It was a mini-sized newspaper, cost 2d (two old pence) and hit the streets on a Thursday. In 1935, the 30th November edition of ‘Sports Budget’ included a very interesting insight into some of the players and characters at the club as part of a series titled, ‘Round the Grounds – With Peeping Tom.’ Apart from meeting our trainer who claimed that he could play eight musical instruments, he writes about various Rangers players and also our travelling Stand. I had heard that it had moved from Park Royal to Loftus Road, but according to the article it had been uprooted twice !
‘Having heard so much about Tom Cheetham, that brilliant young centre-forward playing for Queen’s Park Rangers, I thought I’d pop over to Shepherd’s Bush in West London and see for myself. But Tom was not the first person I encountered when I entered the Rangers’ enclosure the other morning. In the tunnel leading on to the pitch, I met Willie Birrell, the former Middlesbrough and Raith Rovers inside-forward and now the Rangers manager. Taking me through into his office, Willie and I were soon chatting away as though we were old pals. When I said that I had been down to Bournemouth recently, the Rangers manager was interested at once. You see, he was in charge of the South Coast club last season. But for the moment I was more concerned with Queen’s Park Rangers and with Tom Cheetham in particular.
“Tom’s certainly the find of the season,” said Willie Birrell, puffing away at his pipe. “Where did you find him ?” I asked and learned that Tom hails from Byker, Newcastle. It was not until he joined the Royal Field Artillery and was drafted to India that he became anything out of the ordinary as a footballer. Having finished his time abroard, Cheetham was sent back to Aldershot to learn a trade at the Army Vocational Training Centre. “Towards the end of last season”, Mr Birrell went on, “Tom was given several trials with the reserves here. Then I saw him play and I reckoned that the time had come to offer him a job. He signed forms on a trestle-table in the canteen at Aldershot. His first game as a professional was as leader of our first team forwards and – well, you know what followed. Since then I’ve had clubs from all over the country asking about him. But look at that pile of letters there,” Willie pointed to a stack of letters lying in a wire basket on his desk. “They are from supporters imploring me not to transfer Tom.”
A tall pleasant fellow had entered the office during the conversation and Mr Birrell broke off to introduce him. “This is Dave Richards, our trainer,” he said. I recognised Dave immediately as I gripped his hand, still oily from a recent massage “operation”. I saw the big Scot playing for Luton Town not so very long ago. He left that club for Watford, with whom he finished his playing career. Dave soon started to supply plenty of information, although it was not easy to drag out of him some facts about his own talents. In the end, however, I learned that Dave can play eight musical instruments – the piano, clarinet, saxophone, organ, piccolo, violin, guitar, piano accordion. In fact, as Dave put it, “very nearly anything from a church organ to a tin whistle.”
“You come from a musical family, don’t you Dave ?” Willie Birrell asked with a smile. “That’s right”, came Dave’s reply. “My two brothers are quite good. One of them and I used to play piano and violin duets at concerts in Scotland in the old days. We gave vocal duets too.” The Rangers ought to have quite a good band soon, for Frank Lumsden, the former Huddersfield Town winger was a trumpeter and crooner in a Yorkshire dance-band before coming to London. Then there’s Sam Abel, the former Chesterfield and Fulham player, who is learning the piano-accordion under Dave’s tuition.
“Come along and see some of the lads,” said Dave after a while. So away we went along the back of the grand stand to the dressing-rooms. The stand struck me as being pretty good and I said so. “Ay, it’s one of the strongest in the Third Division,” Dave agreed. “I suppose you know that the Rangers have had nearly a dozen grounds since the club was formed. Well, this stand has stood on three of them – Park Royal, Willesden Green and now here.” And everywhere the Rangers went their stand was sure to go, eh ? As we entered the dressing-room, where a number of players were sitting around chatting, having finished their training, someone called out: “Look out lads, here’s the man from Scotland Yard !” Evidently he meant me. I ask you ! “Don’t take any notice of Sam Abel,” Dave confided. He’s our funny man – one of them rather. He and Joe Hammond are the fun-racketeers. When they start on one another, this room gets like a battleground.”
It was clear to me that Sam, who had been playing at full-back this season, although he was originally a centre-forward, was the life and soul of the party. Some of the players told me a few stories about Sam. On one occasion, when he was a bit slow in getting to the ball, a wit in the crowd yelled in true Stanley Holloway style: “Hi Sam, Sam pick up thy knees !” Then there was another funny fellow in the stand at Shepherd’s Bush who, on one occasion, when the Rangers were going down rather badly, shouted: “Sam, Sam, sound the retreat on thy drum !” While I listened to all that was going on, I watched Dave Richards massaging Bill Mason, the goalkeeper. Dave told me afterwards that he studied massage while still playing and carried on business in this capacity for seven years at Watford. Nowadays, he has a fine practice at Alperton near Wembley so, you see, his hands are pretty full.
I saw Jackie Crawford, the former England, Chelsea, and Hull City winger, who is the team’s golfing star. Willie Birrell is a great believer in golf and the players regularly spend one day a week at the Brent Valley course. I did not, however, see Bert Blake, the half-back, he has a wholesale paint business. Reg Banks, the former amateur international centre-forward from West Bromwich, who is a master of languages at Camberwell, was absent too. So was my old friend Bill Coggins, the one-time Bristol City and Everton goalkeeper. Bill is in the licensed trade near his home at Bristol.
I had a long and interesting chat, however, with Jimmy Eggleton, the former Charlton and Watford centre-half. Jimmy is now assistant -trainer at Shepherd’s Bush, but he’s never too busy to chat about the great days when Charlton reached the old Fourth Round of the Cup, beating Manchester City, Preston and West Bromwich to get that far. Charlton were a very humble little club at that time and this performance attracted tremendous attention. By the way, Jimmy and his father have a fine pigeon roost and their birds have won many important races. Hammond is also keen on pigeons.
Leaving the players and returning to the office, Willie Birrell told me to watch his latest capture, Charlie Clark, a 17-year-old inside-right, whom he found in Hampshire village football. He was a plumber’s apprentice. He also showed me a fine blue and yellow banner hanging in the Board Room. It was presented to the Rangers by First Vienna F.C., in January 1933 when the Austrians played at Shepherd’s Bush. Just as I was leaving, Billy Carr, the captain and former Derby County full-back, turned up. Bill still lives at Derby, but travels to London in mid-week in preparation for the next match.’
The R’s were to finish in fourth place and Tommy Cheetham was eventually transferred to First Division Brentford in January 1939 for ¬£5,000. Billy Birrell moved on to Chelsea within a month and arguably these two departures cost Rangers promotion that season.