BRITISH COMICS

(Hotspur Homepage)

NINETY-MINUTE NAPPER

First episode taken from The Hotspur issue: 930 September 4th 1954

STONER SHOCKS

Napper Todd, a growing lad of sixteen, finished his tea. A faint aroma of kippers hung in the air. It was an evening in August.

 

“Let’s hurry and do the washing up,” he said urgently. Grandpa Todd chuckled gruffly. “I’ll wash up,” he said. “Go and have your game of football.” “How did you guess what I was going to do?” exclaimed Napper. “I didn’t have to do any guessing,” said Grandpa. “You haven’t eaten you tea so quickly since April.” Napper grinned. “It’s only a kick about with the lads,” he said. “Ain’t you finished with the Rovers?” asked Grandpa. “I shall keep an eye on ‘em,” answered Napper on his way out. Napper stayed with his Grandpa, a former tug-boat engineer, in the ground floor of a house in Hill Terrace, which provided a view of the estuary at Riverport. His father, a ship’s engineer, had been killed in an explosion at sea. Uncle Herbert, a debt collector, and Aunt Cora, had the upstairs rooms in the house. If anybody had accused Napper of being football daft he could not have denied it. Now he’d reached a stage when his great ambition of being signed on as a junior professional by Riverport United, the town’s First Division club, was likely to be fulfilled. Napper was boot boy at the club, and during the summer, had made himself useful both on the ground and in the office. He would soon be seventeen, and then he was sure that Mr William Stoner, the manager, would sign him on. The United ran four teams, the league side, the Central league side, the A team, which played in the County Combination, and the Athletic, which appeared in the Eastshire Junior League, and which consisted of amateurs, lads who were likely to make the grade. Without flattering himself, for trainer Billy Bindle had told him the same, Napper felt pretty sure of his place as inside-right in the A team. Napper left the house by the back door and decided his cycle’s front tyre needed a spot of air. He was doing some vigorous pumping when an upstairs window opened. Uncle Herbert poked his head out. “I heard a bit of gossip in the town, Napper,” he said in his whining voice. “Is it true that Mr Stoner has left the United?” Napper chuckled. “He was there half an hour ago telling the groundsman what he wanted done,” he answered. Uncle Herbert sniffed. “It just shows you can’t always believe what you’re told,” he said. Aunt Cora appeared at the window. She had a beaky nose and lips like razor blades. “How much did the sweep charge for doing your chimney?” she asked. “I think it was six and six,” said Napper. “Six and six,” snapped Aunt Cora. “And you let him take the soot away as well! I won’t pay such an outrageous charge! Herbert, you’ll have to borrow some brushes and sweep our chimney!” Napper left ‘em to it, and rode on the pedal to the back gate. Then he headed for the flats, a piece of made-up ground on the waterfront where there were numerous football pitches. The view up the river had altered during the summer with the completion of a big new factory for the Werner Engineering Company, the manager Mr Falke Werner, had displayed a great enthusiasm for football and had been elected as chairman of the United in succession to old Alderman Hogan. There had been a lot of criticism in Riverport about a stranger coming into the town and getting on to the board of directors straightaway, but it appeared that Falke Werner and one or two associates had contrived to buy the majority of the shares. It wasn’t a matter which had interested Napper greatly, for he always looked on William Stoner as the boss. Stoner was a dour, reserved man, but he knew football inside out. Under his management the United had won the cup and then the Championship. Napper soon arrived on the flats. He was going to have a game with his old team, South End Rovers. The lads all understood that he’d be playing in a higher grade of football this season. But Napper had helped them to league and cup success in the previous season. Their numbers had increased and Bert Poole had been elected captain. On a bench sprawled a gawky lad in a British Railways cap and overalls. “Hiya, Storky,” whooped Napper. “Hiya, Napper,” yawned Storky Stookey, who was a fireman on the railway and played outside-right for the Rovers—though his promising play had been noted by Mr Stoner. “Why are you stretched out there?” taunted Napper. “I’m tired,” said Storky. “Come off it,” growled Napper and rolled him on to the ground. Tosh Tooth came striding along. He worked on the United’s ground staff and