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First episode taken from Adventure No. 1169 - October 5th 1946.


Baldy Hogan, the player-manager of Burhill United, bustled into the dressing-room a quarter of an hour before the kick-off in the Third Division match with Hardcastle. In an atmosphere which was a mixture of embrocation, leather, varnish, and smoke from the old stove, his players were in varying stages of readiness. Jerry Kent, the centre-forward, who liked to look smart, had finished changing and was standing in front of the mirror running a comb through his hair. M’Vay, the sandy-haired centre-half, was just pulling his red jersey over his head. Ted Collins, the burly goalkeeper, held up a size 10 boot to show that it had not got a lace. Baldy plunged a hand into the pocket of his old tweed jacket and tossed a new pair of laces to Collins. “Anyone else want laces?” he demanded. “Mac, your shin-pads are on top of the cupboard! Smear some Vaseline on that sore heel, Harry, and pad it with a bit of cotton wool.” Baldy pulled his coat off and slung it up on to a hook. “You’d better put a bit of adhesive on that cut, Bert. Gosh! The match ball. I’ve had so much on my mind that I forgot to blow it up!” With his braces dangling down his back, Baldy dashed out of the room. The players grinned. Everything from opening up the turnstiles to blowing up the ball depended on Baldy. He ran the club; in fact, he was the brains of the team. Somehow, though the gate receipts were small, and his players a mixture of old professionals and keen youngsters, he kept the flag flying gallantly. Back into the room dashed Baldy, his Cup and League Championship medals swinging on his watch chain. He thrust a bladder into the new yellow case and hastily pumped it up. In very quick time the ball was laced up and ready. From overhead came the thud of footsteps as the stand filled up.

Hardcastle, going all out for the League leadership, were a big attraction. At the moment Burhill stood about halfway up the table. Baldy, with an eye on the clock, changed like lightning. Dead on time he picked up the old practice ball and led the team out. The moment the spectators saw that bald patch, bushy eyebrows, and slightly bowed legs, they let out a cheer. Tom Higgs, the part-time trainer, who was getting old and a bit deaf, appeared with the bucket, and the United were ready. As Ted Collins, cap in hand, ran towards the goal, Baldy flicked the ball to Jerry Kent. The centre-forward, who always played a bit to the crowd, shot hard. Still holding his cap, Collins pushed out his other fist, thumped the ball down, and kicked it away. M’Vay was standing near the penalty spot. He met the ball on the volley and fired a rising shot at the far corner of the net. It did not get there. Collins sprang, knocked the ball up, caught it in a hand as big as a ham, and slung it out. Baldy gave a puzzled shake of the head. Collins was a grand team man, full of loyalty and keenness. He did not care how the long shots came to him—high, low, skidding balls, bouncers—he could take them all. It was difficult to explain the soft goals which he conceded. Last week such an error had lost the United two points. A fortnight ago their opponents had taken away a point as the result of another lapse. Wham! Harry Hall, the left-winger, let loose a shot with the speed of a rocket. Collins punched it out. Bert Shell, the lanky right-back, had a crack, and when Bert kicked a ball it nearly burst. The goalkeeper pushed it over the bar as easily as scratching his head. The spectators loudly applauded the exhibition. The whistle shrilled, and Baldy trotted upfield for the toss. As he ran, his thoughts were still busy. Maybe Collins was just passing through a bad patch. But from his experience of football Baldy doubted if it were as simple as that. Clay, the Hardcastle centre-half and skipper, a towering figure in his bright green jersey, grinned as he shook hands. “You haven’t got your bath-chair yet, Baldy,” he said. “No, I can still stagger round a bit,” chuckled Baldy as he spun the coin up. Clay won the toss and promptly decided to play with the wind. Baldy, who was playing inside-left, took a look at the crowd as he waited. He guessed there was a seven thousand gate. Not bad! If the club could go on drawing so many spectators he could make ends meet. A win over Hardcastle would guarantee as large a crowd for the next home match.

