(Rover Homepage)


First episode taken from The Rover issue: 1733 September 13th 1958.

I’m Jimmy Kane, the football writer of the “Penstone Evening Telegraph”, and I was on holiday at Scarborough when old John Rossall died. It was shock when I opened the paper and saw the account of his life—printed, where John would have liked it, on the sports page. Only ten days previously I’d had a conversation with him, and he had seemed hale and hearty, despite his seventy-eight years. For fifty of these years he’d been associated with Penstone Rangers, the famous First Division club, as player, trainer, manager, and finally chairman of the board of Directors. I had written that account myself some time before, for as you probably know, newspapers have the life stories of famous people ready in a file which is somewhat morbidly called “The Cemetery”. After announcing his death which took place suddenly from a heart attack, the account went on: - “The death of John Rossall brings a football era to an end—an era in which the Rangers have won an everlasting reputation. Under the firm hand of John Rossall the Rangers have been League Champions on twelve occasions and winners of the F.A. Challenge Cup eight times. Last season the team was third in the league and reached the semi-final of the cup. It is not too much to say that John Rossall was the Rangers. Above everything else, he was famous for his skill in finding players. He rarely spent money on transfer fees, relying rather on a special system for discovering talent. On one occasion he showed me his card index, in which he kept details of likely players. There were over two hundred names in the index, the youngest being boys of thirteen. Once a boy had been ‘spotted’ by John or his scouts, that youngster was never lost sight of, and of the club’s forty-six internationalists no fewer than forty had been discovered through the system before they were fifteen years of age.” After detailing the performances of the Rangers under his management, the report went on: - “With the approach of a new season, a big responsibility will rest on the two remaining directors, Mr Nathan Lewis and Mr Humphrey Warden. Mr Rossall was, of course, his own manager, and it may well be that the first task of the directors will be to make the appointment of a manager.” I was in a thoughtful mood as I left my hotel to go down to the sea front. It seemed impossible that the sturdy, upright figure of John Rossall, with his massive chin and fierce, bushy eyebrows, would never again climb the steps into the directors’ box just before kick-off and remain standing, looking down at the field, until the ball was moving. It seemed impossible to realise that the Rangers would play without those keen eyes watching every moment of the game and missing not a thing. It was equally hard to think of a players’ meeting without that quiet, determined voice laying down tactics that were to be followed at the next game. John Rossall was the club. His influence was everywhere. The captain of the team was a figurehead. Everything—every possible thing that could happen on the field—was provided for beforehand. Who could possibly take John Rossall’s place? There was nobody. It seemed certain that the long period of the Rangers’ supremacy was over. When the news of John Rossall’s death appeared I’d had a week of my holidays, and there were still three weeks to come—extra days being tacked on to my holiday to make up for the breaks I hadn’t had at Christmas and Easter because I’d been reporting football. I was out to make the most of my holiday, because once the football season started I wouldn’t have much time to myself. The weather was good, and I was having a grand time swimming and playing golf being my favourite pastimes, when, a week after John Rossall’s death, a telegram came for me. My worst fears were realised when I opened the wire and saw it was from the sports editor of the “Evening Telegraph”, George Penn. It was as follows: - “Sorry, but must ask you to return. Urgent. —Penn.” Well, I grumbled at my luck as I went to pack. On the other hand, the boss would not have used the word “urgent” without cause. I arrived back in Penstone, a manufacturing town with a population of about a hundred thousand, by road in the early evening and drove straight to the office. George Penn, wreathed in tobacco smoke from his pipe, pushed back his chair as I strode into the room. “You’re a nice guy, to drag a fellow back from his holiday,” I said. Penn plunged his hands into his pockets and looked at me through the smoke haze. “Jimmy, I need you on the job,” he retorted. “The Rangers are in an outsize mess.” “Hasn’t John Rossall left things in order, then?” I asked. “Everything’s upside-down and topsy-turvy,” Penn replied. “Nathan Lewis and Humphrey Warden are nearly demented. The club’s in chaos. With less than three weeks till the season starts, the Rangers are all at sixes and sevens.” I stared at the boss in bewilderment. My indignation at having my holiday spoiled had vanished. I’d reported every Rangers game for twelve years, and the club was an important part of my existence. I should have hated any other reporter handling the story. “You’d better go along and see Lewis and Warden,” said Penn. “They’ll give you the low-down on the business, but they’re pretty powerless. John Rossall it’s been found, held a majority of the shares.” “Whew!” I whistled shrilly. “That means his heir will control the club—” “You’re right,” said the boss. “Not a thing can be done without his consent.” “To whom did he leave the shares?” I demanded. “Sir Herbert Foster, his nephew!” Penn exclaimed. “You mean the famous doctor?” I gasped. “Doctor and scientist,” said Penn. “A man with an amazingly cleaver brain.” “What’s his attitude to the whole affair?” was my question. “He’s away,” replied the sports editor. “That’s half the trouble. So far the other directors haven’t been able to contact him, and, until he’s found, things are at a standstill.




