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This episode taken from The Rover No. 1280 – January 7TH 1950.

Too Much Training.

Arnold Tabbs, Kingsbury Rovers’ left-half, strolled into my office a couple of days before the third round of the Football Association Cup, writes Nick Smith, the international inside-left, in another story of the season in which he was player-manager of the Third Division club, Kingsbury Rovers. Though I was boss, you know what pals we were, and I was glad to see him. The phone rang just as he came in – it was the motor-coach firm confirming arrangements for Saturday – and Arnold picked up my newspaper. “It’s taken for granted, isn’t it?” he said, after a look at the sports page. I knew what he meant. Everybody took it for granted that Ramboro’ would knock Kingsbury Rovers out of the cup. “Listen to what Howard Horton has to say,” exclaimed Arnold, and started to read the article by that well-known and well-informed football critic. “This could well be the Boro’s year for the cup. They have certainly been favoured by the luck of the draw. In spite of the presence of Nick Smith and Arnold Tabbs in the team, Kingsbury Rovers are unlikely to create a surprise. Ramboro’ are not the type of team to fall victim to giant-killers.” Horton was expressing the general view, and it would have taken a bold man to have held any other. We were second from the top in our section of the league. The Ramboro’ team had gone to the top of the First Division as the result of four successive wins in their Christmas and New Year matches. Arnold tossed the paper down. “Well, I’ll get into my strip,” he said. “More passing practice for us, I suppose?” “Yes, we’ll have another basinful,” I replied. “The chaps have stuck it well.” I told you last week how I was going in for intensive practice in passing. This had been kept up throughout the present week – and I had even fetched the players to the ground on Monday. “I haven’t heard many grumbles,” remarked Arnold. “You’ve kept it interesting.” I was putting my correspondence away in a drawer, so that I could go out and join the players, when I received another phone call. The speaker was Sir Henry Tuxford, head of the Kingsbury Atomic Research Station, whose hobby was the study of football. I was hoping to get him on the Board of Directors, but the three present members were against this. “Could you get me another ticket?” asked Sir Henry. “An American colleague, Dr Hiram Dyke, is staying with me and I’d like him to see one of our cup ties. Fortunately I still had a few tickets left, so I was able to give the right answer. “I hope your atomic pile won’t erupt while you are away watching a football match, I joked.” Sir Henry chuckled. “I think we have it well under control,” he said. The conversation had held me up, and the players were going out when I hurried to the dressing room to change. Arnold called out that he would get things going. I have told you how we started the practice by banging balls round a circle. We had gone a stage further from that. Five players were now lined up at one end of the pitch, and five at the other. Each winger of these five had a ball at his feet. Stumpy Ellis, the trainer, blew a whistle, and each line started to move at speed. The balls came in from the wings and out again. When the lines of players passed each other in mid-field, the passes were still kept going. It was striking to see how a player like Bull Ketley, the centre-forward, had improved during the ten days or so that we had been practicing. I joined one of the lines and we kept the passing going in short sharp bursts for the best part of half an hour. Then we split up for individual practice. In mid-morning we had a break and then carried on until after half-past twelve. I told the lads to be back at two sharp. “More ball practice?” asked Harry Harper, the left-back. “Yes more ball practice,” I said. “Well I think it’s worth it,” he replied. “It’s been monotonous at times, but we’re a hundred time more accurate than we were.” When the players came out after dinner, all three directors had turned up – George Brace, Dan Dodd, and Syd Cassey. “Still at it?” Brace asked. “Till to-morrow night,” I said. “We’ll start with the circle lads.” With a dozen balls or so to kick around, we formed a circle on the pitch. Stumpy’s whistle started us off. I passed ahead to Arnold and turned to take the next ball from Slim Gerrity. It came nowhere near me. Our inside-right put it a couple of yards wide. Another ball came to him. He tried another pass. He was wide again. I caught a glimpse of Arnold. His passes had been accurate all the week. Now the ball he tried to send on to Bull flew off his toe on to the cinder track. When I looked on round the circle I saw that more passes were missing than were finding their man. Pete Mareen put a ball in the stand. A ball whizzed just past my left ear. “Sorry,” Slim called out. “I meant to keep it low.” Syd Cassey sniffed loudly. “I don’t call this smart,” he said. I snapped my fingers and Stumpy threw me his whistle. I blew a long blast. “Right boys, we’ve finished,” I exclaimed. “No more training. You can have Friday off.” Brace waddled forward. His double chin shook. “Are you dropping training a whole day before a cup-tie?” he demanded. “They’ve had enough,” I said. “That’s what’s wrong. If we carry on, it might make matters worse.” Cassey shrugged. “We don’t stand a chance at Ramboro’, anyway,” he pronounced. “We’ll bring back a couple of thousand quid,” said Dodd, who was more interested in cash than football. “It will be a day out,” grunted Brace. Those remarks just about represented their individual outlooks. There was not a man on the Board with whom I could talk over a problem. Was it surprising that I would have given a lot to have Sir Henry as a director?