Hardcastle started off in a fashion which showed why they were near the top of the League. They were fast, kept the game open, and found their men with the passes. Baldy dropped back with the other inside-forward to help the defence stave off the pressure. Baldy’s experience and sense of timing put him in the right place at the right time. The spectators roared as his bald head popped up to intercept a high pass which the Hardcastle centre-forward was eagerly awaiting. Helped considerably by the wind, Hardcastle came tearing downfield again. Bert Shell, at right-back, found himself in difficulties, and turned to pass back to the goalkeeper. He was about twelve yards away when he kicked. The crowd gasped as the ball slewed and bounced awkwardly. Baldy held his breath for a moment, but Collins pounced, snatched the ball up as the centre-forward rushed in pursuit, dodged him, and slung the leather out to Baldy. With his famous flick Baldy sent Harry Hall racing down the left wing. Nobody ever called Harry clever. The things he did were obvious, but he always did them so whole-heartedly that they often came off. This time he beat the half-back by putting the ball round him, and then looked inwards. He obviously saw Baldy’s shining pate and took it as his target. Baldy stood still as the ball came towards him. He gave a nod at the right moment. Round the back curved the ball with Jerry Kent in close pursuit. “Steady, Jerry!” Baldy snapped. If Jerry had taken a slam he might have put in a net buster. Equally easily he might have hit the policeman on the bank behind the goal. Baldy’s exclamation steadied him. Instead of shooting he ran the ball on and touched it into the side of the net without any risk of missing. Baldy grinned widely. “Nice work, boys,” he said. Hardcastle showed they were not the sort of team who gave in because they were a goal down. Inspired by Clay, they went at it hammer and tongs. Suddenly from fifteen yards range, Piker, their centre-forward, slammed in a terrific shot. It looked like a goal all the way, but Collins had other ideas. A kangaroo had nothing on him when he made his jump, and his outflung arms grabbed the ball close against the post. He fell, scrambled up, dodged Piker, and cleared, while the crowd roared. Baldy nodded. Few goalkeepers, he knew, would have reached that ball. Even if he had got a man to put in his place he could not drop Collins. All the same he was worried. Up to the interval Hardcastle banged shots at the goal from all angles, but Collins was unbeatable. He got a big cheer when the team left the field at halftime. A minute after the interval there was a sensation. Bert Shell misjudged the flight of the ball and it struck his hands. The referee ran up, blowing his whistle and pointing to the penalty spot. The crowd booed by instinct, and Bert protested that it was an accident, but the official stuck to his decision.


Clay, the penalty-kick king placed the ball very carefully on the spot. Then he walked back five paces and rubbed his toe on his stocking. A hush fell on the crowd. Collins licked his fingers and crouched in the middle of the goal. Clay rushed at the ball. Just as he kicked, Collins hurled himself to the left. The photographer of the “Sports Gazette” snapped it, and in the paper that night was a picture of Collins sprawling flat on his stomach with his hand curled over the ball an inch outside the whitewash line. Hardcastle lost a lot of their sting after that save. They played almost as if they had come to the conclusion that shooting at Collins was about the same as kicking at a wall. The United found the visiting defence equally hard to crack, and the ball was mostly in midfield until, five minutes before the end, Hardcastle forced a corner. The ball curved over. It dropped too far out for Collins to jump for it, and began to cannon about from player to player as a terrific melee developed inside the penalty area. The goalkeeper watched the ball as it bobbed about. It bounced off Bert Shell. Piker thrust his leg out. He got his foot to the ball, but only managed to put his toe under it and lob it feebly. Collins had only to take a couple of strides to reach the ball. He hesitated, and then moved. The spectators behind the goal groaned as they saw he would not reach it. After saving so many raspers, including a penalty, he was beaten to the wide by this soft, silky poke at goal—it could not be called a shot. Collins was licked by it, but somebody else was not. A figure sprang across the goal behind the floundering goalkeeper. A bald head lifted the ball out of the goalmouth and over the bar. Baldy had dropped back to aid the defence when the corner was conceded, and he had covered the goal at this critical instant. “Gosh, Baldy, where did you come from?” Collins jerked out. Baldy gave a grunt. He had saved the goal and won the game, but he was no nearer finding out why Collins could not be depended on to save the shots from close in. That time Baldy had been near enough to stick his head in the way, but there would be other occasions, and plenty of them, when there would be nobody to get behind the goalkeeper.

The problem lay in Collins’ fatal hesitation when the game surged round his goal. He seemed unable to make up his mind what to do with the short, unexpected shots from close in. Baldy did not get a chance of talking to Collins. The moment he got off the field, pleased with the two points the team had won, he had to dash into the office to check over the gate receipts. By the time he was through, the goalkeeper was gone. However, he decided upon a test during the week. The next game was against Fairport City, played at home, and Baldy did not want any mistakes made then. Baldy was a great believer in ball practice. He thought that the more the boys kicked the ball about, the more accurate they would be in an actual game. So no one suspected anything unusual when Baldy said they would practice taking corners. “Bert and I will be the backs,” he said. “The rest of you try to score.” Harry Hall trotted out to the corner, placed the ball, and lobbed it into the middle. Baldy jumped for it. It looked as if he had mis-headed when he deflected the ball right on to Jerry Kent’s foot. Jerry was about three yards out, but even as the ball flew from his foot it was smothered by Collins, who with perfect anticipation, had dived out and got there. Collins grinned and tossed the ball away. It cannoned about and then reached M’Vay. He shot from about five yards. There was a lot of force behind the ball but it did not beat the goalkeeper. Again he had anticipated the shot and sprang to get in line with the ball and beat it away. It was the same all through the practice. True, the ball was put several times into the net—weight of numbers counted for that—but not once did Collins miss a shot he ought to have stopped. Hard shots, soft shots, lobs, and sharp grounders, he never put a hand or a foot wrong in getting them away.