I was shocked when I walked into the Rangers’ great football stadium, with its vast, two-decker stand and covered accommodation all round the ground. The pitch looked like an uncut hayfield. I’d made an appointment with Nathan Lewis and Humphrey Warden, and they were waiting for me. The former was a solicitor in the town, and the latter was the former amateur international full-back. Lewis pointed to the overgrown pitch. “That’s the way everything is, Jimmy,” he said. “The old groundsmen were paid off at the end of the season, and nobody was engaged to replace them. Warden and I have been only figurehead directors, as you know. We left everything to old John, and now there seems to be no doubt that, without showing it outwardly, he entirely lost his grip on affairs round about the end of last season—” “Here’s something else to startle you”, put in Warden. “So far we can trace only seven players that have been properly signed on!” “Seven?” I gasped. “The playing strength at the end of the season was forty!” “Yes, and since they’ve neither been signed on nor received summer wages, we’ve broken our contracts and they’re free to go,” said Lewis. “Speaking as a lawyer, I’m appalled by the legal mess we’re in.” “We’re powerless to do anything,” Warden snapped. “Things are so tied up that Sir Herbert Foster has complete authority over the club. According to law, we have no power to spend a penny of the club’s money or sign on a player.” “We have engaged groundsmen, but we’ll have to pay them out of our own pockets!” Lewis exclaimed. “But haven’t you found Sir Herbert yet?” I demanded. Warden shook his head. “He went to America to address a meeting of scientists and afterwards went for a holiday in New Mexico,” he said. “A search is being made for him of course, and we’re hoping to get a reply at any time.” “I’ve no doubt that we shall soon straighten things out when we do get hold of him,” remarked Lewis. “It’s very unlikely that Sir Herbert will have any interest in football—he never once came to see the Rangers, during my experience—and I should think that he’ll give Warden and me the authority to carry on. But until we hear from him we’re helpless.” The story when I published it, created a sensation not only in Penstone, but throughout the football world. Of the team that had won through to the semi-final of the cup, only five had been signed on—Ben Barr, the English international goalkeeper; Reg Sinclair, the right-back; Andy Murray, the Scottish left-half; Ted Swann, the centre-forward; and Archie Harris, the right-winger. The other two players signed were Ken Richards, the second eleven centre-half, and Les Hutton, the reserve inside-left. In the days that followed Warden and Lewis showed signs of sleeplessness and worry. Sir Herbert was apparently still lost in the wilds of New Mexico. On the day when the players reported for training the seven who had signed duly turned up—plus four others who were hoping for the best. These were Frank Tallow, a full-back; Martin Arnold and Len Crevis, reserve half-backs; and “Dad” Hardy, a forward. I was present at the morning meeting at which Lewis addressed the players. “I can’t make you any promises. I can’t pay you any wages,” he said. “There isn’t even a trainer, or any kind of staff. All I can say is that I have no doubt that when we get hold of Sir Herbert we shall be able to put things straight.” “He’ll have to be quick,” growled Ben Barr. “Hardstock Villa will be here in just over a fortnight to start the season.” Well, the days went by, and the mighty Rangers continued as a ghost club. Letters from supporters poured into our office, but there were so many that we could not possibly print them. Here is one, picked at random, that we did publish: — “Sir, — I’ve been a season ticket holder for thirty years, but now I understand that the tickets have not even been printed. It is heartbreaking to think that the Rangers are threatened with extinction. Somehow we must keep the flag flying and preserve the old warcry of, ‘Up, the Reds!’