Retro: When Wilf’s Christmas was ruined for ever

Sheffield United  v Everton April 2nd 1956 , Blades Ringstead heads for goal  but the ball was stopped by keeper Harris
Sheffield United v Everton April 2nd 1956 , Blades Ringstead heads for goal but the ball was stopped by keeper Harris
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This week we are running a second series of reminiscences of life growing up in Attercliffe written by former Bassetlaw Labour MP Joe Ashton. The stories are from a book, Joe Blow, that Joe has just published. It’s on sale in The Star shop on York Street, Sheffield city centre for £12 and Joe is donating all the profits to the Salvation Army.

They ruined Christmas forever for my mate Wilf when the miserable old farts at Hillsborough and Bramall Lane stopped playing football matches on Christmas Day morning.

Sheffield United Team photo July 1958

Sheffield United Team photo July 1958

Probably because the directors’ wives wanted to listen to the Queen’s Speech on their new televisions, instead of going to the match.

So they moved the big game to Boxing Day.

Wilf was the fastest runner on Ripon Street in Attercliffe and Wilf’s one moment of glory once a year was always Christmas Day dinnertime, when he would be the first back to the local club, carrying the score from Bramall Lane or Hillsborough. And he was personally allowed by the Concert Secretary to announce the result with the “Best of order, please”.

The match used to kick off at 11am and trams and buses were non-existent on Christmas Day. Telephones were only used in hospitals and police stations. There were no newspapers at Christmas. And Radio Sheffield didn’t exist. Or owt else which might have produced a running commentary.

Joe Ashton hands his book over to the Lord mayor Peter Rippon

Joe Ashton hands his book over to the Lord mayor Peter Rippon

So there was nowt to do but wait for the results.

Wednesday and United would be playing in front of 50,000 fans and yet the rest of Sheffield never knew what the score was until well after the game ended. When it got to 12.45pm, look-outs would be posted on the Moulder’s club’s steps for the first signs of Wilf appearing at the far end of a deserted Attercliffe Road, amid empty tram lines.

The poorly, sick, lame, elderly and hung-over would wait silently for Wilf to bring the news from the ‘battlefield’.

There were many bets resting on it and Wilf was instructed never to take chances by leaving early, or the bets were off.

Eric Taylor (right) with Arthur Ellis at Sheffield Wednesday Ground 1956.

Eric Taylor (right) with Arthur Ellis at Sheffield Wednesday Ground 1956.

Wilf would stand at the top of the Spion Kop at Hillsborough or Bramall Lane to watch the match on the packed ashes and railway sleepers.

When the final whistle blew, off he went, slithering down the embankment and tearing along the shortcuts, through the back doubles, terrifying sleeping dogs and knocking over dustbins, to be the hero who brought the news back first to Attercliffe.

Like the Pony Express, Wilf would hurtle into the concert room and no matter whether the turn, or bingo, was on or not, would yell out: “Drawn. One, One. Derek Dooley scored! Must have been 60,000 theer.”

They’d all walked it, even Dooley. There were no trams on Christmas Day.

Sheffield Wednesday FC Team Photo 1957

Sheffield Wednesday FC Team Photo 1957

Then Wilf would fall into a chair and sink the nearest pint. Anybody’s.

Free drinks were lined up for Wilf from all those who had bet on a draw, until Wilf could sup no more.

Sometimes, if it was a spectacular win, the Concert Secretary would announce it down the mike and Wilf would nod vigorously and hold his thumb up to show he was the hero who had brought the first news to our club.

It was Wilf’s magic moment. No messenger announcing the Relief of Mafeking could have had more back-slapping or free beer.

The fans hung on to every word Wilf said and stood up to let him sit down (even royalty wouldn’t have got that) and one guy even promised to pay for Wilf’s gate money next year. Although he never did.

In 1957, Wilf’s heroism came to an end. The Football League decided in future there would be no more matches on Christmas Day because the directors’ wives wanted them at home.

It was to be Wilf’s last run.

Unfortunately for Wilf, he blew it by having to get married the day before, on Christmas Eve. It was a lovely wedding – there were no fights or bother and there weren’t even any rows when the bride’s ale got knocked over and soaked her frock.

Wilf was the perfect bridegroom. He bought everyone a drink (two for the wife’s mother because the couple were going to have to live at her house).

After everybody had gone home and they finally got off to bed, Wilf remembered all that his workmates had instructed him to do.

He made her get into bed first, to get his place warm, without a word of complaint, which was the tradition in Yorkshire, and then turfed her out on to the cold oilcloth floor to turn off the lights.

“By gum, Wilf lad,” he thought, just before he dropped off to sleep. “Tha’s married a grand lass here.”

The next morning, Wilf woke up in sheer bliss, but not for long. On what was to be his last run, his true love said to him: “You’re not going to the match this morning. You aren’t leaving me like this, even though we can’t afford a honeymoon.”

“Don’t be daft, love,” Wilf said. “I’ve got to go. The old ’uns depend on me on Christmas Day at the club. They’ll not enjoy their beer until I get back and tell them how we’ve got on.

“Besides, it’s the last time there’s going to be any matches on Christmas Day. It’ll be remembered forever.

“The committee might give me a testimonial for it, or a mention in Our Clubs.

“You are not going!” she commanded. And he didn’t.

He searched so long for his trousers that his goose pimples nearly turned to chilblains but it made no difference. He got mad and pushed her out of bed to see if she was laid on them but she wasn’t.

Wilf’s wife said that as far as she was concerned, his running days were over. His duty was to stay with her on Christmas Day and help with the sprouts.

Wilf went beserk and ransacked the house again unsuccessfully for his trousers and finally shouted from a bedroom window for a kid in the street to fetch a pair from his mother’s.

But when Wilf got them, he had no money. She had hidden that too.

Wilf was heartbroken.

By Boxing Day, she had thrown him out and made him go back to his mother’s.

It’s a terrible thing to come between a marriage, is football.

Just think, if it had snowed in 1957 and the match had been postponed, Wilf might have a grown-up family by now, and you never know, one of ’em might have run faster than Seb Coe ever did and brought home an Olympic medal too.