was also in Mr Stoner’s notebook as a goalkeeper to be remembered. “Hiya, Tooth Tosh,” said Storky from the ground. “I thought your game was rugger?” “It is, but I’m going to play soccer,” replied Tosh. The other Rovers arrived in a crowd, and Horace Knibbs, the secretary, brought the old ball. “Come on, Bert, let’s get organised,” whooped Napper. “Remember the Hungarians and what we’re going to do to ‘em in a few years.” Two teams were arranged and from the kick-off Napper, who hadn’t let off training during the summer, ran through the opposition and scored a goal. A minute later, from a rasping centre by Storky, Napper headed another goal. It was his skill with his head that had earned him his nickname. By this time youths and boys were playing on nearly all the pitches. There was a surprise when a Rolls-Royce, driven by a chauffer, turned off the roadway and stopped on the flats. From a small shabby car that pulled up in the road, a photographer got out. The man who was sitting by the chauffer got out. Napper recognised him as Falke Werner, as he’d seen him once or twice at the ground. With an affable look on his florid face, Werner opened the rear door of the Rolls and at least twenty new footballs bounced out. Werner was a man under forty with one hard chin and one soft underneath it! He was swiftly surrounded by a crowd of boys. “I’m all for encouraging football,” he said breezily. “There’s a new ball here for every team which plays on the flats!” Cheers burst from the lads. The photographer was busy as Werner distributed the footballs. The Rovers shoved Bert Poole into the queue and he duly received a ball. “Gee, it’s one of the best makes,” he chirped when he brought it to show his team mates. “You’ve got a good boss, Napper.” “I blew the balls up,” chuckled Napper, “but I never guessed what they were for.” Somebody called for. “Three cheers for Mr Werner,” and the response was terrific. “It’s given me a lot of pleasure to present the footballs,” Werner said when the cheering subsided. “I’m the chairman of the United now, and I can tell you that you’ll be watched and that any lad who looks worth a trial will get it.” This remark was greeted with more applause, for Werner spoke in a convincing way and made the youngsters feel that the eye of the United would be upon them whenever they played in the future. The Rolls-Royce glided away and the games resumed. Napper scored five more goals in the first half. Then he was shifted to the other side and managed to equalize the scoring before dusk. From the flats, Napper biked into town, heading for the office of the “Riverport Morning Post.” Each night he acted as a runner for the reporters and sometimes did some telephoning. The cash he picked up was more than useful, but he expected that when he became a professional footballer he would have to give it up. Napper used the side entrance and went bounding up the steps to the corridor from which the editorial offices opened out. In the reporters’ room the walls within reach of each telephone were covered in penciled phone numbers, shortened notes, and general doodling. Dave Jennings, the chief reporter, had one pipe in his mouth and three or four more within reach. Extra half-crowns often came Napper’s way for bringing in news items. “Have you heard about Mr Werner giving away footballs?” he asked. “I saw a photographer was there.” “Yes, we know,” grunted Jennings. “His secretary rang us up and gave us the tip.” Arthur Aston, the other runner, came in and poked Napper in the back. “That’s half a crown you don’t get,” he chirped. “Mr Jennings, the river police have rescued a man whose boat turned over.” “We know that, too,” said Jennings. Napper grinned at Arthur’s scowl. “That’s half a crown you don’t get,” he chuckled. Hurrying footsteps on the stairs were heard. Into the room burst Harry Hammond, the football reporter. He was red and breathless. “It’s right, Dave,” he exclaimed. “I’ve just seen him.” “Where’s he going?” demanded the chief reporter. “To Manford,” said Hammond. “He’s going to manage the Arsenal.” A startled gasp broke from Napper. They could only be speaking about Mr Stoner. “Why is he moving?” asked Jennings. “I should have thought he would have stayed with the United for life.” “No, I saw it coming,” said the football reported. “I knew he’d never get on with Falke Werner.” “Then all I can say is the Arsenal have got the best manager in the country,” declared Jennings. “When’s he going?” “He walked out of the United ground tonight and he’s not going back,” said Hammond. “It’s a front-page story, Harry,” exclaimed Jennings. “You can let it rip.”