. —Yours, A Loyal Fan. The days flashed by. On the Tuesday morning before the start of the season I had a panic-stricken phone call from Nathan Lewis to see him at the ground. “You’d better come up, Jimmy,” he said. “It looks like the end. The Football League have sent us a letter demanding to know by return of post whether the Rangers will compete this season. “I’ll come out right away!” I snapped. I picked my car up from the office garage and drove towards the ground. Outside the railway station, in heavy traffic, I had to stop behind a bus that was picking up passengers. The crowd surged into the bus, brushing past a man near the head of the queue who did not move. He was clasping an open book that he was reading intently through rimless spectacles that had slipped down almost to the end of his nose. I observed only vaguely that he was wearing a bowler hat and a dark overcoat. The bus conductor rang the bell and the bus moved off. It was picking up speed when the man looked up sharply from his book. A look of mild dismay appeared on his face as he saw that he had been left behind. He ran a few paces, then saw he had no chance of catching up, and stopped. “Can I give you a lift?” I chuckled. “I’m going Penstone Park way.” “Thank you, thank you,” he said, and, being tall, had to stoop to get into the car. “I’m afraid I was absorbed in what I was reading, and didn’t observe that the bus had arrived.” He laid the book on his knees, glanced at my pipe, and then took his own briar from his pocket and filled it from a plump tobacco pouch. “Your book must have been interesting,” I remarked as I drove on. My passenger made a long search of his pockets for a box of matches. “Oh, just a small thesis on the thyroid and parathyroid glands,” he said, and lit his pipe. I made no comment, as I had to concentrate on steering through heavy traffic at the crossing. As I straightened out on the other side of the island my companion glanced at a brick wall on which was chalked, “Up, the Reds!” “I suppose that’s a political slogan?” he remarked. “There’s no politics in that.” I laughed. “That’s the local warcry of supporters of the Rangers.” “Oh, then I suppose they wear red shirts?” he exclaimed. “Red jerseys with white necks and cuffs,” I said, and slowed down. “Afraid I’ll have to drop you here. I’m going to the football ground.” “That’s a coincidence! So am I,” he said. I turned and looked at him quickly, I took in his strong clever face and dark, thoughtful eyes. “You—you wouldn’t be Sir Herbert Foster?” I spluttered. “Why, yes, that’s my name,” was his answer. “Gosh, sir,” I gasped, “you’ve come in the nick of time. We thought you were still in New Mexico!” “Why, I flew home a fortnight ago,” said Sir Herbert. “And as for being in time, surely the football season does not start until Saturday?” “But—but there are scores of preparations to make!” I cried. “Only seven players are signed on, and there are three teams to be fielded on Saturday, to start with. Sir Herbert looked at me calmly. “Surely you must be joking about the lack of time?” he said. “There must be plenty of young men in Penstone who would like to play football on Saturday!” “But this is the Rangers!” I said as I pulled in the shadow of the vast stand. “The best team in England! You can’t mould together a first-class side by inviting any young man to have a game!”




