a faint drift of smoke issuing from the coach’s luggage compartment He yelled an alarm, turned the handle of the compartment and staggered back as the acrid smoke gushed into his face. He snatched a deep breath and plunged into the smoke. Flames started to lick up. Billy Bindle came haring out of the grandstand. “The kit!” he shouted. “Get an extinguisher—” Out of the smoke and flames pitched the hamper. Out of the hissing acrid cloud flew the two bulky kitbags in which the players’ football boots were packed. Napper appeared like a wrath in the smoke, staggered and fell gasping in the trainer’s arms. Dan Samson and other players rushed out with extinguishers and smothered the flames in foam. By the time the fire was put out the luggage compartment was gutted and the back of the coach badly damaged. There was no doubt that the outburst had been caused by the collision with Mr Tasker’s car, possibly by damage to the wiring of the rear lamps, which had created a short circuit. Dan stood back with a dribbling extinguisher. “That lad had a good nerve,” he exclaimed. “Ay, he deserves a medal,” said Willie West. “I wouldn’t have fancied playing at Wembley in a new pair of boots.”


Storky legged it from the corporation bus into Castle Park that evening. The Scarlets, in their dazzling jerseys, were shooting-in at one of the goals. The Rovers, in their faded shirts, were down at the other end. “Lummy, I nearly didn’t make it,” he panted. “Trevor Hall wasn’t ‘arf in a mess.”

“Lummy, I nearly didn’t make it,” he panted. “Trevor Hall wasn’t ‘arf in a mess.” “D’you mean Harry Hall’s brother?” exclaimed Horace Knibbs, the Rover’s secretary, goalie and captain. “Naw, I’m talking about a railway engine, one of the Hall class,” growled Storky. “Where’s our Napper?” “We’ve heard he’s in hospital,” wailed Horace. “He’s been burned to death or nearly.” Storky suddenly grinned. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a corpse riding a bike,” he chortled. Napper dropped off his bike and ran across the goal. He was in his football togs, but his hands, arms, and head were swathed in bandages. “Are you fit to play?” gasped Horace. “I haven’t come to watch,” retorted Napper. “What about your burns?” Horace asked. “They’re not too bad,” said Napper. “I’ll manage.” The referee blew his whistle and Horace went to toss up. Two or three hundred people had turned up to see the vital match and the League Shield was on view on the veranda of the pavilion.

The line-up was:—

Scarlets—Wickham; Marbell, Newton; Sanders, Cawdor, Hitching; Olton, Cairns, Kirby, Bostock, Wick.

Rovers—Horace; Les Lee, Barney Moore; Syd Smith, Bert Poole, Tadpole Thomas; Storky, Napper, Sandy Shaw, Dan Davis, Bodger Bird.

