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Last episode taken from The Wizard No. 1190 - October 23rd 1948.

The Man From Sikang

Lawrie Hill, a pupil at Birmingham College, stood waiting in the city’s huge Air Station. Numbers flashed on to the indicator screen. The Atlantic Limited was one minute late at Belfast. The air train from Cairo was on time on leaving Paris. The reason for Lawrie being at the Air Station was an air-gram which he now carried in his pocket. The air gram read:--“We still play the football game. Make challenge to match. Wung Lun M’Fee, Captain of Sikang Rovers. Swift communications had followed, and now, in a few minutes, Wung Lun M’Fee would arrive at Birmingham to discuss whether or not a game could be arranged. It was the year 2148. Lawrie, when seeking a subject for a history paper, had come across references to a forgotten game called football. He had pursued his investigations with such success that he had re-started the game at Birmingham College. A match had been in progress when it had been spotted and televised from a helicopter, by a roving reporter. Immense interest had been aroused, capped by the arrival of the air-gram from Sikang, a province on the borders of Tibet and China. Even in 2148 there were places which, because of the desolate and forbidding nature of the country, were off the beaten track; and Sikang was one of these. A voice boomed from a loudspeaker. “The air train just about to arrive in bay number two is the express from Calcutta,” was the announcement. Lawrie walked across from the waiting rooms and looked up into the vast dome of the Air Station. Even as he stared upwards, a great section of metal wall slid open. A green light flashed. The three long, gleaming cars of the air train glided down into the station and slid into the bay, non-stop from Calcutta. Through the oval windows of the air train cars, Lawrie could see the passengers filing towards the doors. Porters were already taking baggage from the rear car and placing it on a conveyor belt. The first passenger to get out was a businessman, who called for an air taxi for his short run home to Carlisle. A bearded Indian, wearing a turban with his modern tunic suit, asked how soon he could get to London, and was told there was a local service every quarter of an hour. Then Lawrie spotted a small, smiling Chinese, and hurried up to him. “Are you Mr M’Fee?” he asked. M’Fee, speaking in English, replied that he was, and bowed with an old-time ceremoniousness. “I’m taking you along to the college first,” Lawrie said. “Quite a few people are waiting to talk to you about football. It was a thrill to get your air-gram.” “We were also delighted to find that the ancient football game was being played again in Great Britain,” was the answer. Lawrie took M’Fee’s bag and they ascended swiftly to the roof parking-space by a moving staircase. Lawrie had his helicopter waiting on the roof, and after a quick trip he was soon ushering M’Fee into a room in the college tower. The people awaiting the visitor included the College Headmaster, Dr Pycroft; Mr Burleigh, Lawrie’s form master, who had encouraged his research from the first; Mr Granger, the sports master, who had at first opposed the revival of football by the College, but who had been converted after seeing an old film of the 1948 Cup Final; and several senior boys. Dr Pycroft, who was pleased by the prominence that his school was receiving, greeted M’Fee importantly. “As a student of history I would like to know how football came to survive in Sikang,” he said. M’Fee’s round face wrinkled in a smile. “The game there is two hundred years old,” he said. “We hold in high honour the memory of Dr Angus M’Fee—after whom I take my name—who taught our ancestors how to play football.” “There’s no doubt about the doctor’s nationality,” chuckled Mr Burleigh. “Hill’s researches have made it plain that Scotland was a hot-bed of football.” “Dr M’Fee came to our land to carry on his work as a medical man at a mission station,” replied the Chinese. “In those ancient times there was strife between the mandarins Chan Shi and Fang Lee, and their men with long knives fought in many deadly combats. The story, and undoubtedly it is true, is that one day the men with the long knives were preparing for a battle when Dr M’Fee walked between them with a football. He told them sharply to put away their knives and decide the quarrel by kicking the ball. After that, football became most popular, and up to this day the game is played at every opportunity.” Lawrie turned to his friend, Phil Mason. “So football was starting up in Sikang just about the time it was fading here,” he said. “What rules do you play?” asked Mr Granger. “Dr M’Fee dictated the rules, and they are carved of the outside of a temple wall,” replied the visitor. “Before any boy is allowed to play football he must learn the rules off by heart.” Many questions about the rules were showered upon the captain of the Sikang Rovers, and never failed for an answer. The boys were all for fixing up a match with the Rovers as soon as possible, but Mr Granger shook his head. “When we play it must be more or less on equal terms,” he said. “At that moment I’m sure we couldn’t give the other team a decent game. It’s the best part of a day’s journey from Sikang. There’s no use their wasting their time in playing a one-sided match.” Even Lawrie, for all his enthusiasm, had to agree that the sports master was right. When, next day, he