Nathan Lewis and Warden nearly shed tears of joy and relief when I introduced Sir Herbert to them. Then I darted to a telephone and called the office. “Here’s the story we’ve been waiting for, boss, I said over the wire. “Sir Herbert’s just arrived. I’ll get in touch with you later with the full lowdown, on the situation, but you can take it that the Rangers will carry on.” After promising to keep the office in close touch with the situation I hung up and went into the oak-panelled Rangers’ boardroom. Nathan Lewis was just finishing his explanation of the club’s position. “You have full control, Sir Herbert,” he said, “but I’ve no doubt you’ll be glad to let us look after your interests—” Sir Herbert shook his head. “On the contrary, I am not going to shirk my responsibilities,” he said. “John Rossall was my uncle, and I feel I owe it to him to carry on as he would have wished. I shall, of course, be pleased to retain you as my colleagues, but the direction of the Rangers will remain in my hands.” Lewis was taken aback. “Directing the Rangers is a full-time job!” he declared. “If I may say so without offence, a man with your numerous duties will never have the time to give to the club.” “Some small duties I shall give to others to do,” replied Sir Herbert, “otherwise I shall run the club.” Lewis cast a helpless look at Warden. I shared their feelings. “Well, here’s your first problem,” snapped the solicitor. “On Saturday the Rangers are at home to Hardstock Villa, the reserves are playing away against the Villa reserves in the Central League. To meet these obligations, we’ve seven professionals signed on.” “And we require forty-five,” said Sir Herbert thoughtfully. “Thirty-three!” I gasped. “For the moment I was mixing Rugby football,” Sir Herbert said. “That reduces our problem considerably.” “We could fill up the “A” team with amateurs,” suggested Warden. “But we need six professionals for the first team and nine for the reserves,” declared Lewis. “And they don’t grow on blackberry bushes,” said Warden. Sir Herbert turned to me. “I have occasionally noted that newspapers print photographs of footballers,” he said. “I imagine that you have a large stock of these pictures?” “Why, yes, hundreds,” I replied. “I should like to see them,” stated Sir Herbert. Half an hour later I led Sir Herbert, Lewis, and Warden into the library in the “Evening Telegraph” office. George Penn joined us and pulled open the drawers of the steel cabinet in which we stored our photographs of footballers. “What players do we need to complete the first team?” asked Sir Herbert. “Left-back,” replied Lewis, “centre-half, and right-half; outside and inside-left, and an inside-right.” Sir Herbert sat down at the desk and started to look through the sheaf of photographs that had been handed to him. Half a dozen of the pictures passed through his hands without a flicker of interest on his face. We watched in bewilderment. What was the sense of looking at these pictures? That was the question I asked myself. Sir Herbert picked up the photograph of a footballer who had a face which combined the features of a prizefighter and a gorilla. His nose was flattened; one ear was considerably larger than the other; both stood out like handles on an urn. He gave a chuckle. “Appearances can be deceptive—unless you look at them closely,” he said. “This fellow wouldn’t hurt a fly!” “Gosh, you’re right, Sir Herbert!” exclaimed George Penn. “Wally Woon looks like an all-in wrestler, but he was always a gentleman on the field.” “If not a very quick thinker,” said Sir Herbert. “No,” said Penn, “he never rose higher than Third Division standard.” Sir Herbert picked up the photograph of a player with high cheekbones and a long straight nose. “Um, a good half-back,” he remarked. From where I stood I could see the typewritten tag stuck on the back of the photograph. “But that’s Larry Hayes, the Burnham Athletic outside-left!” I said. “No, Jimmy, Sir Herbert’s right!” Penn exclaimed. “There’s been a mistake in tagging the picture. Don’t you recognise who it is, Jimmy? It’s Willie Mercer, the right-half of Leswick Town!” “So it is,” I said slowly. Sir Herbert looked up at Lewis. “I should like him to play for us on Saturday,” he said. “What is the procedure?” “We’d have to obtain his transfer,” gasped Lewis. “He’d cost every penny of five thousand pounds!” “Oh, so you buy players, do you?” exclaimed Sir Herbert. “Well, Mercer will be worth it.” As we stared in astonishment at each other he picked out another footballer. I recognised the face at once. It was that of Jake Anskill, who had played three times at inside-right for England. “That’s Anskill, the Camberford inside-right,” I said. “You wouldn’t get hold of him for fifteen thousand pounds.” “I wouldn’t give fivepence for him!” retorted Sir Herbert. “A thoroughly selfish and disloyal player.” “Gosh, you’re right!” I said. “He’s always at loggerheads with his club’s directors.” By this time we were impressed by Sir Herbert’s astonishing ability to pick out players, and a moment later we were wondering afresh when he drew out two photographs—those of Johnny Parker, the Ramley outside-left, and Gus Gosling, the Rimsby inside-left. “Evidently left-footed players,” he said. “We’ll have to have them, Lewis.” “They’ll cost you eight thousand pounds,” Lewis declared. “They’ll prove to be an excellent bargain,” said Sir Herbert. In the course of the next few minutes he selected Bert Craddock, of Imstock County, to be left-back, and Chris Pennington, of Bartonley Albion, for the inside-right position. Lewis and Warden, with orders to buy these players, hurried out of the room. Using more pictures, Sir Herbert picked out the players he would require for the reserves. “There’s still a first-team man missing,” I said. “You haven’t got a centre-half.” “I know, I know,” he replied. “So far as I remember from my hockey playing days, a centre-half is a key man—and I have still to see the player I want for that position. Um!” From another stack of photographs he picked up the picture of a man wearing the Middleshire County Cricket Club cap. “That’s ‘Spinner’ Dutton, the old Middleshire slow bowler,” Penn said. “He’s fifty if he’s a day, and has never played football.” “Just the man I want for a manager,” Sir Herbert said briskly. “We must get hold of him. Well that’s all we can do for the moment.”




