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Leeds United John Cave

Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time, the Day We Went to ...........err...Gigg Lane!!

Wally Arnold Away Days in the 1950’s

 

In the 1950’s if you were an attractive, relatively young woman and a rabid football fan then travelling on your own for away games on supporters coaches was not considered very seemly. That was the conundrum that my Leeds United-mad Mum faced.

Away trips within Yorkshire were not a problem as my father finished work at lunchtime on Saturdays and so with a bit of an early dart we all could drive, in granddads’ car, to the likes of Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster without too many problems. However matches further afield were off the menu to Mum until I was old enough – probably 6 or 7 - to be suitably indoctrinated into being an away-day United fan. She could then take me with her, using my keenness as ‘the excuse’ for her attendance, whereas the reality of it was that I was acting as her chaperone.

Should I arrive home from school of a Friday evening and hear the words “check and see what time the Wally Arnolds leave tomorrow morning our John” then I knew that my Saturday was taken care of. The next morning the 31 bus took us from Lower Wortley to Vicar Lane, a quick detour into Leeds Market for a plate of hot pie and pie lick at that brilliant stall near the back of the market and then to get the tickets for the coach trip. There would be a sense of relief to see fellow fans in the queue down those weird spiral stairs down to the Wallace Arnold booking office in the basement of the prestigious Corn Exchange because that meant that the buses had not yet left and also that there was sufficient numbers to make up at least one busload. It was usually possible to determine the amount of support there would be by the length of the queue, before the walk through the dark arches (the ‘dangerous’ parts of Leeds City Centre), down to the Calls where the bus park was where we then took our seats on the next bus scheduled to leave and we were on our way. This was normally not a problem unless it was on a bank holiday when the place could become crowded and complicated by the hundreds of holiday makers and day trippers on their way to the Coast(s) or the Dales.

The amount of support we took by coach was quite variable but 6 or 7 coaches would be quite a good turn-out, although for the 6th round Arsenal away cup tie in 1950 there were reportedly around 150 coaches, as well as a special train, such was the amount of interest in the game (over 65,000 in attendance). In 1950 this meant leaving the afternoon/evening before in order to arrive in London early enough to ensure entry into the game which, according to my Mum, was not all ticket. Much to my disgust, for which I never forgave my parents, I was deemed too young to go on this trip!!!

The buses themselves were quite iconic with their distinctive and stylish yellow livery – which the company retains to this day - almost matching the colours of the club we were supporting.

Obviously me being young limited which games we could get to as I had to be back home at a sensible hour, plus the return walk through the Calls to Vicar Lane was not something my Mum (or Dad!!) would have been happy with if it were too late on a Saturday night!!!! Thus our trips were generally for those games over the border in Lancashire (Bury, Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley, Blackpool, Oldham, Preston and Manchester or for games in the North and East Midlands (Forest, Derby and Leicester etc).

The trips over the Pennines stand out most in my memory as the slow, cumbersome buses struggled over Stanedge in the Pennines, often in dreadful winter weather, down towards Oldham and the Lancashire mill towns. Mum would always try and persuade the driver to stop at a specific pub, usually the Floating Light (now closed) on the A62 over Saddleworth Moor, because she knew that she could get a good cup of tea and a sandwich.

As a small boy I thought that driving a Wallace Arnold football special was the best job in the world in that not only did you get to drive a bus but you went to all of Leeds United’s away games as well! The coach drivers were not always sure where the grounds were located, and without floodlight pylons to act as a guide, there was quite often a lot of stopping and asking directions or just following the flow of the home teams’ spectators walking to the stadium.

At first I found it quite strange watching Leeds in unusual surroundings away from Elland Road, as it seemed that many pitches were almost at head height for a young boy and you spent a lot of time looking straight ahead at players legs!!. Obviously there was no segregation and you went into the ground wherever you felt - in our case normally the standing Paddock area on the side the teams came out. Home fans were usually prepared to be friendly when they found you were from Leeds especially if you knew a bit about their club as well. Throughout the 1950’s and early 60’s, despite always avidly shouting for Leeds, we did not once have any problems visiting away grounds.

Returning to Leeds in the pitch black of night was the boring bit as the coach reversed the journey over the Pennines back to Leeds. Buying a Green Un to read on the bus back to Wortley was always the concluding highlight of our away days.

A final Wallace Arnold recollection, and perhaps the last time I did an away trip by bus, was to St Andrews to watch the exciting denouement of the 1965 season. It is a day in which I was none too proud of my actions. I was on the coach that crashed into an oncoming vehicle around Tamworth where a fellow Leeds fan, who was sat a couple of rows ahead of me and my school mate, sadly died. In our desire to get the game we immediately started thumbing a lift and managed to get to Birmingham shortly after the game had started – not mine (nor our clubs’ as it turned out) finest hour and something I have regretted to this day.

John Cave

 

With thanks to John Cave & The Square Ball, where this article first appeared

thesquareball.net

 

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