saw Wung Lun play football, he, like the others, was amazed. The smiling little Chinese had brought his football kit, and was instantly surrounded by the boys when he trotted out on to the field near the College. Lawrie stared at Wung Lun’s bulging stockings. “Have you stuffed something down your stockings?” he asked. “I am protecting my legs with shinguards,” stated Wung Lun. “It is a very ancient notion. Dr M’Fee told our ancestors, who wrote it down in the Book of Records, that an English footballer invented shinguards in 1874. The game was very rough and tumble in those days, and crippling kicks were received on legs.” Derek King pulled up the leg of the one-piece garment he wore, and revealed that his legs were black and blue. “That’s what happened to me the last time we played football,” he said. “I’m going to get somebody to make a pair of shinguards.” Phil looked admiringly at Wung Lun’s jersey. It was blue with a red Chinese dragon embroidered on the back and front. Phil remarked that it was smart. “We wear blue in honour of Dr M’Fee,” was the reply. “The dragon is the emblem of our football tong.” “Why blue?” Lawrie asked. “Scottish international teams were clad in blue jerseys,” stated Wung Lun. “White was the colour of the England Jerseys. Ireland sported green, and the Welsh red.” “It’s surprising how much you know about football history,” Derek exclaimed. “The words spoken by Dr M’Fee are not forgotten,” said Wung Lun. “Our ground in Sikang is called Ibrox, also in honour of Dr M’Fee.” “Ibrox!” Lawrie said. “That’s the stadium in Glasgow where riposte and skate-ball are played.” “Ibrox was formerly the ground of Dr M’Fee’s team—the Glasgow Rangers,” Wung Lun told them. “Legend tells of Dr M’Fee’s wrath when one day news came through to Sikang that the Rangers had been beaten by a club called Celtic. Legend tells that he would not eat his dinner as a consequence. Mr Granger who was going to referee the practice game, blew his whistle. He took a glance at the ancient 1948 book of rules that lately had been sent to Lawrie, and held it ready for quick reference. Wung Lun had been invited to play centre-forward for Derek King’s side against an eleven skippered by Lawrie. Within a minute a high ball came dropping towards the guest player. Lawrie went to tackle him. Wung Lun stabbed his foot down on the ball, leaned in the direction in which he was going to move, and began to go ahead. He did not kick the ball at all. Rather, he seemed to be dragging it along. His head was bent and over the ball. He kept his eyes on it. In rushed Lawrie, thinking it would be easy to take the ball off the little opponent. He rushed into empty air. As he slithered to a stop he looked over his shoulder. Wung Lun was taking the ball onwards. “How did I miss him?” Lawrie gasped. Tom Ramsay was a bit more cautious. He closed warily in on Wung Lun. Lawrie watched intently. Wung Lun faltered in his stride, and passed his left foot over the ball without touching it. Then he ran on while Tom stared round looking for him. On he went, and not a player could get near him. He came towards goal, and, just as the ball was in line with his left foot, he swung his right leg down swiftly, and kicked the ball with his instep. The ball became a blur as it flashed from his foot, and Guy Chesterton, in goal, could not have seen it, for he did not move. “Whew! What a kick!” Phil exclaimed. Lawrie’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “You remember that film we saw with Stan Matthews, the Wizard of Dribble?” he said. “Wung Lun’s just like him. “Maybe, but how did he kick the ball so hard?” Phil demanded. Wung Lun smiled at them. “The ball must not be too far in front of you when you make a shot,” he said. “When you take a kick your head must be over the ball. It was a golden rule of Dr M’Fee that the eye and the knee-cap and the middle of the ball should be in a straight line when you kick.” The rest of that game consisted in a demonstration by Wung Lun in the finer points of football. He had a rapt audience. What was astonishing to the boys was the tremendous interest shown by Mr Granger, as he asked question after question. It was astonishing because the sports master, a brilliant riposta player, had previously declared that football was a mere brawl. “Boys,” he said, picking up the ball after Wung Lun had shown them how to head it, “we shall have to put in weeks of hard practice before we can even hope to give Mr Wung Lun’s team a game.” Heads were nodded in agreement. “You’re right, sir,” Lawrie said. “His play’s just magic.” Wung Lun chuckled. “The secret of my magic is balancing,” he said. “If you lose your balance you cannot control the ball. We often perform an exercise that was taught to our ancestors by Dr M’Fee.” The boys watched intently as their visitor showed them the exercise. Standing on his right leg he swung his left foot backwards as far as it would go. Then he stretched his arms out and bent his body backwards and forwards. “Try!” he invited. “Try! First on one foot and then on the other.” Phil had to hop to keep his balance in the attitude described by Wung Lun. Derek fell over. Lawrie wondered what was happening to his back muscles. “It is difficult, but it must be mastered,” Wung Lun told them. “In football you must learn to alter your balance quickly. You must practise so that you do not have to think about it, but do it by instinct.” Derek grimaced. “Whoever imagined there was so much in football?” he asked.

