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First episode, taken from The Wizard issue: 1111 September 14th 1946.

Meet the mysterious men who play football as it has never been played before!


In the far corner of Burma, fifteen British soldiers were eating a scanty meal in a prison camp, watched by Japanese guards. A year ago these men had formed part of a small outpost in the lonely mountains near the frontier of India. Though this post had been far away from the main British position, it had been a very important point, one which should have been held at all costs.


But the few troops who had manned the post had been cunningly tricked by two men, who appeared to be British officers. These imposters gave orders that countermanded the original instructions to hold the position. As a result, the British troops were completely deceived, some of them killed, others got taken away into captivity, and the outpost was lost. The loss of this important position had a disastrous effect, for the main British force now had to retreat over the border into India, and for some time it looked as if the Japanese would be able to march through Calcutta. Fortunately the situation was saved by the heroic defence put up by British and Indians alike, but that did not remove the disgrace from the little body of prisoners in their far-off camp. They were all privates, with the exception of Sergeant Ferguson, and for a year they had been ill-treated and badly fed by their Japanese captors, yet their spirit had remained unbroken. A strange factor had helped those British soldiers to withstand the brutal treatment of the Japanese and maintain their morale. It was the fact that, among the kit carried off by the Japs with their prisoners, there were several footballs. Day after day, for hours at a time, the prisoners had played football. It gave them an opportunity for exercise. It relieved the terrible boredom, and prevented them from brooding. They were, of course puzzled by the fact that the Japs permitted them to indulge in their favourite sport. But the yellow men had a cunning reason for this. They permitted football because it amused them to watch, and it also gave them a chance to jeer at their captives. Fresh Japanese arriving at the camp were taken to watch the game, their leaders pointing out the stupidity of ball games, saying that this was proof that the power of Britain was fast waning, since these men spent their spare time in playing football instead of improving their minds. The frugal meal ended, Bob Ferguson sat staring in silence into the distance. His gaze was fixed on a building perched on a mountainside several miles off. This building was a temple, and Bob and his comrades knew now that the two men who had tricked them into surrender had come from this lonely temple. Ever since they had gained this knowledge, the Britishers had longed for revenge. “One of these days we are going after those blighters,” Bob muttered, and his voice was bitter. “How?” asked Jack Markham, a slimly built young fellow who could move at top speed and at the same time keep a football under amazing control. “How can we do it, Bob? We’ll never get out of this place alive.” “I don’t know how, but some time, somehow, I’ll get them,” replied Ferguson, “if it’s the last thing I do!” Two slit-eyed Jap officers strolled past the bunch of prisoners. The Japanese grinned and jeered in their usual manner. “Now you play with the ball,” said one of the officers, for there had been some new arrivals at the camp that day, and they had been invited to watch the captives perform. The prisoners obeyed and, as usual, their performance was greeted with shouts of jeering laughter. It had no effect on the football players, however, for they were so used to the shouts and jeers they were hardly conscious of them. The watching Japs knew nothing whatever about football of course. If they had, they would have appreciated that this was no ordinary game they were watching, for the play was remarkable.


On their arrival at the camp, the prisoners had played the game in the ordinary orthodox manner that is seen wherever football is played. As time went on, however, the players developed entirely new methods for no other reason than because it helped to occupy their time and minds. A second year passed by, and a third, and still the prisoners were in that far-off camp without knowledge of how the war was progressing. The dejected looks which they saw at times on the faces of their guards made them suspect that things were going badly for Japan and this suspicion was increased by the fact that discipline was no longer so strict. “What’s to stop us walking out, Bob?” asked Jack Markham as the prisoners made their way back to their hut after their morning football practice. “Mighty little,” replied Sergeant Ferguson, with a grim smile, “so long as we know where to go and how to feed ourselves. So far I haven’t seen any signposts around here pointing to London. Markham stared round at the bare mountain slopes that ran on and on, seemingly endless. In the valleys between them was a thick jungle, and there were hundreds of these valleys, all looking exactly alike. The prisoners had no maps or compass, and they had no idea which part of Burma they were in, whether China, Tibet, or India was nearest. “There’s another thing,” went on Ferguson. “Supposing we did find our way to India, you know what’s coming to us. We’re branded as the bunch that let the Japs get through.” “That wasn’t our fault,” put in another prisoner. “We thought we were obeying orders from headquarters.” “Yes, that’s what we thought,” said the sergeant grimly, “but it’s what the men at the top think that matters. As I’ve told you hundreds of times, we’ll be for it if we ever get back to the army, which is mighty doubtful.” Ferguson paused for a few moments, staring at the lonely temple on the mountainside, and then went on, almost as if he was speaking to himself. “I want to get those two rats who tricked us.” “Perhaps they aren’t there any longer,” said another of the captives. “We’ve only seen them on that one occasion, soon after we came here.” Ferguson shrugged his shoulders, but the set of his strong jaw proclaimed the fact that he had no intention of forgetting his longing for revenge, which had grown with his years of captivity. Occasionally priests from the temple visited the camp. They were quite different from the Japanese in appearance. Some of them, like the two who had been disguised as British officers looked like Europeans, but others had a Mongol type of countenance. In one respect, however, they were all alike—each and every man from the temple had his ears nicked. In the top of each ear was a small V-shaped nick, often hidden by hair or by the queer, basin-shaped hats these men wore. Another month passed by, and the discipline at the prison camp grew more lax. By this time, the British forces had taken Mandalay, and they were well on their way to Rangoon. Then signs of an approaching move became apparent. Ever on the lookout for news, the prisoners took advantage of the lack of discipline and in the darkness they often wriggled near to the guardhouse and were able to catch fragments of the conversations going on inside. In this way they learned enough to make them suspect that the camp was going to be abandoned, and the Japs were going to rejoin one of their armies. “We’ve got to take a chance,” said Jack Markham one night, after he had been listening near the guardhouse.