A NEW BROOM

Napper’s first job when he got to the ground in the morning was to go down to the boiler-room under the grandstand and stoke up. He’d taken on the task because the dressing-room attendant and odd job man was on the sick-list.

 

He opened the furnace and raked out the slag. The players would have baths when they finished their training session. Napper was far from getting over the shock of Stoner’s sensational resignation. It was the talk of the town since the news was published in the “Morning Post.” A man like Stoner could run a club for twenty years without leaving the imprint of his strong personality upon it, and it was doubtful if the photograph of Werner distributing footballs to youngsters on the Flats would reduce the widespread criticisms of his allowing the manager to leave the United. Napper got the shovel, stoked the furnace with coke, pulled the damper well out, and ran up the steps. He went to the boot room and was putting the players running shoes on the table when trainer Billy Bindle, looking far less cheery than usual, came in. “You won’t have much to do this morning, Napper,” he said. “You can train with the players.” “Gee, thanks,” exclaimed Napper. Then he blurted out. “What d’you think of Mr Stoner going?” “Least said, soonest mended,” muttered Bindle. “I hope you won’t be leaving, too,” Napper said. “We’ll see how things go,” rapped Bindle. “Take the shoes across to the dressing-room.” Half an hour later Napper was out on the pitch doing stretches and bends with the P.T. squad. The players were all flabbergasted by Stoner’s departure. As Nim Galt, the captain said. “He was a proper schoolmaster, but you knew where you were with him and he gave you a square deal.” Billy Bindle had just given the squad a stand easy, and some of them needed it, when Falke Werner strolled down the gangway and came out on to the pitch. He regarded the players affably. “Well, chaps, I suppose my ears ought to be burning for I expect I’ve been called some hard names this morning,” he said. “I’m sorry Bill Stoner’s gone. We didn’t see eye to eye over one or two things, but I was astonished when he tore up his contract. I’m not contemplating any drastic changes. Why should I? I’m talking to the champions. I want to see the United stay at the top of the ladder, so we’ll carry on the same good old way. Go on doing your best and we shall all be happy.” There was no doubt that Werner had made a favourable impression, though Willie West, the little inside-right, said he was too smooth-tongued for his liking. Events over the next few days went according to routine, with Billy Bindle in charge and Werner only occasionally glimpsed. On a Wednesday morning, when the players had knocked off, Napper took three or four balls out to the pitch. He wanted some shooting-in practice and Tosh was more than willing to co-operate. From the far side of the penalty-spot Napper cracked in a shot at which Tosh hurled himself but failed to touch. “Who d’you think you are, Cannonball Kidd?” inquired Tosh. “I wish I could shoot as hard,” said Napper at the mention of England’s centre-forward. “You’re coming on,” replied Tosh. Napper had just whanged another shot past his pal when out on to the pitch walked Billy Bindle in company with a stranger, a small plump man with small eyes like marbles, and a grin that seemed to be fixed on to his face. Bindle called the lads over and introduced them to Mr Arnold Bucke, the new manager, from the Second Division club, Wrenstone City. “Ha, ha, I like to see keenness,” chuckled Bucke. “I’m told that we have a smart lot of lads here, but I’m going to put you to the test! Ha, ha, you didn’t expect that, did you? I’d worked up a fine team of youngster with Wrenstone City, and I’ll arrange to get ‘em over here on Saturday. It will be a good chance for me to see my new material and to measure you up against the lads I’m having to leave behind, ha, ha.” The chuckling manager turned to Bindle. “I’ll have to ask you to pick the United side,” he said. “The average age should be sixteen-seventeen.” “Righto, leave it to me,” replied Bindle. Bucke strolled away to inspect the ground. Tosh stared at him. “How does he strike you?” he asked Napper. “I like his idea about the game,” Napper answered. “He seems to be keen on us lads.” “Yes, but think of him in Mr Stoner’s shoes,” growled Tosh. “It doesn’t seem right somehow.”

WHAT’S THE GAME?