Thrills From The Past

Before returning to Sikang, Wung Lun cheerfully agreed to give a lecture on football tactics. Attendance, Dr Pycroft announced, would be voluntary, but every boy in the College put in an appearance, and instead of the lecture being held in a classroom, the main hall of the school had to be used. Wung Lun stood at the side of the whiteboard. In his hand he held a radio pencil, with which he could draw diagrams on the board without actually touching it, a mark appeared at whatever spot he pointed the pencil. “Dr M’Fee, in his words of football wisdom, said that there were two main tactical schemes in football,” he began, and most of the boys busily made notes. “There was the attacking centre-half game, and the defensive centre-half game—afterwards called the third back game.” Wung Lun’s hand moved and a diagram appeared in black lines on the whiteboard. Dr M’Fee said that there were two main epochs in football,” he went on. “The attacking centre-half was used up to the year 1925, and he could roam all over the field in support of the forwards. But 1925 was a milestone year in football. It was then that the offside law was altered so that there had to be only two opponents between a player and the goal, instead of three. This made for a very big change in defence.” Wung Lun at this stage hoped he was not bringing boredom to his audience, and there was a loud reply of “No!” “Football had a clever strategist in Mr Herbert Chapman, who was manager of the Arsenal, the great club which won the English First Division Championship six times,” he said. “Mr Chapman saw that under the new rule, and with the introduction of the W formation, there was a danger zone in front of goal. This he filled by playing the centre-back as a third back. Dr M’Fee did not altogether approve, but the system was very successful in stopping goals. Centre-halves were often known as stoppers as a consequence.” “What is the ‘W’ formation, please?” Lawrie asked from his seat in the front row, and Wung Lun replied by drawing a diagram on the whiteboard, to show how, with the inside-forwards lying back to help the half-backs, the arrangement did resemble a W. “How were goals ever scored against such formidable defences?” Mr Granger demanded. “Dr M’Fee had a saying that a good inside-forward was worth his weight in gold,” answered Wung Lun. “He left us stories of a forward with the name of Alec James who could split a defence wide open by his trickiness.” That led Wung Lun to speak of the famous names that, thanks to the football-loving Scottish doctor of two hundred years previously, were still known and revered in Sikang. He told them of Billy Meredith, with his fifty one Welsh caps, who used to play on the wing for Manchester United and Manchester City, and who perfected the move of slipping the ball round one side of an opponent while running round the other. He named Steve Bloomer, of Derby County and Middlesbrough, who scored 352 goals in the League and 28 in internationals—only to have his record surpassed by Dixie Dean, of Everton, who scored 379 goals in 437 League matches. He spoke of how Dean was the terror of goalkeepers because they never knew which way he was going to shoot, and of the goals he obtained for colleagues by heading back the ball. He spoke with bated breath of the feat of James M’Grory, of Glasgow Celtic, who scored 550 goals in recognised first class football. Again and again Wung Lun offered to bring his lecture to a close. Every time his audience made him go on. He told them of the Arsenal centre-forward, Ted Drake, who scored seven goals in a game against Aston Villa, and of Joe Payne, who got ten goals for Luton Town against Bristol Rovers. He spoke of Hughie Gallacher who scored five successive goals for the Scottish League against the Welsh League. Wung Lun’s lecture lasted well over two hours, and he bowed again and again to the storm of cheering at the end. On the following day, Lawrie, Phil and Derek saw him off at the Air Station. “You’ve really opened our eyes about football,” Lawrie said. “We’re going to practise hard, and when we think we’ve made some progress we’ll challenge you to a game.” Wung Lun’s eyes twinkled as he stood in the doorway of the air car. “It will not be long,” he declared. “Thank you for coming and for telling us so much,” Derek called out. “I am but the voice of Dr M’Fee,” replied Wung Lun. “In our land he is the Father of Football, and when you come to Sikang you will see his statue on a mountain peak.