“It sounded as if they are quitting at the end of this week, but they aim to have a little firing party first,” he added grimly. “That means four more days,” Bob Ferguson said, his gaze going towards a hidden pit which the prisoners had dug in the corner of their hut. Here they had secreted food which they had saved from their scanty supplies, most of it being uncooked rice. “We’ll need more stores than we have got if we are going to stand any chance of surviving,” he went on. “Maybe in those four days we can add to our stores.” Several of the prisoners were all for trying to get away that night, but in the end they agreed to take Ferguson’s advice and wait a little longer. Early next evening, the prisoners were practising football in the hot sunshine. Two or three years ago they would have been prostrated by the heat, but their life in the prison camp had made them so tough and wiry that they now possessed amazing powers of endurance. They were divided into two sides—seven in one, eight in the other, and a British football fan would have gaped could he have seen them at work. A few minutes after the game began, Sergeant Ferguson was running with the ball, when suddenly, for no apparent reason, he left it, and sped out to the right wing. He knew, without looking, that one of his side was following up and would get possession and pass out to the wing. That was what happened, but for once Ferguson did not take the expected pass, and the reason for that was the approach, close to the pitch, of a tall man who wore a long yellow robe and a basin-shaped hat. It was over three years since the sergeant had seen this man, and then he had been dressed as a British officer. “One of ‘em—at last!” whispered Ferguson, his heart beginning to pound. He turned quickly, to see the ball now being worked towards his own goal, and he raced back, apparently to join the defence. Quickly, and without any outward sign, he passed round the word of what he had seen. “Keep on playing,” he said, as the man with nicked ears entered the Japanese commander’s hut, “but watch for him—watch for him.” The sergeants orders were obeyed, but the game ended without the man with the nicked ears reappearing. The light grew dimmer, waning fast, but still the tall man did not come from the hut. The prisoners were given their last meal and ordered to turn in for the night. At last, when the darkness was deep in the valleys, the man with nicked ears set off towards the lonely temple, unaware that he was still watched. “I’m going after him!” muttered Ferguson harshly. He wriggled from the hut, at full length on the ground, able to see the single sentry leaning against a wooden post, holding his bayoneted rifle.


Ferguson had to pass this point if he was to follow the man with nicked ears, who was already little more than a shadow in the distance. So slowly that he despaired of success, the sergeant wriggled on through the darkness, steering wide of the sentry, and then his heart gave a sudden leap, for, after a quick look round, the Jap went hurrying to the guardhouse. That was Ferguson’s chance, and he took it. He was on his feet in a moment, bent almost double, running cat-footed through the gathering gloom. He held his breath—every moment he expected to hear a shout and then the vicious crack of a rifle. But that did not happen, and with something like a sob of relief, the sergeant darted behind some high boulders which hid him from the view of anyone in the camp.


Away in the distance, Ferguson could see a few blobs of dim, yellow light which marked the position of the temple. Those lights acted as a guiding beacon, for he knew the man he was following was also making for them.