Baldy walked off rubbing his bald head. If Collins played with such certainty and sense of timing in a League game there would be no better goalkeeper in the country. “What freezes him up in a real match?” pondered Baldy. “What keeps him rooted to the spot as if he had got lead in his boots? I know the nerves play some funny tricks, but I don’t think Collins knows what nerves are.” Footsteps thudded behind the manager, Collins caught up with him. “Was that practice a try-out for me, Baldy?” he asked. “Well, yes, it was,” Baldy replied candidly. “I thought perhaps you weren’t seeing the ball from close quarters.” “There’s nothing wrong with my eyes,” retorted Collins. “I can see the stitches in the seams.” “Then why don’t you stop them?” Baldy asked bluntly. Collins shook his head. “You can’t stop ‘em all,” he said. “You can’t expect the breaks all the time.” The problem of Collins’ lapses was worrying Baldy, and he felt weary. “Would you like to drive the car back for me?” he asked Ted. “I’ll be glad to,” replied Collins readily. Baldy and the goalkeeper went out to the car park and climbed into the manager’s old saloon. “You know the way?” Baldy inquired. “Sure. Straight through the town and then fork left,” said Collins, and drove out of the car park. Baldy was not a nervous man, but Collins’ breezy style of driving made him a bit anxious. The goalkeeper, however, had a good eye for traffic, and went past a couple of trams and a trolley bus with a margin of at least six inches to spare. The green light was on as they approached the main crossing, but the amber flashed and then the red came on. Baldy waited for Collins to put his foot on the brake, but the goalkeeper, whistling “Don’t fence me in” drove straight on. A bus skidded to a stop as the car shot in front of it. Out of the corner of his eye Baldy saw a cyclist tip off. A tram loomed up with the driver glaring down as he used the emergency brake.

Baldy finally got his breath back as the car just missed a lorry and cleared the crossing. Collins spoke angrily. “Don’t those guys watch the signals?” he snapped. “It was you who passed the red, Ted.” Baldy said hoarsely. Collins sounded quite indignant. “Of course I didn’t!” he retorted. “It was green.” Baldy pointed ahead to more traffic signals. “What colour’s on now?” he demanded. “Red,” said Collins, and slowed down. “You’re wrong, it’s green!” Baldy snapped. “Ted, I’ve got it. You’re colour blind!” “Me—colour blind?” Collins exclaimed. “Yes, and I was slow not to guess it before,” Baldy declared. “You’re all right with the long shots because you can see the forwards shape to shoot, but at close quarters you’re licked because in the hurly-burly of a melee you can’t pick the colours out and don’t move till it’s too late. Collins still did not believe it, but Baldy saw lights twinkling below and told him to stop. They were on a bridge, and the main railway line passed underneath. “What are those lights, Ted?” Baldy asked, pointing to two signal lamps. “Two reds,” Collins retorted. “No,” Baldy said. “The top one’s green, the bottom red.” “Gosh, they both look the same to me,” muttered the goalkeeper. Baldy’s face wrinkled into a big grin. “That proves it,” he said. “Don’t look so pleased about it,” snapped the goalkeeper. “It means the end of football for me, doesn’t it?” Baldy shook his head emphatically. “I’m pleased because we’ve solved the problem,” he said. “And if you think you’re going to spend Saturday afternoons on your allotment—well you’re mistaken.” Collins looked a bit shamefaced. “Gosh, I’m sorry I spoke like that, Baldy,” he declared. “All the same, I just can’t see how you’ll put things right for me.” Baldy chuckled. “You leave that to me, Ted,” he replied. “Get a move on, but for goodness sake don’t drive past any more traffic lights before getting the word from me.”


