THE BOY WHO COULD CATCH PIGEONS
By IAN HEMMENS
16th September 1929 was a significant milestone in the annals of both the Football League and more relevantly, Bradford Sporting History.
At the tender age of 15 years, 156 days, Bradford born youngster Albert Geldard made his Football League debut for Second Division Bradford (Park Avenue) against Millwall at the Den in South London.
Just as an aside, Albert’s record was amazingly equalled in 1951 by Wrexham’s Ken Roberts against…………..Bradford (Park Avenue)!
It has since been broken by Barnsley youngster Reuben Noble-Lazarus on 30th September 2008 who lowered the bar to 15 years and 45 days of age. As another sign of the times, Noble-Lazarus wasn’t allowed any payment and had to go to school the next morning. Albert in 1929 was already working in the office for a firm of dyers and had to seek permission to make the two day journey to London to fulfil the fixture. He recalled that Avenue’s trainer, the former Bradford City winger Albert Bartlett had told the players after a reserve game in the Midland League to report to the ground the following morning, a Sunday, as the club’s Directors were selecting the travelling party for the trip to London. Geldard had to ask if this was correct as he had just broken into the reserve team at his tender age. Bartlett insisted he was to attend but arrived late not being irreverent enough to sneak out of church early for his date with destiny.
Once it was confirmed he was in the party, there was also the small matter of gaining his Father’s permission & also that of his employers. He was taken in Chairman Stanley Waddilove’s limousine to firstly, his home, then place of work and thankfully, all permissions were granted. The team travelled by train and he shared a room with Avenues ex-England half-back Alf Quantrill. The game itself was won 2-0 and passed the youngster by in the main playing on a surge of nerves and adrenaline. The next day after travelling back North he had to report to work and faced the inevitable barrage of questions about the game, how he felt , how did he play etc.
This, though, was only the beginning. Albert Geldard was born 11th April 1914 in the Brownroyd area of Bradford. His Father Frederick was an outstanding winger in Bradford Amateur Football and both Albert & his elder Brother Norman inherited their Fathers sporting prowess.
By 1925 and now attending Whetley Lane school, he was representing Bradford Boys, his Brother Norman Captaining the side against Ardsley. The following season saw him & Norman selected for the Yorkshire Boys team thus becoming the 1st Brothers to appear for the side in the same season. At this time, Whetley Lane were dominant in Bradford Schools football, cricket & athletics, no doubt helped by the 2 Geldard Boys. Norman was good enough to be offered trials at both Huddersfield Town & Bradford Park Avenue but by this time he was committed to a career outside sport and his work commitments meant he never entered the professional ranks. Albert on the other hand went from strength to strength. In his final season at school, he scored an incredible 113 goals for his side including a 22 goal haul in a 35 goal victory against a hapless Carr Lane School.
Spring 1927 saw Albert selected for his 1st International trial in a North v Midlands match at Newark. His inside partner was a ‘little boy from Sunderland’ named Raich Carter. The 2 were kept together when the England team was selected for a match against Wales at Bristol Rovers Eastville ground. I believe this made him the 1st Bradford born schoolboy international since 1914 when Maurice Wellock of Bradford City was selected. In 1927 & 1928, Albert played for every representative side at Junior level, Captaining the Yorkshire Boys side. He also represented Bradford Boys at Cricket and had to make the decision on leaving school whether to spend his free time pursuing a career in Football or Cricket.
As mentioned earlier, upon leaving school Albert gained employment as a clerk in a Dyeing Company but he continued his football with the Manningham Mills club.
At the tender age of just 12, Albert had been spotted by the Secretary-Manager of Park Avenue, Claude Ingram and after gaining the permission of albert’s Father, at the age of 15 made his debut for the Reserves against Northern Nomads on 9th March 1929. After showing well in the following seasons Pre-season practise games, the local press were already raving about the potential of the youngster. After his full debut, word quickly spread about the young prodigy and to ward off interest from Charlton Athletic amongst others, Albert signed Professional terms with Bradford Park Avenue on his 17th Birthday. At first he was drip-fed games with the 1st team to ease him in to the professional game. One of his rivals for a place was the Welsh international Eddie Parris who was a great friend of Alberts.
Between 1929 & 1932, Albert made 34 appearances scoring 6 goals before a bid of £4000 was accepted by the club from Everton. The week after his transfer, he made his 1st team debut at Middlesbrough providing the centres for the legendary Dixie Dean. At Everton, as well as supplying the ammunition for Dean, his successor, another legend, Tommy Lawton was a great admirer of Alberts tricky wing play, great crossing ability and his blistering speed. It was acknowledged that Lawton uttered the memorable quote that Albert was so quick ‘He could catch pigeons’.
1933 saw Albert selected for the FA Cup Final team after an injury scare in the Semi Final. At only 19 years of age he was one of the youngest ever Finalists and provided the cross for Jimmy Dunn’s winning goal for the Toffees. To add to the excitement of playing in the FA Cup Final, the week before, Albert had learned to his surprise that he had been selected for the England touring party to visit Italy & Switzerland. Albert was selected against Italy and became the first Bradford born England International. He also played against Switzerland in Berne but had to leave the field injured. He was to make 2 further England appearances.
During his Everton career he made 180 appearances scoring 38 goals. A decent return when the wingers job was usually to supply crosses for the Centre Forward.
By 1938 however, Albert had fallen out of favour with certain sections of the Goodison crowd and was in fact dropped to accomdate Torry Gillick on the wing. In the March, Everton transferred Albert to Bolton Wanderers for a fee of £7000. his time at Bolton was blighted by injury and he found himself in & out of the side before in 1939, the country once again found itself at War with Germany. Bolton’s players enlisted en masse and Albert was, as many players were, assigned as a PT instructor seeing service in France, Italy & Greece before returning home. He was one of the more fortunate ones as his Captain at Bolton, the England International Harry Goslin, was killed in action.
By 1946 , albert decided to bow out at the top and despite a season in amateur football with Darwen, he retired to concentrate on his future in Waste management with a firm in Bury.
Outside football, his interests included conjuring and magic tricks, being introduced to it by his Uncle Will. On signing for Everton, he met a noted magician of the era, one Oscar Paulsen who introduced him the the Liverpool Magic Circle. His slight of hand also matched his speed on the field and he became an accomplished conjuror entertaining his team mates on long away trips and even appearing in several shows after the war in the Bury area. He was always a welcome guest at Everton reunions for the 1933 Cup Winners.
On a visit back to Bradford, he met his old friend, the England international full back Sam Barkas. At one point in 1929, Geldard at Park Avenue & Barkas at Bradford City were the 2 bright young stars of Bradford football both going on to represent their country.
During his career he collected all the press reports, programmes and photographs of his career and was a keen member of the PFA whilst at Bolton, campaigning to improve the lot of his professional colleagues and also had a spell as a journalist with the Sunday Post. He was shy, private person who never boasted of his exploits and his place in history as the youngest ever player.
Albert Geldard, a true legend of Bradford sport died aged 75 on October 8th 1989.