He had hoped to overtake his man before he reached the temple, but that hope proved a vain one. His quarry had got too great a start and was aided by the darkness. As he drew nearer to the lonely building, Ferguson was able to see light coming through a doorway, and suddenly he had a glimpse of the tall man entering the temple. “He’s got away!” whispered Ferguson. “I’ve lost my last chance of getting him!” What should he do now? It would be hopeless he thought, to follow his man inside the temple, for there the odds would be all against him. But the thought of going back without having done anything was one which Ferguson simply could not stomach. He believed that death in some form or other was not far from him. Either he would be shot down in cold blood by the Jap guards, or would die a hideous death in the dreadful jungle if he and his comrades did escape. If he was to die, he would first do his utmost to pay off the grim debt which he owed to the men with nicked ears. So he stole on nearer the temple, until, still hidden by the darkness, he came to a doorway set in a porch. He could now hear weird music coming from inside the building—the wail of stringed instruments and the low, monotonous beating of a drum. There was something fearful in the sound—it chilled his blood, and filled him with a terrible awe. But he pulled himself together, and crept slowly on. At last he crawled right up to the door, and stretched out a hand. The door opened to his touch and he was able to see a short flight of stone steps leading up to an archway. Through the latter came the sound of the music and the pungent scent of burning incense. Utterly reckless now, Ferguson stole forward to the top of the steps, and was able to look into a great hall dimly lit by a number of torches in holders on the wall. At one end of the hall was a monstrous figure of a dragon carved from stone, which towered up almost to the roof. In front of it was a low altar, lit by two torches, and at this altar stood the tall man with nicked ears, passing his hands slowly to and fro above it. Before the altar knelt a line of men with nicked ears, and at one side was a small band of musicians. Ferguson knew now that he had no chance of revenge, but, fascinated by the eerie performance, and the weird music, he waited intently, able to see a tiny object on the altar. There was nothing else on the stone table, and the object was so small that the sergeant had difficulty in seeing what it was. But at length he made it out to be a tiny miniature of the mighty stone dragon. It was obvious to him that the little figure was regarded as something very sacred by the men with nicked ears, and when the tall man presently touched it almost fearfully, the music ceased, and the musicians and other worshippers pressed their faces to the ground. Then the sergeant saw a curious thing happen. The tall man lifted the tiny figure in one hand, and then looked this way and that at the assembly.


Whichever man he looked at instantly rose to his feet, though Ferguson knew none of the worshippers could have seen his look, because their faces had been pressed to the floor. It was uncanny—it was as if by holding the little dragon the tall man was able to exert some strange power, as if he was able to will them to obey his unspoken orders. Into Ferguson’s brain leapt a sudden thought. If he could gain possession of that tiny figure and get away with it, it might be a sweeter revenge than just an ordinary killing. Plainly the little dragon meant everything to the men with nicked ears. The thought, now an obsession, making him completely oblivious to risk and danger, the sergeant sidled into the temple, hidden by the deep shadows. Close to the wall were the stone figures of idols, and he crouched behind one, hardly breathing. At length the ceremony ended with each man bowing deeply to the tiny dragon, which had been replaced on the altar. The sergeant could now see that the miniature was green in colour, with two red stones, probably rubies set in the eye sockets. The blood-chilling music resumed again, and then the whole party of worshippers slowly filed through another doorway, with the exception of one man, a big fellow with a shaven head, who placed himself in front of the altar, gripping a naked, curved sword. The torches were snuffed out, except one which threw a flickering, yellow light on the altar, and then the silence of a tomb fell on the strange scene. As still as if he, too, were carved from stone, the guardian of the dragon stood in front of the altar. Time seemed to stand still. Then, inches at a time, making not the slightest noise, Sergeant Ferguson moved slowly towards the altar, his eyes never leaving the mask-like face of the guardian of the dragon. It seemed to the soldier as if hours passed before he crawled along behind the stone table, on the opposite side to where the watcher stood. The guardian of the dragon had his back to the altar, and presently Ferguson, his heartbeat stopping for a second, reached across with one hand to pick up the little image. As his fingers almost touched it, his movement stopped. What would happen when he took hold of it, if he did? He had always scoffed at the idea of magic, but he had seen enough tonight to know that the green dragon gave some strange power to the person holding it. Once he touched it, perhaps the guardian, or the other man with nicked ears, would know he had done so. He withdrew his hand, then, on impulse, reached forward once more and gripped the little green figure. He held his breath, waiting for he knew not what. But nothing happened, and he slid the little image into a pocket and began to crawl again, making his way towards the doorway through which he had entered. He had crept past the end of the altar, when suddenly the guardian of the dragon turned his head and saw that the image had disappeared. The guard’s eyes grew wide with astonishment. He opened his mouth to shout, but no sound left his lips. As if impelled by some giant spring, Ferguson leapt at his man. His big powerful hands closed round the guardian’s throat with terrific strength—abnormal strength created by the knowledge that he would surely die if the alarm was raised. He was positioned behind his victim, who was struggling wildly to get free. The curved sword fell from the guard’s hands as he threw them up to tear at the fingers digging with remorseless pressure into his windpipe.


