Sproston Bert Image 4 Leeds United 1938

Sproston Bert Image 4 Leeds United 1938


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Elworth, Cheshire born right back Bert Sproston was one of England’s most cultured defenders of the 1930’s. He played junior football for Sandbach Ramblers in 1932 from where Leeds signed him as a 17 year old in May 1933. He made his League debut at Chelsea that December and played five games as deputy for the injured George Milburn in the 1933-34 season before he established himself in the United team in the following season, when he made 28 appearances. It was in the 1935-36 season, when he missed only two League games, that he became on of the best full backs in the country as Leeds finished 11th in the table and he gained his first England cap at Ninian Park on 17th October 1936 in a 1-2 defeat by Wales. It was not an auspicious beginning as Wales had not previously beaten England for more than 50 years. He went on to win 10 more caps for England between then and The Second World War, as well as playing twice for England in Wartime Internationals and representing The Football League on 4 occasions. He is perhaps most famous for the story of an England trip to Berlin in 1938, Sproston told Stanley Matthews “I know nowt ’bout politics and t’like. All I knows is football. But t’way I see it, yon ‘Itler fella is an evil little twat”.

In June 1938 he signed for Tottenham Hotspur for £9,500 after a single goal in 140 appearances for Leeds, but didn’t settle in London making only 9 appearances and by November he had signed for Manchester City for £10,500. The Yorkshire Post commented “Manchester City can consider they have secured the best right back in the game. Very quick to the tackle, and in recovering, Sproston is also extremely valuable to his side by virtue of his splendidly judged clearances to his forwards.” His first opponents a few days later were former team mates Tottenham, sent home with a 2-0 defeat from Maine Road. During the Second World War he guested for Wrexham, Aldershot, and Millwall, and after the conflict he resumed at Maine Road, helping Manchester City to the Second Division Championship in 1946-47 and playing 3 more seasons for City, scoring 5 times for them in 134 appearances either side of the War, before retiring in 1950. After his playing career ended he spent over two decades as trainer at Bolton Wanderers.

NB This postcard commemorates the infamous “Nazi salute” international between Germany and England in Berlin on 14th May 1938. The match had all the potential for a diplomatic incident. Sir Neville Henderson, the British Ambassador in Germany, had advised the team, through the FA Secretary, Stanley Rous, to give the Nazi salute for the betterment of Anglo-German relations, as a mark of respect, NOT nationalism. The Germans had already decided to respect the English national anthem.

The match was watched by Nazi luminaries such as Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess and Joseph Goebbels. Adolf Hitler, up until the day before, was due to be in attendance, but he did not turn up on the day. Before the game, Sproston, during the debate about whether they should salute, famously told Stanley Matthews “I know nowt ’bout politics and t’like. All I knows is football. But t’way I see it, yon ‘Itler fella is an evil little twat”. How right he was! A reluctant England team eventually gave the Nazi salute and they then proceeded to play the Germans off the park, winning 6-3.

The players are:

Vic Woodley (top centre) – Chelsea

Bert Sproston – Leeds United

Eddie Hapgood – Arsenal

Ken Willingham – Huddersfield Town

Alf Young – Huddersfield Town

Don Welsh – Charlton Athletic

Stanley Matthews – Stoke City

Jackie Robinson – Sheffield Wednesday

Frank Broome – Aston Villa

Len Goulden – West Ham United

Cliff Bastin – Arsenal

Jackie Robinson scored twice, with Matthews, Broome, Goulden and Bastin each scoring.

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