The Rovers v. Ramboro’.

We were in Ramboro’, a big industrial city, by midday on Saturday, and had lunch at a hotel. The ground was not far away. While the others were taken along in the coach. Arnold and I decided to walk. I think we both liked mingling with the crowd. We were old cup-tie warriors, and we liked the atmosphere of it all. We worked through the crush to the grandstand. I heard my name called and turned to see Sir Henry Tuxford approach with his visitor, Dr Hiram Dyke. “Are you going to surprise the football world to-day?” Sir Henry asked. “We suddenly went stale,” I said. “On Thursday afternoon everything went cock-eyed. I stopped all training immediately.” “I think you were wise,” Sir Henry declared. I was glad to have Sir Henry’s support, but the truth was of course, that the sudden breakdown had worried me a lot. Ramboro’ had five internationals out that afternoon. Harrington, the centre-half, Mansell, the right-half, Llewellyn, the outside-right, and the left-wing pair, Moloney and Imrie had all been “capped” within the last season or so. I discovered that some of my lads were looking round the huge dressing-room with wondering eyes. The impressiveness of the place, with its lavish equipment, seemed to overawe them. I saw Slim Gerrity turn back and wipe his shoes on the mat. The white coated attendant asked Stumpy for our togs so that he could put them in the airing rack. Gil Booth, the Boro’ manager came in to shake hands and to see if we had everything we wanted. I had a glance at a programme. The teams as printed were:- Ramboro’ – Harlock; Willoughby; Syston; Mansell; Harrington; Russell; Liewellyn, Searle, Hopton, Moloney, Imrie. Kingsbury Rovers – English; Anvil, Harper; Foley, Boland, Tabbs; Brind, Gerrity, Ketley, Smith, Mareen. The togs were nice and warm when we put them on. A moment or two later the bell rang and I picked up the ball., “Whatever happens, no wild kicking,” was the extent of my pep talk. “The ball can move faster than we can run, so let it do the work.” We were the first out into the great arena. There were Kingsbury people in the crowd, plenty of them, but they made little noise. I think that, like Brace, they regarded it as a day out. Harrington led out the Boro’, and the cheers were loud. They were magnificently turned out. Their shirts had blue colours that rose high at the back; their stockings were white with blue tops. They looked powerful and self assured. They had the poise that matched their reputation. There was a brief pause while they formed a group to be photographed. We were not asked to pose. While we went on shooting in, Bull skied the ball halfway up the bank. I won the toss and the Boro’ lined up facing a wild breeze. There was a hush, and then before 65,000 spectators the whistle put the Boro’ in action. Searle put the ball back to Russell. The left-back came along till Gerrity was on to him, and then glided the ball ahead of Imrie. The fast left-winger beat Arthur Anvil and smashed the ball across the goalmouth. Hopton got his head to it, nodding the ball down. Joe English made no vain attempt to reach the ball; he would have needed a fishing rod to touch it. It skipped into a corner of the net and so, within twenty seconds, we were a goal down. The crowd roared, but the Ramboro’ players hardly bothered to compliment one another. I suppose they thought it was too easy. Arnold rubbed the back of his hand across his nose. “That was a bit sudden,” he said. The dozen photographers clustered round our goal lowered their cameras. At the other end one solitary fellow was sitting with his camera on his knees. The ball was put on the centre spot. At the whistle Bull rolled it on to me. I side-stepped and went past Moloney. I ran, and put the ball to Pete Mareen. He had Willoughby looming ahead, so turned and pushed the ball back to Arnold. From Arnold’s foot it flashed square to Foley. Our right-half sent it speeding to Bull. Bull shoved it to the right, and Slim crashed it into the back of the net, from outside the penalty area. The game had not yet been going for a full minute. The silence was profound for a moment. Then the din was confused. Our Kingsbury people were cheering. The home fans chattered like a million magpies. We had equalized, but it was affront to the dignity of the Boro’ that they meant to wipe out. An attack swiftly developed and Imrie was on the move. He let the ball run a trifle too far. Then I had the surprise of my life. Arthur Anvil passed across the goalmouth, passed in the face of the advancing forwards, spot-on to Harper. Harper whipped the ball upfield to Arnold Tabbs. This time Arnold put it to Gerrity. Out it went to Brind, and flashed back inside. Gerrity turned the ball back to Foley. He cracked it to me. All this happened so fast that there was not a man near me. I raced in, and as Harlock came out lobbed the ball over him for a simple goal. The Boro’ were shocked. You could see it in their faces. They hadn’t given away more than one goal in a match since the beginning of December. We had come up from nowhere and bagged a pair. Weaving through us they took the ball along, took it along till Searle tried to beat Arnold. Our left-half shouldered him fairly off the ball, and sent him down on to the seat of his freshly-laundered pants. Arnold’s pass to the wing was just right for Pete Mareen to take as he ran. He was travelling fast, and he raced round Willoughby and parted with the ball. It came to me. I flicked it into the middle. Bull came pounding up in a manner worthy of his nickname. Anything could happen now. I held my breath. Bull hit the ball with every ounce in his burly frame. The net bulged, and the ball went spinning along the top. That was out third goal. That time we really heard our supporters. They came to life and yelled and whistled. The home crowd seemed slightly dazed. It was perhaps the emotion of the moment that caused Moloney to foul Fred Foley. Our right-half took the kick. He sent the ball to Bull whose back was naturally turned to the goal. Our centre-forward shoved the ball to Gerrity, standing back. Gerrity slipped it instantly to the wing. In came Brind, and sent in a cross shot that was a goal all the way. Four-one. Arnold gave me a toothy grin. “It’s more like magic than football,” he said. “Who is it that’s top of the First Division – us or them? And who is the struggling Third Division team? Surely not us! I hope we shan’t wake up in a minute,” I replied.