With the intuition of despair, Ferguson flung forward his leg to meet the falling weapon and caught with his bent knee, so that it slithered to the floor instead of clanging down on the stone. Nevertheless, the noise in that vast, empty temple sounded colossal to the sergeant, who expected swift investigation by the remainder of the men. The fear of this gave him even greater strength, and under the awful pressure of his hands the guardian of the dragon ceased to breathe and hung limply in Ferguson’s grip. Carefully the sergeant lowered the lifeless body, until it rested on the floor, then he fled on tip-toe—fled out into the vast darkness of the night. Far below the faint lights of the prison camp were winking. The cool night air played on Ferguson’s face, which was streaming with cold perspiration. His thought began to race. What had he gained by his act? His desire for revenge against the man with nicked ears had not been gratified. True, he had taken something which they worshipped, but, now that it was all over, it did not seem to him that he had done much. Little did he know the far-reaching effects that would result from his deed. Just to have killed two men, who had tricked the little force at the outpost three years ago, would have been a small thing compared with his escape with the green dragon! He moved down the slope towards the lights and at last reached the outskirts of the prison camp. It was as he stopped for a moment to rest, for the gash made by the temple guardian’s falling sword was now troubling him, that he heard faint noises ahead. He stood rigid in the darkness, holding his breath, when suddenly a faint whisper reached his ears. “I tell you we’ve got to wait for Bob!” It was Markham’s voice, and like a flash the truth dawned on the sergeant. His comrades had escaped from the camp! He hesitated a moment and then whistled softly. “All right boys, I’m here,” he whispered. From out of the darkness came the shadowy figures of his comrades, with Markham in the lead. “I listened in at the guardhouse after you were gone, Bob,” he said. “The Japs had our mass execution planned for tomorrow morning. We took our chances and got away.” “O.K. let’s go then,” replied Ferguson coolly. The darkness speedily swallowed them up, and all around was utter stillness. Not a sound came from the lonely temple up on the mountainside—not a sound came from the prison camp. Guided by the stars, as they had planned, the little company of British soldiers plunged into the jungle.


A year passed, Bob Ferguson and eleven of his companions reached England, but had changed their identities—the other three had lost their lives in the jungle. They had smuggled themselves on board ships bringing home troops from Burma and India after the capitulation of Japan. These ships were so crowded that there was hardly room to move. But this very fact suited their purpose. They were unnoticed among so many, and no awkward questions were asked about their identities.


None of these men was a coward, but all of them knew they were under a cloud. They were thought to have deserted their post and the penalty for desertion was death. They could not produce any evidence to prove they had been tricked, but still they hoped against hope that perhaps that evidence might be discovered. That was why they did not give themselves up. If they had done so they would have been shot after a court martial, without a hope of proving their innocence. None of them wished to do something of which he was not guilty. Bob Ferguson knew were to find each of his comrades after their arrival in Britain. He summoned them to meet at an address in the Midlands town of Stockford. This town had figured recently in the football columns of the newspapers, for Stockford United, an old established club, had set up the lamentable record of failing to win a match during the last season. All the players were on the transfer list, and it was expected that the club would cease to exist. In the dusk of a spring evening, there was a re-union of the twelve ex-prisoners. Save that they had lost much of their tan, they looked as they had done when they had parted company in India well over a year ago—lean and wiry, full of vigour, and though still young, their experiences made them look older than their years. “It’s fine to see you, lads,” said Bob Ferguson. “I’ve got something to talk over with you. First of all, though, we’ll have a meal.” During the meal, they drank a silent toast to their three comrades who had failed to return to them, and at the end Bob told them that he had taken over Stockford United and that he wanted them to form the team. “I have been able to raise the money,” he went on, “and I shall be in sole charge. My playing days are over—you remember what happened?” He tapped his fingers against his right leg and his companions nodded. They knew that Bob was referring to the wound he had received in the Japanese temple; the wound had injured a muscle and left him with a slight limp. “Well, boys,” he went on, with a grave smile, “what about it? We played together for years out there. Will you play together now as Stockford United?” There was no hesitation in the answers, and Bob smiled again. “Good!” he exclaimed. “I don’t need to go into details about money matters. I have sufficient capital to carry us through to the time when I hope the club will be paying its way again and I am looking forward to us getting big gates, for I want you to play the type of football which we taught ourselves out in Burma. As you know, our style of play is most unorthodox, but we shall not be breaking any rules and the Football Association cannot raise any objection. What we have got to do is to spend the summer practising our methods again, and I believe they will prove to be very successful.”