Napper was stoking up on the Friday evening when Billy Bindle called to him down the cellar steps. “Shan’t be a sec,” Napper answered. He tossed in some more coke, shut the furnace door, and hurried to find out what the trainer wanted.

 

Bindle stood in the corridor with a piece of paper on which names had been penciled and some crossed out. “Napper, I’m short of an outside-right for tomorrow,” he exclaimed. “Ed Bates should have played but he’s got a bad cold.” He spoke of the promising winger who played for the Colts. “D’you think you can get hold of Storky? It’ll be a big chance for him.” “Gee, I’d like him to play,” said Napper excitedly. “I’ll contact him.” “Fine,” grunted Bindle. “I want to win this game. Mr Bucke seems to think that his former lads will make rings round us.” Napper wasn’t sure what Storky’s working hours were that day. He was in the Special Link at the Riverport loco depot and that meant that, with his driver, Mr Davis, he did not stay on the same job. They might do anything from working a meat train to going out with the pilot engine on an express. From the football ground Napper made straight for Storky’s home. Mrs Stookey, who probably had a lot to put up with from her son, but who remained cheerful, said he was knocking off at ten o’clock so far as she knew. Napper did a lot of running about for the newspaper during the evening, but managed to get Jennings’ permission to finish at a quarter to ten. He cycled to the station and waited outside the doorway in the wall at the back of the engine shed. The door opened. A portly driver, who looked as if he’d been caught in the rain, stepped out with his grub basket. “Is Storky about?” Napper inquired, recognising Mr Davis. The driver gave Napper a grim look. “Don’t talk to me about that gormless idiot,” he snarled and strode away. It was about half a minute later that the door opened an inch or two and Storky peered out. “Has Mr Davis gone?” he asked. “It’s all clear,” chirped Napper. “He seemed rather upset.” “How was I to know he was standing by the tender when I chucked the hose-pipe out?” demanded Storky. “I thought he looked damp,” chuckled Napper. “Pal, you’ve got a game of football on the United ground tomorrow.” Storky clapped a hand to his head and tottered. “Okey doke?” inquired Napper. “I’ll be there unless I pass away peacefully in the night,” said Storky. Napper set off for home. He had pedalled about half a mile when he suddenly remembered some thing. When Billy Bindle called to him he’d been in such a hurry he was sure he hadn’t closed the damper on the furnace. “I’ll have to go and shut it or the fire will blaze away and be out before the morning,” muttered Napper. He turned into a side street and pedalled towards the football stadium. The groundsman lived in the house next to the main entrance, and Napper expected he would have to call to get the key. When Napper approached the ground he was surprised to see that one of the gates was open. He free-wheeled through into the enclosure behind the grandstand. A light was on in the board room window and he saw that Werner’s Rolls-Royce was standing near the doorway. Napper nipped off his bike and parked it near the Rolls. “He’s here late,” he murmured, “but I dare say he’s been busy at the factory all day.” Napper tried the door and found it was fastened. “I can’t bother the chairman,” he decided. “I can get in all right.” He went round to the front of the grandstand, climbed over the barrier, went up about ten rows of seats, scaled the front of the press-box, and went down the stairs leading to the phone-room. He knew that the lock on the door was defective and was going to be replaced. Napper soon got the door open. He felt his way across the phone-room and let himself out into the main corridor in which a light was on. Down the cellar steps he felt his way. As he turned the corner he halted abruptly, stifling a gasp. The furnace door was open and its fiery glow lit up the face of the man who was ripping the pages out of a book and throwing them into the flames. The man was Falke Werner. He stuffed the cover of the book into the furnace and then shut the door. Before Napper could move. Werner flashed on a torch. Its dazzling beam zig-zagged across the floor and then lifted. A harsh shout of surprise broke from Werner. He held the torch steady after a momentary waver and strode towards Napper. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. “I—I forgot to close the damper, sir,” stammered Napper. “I thought I’d better come and shut it or all the pipes would be cold in the morning.” Werner hesitated. “I noticed the fire was blazing away when I came down to burn some old correspondence,” he said. “Close the damper!” He held the torch so that Napper could see the way across the cellar. The lad could not see that Werner was barely controlling his fury and that there was a threatening glitter in his eyes.

