Saltburn, North Yorkshire born left back George Hardwick was only 13 years old when he joined First Division Middlesbrough on schoolboy forms and played junior football for South Bank East End from 1934, signing amateur forms for ‘Boro in 1935 and turning professional in May 1937. He made his Football League debut for the club aged 17 against Bolton Wanderers in December 1937, and made nine other appearances in the 1937-38 season, but none at all in the season before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Joining the Royal Air Force, where he was a sergeant in Bomber Command, he first established his partnership with Arsenal’s Laurie Scott in their powerful representative team, and won his first appearance for England (there were no official “caps” then) against Wales on 24th October 1942, at Wembley. It took him a while to gain a regular place, but he would play in four of England’s Victory Internationals in the 1945-46 season – when again no caps were awarded – against Scotland, a game lost 1-0 at Hampden, then Belgium, Switzerland and France. He also appeared in two Wembley Wartime Cup Finals in a guest stint with Chelsea.
Hardwick, who long partnered Scott in the England defence as well, played his first official England international in a 7-2 thrashing of Ireland in Belfast in September 1946, and was part of the Great Britain team which thrashed the Rest of Europe 6-1 at Hampden Park in May 1947. He went on to win a total of 13 full caps for England, being captain in every appearance, the last of them coming against Scotland at Hampden in April 1948. He also made 3 appearances for The Football League.
After the War he continued to play for Middlesbrough until November 1950, where he is held in high esteem by Middlesbrough fans, and is regarded as the greatest defender in the club’s history, so much so that a statue of Hardwick stands outside the Riverside Stadium, when in November 1950, after 7 goals (all but one penalties) in 166 appearances he accepted the opportunity to join Third Division Oldham Athletic as player-manager, injuries now having taken their toll on his ability to perform at the highest level. In 1952-53 he won the Third Division (North) Championship and promotion to the Second Division, but they were relegated back down the following season.
He left Oldham in May 1956 and hung up his boots having scored 14 goals in 203 appearances for The Latics. He managed the Netherlands national team in 1957 and then PSV Eindhoven from 1957 to 1959 before he rejoined Middlesbrough as youth team coach. In November 1964 he became manager of Sunderland but despite saving them from relegation lasted only till the end of the season, whereafter he spent five years as manager of Gateshead until February 1970.
Of him, Tom Finney, the celebrated Preston and England winger, who described him as the best defender he ever played against, said: “George was football’s Errol Flynn in appearance. He was really debonair. But he was a great captain, who led by example. He was a hard player but skilful and clever, not all thorn and nettle. A great player in his own right. George could handle men well. He was a great diplomat who got the best out of you.”
NB in the photograph Hardwick is shown on England duty with England team mates Neil Franklin (Stoke City, left) and Billy Wright (Wolves, centre).