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Backwords: A Roar For The Goalie

Mike Shaw remembers the golden days when sporting home football supporters applauded good play by the visiting team.

The Huddersfield Town match programme of more than 60 years ago spoke volumes of the standards of behaviour expected of fans.

Its message stands out as clearly as the day it was written.

It was targeting what was then regarded as unsportsmanlike behaviour by a small minority of supporters at Leeds Road.

The rebuke was not for invading the pitch, hurling missiles at the referee or obscene chanting.

In those days all that sort of behaviour wouldn’t even have crossed the minds of the most fervent blue-and-white fans.

No, it was for putting off visiting goalkeepers with a roar of increasing volume as they ran in to take goal-kicks.

That sounds totally innocuous today, doesn’t it? But in the 1940s it was considered deeply offensive by the Leeds Road bosses.

So in the programme were the following words: “Town fans have always been regarded as true sportsmen. So we would ask those guilty of such behaviour to cease forthwith.’’

On the open terraces it was not unusual then for supporters of both sides to mingle freely - with plenty of good-humoured banter but no malice.

Even when the mighty Arsenal came and stifled our forwards with their notoriously successful offside tactics, frustration among us terrace-siders didn’t boil over.

And when the Gunners’ Roper scored with a tremendous shot from just inside the right touchline, Town fans joined in the applause which rippled round the ground.

Wingmen and goalkeepers seemed to excel themselves when they came to Leeds Road.

The inimitable Matthews gave our lads the runaround as he did on virtually every ground in the land. Except for one memorable occasion when he came up against Town’s huge full-back, Brian Gibson.

The game was still young when the pair clashed as Gibson went in with a crunching tackle. In retrospect perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising that Stan Matthews seemed to lose interest when he found he couldn’t lose big Brian.

Sam Bartram, who seemed to go on for ever in goal for Charlton, drew gasps of amazement and ungrudging applause when he turned on another of his spectacular displays.

And, to crown all, there was that incredible performance from England goalkeeper Frank Swift when he made his swan-song for Manchester City at Leeds Road.

I was May, 1949, and Town had to win their last match of the season to make sure of staying in the First Division.

All afternoon Swift denied the increasingly desperate Town attack until with only 10 minutes left a McKenna corner came over from the right at the Leeds Road end.

Half-a-dozen heads and Frank’s big hands went up for the ball. Then, unbelievably, the ball dropped out of Swift’s grasp and Rodgers was credited with prodding home the crucial goal.

It would be an insult to a great goalkeeper and a fine sportsman to suggest that Frank took pity on Town on his very last Football League appearance.

But it was an uncharacteristic error to say the least. Town fans helped Manchester City supporters to carry him shoulder-high off the field at the final whistle.

Don’t forget that we’re talking about an era when soccer fans obeyed an unwritten code of conduct.

Even if they did occasionally roar at the opposing goalie.


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