About ten seconds after the United ran out on to the field on the following Saturday afternoon, the spectators were all busy discussing the team’s new colour scheme. On the red jerseys of the players, back and front, was a white ring and a white spot forming a bullseye design. As the United’s registered colours were actually red and white, Baldy had been able to make the change without any bother. The result was striking. The new jerseys made a vivid contrast with the dark blue kit of Farport City, the visitors. Collins grinned confidently. This time he would be able to pick the Farport men out in the fiercest scramble. Baldy came out and sat on the end of the trainer’s bench. The team would have to do without him for once. He wanted to give all of his attention to Collins. Baldy’s place at inside-left was filled by Danny Hay, a local lad, who was big and raw, but keen and as strong as a horse. The crowd were still chattering about the new type jerseys when the game started. There was a bit more than mere local rivalry about this game. Fairport had knocked the United out of the cup in the previous season, and had also won at home earlier on. The match started well for the home team. The ball had scarcely started to move before Harry Hall was galloping down the left wing. He centred to Danny, who was standing on the edge of the penalty area. The ball was about knee high, when Danny took a blinder at it. He kicked so hard that it was a wonder his boot stayed on. It was one of those wild sort of efforts that usually end in making the spectators duck on the top of the bank, but this time it went straight and the ball entered the net as if jet-propelled. Tom Higgs, the trainer, gave a chortle. “That boy packs a kick in his boot,” he said. “Um, yes,” grunted Baldy. “But he was lucky.” Farport attacked down the centre, and were checked when M’Vay tipped over dredger, their centre-forward.

The referee thought the charge unfair, and gave a free kick just outside the penalty area. Dredger took the kick himself, and there was dynamite in the shot. Collins leapt and tipped the ball over the bar for a corner. The ball soared into the middle from the corner kick. It cannoned off M’Vay’s chest, and there was a rare mix-up just in front of the goal. The ball bobbed about among a forest of legs before Dredger pushed his foot out. Baldy leapt to his feet with excitement. It was all over in an instant. Collins flung his arms out—too late. The ball trickled past him so slowly that it did not reach the back of the net. Baldy sank down on the bench. It had happened again. Despite the special jerseys Collins had let in another soft goal. It was a bitter disappointing moment for the manager. “Lummy, he could have caught that one in his mouth if he’d moved quick enough,” muttered Tom Higgs. Baldy bit his lips. In a grim silence he watched the game. Every time there was a scramble near the goal his heart was in his mouth. Right on half-time he had an anxious moment. Farport forced a corner, and during the scramble Collins dived out and actually snatched the ball off Bert Shell’s foot as the back was in the act of clearing. “Gosh, see that!” gasped Higgs as Collins scrambled up and managed to toss the ball away. “He’s robbing his own men now!” Baldy jumped up, his eyes twinkling keenly. “Well, of all the mutts I’m the biggest,” he exclaimed, and suddenly dashed off down the passage to the dressing-room. A minute later M’Vay clattered into the dressing-room with the team following him in. The mugs of tea were ready on the table, and there was usually a rush to get them. This time, however, the players stared towards the cupboard. Baldy was half-buried inside, and old boots, shinpads, and other articles came showering out.

Suddenly, with a cry of triumph, Baldy pulled out a cardboard box from which he tipped out a number of white rosettes, worn by stewards on big match occasions. “Here,” he exclaimed, “fix these on your stockings. Forwards needn’t trouble, but backs and halves must wear a rosette!” “Gosh, what’s the idea, Baldy?” gasped M’Vay. “Mebbe you’ll soon find out,” chuckled Baldy. The game restarted with grand slam tactics by Farport. Dredger led a terrific onslaught, and the crowd roared with excitement as there was a mass attack on the home goal. Suddenly Collins launched himself in a spring. Right off Dredger’s toe he whisked the ball as the centre-forward was in the act of shooting, and booted it right up to the halfway line. “See that?” Baldy said gleefully. “He was right that time.” “I still don’t get it,” muttered Higgs. “I thought I’d solved Ted Collins’ problem when I put bullseyes on the jerseys,” said Baldy. “I’d forgotten something—that he still couldn’t pick out the legs in a melee. He couldn’t tell the difference between our red-topped stockings and Farport’s blue. Now he’s got the rosettes to guide him. They’re only a temporary measure. During the week I’ll have bullseyes worked into our stockings, and then I don’t think there’ll be any more mistakes.” “You’re a smart ‘un, Baldy!” exclaimed the trainer, and then let out a sudden yell, simultaneously kicking over the bucket of water. Danny had shot. The ball bent the crossbar and flashed back. Jerry Kent got his head to it, and though he wobbled away half-stunned the ball was in the back of the net. It was the winning goal. In a thrilling finish the United kept the visitors out—thanks to Collins. In the very last minute he showed marvelous anticipation in smothering a short sharp shot from Dredger, and came off the field with a cheery grin for Baldy. The astute manager had solved the problem that had threatened to put an end to the ‘keeper’s footballing career.


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007