Napper could feel his hands stinging, and there was still a tightness in his chest from the fumes he had inhaled. It didn’t show when he promptly made a dash. He screwed the ball out to Storky who toed it high over the goal. “Sorry,” muttered Storky. “Ain’t got my sights yet.” The Scarlets were cheered on by their supporters. Brad Bales had turned up in the hope of seeing the Rovers licked, and added his voice. The danger man was Will Wick, the outside-left, who had a rare turn of speed. He ran away from Syd Smith, dodged Les Lee and centred. Horace jumped out to punch the ball and missed it altogether. Cliff Cairns had the open goal to aim at—and shot wide. “Whew,” gasped Napper. “What was Horace thinking about?” The Scarlets had a let-off just afterwards, when Sandy was prese4nted with almost as good a chance, but toed the ball over the cross-bar. After this rather wild opening, with big-game nerves probably the cause, the teams settled down. A shout of “Napper, ahoy,” announced that Grandpa had arrived. Storky whacked the ball to Napper who swerved round Hitching. Newton, the left-back was no Numb Ned, and bustled him off the ball. He kicked to Wick who banged the ball into the middle. Cliff Cairns made amends for his previous miss by heading into the net. The goal was witnessed by Mr Tasker, who had just reached the park in a taxi. Weeks previously he had agreed to present the shield to the champions. It looked bad for the Rovers when the Scarlets attacked again. Bostock shouldered Les Lee out of his way and fired in a tremendous shot. Horace stuck his knee out and the ball cannoned off it. Napper, who’d been chasing back, jumped in and kicked away to the left. Bodger Bird, the heavyweight winger, just kept the ball in and started to gallop. He toed the ball into the middle and Sandy put in a rather weak shot. Wickham gathered the ball and kicked away. Napper, in spite of the bandaged forehead, jumped and headed the ball high, followed up and headed again, this time to the wing. Storky ran the ball on with his shins and suddenly, from outside the penalty-area, had a biff. The ball went into the net so fast that the goalkeeper was still looking down the field after it had passed him. “Goal!” yelled Napper, in case the referee hadn’t noticed. It was all right! He had! “Good old Storky,” chortled Napper. There was no more scoring that half. But on the restart, the Scarlets put in a series of determined raids. Mr Tasker applauded. He did not want to present the shield to the Rovers. “Here’s a goal,” he exclaimed, as Horace, during a particularly hectic Scarlets raid, tripped and sprawled in the goalmouth. Cairns lobbed the ball at the empty goal. Up sprang a racing figure, the figure of Napper. His jump carried him high, and he headed away from under the crossbar. The Scarlets yelled for a goal but the referee turned down their appeals. “Now then, Rovers, buck your ideas up,” bellowed Grandpa. It was ding-dong football with nothing spared. Napper’s hands kept nagging. When the ball accidentally hit one, he felt as if he’d had the cane. The referee gave a free-kick. Hitching toed the ball into the goal area. Horace’s spectacles slipped down his nose at the vital moment and into the net skipped the ball. The ball was centred. Sandy rolled it to Napper. He turned as if he were going to pass back to Syd Smith. Then he back-heeled through the approaching forwards. Storky, who was ready for the dodge, was racing across. He got the ball and sped away. There was a rush of Scarlets towards him for they remembered his blistering shot. Storky checked himself and put the ball to the left. Bodger Bird was on his own. He ran it on and then toed it into the net. 2-2. Grandpa threw his cap in the air and rolled his sleeves up again, Napper exclaimed. “Let’s get another.” The Scarlets went raiding. Cairns shot. Horace saved the day by stopping the ball with his chest. Les Lee managed to clear. He tapped the ball to Napper who tore off, swerving away from Hitching. As he raced over the half-way line, he was challenged by Newton. He feinted to go left and then dashed by on the right. He ran on into the penalty area, shot and the ball passed Wickham’s frantic hands and made the net jump. “Goal!” yelled Napper. It was the winner. Two minutes later the whistle went for time. The Rovers had brought off the “double.” Both the Minor Cup and the League Shield would soon be displayed in the window of Horace’s mother’s shop. Mr Tasker looked as pleased as a shark that had found a hook in a piece of pork, but a reporter had turned up so he had to praise the Rovers in his presentation speech. Horace was carrying the shield away, when Napper had a tap on the shoulder. It was delivered by Miss Harper’s umbrella. “I have an important message for you, young man,” she said. “It comes from Mr Stoner. You are to join the United on Saturday morning and go with them to Wembley—” Napper nearly fell over backwards. “Oh,” was all he managed to gasp. Brad, who was listening, gibbered with envy. “I haven’t finished yet,” exclaimed Miss Harper. “You are to take your football boots. Mr Stoner thinks he can get you on to the field as one of the ball boys.”


 In the glory of Wembley, with the flags flying and the vast crowd cheering. Napper ran to fetch the ball. With a neat kick, he returned it to the field for the Branston Wanderers goalkeeper to take a goal-kick. Napper’s burns had responded to treatment and he had the bandages removed. It was the greatest day of Napper’s life. It all seemed like a dream. He’d had lunch with the team and travelled with them to the stadium. He’d been in the dressing-room, he’d listened to the community singing and to the music of the Guards. He’d witnessed the Royal presentation ceremony. Then, just before the interval, the sun seemed to go dim as Dan Samson was beaten all ends up by a crashing shot from the Wanderers dashing centre-forward, Turnhouse. In the second-half the United’s attacked hard without being able to penetrate the Wanderers defence in depth. It did not seem to be United’s day when Willie West hit the cross-bar. From the rebound the ball was cleared. Napper watched tensely as the Wanderers worked it down the field. “Gosh, if they score again now we’ll be licked,” he muttered desperately. He held his breath as the ball was flicked to Turnhouse. The supporters of the Wanderers uttered a tremendous roar. It looked as if the centre-forward must score, as he raced down on the goal. Dan Samson started to go out of goal to narrow the angle. The thwack of boot on ball as Turnhouse shot was heard all over the ground. Napper saw the ball streak just wide of the post. He jumped and put his head to it. The force of the impact knocked him over but, from his head, the ball flew into Samson’s hands. He dabbed it down on the line and, without taking a run, kicked to Harland. The right-half flashed the ball ahead to Willie West and the inside-right was closing in on the Branston goal before Napper had picked himself up. Wham! Willie shot and then a terrific din broke out as the ball flashed into the net. Dan turned and beamed on Napper. “That was your goal,” he boomed. “You were so quick that we caught ‘em bending.” Napper grinned delightedly and rubbed his head. Gosh, the shot had been a stinger. Still, under the circumstances, he wouldn’t have worried if he had a headache for a week. The goal put the United right back in the game and just on time Willie completed a flashing passing movement with the goal that won the cup. Napper watched, spellbound, as the players went up to receive the Cup and their medals. He was still standing there when they came down again to get their photographs taken with the Cup. It was Dan Samson who broke Napper’s reverie. “Where’s Napper?” the goalie asked. “He deserves to hold the Cup. It was his header that helped us to score.” Napper was grabbed by the joyful United players. He was hoisted on their shoulders and, with the Cup in his hand and to the roars of the spectators, he was carried into the dressing-room. Napper was the happiest lad on earth. He’d had a tough time for many months, but now he felt on top of the world. It just showed that if a chap stuck things out and did his best, he got his reward in the end.


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007