Canada and the USA

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Canada and the USA

By Morgan Phillips

Monday February 6, 2012

Clint Dempsey is finally getting deserved recognition in the sporting press but he has been a Fulham hero ever since the 5th May 2007. His stylishly taken goal against Liverpool that day banished the prospect of relegation.

It is fitting that Dempsey and before him John McBride chose to play for the Whites because Fulham was one of the British clubs that visited North America in the 1950s hoping to increase the popularity of the game. The Summer of 1951 saw the First Division outfit embark on a month long tour of Canada and the USA. Surprisingly none of the directors fancied the trip so the club's President Sir Leslie Bowker went in their stead. The Atlantic crossing took a week and with gales up to force 9 many of the players were sea sick. The lucky exception was the team's captain and centre half Jim Taylor. He was delayed by England international duties so he travelled to Canada by plane.

Taylor was no stranger to Canada, having toured with an FA squad the previous year. The visitors then had scored 19 goals in one match, and Fulham's manager Bill Dodgin did not want to inflict similar humiliations. He instructed his players: 'Get ahead by two goals and then show both fans and opposition the correct way of positional play, passing and the fundamentals of the game.'

For Fulham's opening game against Ontario All Stars on 24th May, Leslie Bowker was invited to perform the kick off. He waited in the centre circle as the 10,000 crowd rose to their feet for the national anthem. However owing to a mix-up not a note of music was played so Bowker kicked off anyway and the game was able to start.

Sadly it was not a great advertisement for football. The Globe & Mail dubbed it 'a drab affair for all but the most dyed in the wool soccerite'. Bobby Brennan and Beddy Jezzard (2) scored in the first half, after which the only point of interest was the appearance of 18 year old Bobby Robson as a substitute. Dodgin disapproved of using subs but he was obviously keen to give the teenager match experience. One of the visitors' techniques did not find favour with the crowd – endlessly passing back to the keeper to waste time.

Crossing the border Fulham met another touring side Glasgow Celtic on Randalls Island New York. Before the match jazz singer Maxine Sullivan sang her famous version of 'Loch Lomond' and it seemed to inspire Celtic, who won 2-0 with goals from Jock Weir and Bobby Collins. The New York Times rated the game as 'soccer at its best'.

Back in Canada a 2-2 draw with Montreal produced plenty of excitement. Jezzard's opening goal looked offside but the ref judged that the two forwards on the goal line were not interfering with play. Montreal equalised and then took the lead. After Archie Macaulay squared the match, Fulham should have won but Arthur Stevens missed a penalty.

The North American pitches had all been substandard and in Vancouver there was far more sand than grass. Fulham joked about buckets and spades but diplomatically made no official protest. Despite the conditions Fulham easily beat the BC All Stars  2-0 (Brennan and Jezzard again).

Two goals from Bob Thomas and one from Robson secured a 3-1 victory over the Alberta All Stars in Edmonton but then the unthinkable occurred. If you have seen the film 'The Greatest Game of their Lives' you will be aware of the excitement and amazement when the USA beat England 1-0 in 1950. It was hardly less of a sensation when the Victoria All Stars defeated Fulham by the same score. In fact the games were very similar; Victoria scored just before half-time and Fulham spent the rest of the match in a frantic search for a goal only to be thwarted by the Canadian keeper Joe Travis. Dodgin even tried a substitution (Jimmy Bowie for Robson) but nothing would work.

After the match Leslie Bowker tried to draw some consolation: 'I believe we have the unenviable distinction of being the first English team to lose in Canada. I hope that the result tonight will stimulate the game in Canada and particularly in this city (Victoria).' Perhaps even more shamefully Fulham were the first professional team from England to fail to score against Canadian opposition.

This defeat seems to have converted Dodgin to the use of substitutes. Against Winnipeg he sent on Brennan and Thomas for the second half, and Bobby Brennan scored a hat-trick. This 5-1 victory (Jezzard scored the other two) somewhat restored the players' footballing reputation. Off the pitch they continued the charm offensive. Scotty Harper of the Winnipeg Free Press met Robin Lawler and Johnny Campbell and found them 'Old Country chappies who were real friendly.' Certainly he could hardly have met two nicer blokes than Robin and Johnny but they originated from a different 'Old Country', having joined Fulham from Belfast Celtic.

22,000 spectators in Toronto witnessed a hard fought match against Glasgow Celtic. Bob Thomas's goal was cancelled out by a Glasgow penalty after which the game got so heated that the referee instructed the two captains to bring the players into line.

The teams met again in Montreal and Fulham at last got a win over a Scottish side. Centre-half Bill Pavitt, getting a rare first team opportunity, linked effectively with the regular full-backs Joe Bacuzzi and Reg Lowe, and continually played the Celtic forwards offside. Brennan scored twice, Macaulay once in the 3-2 victory.

Although the results were mixed, Bill Dodgin could feel grateful on one count. He had taken only one goalkeeper (Ian Black) on the tour and had never needed a replacement.

The homeward sea voyage was much calmer then the outward one and the players felt extremely satisfied. They had enjoyed the twin luxury of eating steaks and buying nylon stockings for their wives and girl-friends, they had earned some extra cash and had won plaudits for their play and their demeanour.

Leslie Bowker had been a real asset, meeting and greeting the worthies in each city, and he had been able to visit some old friends from his army days. Luckily for us he had also found time to preserve a host of cuttings from the Canadian press to give us a full picture of the tour. His albums now belong to historian Keith Whitehouse.

In theory the Fulham team was a good blend of youth and experience, equal to the demands of the first tier of English football. Yet in the following season they won only four of their first 27 matches, and succumbed quite tamely to relegation. Perhaps Dodgin should have learned from the historic debacle in Victoria.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.

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