For some time the players talked over their plans, and then one of them asked Bob if he still possessed the little green dragon. “Yes,” he replied, stooping suddenly to knock the ash of his cigarette, but really to hide the expression that he knew had come into his eyes as a result of the question. He did not intent to talk about the little green dragon at the moment, and he had never told his friends of its strange powers. “This house belongs to me,” he went on, swiftly changing the subject, “and there is sufficient room for all of us here, though, if any of you wish, you can seek fresh quarters.” Bob, who was now known as Mr Ferguson, did not broadcast the news of his plans, but it leaked out little by little, and it was stated in the sporting columns of newspapers that there were rumours that Stockford United would be playing in the league again, but with an entirely new eleven. “New eleven is right,” remarked Bob, “and that’s where our trouble may be. You are only eleven. If one of you falls out for any reason it is going to upset the balance of the side. It will be too dangerous to bring in any outsiders. They would learn too much. That means a hard and tough time ahead of you, but I believe you can stand up to it.” “You bet we can, Bob!” exclaimed Jack Markham, who had changed his name to Marson. The other players agreed with equal enthusiasm and day after day they practiced at the ground with no one near to watch them except Bob. Other people applied for permission to watch the practice, but they met with firm, though polite refusals, and this created an air of mystery regarding the club throughout the world of football. It was not possible to obtain complete secrecy, for the ground was overlooked to some extent by houses around it. Reporters and other interested people gained admission to some of these houses and watched from the windows, but Bob was prepared for that, and the spies learned little or nothing. The way Bob defeated them was by having several balls on the ground when the practice game was taking place. Thus, to the puzzled watchers it looked as if the players were running about and kicking aimlessly. Never did they line up in the usual formation and attack or defend in the ordinary manner. But all the time, intensive training was going on. Always the players were working on the lines of that amazing understanding which they had learnt during their years of captivity. “Seems mighty queer to me that we have got together again so easily, Bob,” remarked Jack Marson one evening. “I feel we are playing together better than we did out in Burma.” “I think you are too,” agreed Bob Ferguson, his fingers caressing the little green dragon which he carried in his pocket. “Maybe,” he suggested, “it is because of the fact that we are no longer prisoners.”


That seemed such a likely idea that Jack nor any of the other players showed any further surprise at their marked improvement. They did not forget the little green dragon, however, and from time to time Bob showed it to them and repeated part of the story of his adventures in the old temple. “If the men with nicked ears thought such a lot of it. I wonder we were able to get away so easily,” said Tom Drake, who was officially the goalie though as often as not he was playing in some other position. “I should have thought that they would have gone to any lengths to get it back.” “I guess none of them suspected that we got away with it,” responded Bob Ferguson. “There was nothing to tell them that any of us visited the temple. They must have learned of our escape, of course, but there was nothing to connect that and the disappearance of their dragon.” He spoke quietly, as if there was nothing on his mind, but, ever since that grim night at the temple, he had never been without the secret fear that the men with nicked ears might get on the track of the escaped prisoners. Always, however, he tried to reassure himself by the fact that he and his companions were thousands of miles away from Burma, and that in England they were safe.


So the summer began to wane, and the opening of the football season drew near. With it came increase in the talk about Stockford United and the air of mystery surrounding the club. When the fixture list for the coming season was issued, and Stockford’s name appeared in it, the interest shown in the club grew greater than ever. Constantly it was asked who would be turning out for the United, but the opening of the season drew nearer and nearer and still the newspapers could not give the information.


