Sport breaks out once more

CHRISTMAS 1946: The war was over but rationing had begun, fuel was scarce and Geraldo and his Orchestra was the best sound around. Meanwhile England's cricketers were rampaging through Australia and football was embarking upon a period of unprecedented popopularity. Mike Rowbottom tells us how it was half a century ago
For the professional footballer," The Times asserted 50 years ago, "the Christmas holiday period has little to recommend it. It is a period when three matches are played within the space of four days; there are too, in most cases, long journeys to be covered when travel is at its most difficult."

But few were complaining about the first full festive League programme in eight years. The journey between 1938 and 1946, after all, had been more difficult than anyone could have imagined.

The war may have been over, but its consequences shaped everyone's lives. Rationing remained, and fuel was scarce. In the Daily Mirror of Christmas Eve 1946, women readers were enjoined to save gas and electricity in the home in a message headed: "Madam, don't burn your new kitchen cabinet."

"Those new things you want," the article read, "a kitchen cabinet, curtains, a refrigerator, carpets - they all need heat and power to make them. The factories are trying hard to get these things made for you. Don't risk a hold-up. Help them by economising at home..."

Other advertisers apparently felt more confident about the state of the economy. Parlophone recommended recordings by Geraldo and his Orchestra, Benny Goodman and Dorothy Squires, whose hit of the time was Three Beautiful Words of Love.

For British sport at this time, the three most beautiful words were Business As Usual. By Christmas 1946, it was off and running again.

Five months earlier, the first post-war Amateur Athletic Association Championships had been held at the White City, at which McDonald Bailey completed the sprint double and Arthur Wint won the 440 and 880 yards.

In Rugby Union, the England selectors had gone ahead promptly in picking their team for the forthcoming match against the Rest at Twickenham on 4 January, despite what the The Times correspondent described as "the embarrassing result" of their pre-Christmas trial match, which had occasioned "the surprising ascendancy of the Possibles".

Boxing Day saw Blackheath earn revenge for an earlier 43-6 defeat by Racing Club of France in Paris, securing victory by one goal, one penalty goal and a try to nil. "A crowd of some 5,000 people watched a fast and keen, if not particularly clever, game on soft going," wrote The Times.

In Melbourne a crowd of 14,000 watched the United States establish a 2-0 Boxing Day lead in the first post-war Davis Cup final against Australia thanks to Ted Schroeder and Jack Kramer. The US went on to regain the trophy they had lost in 1939.

England's cricketers, led by Wally Hammond, also had their minds on Melbourne, where they were due to start play in the third Test of their Australian tour on 1 January. But the Daily Mirror's sport-in-short column of 27 December reported that bookies would be banned from the ground: "During the second Test at Sydney, the betting boys are alleged to have stood up on seats to shout the odds and obstructed the view of spectators."

England's players, meanwhile, were warming up in prolific fashion at Canberra, where the MCC made 465 for 8 on the first day of their match against New South Wales Southern Districts. Hammond and Cyril Washbrook put on an opening stand of 254, but The Times reported: "For sheer brilliance, Compton stood out alone."

The Mirror column contained an irresistible mix of information: Germany and Japan would not be invited to compete in the 1948 Olympic Games; Golden Sam, ridden by Mr T Johnson, had dropped dead after passing the post in a race at Wetherby; and Torquay United had had their noisiest ever crowd on Boxing Day, "result of the Supporters Club purchase of 1,000 ARP rattles."

When the first full post-war League programme had been played in England four months earlier, record crowds had braved the rain to see fixtures which were a replica of the cancelled 1939 games. A total of 950,000 fans watched the matches, and six clubs - Chelsea, Everton, Sunderland, Spurs, Aston Villa and Wolves - drew more than 50,000.

Given the economic climate, however, modernising sporting facilities was not high on the agenda. The Burnden Park disaster on 9 March, when 33 died and 500 were injured after steel barriers broke during Bolton's FA Cup game against Stoke, was an ominous example of the dangers inherent in the situation.

James Walvin's account of The People's Game (Allen Lane) describes how, after the Second World War, people flocked to professional games as never before. "Stadiums were regularly crowded, often to dangerous levels; in many cases record attendances at individual grounds belong to these years."

In 1948-49, football attendances hit an all-time peak, with more than 41 million people coming through the turnstiles. And at the end of the 1946-47 season, all but six of the professional clubs made a profit.

Despite this, no significant ground improvements were made - and the Football League was reluctant in the extreme to increase wage levels for the players.

After vigorous union activity from the fast-growing Professional Players' Association, players' wage limits went up from pounds 8 (in winter) and pounds 6 (in summer) to pounds 10 and pounds 7 10s respectively. It was on these terms that the majority of those fulfilling the Christmas fixtures 50 years ago took to the field.

The Christmas Day and Boxing Day fixtures saw maximum points earned by the League leaders, Wolves, although they eventually lost out in the title race to Liverpool.