The visit of Sir Herbert was the prelude to one of the most exciting weeks in the history of Rangers. We did not reveal that the new players had been selected by their photographs. It would have been too much for the public to have swallowed. They would never have believed it. The news that Spinner Dutton, the old cricketer, had been appointed manager was almost the biggest sensation of the week, when you remember that if the post had been thrown open almost every manager in the British Isles would have been after the job. On Friday morning there was a wire from Sir Herbert to say that he was bringing a new centre-half, Dan Petters, down with him before the game. “Petters? Petters? Never heard of him!” George Penn exclaimed. “Neither have I,” I said, and we searched every known source to try to locate Dan Petters, but his name appeared in no list of players that we could find. Thus the team to play against the Villa was as follows, former players marked *: - *Ben Barr; *Reg Sinclair, Bert Craddock; Willie Mercer, Dan Petters, *Andy Murray; *Archie Harris, Chris Pennington, *Ted Swann, Gus Gosling, Johnny Parker. The total cost of the transfers for the first-team players was in the region of twenty thousand pounds—money that would be thrown down the drain if Sir Herbert’s amazing team did not come off. People remembered the care with which John Rossall had built up his celebrated teams of the past, and now the latest side had been thrown together inside a week. It shocked old supporters to the core. I was at the ground an hour before the kick-off on the Saturday, and met Spinner Dutton in the passage outside the dressing-room. “You can’t go in just now, Jimmy,” he said. “The players are having a talk about tactics.” “But you’re the manager!” I exclaimed. “You should be with them, shouldn’t you?” “I don’t know anything about the game,” replied Spinner, a perplexed grin on his face. “Still, they’re a good lot of lads, and we’re getting along fine.” Lewis and Warden were worrying because Sir Herbert had not arrived. But half an hour before the kick-off, a chauffeur-driven car stopped at the back of the stand. Sir Herbert got out of the car, and a tall young man with heavy, stooping shoulders and a cloth cap on his head followed him. The young fellow stared round in a bewildered sort of fashion. Sir Herbert introduced him to Dutton as Dan Petters. I succeeded in snatching a word with Petters before he went into the dressing-room. “What club did you used to play for?” I asked. “Dock Street Rovers—just a small friendly club,” he said. “You haven’t been a professional footballer then?” I exclaimed. Petters shook his head. “Lummy, no,” he said. “I was a coal-heaver down at Hackney!”