Second-Half Fireworks.

We held that lead up to half-time, and we held it easily. Then we were out for the restart and almost at once seven of us shared in a passing movement started when Joe English tossed the ball out to Harper. I was unmarked when the ball reached me. Mareen was slightly better placed, so I pushed a ground pass to him, and he crashed the ball home. With forty minutes still to go it was apparent that only a miracle could save the Boro’. The Boro’ became so rattled that after six of us had brought the ball through, Gerrity had his own jersey clutched from behind by Mansell. It was a penalty. Gerrity took the kick, and that was our sixth goal. The seventh was one of Bull’s specials. He chased the ball nearly to the goal line, and screwed it in from what the newspapers would inevitably describe as “an impossible angle.” Still it went on. We could do nothing wrong. We had the ball working for us all the time. Our most intricate movements came off. I scored our eighth goal from a header, and five minutes from time Arnold, lying well up, took a crack at the goal and found the net. That was the result – 9-1. When the referee ended the game, Harrington, the Boro captain came up to me and shook hands. “I’ve played in top-class football for ten years, but I’ve never seen such a display,” he said. “There isn’t a team in the world that could have stopped you.” Our supporters were pouring over the barriers. For the first time they were really on our side. Hitherto we had been looked upon as a lucky team, a team in a false position. Our win made nonsense of that sort of talk. We had run to dodge the back-slapping. I remember how Slim Gerrity stood in the middle of the dressing-room muttering “What came over us?” Cassey came in burbling, and also conveyed the news that Brace was so excited he felt ill. Dodd burst in and declared that he hoped we were drawn against another big team, so that we should pick up thousands more pounds. I had had my bath, and was half-dressed when the attendant asked if Mr Howard Horton might come in to see me. I agreed readily enough, and the football writer was admitted. He congratulated me on our game. “I was a dismally bad prophet, like everyone else,” he said, “but in forty years I’ve never seen anything like it.” “We surprised ourselves,” I admitted. He looked into the hat he carried in his hand, and then at me. “You have the atomic research station at Kingsbury haven’t you?” he asked. “Yes, it’s only a couple of miles or so from the ground as the crow flies,” I said. Sir Henry Tuxford is one of our keenest supporters.” “Is he here?” asked Horton. “I’d like a talk with him.”

The Atomic Theory.