ROOF-TOP ANTICS

Napper had a piece of potato on his fork at the dinner-table on Saturday, but, at a thud from overhead, did not put it immediately in his mouth. “What’s going on upstairs?” he exclaimed. “Is Uncle Herbert doing the rumba?”

 

Grandpa chuckled. “Didn’t you know he’s borrowed a set of brushes and is sweeping their chimney?” he said. “Oh, he’s out to save a few bob, is he?” grinned Napper and ate the potato. “Ay, but it sounds as if he’s having a tug-of-war,” guffawed Grandpa. “Finish the potatoes, lad.” Napper shook his head. “I’m playing football,” he said. “It ought to be a good game,” remarked Grandpa. “I read a bit in the paper about it.” “They’re going to give the gate money to the F.A. Benevolent Fund,” said Napper. “Have you got a strong team?” Grandpa inquired. “It ought to be useful. It’s a mixture of A team and Athletic players,” answered Napper. “Then if you show up well you should be picked for the A team when the season starts,” said Grandpa. “That’s what I’m out for,” Napper exclaimed. A thump interrupted him. Then the door opened. Napper blinked and Grandpa gave a startled gasp at the sight of the sooty figure in the doorway. Uncle Herbert was only recognizable by the whites of his eyes. “Blow me down, have you been up the chimney?” exclaimed Grandpa. “It’s no laughing matter,” wailed Uncle Herbert. “I’ve pushed the brush out of the top of the chimney. Now the rod has come away and I can’t get it down.” “How on earth did you get into such a mess?” Grandpa roared. “I was having a look up the chimney when a piece of soot fell on m’ head,” spluttered Uncle Herbert. Aunt Cora, whose face was so spotted with black that she seemed to be wearing a veil, appeared behind her husband. “You never saw such a mess as the sitting room’s in,” she moaned. “Herbert kicked the sack over when he was trying to get the brush down.” “I’m wondering if Napper could crawl out of the attic skylight and pull the brush out of the chimney,” Uncle Herbert pleaded. “You be careful, Napper,” warned Grandpa. “Don’t take any risks.” “I’ll have a look,” said Napper. He ran up to the attic, stood on Grandpa’s old sea chest, and, after a struggle because the ratchet had rusted, pushed the skylight open. He had another laugh at the sight of the brush sticking out of the chimney. “Can you get it?” inquired Uncle Herbert, who had followed him up. Napper gave a nod. He put another box on top of the sea chest and when he stood on it was able to get his head and shoulders out at the side of the raised skylight. Then he raised himself nimbly on his hands and elbows and squirmed out on the roof. On hands and knees he made the ascent to the ridge and crawled along it towards the chimney. Grandpa and Aunt Cora watched from the backyard. When Napper reached the chimney he worked up into a standing position. He grasped the brush, gave a hard tug, and fetched it out. Napper crept back along the ridge and then began to wriggle down. He had to get to the side of the skylight since it opened upwards. A slate slipped and started him sliding. An instant afterwards there was a terrific crash as his legs went through the glass and smashed the frame. He caught his ribs against the edge and dropped with a thud on to the sea chest. Just missing the box which he had used for a step. Uncle Herbert gawped at Napper as he sprawled across the chest. “Ave you hurt yourself?” he asked.

A GREAT GAME

Billy Bindle shot a startled glance at Napper as he limped into the dressing-room an hour later. “Have you fallen off your bike?” he demanded.

 

Napper had a strip of plaster over his right eye. There was a scratch across his cheek. There was a bandage round his right wrist. His left thumb was tied up. Worse than these scratches was the ache in his ribs. He forced a grin. “I’m all right,” he said. “I only slipped through a skylight.” “I might be able to find a reserve,” exclaimed Bindle after further details of the mishap. “Eh? No fear,” gasped Napper. “It’s nothing! I’ll be O K.” Outside the spectators were pouring into the ground in large numbers than had been anticipated. Supporters of the United came along to talk over the sensational departure of Stoner and the initiation of the new regime. It could certainly be said for Arnold Bucke that, during his period of management, Wrenstone City had secured promotion from the Third Division. A programme had been printed and the teams appeared as follows:—

Riverport United Colts

Tosh Tooth; Danny Fuller (Captain), Reg Birtles; Nevil Prentice, Ray Moore, Stan Swinton; Storky Stookey, Napper Todd, Les Laker, Tim Thacker, Valentine Gomez.