The First Signs Of Trouble

Mr Granger, now that he had been converted to football, started to organise it in the College in his thorough and energetic fashion. In the gymnasium all the exercises were designed to improve balance and quickness. On every opportunity he had the boys playing football. Not only did Lawrie play all the football he could. He also wrote about it—for Mr Burleigh demanded the completion of his history paper. This essay was marked by the history professor at the neighbouring University, and one morning Dr Pycroft summoned Lawrie to his study. “I have excellent news for you, Hill,” the Headmaster said. “Your paper has obtained a very high mark indeed. The examiner has made the comment that you have shown a thoroughness in research, and an originality in a choice of subject that is highly commendable. But, if football flourished at Birmingham College, the school’s riposta—a game played with a big indoor court—suffered. In successive weeks the College team was defeated by Glasgow Academy, Cairo, Rio, and Arctic City High School—the main school of the city that had been built at the North Pole. The first hints of trouble came when Dr Pycroft was asked to receive a deputation of former pupils of the College. Before the deputation paid their visit, the subject of football was raised in Parliament. Lawrie might have missed it, as he seldom bothered about the Parliamentary programmes on the tele-viso news, but that morning Maurice Naylor sought him out. “You’re football craze is going to be discussed in Parliament to-day,” said Maurice, who had always been opposed to the game. “My brother, who’s Member of Parliament for South Birmingham, is to ask a question about it.” “What’s the idea?” Lawrie said. “It’s time it was stopped,” Maurice snapped. “It will be stopped, too.” With anxiety on their faces, Lawrie, Phil and Derek, switched on to the “To-day in Parliament” programme. On the screen of the tele-viso machine appeared the interior of the House of Commons during question time. The speaker called upon the Member for South Birmingham, and Mr Neyland Naylor, an older edition of the dark-haired Maurice, stood up. His question was to ask the Minister of Education as to the steps he proposed to take to place a ban on a game called football. The Minister, Mr Talbot-Barker, stood up. “In reply to the Honourable Member for South Birmingham, I do not propose to place any obligation upon the College authorities to stop the boys from playing football,” he said. Lawrie gave a gasp of relief. On the screen they could see Neyland Naylor’s frown. “Surely the Minister is aware that football is a rough and uncouth contest that brings out all the worst in a boy?” he said. “That is not my information,” retorted the Minister. “To the contrary, I am told that the game is one that calls for a high degree of skill, for courage, and for physical fitness—traits that I feel should be encouraged.” Mr Neyland Naylor said angrily that he was not satisfied with the reply, and that he would raise the matter again. Lawrie switched off. “That’s a poke in the eye for Maurice,” he chuckled. “Yes, but it’s a good job the Minister spoke as he did,” Derek said. “If he’d been against football Dr Pycroft would have been scared to let us play.” Derek was right about that. Dr Pycroft had also been at his tele-viso set for the past ten minutes. He was extremely pleased that the Minister for Education had approved of the experiment, and thus fortified, he stuck to his guns when the deputation of three former pupils was ushered into his study next day. Mr Granger, Lawrie and Derek, were also called in. Carlton Gosse, a man of about thirty, led the deputation. At school he had been an outstanding riposta player. “Headmaster,” he snapped, “the Old Boys’ Association are dead-set against the introduction of football. To put it mildly, we have been disgusted by the recent riposta results. It is obvious that because of the craze for football, the school’s real games are going to the dogs,” rasped Vincent Cheyney, another of the Old Boys. “We are astounded that you, Mr Granger, should allow the College reputation for games to decline.” Mr Granger, red in the face, jumped up and interrupted. “Decline? Nonsense!” he roared. “Two months ago I thought as you did, but only because I knew nothing about football. Believe me, it’s the coming game, and Birmingham College will get the credit for reviving a sport that contains everything in the way of speed and skill.” Carlton Gosse let his arms drop limply. “I hadn’t realised that the old school had fallen so low,” he moaned. “My youngster if entered for the College,” exclaimed Cheyney. “You can strike his name off, Headmaster.” “You may do as you please,” said Dr Pycroft, huffily, and the deputation stalked out. Mr Granger shrugged. “They’ll change their minds when they’ve seen a game of football,” he said confidently. “When do you propose to play the Sikang Rover?” asked Dr Pycroft. “I think we’ll be ready in about a month,” said the sports master. “I’ve seen those films again. I wanted to get an idea of the right way to tackle. I’ve discovered the secret, I think.” “Oh, what is it, sir?” Lawrie broke in. “You must be close to the ball,” Mr Granger retorted. “You must watch the ball! You must keep your balance, and you must come through with your weight.” Dr Pycroft gave a smile that showed he knew he’d hit on a good idea. “I have a suggestion to make,” he said. “It is that we should have our football jerseys made in the colours of claret and light blue, which, I understand, were those of the great Birmingham club, Aston Villa.” “That’s a great idea, sir,” Lawrie exclaimed. Dr Pycroft smiled again. He, too, was very pleased with his notion.