The Mirror reported that after Manchester City's Christmas Day game at home to Plymouth Argyle, each City player was due to take an Argyle man back home with him for Christmas dinner. There may have been some strained social occasions after Argyle's 3-1 win.

Arsenal, struggling at the foot of the First Division, marked their revival by emulating Wolves. "To win matches home and away at Christmas is a wonderful antidote to that inferiority complex which usually follows failure," commented Arsenal's manager George Allison. Apparently.

The Mirror added: "We have yet to see an Arsenal player commit a serious foul - and in a season of cut-throat vigour, that can be said of regrettably few teams. There's a new spirit at Highbury." Fifty years on, plus ca change, it seems...


Wednesday 25 December 1946

First Division

Arsenal 2 Porstmouth 1

Villa 2 Huddersfield 2

Blackburn 1 Blackpool 1

Bolton 2 Man Utd 2

Chelsea 1 Preston 2

Everton 4 Derby 1

Grimsby 3 Charlton 1

Leeds 3 Middlesbrough 1

Sheffield Utd 6 Brentford 1

Stoke 2 Liverpool 1

Sunderland 0 Wolves 0

Second Division

Barnsley 4 Southampton 4

Birmingham 3 Swansea 1

Bradford PA 1 Leicester 2

Burnley 3 Nottm Forest 0

Bury 4 Sheffield Wed 2

Coventry 3 Tottenham 1

Man City 4 Plymouth 3

Millwall 1 Chesterfield 1

Newcastle 2 West Brom 4

Newport 4 Fulham

West Ham 2 Luton 1

Third Division (South)

Aldershot 0 Port Vale 0

Bournemouth 0 Norwich 1

Brighton 1 Exeter 6

Bristol Rovers 2 Walsall 2

Crystal Palace 6 Torquay 1

Orient 0 Cardiff 0

Mansfield 2 Reading 2

Northampton 2 Bristol City 2

Notts County 0 Swindon 0

QPR 1 Ipswich 3

Watford 4 Southend 0

Third Division (North)

Carlisle 4 Barrow 1

Chester 2 Rotherham 2

Crewe 3 Darlington 2

Doncaster 5 Wrexham 0

Gateshead 2 Accrington 1

Halifax 1 Bradford City 2

Hartlepool 0 Hull 0

Oldham 2 New Brighton 2

Rochdale 1 Stockport 4

Southport 0 York 3

Tranmere 5 Lincoln 2

Thursday 26 December 1946

First Division

Portsmouth 0 Arsenal 2

Huddersfield 1 Villa 0

Blackpool 1 Blackburn 0

Man Utd 1 Bolton 0

Preston 1 Chelsea 1

Derby 5 Everton 1

Charlton 0 Grimsby 0

Middlesbrough 3 Leeds 0

Brentford 2 Sheffield Utd 1

Liverpool 2 Stoke 0

Wolves 2 Sunderland 1

Second Division

Southampton 1 Barnsley 1

Swansea 1 Birmingham 0

Leicester 2 Bradford PA 1

Notts Forest 1 Burnley 0

Sheffield Wed 2 Bury 5

Tottenham 0 Coventry 0

Plymouth 2 Man City 3

Chesterfield 2 Newcastle 2

West Brom 3 Millwall 3

Fulham 4 Newport 1

Luton 2 West Ham 1

Third Division (South)

Port Vale 4 Aldershot 2

Norwich 1 Bournemouth 6

Exeter 2 Brighton 1

Walsall 2 Bristol Rovers 0

Torquay 2 Crystal Palace 1

Cardiff 0 Orient 0

(abandoned after 40 min due to bad weather)

Reading 3 Mansfield 0

Bristol City 2 Northampton 3

Swindon 4 Notts County 2

Ipswich 1 QPR 1

Southend 5 Watford 0

Third Division (North)

Barrow 3 Carlisle 1

Rotherham 3 Chester 1

Darlington 4 Crewe 0

Wrexham 0 Doncaster 2

Accrington 0 Gateshead 3

Bradford City 3 Halifax 1

Hull 1 Hartlepool 1

New Brighton 4 Oldham 0

Stockport 5 Rochdale 2

York 1 Southport 1

Lincoln 2 Tranmere 1

Top and bottom after Christmas

First Division

1 Wolves 34pts

2 Liverpool 30

3 Middlesbrough 29

4 Blackpool 28

21 Leeds United 14

22 Portsmouth 13

Second Division

1 Birmingham City 30

2 Manchester City 30

3 Burnley 29

4 Newcastle United 28

5 Tottenham Hotspur 26

21 Sheffield Wednesday 14

22 Newport County 11

Third Division (South)

1 Cardiff City 33

2 Queen's Park Rangers 30

3 Southend United 27

4 Bristol City 26

21 Bristol Rovers 10

22 Leyton Orient 9

Third Division (North)

1 Doncaster Rovers 36

2 Chester City 32

3 Rotherham United 28

4 Bradford City 25

20 Halifax Town 12

21 Accrington Stanley 12

22 Southport 9