I had some hint of what was working up, but on Monday I had a surprise. When the newspaper came through the door I turned at once to the back page to find Horton’s report on the game. To my amazement it wasn’t there. When I turned to the front page I found out why. It had been made the main news of the day. The headline printed right across the top of the page was: - “Was Atomic Energy Behind Amazing Cup-Tie Win?” “Is this a gag?” I muttered and started to read: - “Was the astonishing 9-1 defeat of Ramboro’ by Kingsbury Rovers due to atomic influence? Football has never known such an amazing victory. The Rovers exhibited speed, craft and precision of such bewildering perfection that their win is to-day the subject of serious discussion by scientists. “The new atomic research station is within three miles of the ground, and within recent weeks the new atomic pile has been put into operation. Is it by some force generated by the atomic pile that is responsible for the display put up by Nick Smith and his players? “In an interview Sir Henry Tuxford, chief of the establishment, admitted that this might be so. “‘The study of radio-active substances is still in its infancy,’ he said. ‘We are dealing with forces about which there is a great deal to be learned. We know that harmful effects may arise from the use of atomic piles, and against these we take precautions. But it may be possible that there are beneficial effects, and that radiations, of which at the moment we know next to nothing, are, so to speak, escaping from the atomic pile and influencing people who live in the vicinity.” “Sir Henry emphasised that this was surmise. But he admitted the possibility.” There was a lot more about it, but these were the main points. It was on Thursday of that week that the following speech made by Mr Goss-Harris, President of the Kingsbury Chamber of Commerce, was printed in the papers:- “From enquiries I have made and figures obtained this week, there is evidence that radiations from the atomic pile is influencing not only footballers, but also industrial workers in the town. ‘The managing director of the Kingsbury Weaving Company informs me that on the first three days of this week production had risen by twenty-three per cent, over the corresponding days of last week. ‘A coal ship was unloaded in seven hours at the gas works wharf as compared with the average of ten hours.

Goals Galore.

I have given you only two newspaper extracts, but believe me, I could have quoted scores. Scientists all over the country were getting hot under their collars about the subject. Meanwhile the draw for the fourth round of the cup had been made. We had a home game. Our opponents were to be Wroxford Albion, the Second Division team with a long tradition as cup fighters. But before that match came along we had two league games to play. Our Saturday’s League match was with Penstone, who lay two places below us in the table. The first thing that struck me was that I was getting astonishing demand for press tickets. On the Saturday afternoon the turnstiles worked so fast it was a wonder they did not get red-hot. Half an Hour before the kick-off we knew the gate record had been broken. Dodd paid a call on me in the dressing room just before we went out. I had never seen him so worked up. “We’ve had to close some of the gates, Nick,” he said. “Lummy, what a crowd! D’you know that when Penstone came here last season we only had seven thousand spectators.” “You can thank Sir Henry Tuxford and his atomic pile,” I said, spotting an opening. “I put it to you, Mr Dodd – don’t you think it would be a good idea now to have him on the Board? He’s known all over the country. He would give us a lot of prestige.” “We could do worse than that,” he said. I need not go into details about the game. For the first quarter of an hour there was not much in it. Penstone, a bustling side, had as much of the ball as we did. Givens, their centre-forward then put in a stinging shot that would have beaten most goalkeepers. Joe English leapt to the side, and caught the ball cleanly. He bounced it, caught it again, and ran. From the edge of the penalty-box he bowled it along the ground to Foley. The right-half square-passed to Arnold, who switched the direction of the attack again by a long lob to Brind. The winger beat the back and let Gerrity have the ball. Gerrity in turn gave it to me. I had a clear shot, and I couldn’t miss. That set the crowd roaring. We touched the form that had licked Ramboro, and pluckily as they fought Penstone did not have a chance. We won the game 9-0. When the other results came through we discovered that we were at the top of the Third Division. I was in the Board-room with the directors when we worked this out. They were all keyed up with excitement. “It’s that atomic pile that’s done it,” Brace exclaimed. “I’m sure of it,” said Cassey. “There’s no other explanation.” I caught Dodd’s eye. He took the hint. “I reckon we ought to have Sir Henry Tuxford on the board with us,” he said. A fortnight previously Brace and Cassey would have fought the idea tooth and nail, for if there had had to be an extra director they would have wanted one of their business friends. The astonishing events I have described swung them round completely. “Ay, let’s make him a director,” Brace said. “We ought to have him with us.” “Grab him before somebody else gets hold of him,” urged Cassey. I took prompt steps to get the business settled. I had the atomic pile to thank for this. But I can promise you that the sensations were not finished.


It’s Goals that Count 27 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1119 - 1145 (1945 - 1946)

It’s Goals that Count 8 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1158 - 1165 (1947)

It’s Goals that Count 24 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1180 - 1203 (1947 - 1948)

Football is my Job 24 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1218 - 1241 (1948)       

Nick Smith’s Ragged Rovers 5 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1260 - 1264 (1949)

Nick Smith’s Rovers 1 episode appeared in The Rover issues 1265 (1949)

Nick Smith Builds a Team 20 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1266 - 1285 (1949 - 1950)

It’s Goals that Count 10 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1286 - 1295 (1950)

It’s Teamwork that Count 6 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1316 - 1321 (1950)

It’s Teamwork that Count 10 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1341 - 1350 (1951)

It’s Goals that Count 15 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1365 - 1379 (1951)

It’s Goals that Count 14 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1390 - 1403 (1952)

All Over the World It’s Goals that Count 15 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1677 - 1691 (1957)

The above list has not included the various repeats.

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2004