Birmingham College v. Sikang Rovers

A month later a buzzer whirred in the Birmingham Air Police control tower. The operator prepared to receive a message from Air Patrol Number Two. “Calling Headquarters!” came a voice from the aircraft. “Can we have reinforcements to control air traffic, please? We’ve never seen anything like it. We’ve an air jam over the middle of the city worse than a swarm of bees.” “What’s happened?” demanded the control sergeant. “It’s this football game,” was the answer. “That’s what’s done it!” It was fortunate that the football pitch was surrounded by high grassy banks that made a natural arena, for otherwise not a tenth of the people who had surprised the Birmingham police by arriving from all parts of the country would have had a glimpse of the game. The twenty-second century crowd gazed down on the soccer pitch, pointing in curiosity at the goalposts and the white markings on the grass. Dr Pycroft had had a row of seats put near the touchlines for distinguished visitors who, to his great pleasure, included the Minister of Education and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. Lawrie had the thrill of his life when, as captain, he led the Collegers on to the field. A minute later out trotted the eleven Sikang Rovers in their blue, dragon jerseys. The vast crowd did not cheer, but their chattering voices formed a background of noise. Lawrie was playing at centre-half, Phil was at centre-forward, Derek at outside-right, and Tom Ramsay and Alfred Vine were the backs. At a whistle blast from Mr Granger, Wung Lun grinned across at the Collegers and then kicked off. A great gasp broke from the crowd at the spectacle of the Sikang Rovers sweeping forward, dribbling like wizards, and finding each other with snappy passes. Lawrie watched as Wung Lun dribbled into the penalty area. “Eye on the ball,” he muttered and closed in. Wung Lun’s body swerved outwards. His foot made a pass over the ball. Lawrie nearly fell for it, but no quite. He did keep his eye on the ball, he came through with his weight, and he took the ball of Wung Lun. The crowd roared as Lawrie was seen to kick, and thousands of heads tilted upwards as the ball soared high to the right. Derek was running for the ball. He jumped, and the spectators roared again as he was seen to head it strongly forward. The ball went to Phil. He trapped it, shouldered off an opponent, closed in, and shot. Ah Sen, in the Sikang goal, made a flying dive, grabbed the ball, fell, leapt to his feet, and kicked away. From that moment there was never a pause in the cheering. The speed of the game, the quickly-changing pattern of coloured jerseys on the green grass, the sprints made by the wingers, the determined tackling, and the strong kicking of the backs kept the crowd in a ferment of excitement. Mr Burleigh, using a microphone, did his best to explain what was happening, but more often than not his voice was drowned in the din. Excitement reached its height when Wung Lun opened the scoring for the Rovers. Then the College, a minute later, equalized when Phil shot past Ah Sen. At half-time Dr Pycroft felt a hand touch his shoulder. He turned to find Carlton Gosse standing behind him. “Isn’t the game over yet?” Gosse demanded. “Oh, no. They play three-quarters of an hour each way,” said the Headmaster. “Whew! How do they keep it up?” gasped Carlton Gosse. “It’s terrific, isn’t it—terrific?” I’m glad you’re impressed,” said Dr Pycroft. Carlton Gosse grinned. Vin Cheyney and I have already decided to start an Old Boys’ Football Club,” he chuckled. The whistle started the second half. Wung Lun’s craftiness enabled him to trick his way through and score again, but in the last ten minutes the Collegers threw everything into attack. Derek dashed in from the wing to smash the past Ah Sen, and just before the end Lawrie made a burst and Phil headed in his centre for a 3-2 win. Wung Lun’s face was wreathed in smiles. “You are apt pupils,” he declared. “It was a game that would have pleased Dr M’Fee.” The crowd scattered to all parts of the country. Within a week Lawrie received over a hundred applications for copies of the rules from schools and other organisations where it was proposed to take up football. From Preston it was reported that no fewer than three new clubs were claiming the title of Preston North End. In London, within a month, there were twelve teams calling themselves Tottenham Hotspur; and, to try and restore order from chaos, a meeting of club representatives was called to straighten things out and make rules. It was decided at the meeting to adopt the title of Football Association for the controlling body. Lawrie was the youngest member, elected on the strength of his paper on the game, and reference was constantly made to it in the organisation of the great revival of the game called football.


There Once Was A Game Called Football 6 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1185 - 1190 (1948)

There Once Was A Game Called Football 7 episodes (Repeat in picture form) appeared in The New Hotspur issues 210 - 216 (1963)

There Once Was A Game Called Football 6 episodes (repeat) appeared in The Rover issues 452 - 457 (1969)


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