Hardstock Villa were the first on the field. They were skippered by Bruce Starling, the internationalist, and every man had been a member of the cup-winning team of the previous season. The side was: - Cook; Rawn, Tulliver; Starling, Ash, Cruftie; Slow, Ellis, Bewlay, Dunn, Siston. Then the red jerseys appeared, and Andy Murray led out the Rangers. By then there were forty thousand spectators inside the ground. They cheered, but it was not the old full-throated roar that used to welcome John Rossall’s team. I had a junior reporter with me, and I sent him down to find out why Sir Herbert was missing. The youngster was soon back. “I’ve found him,” he said. “He’s sitting in the dressing-room, reading a book.” The whistle blew, and the game was on. The Villa clicked into action like a machine. Through a defence that was as ragged as a scarecrow’s trousers, they raided the Rangers goal. It looked like a score in the first few minutes when Dunn sent Bewlay through with a deft pass. The Villa centre-forward beat Petters with a swerve and blazed in a shot that would have beaten any goalkeeper except Ben Barr, and how he got to it was a miracle. The Hardstock players must have thought they were on an easy thing, and the spectators were strangely silent as they watched a team that seemed just a mockery of the old Reds. On swept the Villa again. Ellis, this time, put the ball to Bewlay. The centre-forward spurted and swerved. The crowd gasped. Bewlay was still running, but only because of his impetus. He hadn’t got the ball with him. Petters hadn’t been tricked the same way twice. There was every temptation for the centre-half to kick anywhere, but, instead, he pushed the ball with the inside of his foot along the ground to Andy Murray. Andy held the ball for twenty yards, and then put a long pass out to the left. Then came a full-throated crashing roar. The winger smashed the ball low and hard across the penalty area, and, running up, Ted Swann volleyed a terrific shot into the net. From that moment I felt that the Rangers were going to win the match, and I was right. They had bad patches, but in between they played some of the brainiest football I’d ever seen. The newcomers were all fitting in—that was the amazing thing. The man with the sharpest instinct for doing the right thing was Dan Petters. He made mistakes—a number of mistakes—but he was always fast in recovery, and never erred the same way again. The instant the final whistle went on a 4-1 win I rushed down the steps. Through the open door of the dressing-room I saw Sir Herbert. “Your team’s won, Sir Herbert, by four goals to one!” I called out. Sir Herbert gave a start and blinked. “Won—oh, yes, of course,” he said, and it was evident that his thoughts were far from football. “Is the game over, then?” Later on, when Dan Petters had changed, I had a further word with the young centre-half. “How did Sir Herbert come to sign you on?” I asked. Petters grinned. “It’s an odd story,” he said. “I was out with my coal lorry, covered in coal dust as usual, when I happened to pass by the Hackney Royal Hospital. It gave me a turn when Sir Herbert—as I found he was later—dashed out in one of them white coats doctors wear. He’d a sponge in his hand, an’ he said, ‘Give yourself a wash—I want to look at your face!’.” I listened fascinated, I could just imagine the scene as the coalman stood by his lorry and wiped the black off his face. “What happened then?” I demanded. “Well, I gave my face a wipe, an’ he had a look at me,” said Petters. “Then he asked me if I played football, an’ I told him I did, for Dock Street Rovers. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘I want you to play for my team,’ and when he told me his team was the Rangers I nearly passed out. Cor, you could have knocked me down with a bloomin’ feather!”



The Saturday Wonders first appeared in The Wizard in 1947/48 under the title: The Red Rangers

THE RED RANGERS - 17 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1152 - 1168 (1947/48)

THE SATURDAY WONDERS - 17 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1733 - 1749 (1958)

THE RED RANGERS - 17 episodes appeared in Rover and Wizard issues August 2nd 1969November 22nd 1969

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2004