Wrenstone City Colts

Browning; Clark, Tranter; O’Farrell, Bowcott (Captain), Harden; Twistle, Rae, Ollery, Robinson, Brickhill.

On the Riverport team, Danny Fuller, Ray Moore, and Stan Swinton were 17-year-old professionals. Val Gomez was the son of West Indian parents who had settled in the town. Nevil Prentice, the right-half, had recently left the High School, where he captained the XI. Falke Werner had genial smile for the people sitting near the directors’ box. He insisted that the chairman of the supporters’ club should come and sit next to him. Arnold Bucke appeared on the pitch with the teams, smiling broadly as usual, and offering no objections when the photographers asked him to pose for them. Napper, now that he was wearing shorts, showed that he also had a bandage round his right knee. The moment Napper had been waiting for since May came when the referee gave a long blast on his whistle for the kick-off and Les Laker, a newcomer to Riverport, tapped the ball to him. Napper turned and passed the ball back to Nevil Prentice and ran forward in case the half-back let him have it again. When he ran he felt as if he had the stitch, but he did not slow down. Prentice lobbed the ball. Napper leapt to it and headed wingwards. Storky ran the ball along with his shins and then hooked it into the middle. Les Laker should have tried a first-time bang. He trapped the ball and the chance was lost as O’Farrell threw in a hard tackle. Something like five thousand spectators had turned up, and they saw some bright play. The Wrenstone Colts passed snappily. A mistake by Ray Moore let their centre-forward through. Napper caught his breath anxiously. Ollery, his mop of hair tossing about, blazed in a shot. Tosh made a pounce, smothered the ball, and kicked away. The Riverport Colts forced a corner after Val Gomez had raced along the left wing. From the flag-kick Napper nicked in a header. The goalie beat the ball out. Napper nipped on to it again. Harden, who could give him a stone, banged into him, and his elbow cracked on Napper’s ribs, in the sore spot. The referee did not twig the offence, and, rocked off the ball, Napper lost possession. All through the half Napper was on the move whenever the ball came his way, and he was always alert to position himself in an open space for a pass. It was just on half-time that Rae hit the crossbar with a hard drive. The ball reached Robinson on the rebound, and he shot past Tosh from close range. The second half soon became a thriller. With the crowd shouting for them, the Riverport Colts attacked persistently, but met a keen defence. Napper was having a tough game, for Harden kept throwing his weight at him. It was coming up to time when Napper chased the ball in midfield and beat Rae to it. He came along fast, although each step gave him a throb of pain. He showed the ball to Harden and then tricked him. He slicked a pass out to Storky, who cut in and lashed it back head high. Napper took off at full speed, rammed the ball with his head, and saw it hit the back of the net as he fell. “Goal!” he yelled jubilantly. The whistle went soon afterwards, and Napper limped off the field.

On Monday morning, whistling while he worked, Napper was in the boot room when Billy Bindle looked in. “Mr Bucke’s asking for you, Napper,” he said. “How are the cuts and bruises?” “Oh, I’m fine,” chirped Napper. “You certainly didn’t let them affect your game,” chuckled the trainer. Napper went cheerfully along to the office. Arnold Bucke sat behind his desk. “Close the door, Todd,” he said, and gave a cough. “Ah, ha, I am afraid you will be disappointed, but you will understand that we can’t keep a limitless number of boys on the staff.” The smile faded from Napper’s face. “I’m very sorry, but you will have to go,” said Bucke smugly. “Your standard of football doesn’t quite come up to my standard, and so there is no point in your staying on as ball boy. Ah, ha, I don’t believe in prolonging the agony, and so you can collect a week’s wages and leave today.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                      

 

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007