Ecclesfield, Sheffield born right half Ken Willingham began his football career with Ecclesfield and joined Worksop Town in 1928 at the age of 16. He became a member of Huddersfield Town’s ground staff at Leeds Road in 1930, before signing professionally for Huddersfield in November 1931, for whom he made his Football League debut at Everton in December 1932. He soon became a regular in The Terriers’ first eleven and although never an ever present, missed very few games between his debut and the Second World War, which undoubtedly cost him some of his best years of his career. He was a key member of the Huddersfield teams that finished runners up in the League Championship in 1933-34 and in third place in 1935-36. He holds the record for the fastest ever goal scored by a Huddersfield Town player, against Sunderland on 14th December 1935, putting the ball in the back of the net after just ten seconds with his fourth touch of the ball.
He played in the 1938 FA Cup Final (which was the first FA Cup Final to be transmitted live on British television) in which Huddersfield lost 1-0 to Preston North End at Wembley, and also in the 1939 FA Cup semi final which Huddersfield lost 2-1 to eventual winners Portsmouth at Highbury. By the time the War forced the abandonment of peacetime football, Willingham 5 goals in 273 appearances for Huddersfield Town.
Willingham was first called up into the England squad for a match against France at White Hart Lane in December 1933, but was a non playing reserve, and was similarly in two further squads in October 1935 and April 1936, before he was selected for England’s Scandinavian Tour of May 1937, where he won twelve caps for England, scoring on his debut against Finland in an 8-0 win in Helsinki. From April 1938 to May 1939 he played in eleven straight internationals including the infamous “Nazi Salute” 6-3 England victory over Germany in Berlin in May 1938. He also made six appearances for England during the Second World War, as well as representing The Football League on another six occasions.
After the War, in which he worked in the steel industry in Sheffield, he signed for Sunderland in December 1945 where he made 6 FA Cup appearances in the 1946 tournament and 14 League appearances in 1946-47. He signed for Leeds United as a player-coach in March 1947 and played 35 times for them before retiring in 1948. He spent some time as a coach at Elland Road and later coached Halifax Town in 1952.
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.