The first match was on the Stockford ground, and their opponents were Bermton City. Then, for the first time, the names of the United side were published, as follows:—


               Ramsey         Walker

          Pike    Onslow    Paterson

Marson  Fraser  Hurst  Metcalf  Brett

None of these names was correct, of course, they had all been assumed by the ex-prisoners to help hide their identities. “Who are these players?” asked a writer in one of the leading morning papers. “They are all new to me, and none had been transferred to Stockford from any other league side. It appears that the United are turning out a side that has no experience whatever in first class football. If this is correct, it is a most astonishing experiment, and one which most experts will consider doomed to failure. Who is behind the United? The chairman’s name is given as Ferguson—a name new in the football world. He must be a bold man to back an eleven composed of inexperienced players. To sum up, Stockford United were in a disastrous position at the end of last season, and they seem to be no better placed now.” Similar comments were made in other newspapers, but they all had the same result, and that was to bring a very large crowd to the Stockford ground. A number of spectators had been faithful supporters of the old club, and were hoping for better times, but the big majority of the crowd which poured into the enclosure had been drawn there by curiosity. Newspaper reporters had come from all parts of the country, and the press box was almost crowded. As the time for the kick-off drew near, the excitement grew greater, and everybody who was in a position to see the tunnel-mouth leading from the dressing-rooms was staring intently. Presently the visitors trotted out, but instead of making tracks for their end of the ground they dallied, looking back, as interested and curious about their mysterious opponents as the many thousands of spectators. Then on to the field came the Stockford players, and a loud hum of voices was heard. Local people knew them now by sight, but the large crowd of visiting fans had never seen any of them before. “Who are they? Who are they?” if that question was asked once, it was asked many thousands of times. Bob Ferguson sat alone in the private box which formed part of the principal stand. In his pocket was the little green dragon. The first test of his team was soon to take place, and in spite of his confidence in them, he felt nervous. Jim Onslow, the centre-half according to the programme, skippered the United. He tossed for ends with the Bermton captain, and presently the teams lined up. There was nothing unusual about the Stockford line-up. They positioned themselves in the accepted team formation. An instant after the shrill blast of the referee’s whistle started the game, however, there was a marked difference. Hurst kicked off for Stockford, tapping the ball to Fraser, his inside-left, then things happened at bewildering speed. Running swiftly, half a dozen United players formed themselves in a group, and forced the ball down the field, leaving many of their opponents unmarked.


The crowd simply gaped. To them it seemed that the Stockford United men had no idea of the game, but were simply indulging in kick-and-run tactics. Nevertheless, their methods took the ball to the Bermton twenty-five yards line in the space of a second or two, and the visiting players seemed at a loss to meet these queer tactics. Then the murmur of astonishment became a yell, for Ramsay, the Stockford right full-back, had raced up on the left wing. Suddenly the ball flashed across to him, though none of the United appeared to have noticed his move. It dropped in front of him in a perfect pass before a visiting player could tackle him, and he drove in a first-class shot which left the Bermton goalie helpless. Normally there would have been a wild roar at a first-minute goal, but the crowd was too astonished to cheer. How had it happened? How did Ramsay know where to position himself? One moment the ball had been almost lost to sight in a crowd of players, and the next instant it was at his feet and he had shot and scored. Back trotted the United, and then the home fans gave tongue, yelling at the tops of their voices. They just could not make things out, but their team had scored and that was all that mattered. In the Press box, pencils were flying, but the reporters did not appear unduly surprised. Most of them wrote that the goal was one of those freak happenings that often takes place before the teams settle down. They also wrote that Stockford seemed to have mighty little knowledge of the finer points of the game, and that soon there would be a very different story. But those reporters did not know that they were going to see ninety minutes of football such as they had never seen before! Bob Ferguson sat back, a faint sigh of relief escaping his lips. One hand was in his jacket pocket, gripping the little green dragon. With his other hand he held a pair of field glasses to his eyes, watching the faces of the Bermton men. There were half-puzzled, half-amused looks on them, as if each of the visitors was saying to himself that this queer sort of football was not going to get Stockford United very far. The sharp note of the referee’s whistle was heard again, and the Bermton centre kicked off. Then the crowd and the visiting players had another surprise, for the United fell back, allowing Bermton to work the ball down the left wing unchallenged! “Wake up, Stockford!” shouted puzzled fans, while the Bermton defenders followed up, their two backs now up near the half-way line. Though the United players did not attempt to tackle, they were on the move, but once more seemed all out of position. The Bermton winger centred, dropping the ball in front of his inside-left, and then, all in a moment, the situation changed. Four Stockford players were on the inside-left as he trapped the ball, and four others were running, bunched together, towards the half-way line. None of the latter four looked back, but the ball was passed up to them. “It’s uncanny!” said one of the Press men. “It was just as if they knew it would come to them!” The bunch of Stockford players with the ball were going through now, and the Bermton defenders were at a loss to know what to do about it. In the ordinary way, each of them would be marking an opponent, but they did not find this easy, with the Stockford players apparently all out of position. Some of them raced to try to stop the rush, while over on the other side of the field, Jack Marson, the tall Stockford outside-right, was sprinting along the line on his own. Half-way between him and the group with the ball was another bunch of four Stockford men, all keeping together as they ran. Thus there were no fewer than nine Stockford players in the Bermton half of the field, and only one back and the goalie were in defence positions. If the Bermton forwards could get away now, it looked as if they would score easily.


Suddenly the ball was swung straight across the field, without the least indication by the Stockford player who had booted it that it was going in that direction. At the same time, tall Jack Marson cut infield sharply, and took the ball in his stride. Without faltering, he dashed forward for five paces, then suddenly he stepped over the ball and raced on without it. The Bermton defenders could not check themselves. They continued to run to tackle Marson before they quite realised that he no longer had the ball. The group of four Stockford players who were racing up in midfield had the leather in their midst now. The entire Bermton defence was caught on the wrong foot by Marson’s trick. The four Stockford players came boring into the Bermton penalty area and a terrific shot rocketed towards the goal. But it hit the crossbar bounced back, and was headed by a Bermton defender to one of his forwards. In a flash the visiting forward line was in motion with only two opponents in their way. One was Ramsay, the Stockford right-back, and the other was Drake the goalie. One back obviously could not cope with five forwards, and Ramsay made no attempt to try to tackle any of them as they raced down the field swinging the ball from one to the other. He fell back before them, while Drake stood in his goal, not hopping from side to side, as many goalies do, but remaining perfectly still. None of the other Stockford players was racing back to help in the defence, as the crowd expected them to do. They simply fell back as far as the half-way line, but not in the ordinary positions. The Bermton forwards were all round the Stockford goal now. Their centre crashed in a shot from the penalty spot, but Ramsay was now in goal to help Drake. The latter, with only half his charge to defend, caught the ball cleanly, but three visitors were on him like a flash. Calmly, Drake tossed the ball high over their heads, as he went down to a vigorous shoulder charge, and at the same moment Ramsay raced out of goal. He nodded the ball to the ground, took another stride forward, and booted it along the carpet to Jack Marson, waiting on the line. Marson got off his mark before the ball had reached him. Then suddenly he cut in from the wing, collected the ball with his left foot as it swerved towards the centre of the field, and Stockford were attacking again. “I just can’t understand it!” exclaimed one man in the crowd. “These Stockford chaps are all over the place, yet each of them seems to know almost exactly where the ball is going before it is kicked.” “Look at ‘em now!” gasped another. Again a little group of Stockford players, with the ball in their midst, were going through, this time on the left, and the Bermton defenders crowded in to try and stop them.


Suddenly the ball was backheeled, as if it had come from a rugby scrum, and Walker, the Stockford left-back, came sprinting up. Cool and unflurried, he lobbed the ball over the heads of the Bermton defenders, and it dropped into the net on the right. The goalkeeper had no chance to save because he had been drawn over to the left of his goal by the Stockford rush. The mystery team were two up! Bob Ferguson grinned, his fingers still clutching the little green dragon in his jacket pocket. “It’s going fine!” he muttered. “If they can keep it up!” His grin grew broader, for, when the teams lined up again, the Stockford men occupied the orthodox positions on the field, and for the next few minutes it looked just like an ordinary game. The ball went to and fro from player to player, mainly in mid-field, until, when he could easily have trapped it, Jack Marson allowed it to go into touch. He did not wait for a half-back to take the throw, but flung it in himself, with such force that it went over the heads of the players waiting for it. Then there was a yell of amazement, for Drake, the Stockford goalie, had the ball. He had raced out from his goal, his long legs carrying him at an amazing speed, and he was over the half-way line with the ball before the visitors recovered from their surprise. Not only was he in the other half of the field, but so were all the Stockford players. Spectators blinked and gasped. Never had they seen anything like this on a football field before. Twenty-two players were all in one half of the field and the other half was empty! It was bewildering, almost unbelievable, but it was happening, and the visiting defence could not cope with it. Once again the ball was in the net, and Drake, the goalkeeper, was the scorer. Leading by three goals to nil, the United trotted back once more taking up the usual positions on the football field. Then, with their commanding lead, they were more or less on the defensive, Try as they might, the visitors could not penetrate that solid defence, and the whistle went for half-time. The second half was very similar to the first, except that Stockford had even more of the play, and scored four more amazing goals. They left the field, victors by seven goals to nil.


Never had there been so much to talk about a football match before. Delighted though they were, the Stockford fans were bewildered by the unusual tactics of the United. So were the reporters, and the evening papers, and those next morning, devoted much of their space to accounts of the match.


“What is behind this queer style of football?” wrote one expert. “For some time I felt sure that the Stockford men were all out of gear, and that their goals were more or less accidents. But, as the game went on, I was forced to the conclusion that they knew what they were doing, that they were not just running and booting the ball wildly, and hoping for the best. It was obvious to me by that time that they had adopted totally new methods, and those methods had Bermton all at sea. Even now I cannot make up my mind exactly what those methods are, but of one thing I am sure, and that is that each Stockford man by some uncanny means, as least they seemed uncanny to me, knew just where the ball was going. They have started something in football, this team of unknowns. What better nickname can I give than ‘The Q Team?’ Other experts were not so sure. They attributed the smashing victory to luck, saying that Bermton were not a sufficiently balanced side to cope with unorthodox methods, and that there would be a very different story when Stockford were up against, say, Weston Villa, Sefton United, Charlwood, and other prominent league teams. Before any of the evening newspaper reports appeared, the United made their way to the old house where they lived with Bob Ferguson. He went home before them, after congratulating them in their dressing-room, and was met at once by Mrs Paynter, the middle-aged woman who acted as cook and house-keeper. “Somebody called to see you while you were away, Mr Ferguson,” she said. “He told me he was an old friend of yours, and asked if he could come in and wait for you. He seemed a decent sort of chap, so I showed him into the sitting-room, but after waiting for about half an hour he said he could not wait any longer. He said his name was Frank Martin.” “What?” cried Bob. “What name?” “Frank Martin, Mr Ferguson.” Bob repeated the name, speaking almost like a man in a dream, for it was the name one of the three prisoners who had died during that terrible journey through the jungle after their escape! “What—what was he like to look at?” asked Bob. “About you height, with fair hair,” replied the housekeeper, and then, after a little thought, she added: “Oh, and now I remember that he had a scar on his chin. Just about here, like a—like a small cross.”


The colour left Bob Ferguson’s face. The description fitted the dead man perfectly. In his mind’s eye, Bob seemed to see the grave he and his companions had dug in the jungle. Bob swallowed heavily. He wanted to explain that Frank Martin had been dead eighteen months, that his body had been buried in the wet jungle earth, and weighted down with boulders of rock. But he kept silent on this point, afraid he would scare the housekeeper. He went slowly up to his bedroom and sat down heavily. Then as if some hidden force had caused movement, he took the little green dragon from his pocket and stared at it. “What made me do that?” he muttered. “I did not know I was going to.” He blinked as he looked at the little figure. It must have been his fancy, he told himself, but for the moment the tiny rubies that formed its eyes seemed to have life in them—seemed to have been watching him. “Pull yourself together!” he growled, and then jumped to his feet and put the green dragon on his dressing-table. As he did so, though, he frowned thoughtfully. That box in which he kept his spare studs! Surely he had left it on the right-hand side of the mirror? Yes, he was certain he had done so. He had an extraordinary memory for such trifling details. But now it was near to the middle of the bottom of the mirror. He hurried downstairs and called to Mrs Paynter. “Has anybody been in my room while I was out?” he asked. He expected she would say that she had been in there tidying up, but she shook her head. “No, Mr Ferguson,” she replied. “This—this Mr Martin,” he went on, choking slightly over the name. “He did not go up there, did he?” “Not to my knowledge,” answered Mrs Paynter. “I’m sure he stayed in the sitting-room.” “Did he leave any address?” “No, Mr Ferguson. I asked him if you could send any message, but all he said to that was that you would be hearing from him again.” These were very ordinary words, but they sounded sinister to Bob. Before he could say anything more, the sound of voices was heard, and the players came pouring into the house, all looking very pleased and cheery. Mrs Paynter went back to the kitchen, and the cheerful looks left the faces of the players, all of whom stared hard at Bob. “Something wrong?” asked Drake anxiously, remembering the cloud that hung over them. “If I told you Frank Martin had called here this afternoon, what would you say?” “That you had gone dippy,” replied Drake. “Poor old Frank!” he added with a sigh. “Well, Mrs Paynter described him accurately and said that he called to see me, and that he had a cross-shaped scar on his chin. “But he’s dead—stone dead, eighteen months ago,” gasped Ramsay. “We didn’t bury him till we were absolutely certain.” “Then a dead man has come back to life!” said Bob solemnly.

THE Q TEAM – 7 Episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1111 – 1117 (1946)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007