New book tells colourful tale of town’s famous footballing son

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The colourful career of Gainsborough’s most famous footballing son, former England international and FA Cup winner Fred Spiksley, is to be re-told in a new book.

Spiksley, a flying winger who was born in the town in 1870, played for Gainsborough Jubilee Swifts as a junior — scoring 31 goals in his last six games for the team —and then had four seasons with Gainsborough Trinity.

Success there led to a move to Sheffield Wednesday, international honours and later coaching spells in Germany, Sweden and Spain as well as time working in the USA and Mexico.

His life off the pitch was equally colourful. After his playing career was cut short by injury, the winger was fined for illegal betting, escaped from a German prison at the start of the first world war and performed on stage with Charlie Chaplin.

Now the escapades of the player hailed as “unsurpassed both in poise and balance, and in his ability to work the ball” by the legendary former Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman — the man credited as being the inventor of modern football — are being featured in the new book.

Flying Over An Olive Grove — The Remarkable Story Of Fred Spiksley, A Flawed Football Hero is due to be published in September by False 9 Media and promises to be a real adventure story.

It has been written by Clive Nicholson — Fred’s great, great nephew — and his father, Ralph Nicholson, together with Mark Metcalf.

Clive regularly still visits Gainsborough and his grandmother lives in the town.

The book title comes from the name of Sheffield Wednesday’s first permanent ground at the end of the 19th Century when Spiksley was a hero there.

It is based on more than two decades of research by the Nicholsons, who joined forces with author Metcalf to bring the remarkable story to a modern audience.

Mark, the most published author of pre-first world war football books, including The Origins Of The Football League, said: “Fred was a revolutionary for the game in so many ways and it has been a pleasure to find out more about him.

“For example, he was incredibly fast for a footballer and would have beaten those of today.

“He used to kick the ball with the outside of his foot, which was a revoluionary way to play the game.

“And he featured in the first speaking football coaching video (film) aimed at improving people’s skills, which was shown in cinemas, when he was coaching at Fulkam around 1929.”

The Nicholsons found more than 100,000 words written by the player himself during their research and together with match reports the book aims to create a unique insight into the development of football at that time.

It highlights a changing time in football when it says teenagers could dream of being professional footballers to escape industrial work.

Spiksley scored more than 300 career goals and won every major honour in the game — holding the record for the highest goals-to-game ratio of any winger in England.

Mark added: “Any player who could score from the halfway line, as Fred did, must have had some talent. Particularly when you consider that in those days they were playing in what were virtually pit boots.”

“It was so unusual for a winger to score so many goals. One season he was second in the goalscoring list.

“Only George Best as a winger was the leadingscorer, in 1968/68, and you could argue that in that season he played as an inside forward a lot of the time too.

“Fred had the highest goals ratio for someone playing out wide. Possibly today Ronaldo has replaced him.”

The book traces Spiksley’s early days, from when he was born at 3 Willoughby Street, Gainsborough, on 25th January, 1870 through to his junior football days and then time at Gainborough Trinity.

He signed for the club, playing in the Midland League, aged 17. He was a member of the team that won the Lincolnshire FA Cup, the Gainsborough News Charity Cup and the Midland League, in his last season, before joining Sheffield Wednesday in 1891.

In total, the book devotes five chapters — around 20,000 words — to Spiksley’s early years in Gainsborough.

It highlights how the slightly-built young winger took time to convince his new club that he could succeed at that level, but still scored 31 goals in 29 games during his first season and went on to average around a goal a game.

After three successful seasons he could have joined FA Cup holders Blackburn Rovers in the Football League, but opted to finish his compositors apprenticeship and remain with Trinity for one more year.

It was Trinity who helped to get his apprenticeship back after he lost it because of his gambling, Mark recalled.

Spiksley finally left to play for Sheffield Wednesday a year later in 1891, having scored 126 goals in 131 games for Trinity.

At The Wednesday — as they were known then — the winger was part of a team elected to the First Division of the Football League.

In the 1892-93 season Spiksley was top scorer with 18 goals in 31 games and a year later his England career began.

The book describes how he scored on his debut against Wales, was the first to hit a hat-trick against Scotland and was never on the losing side for his country.

Back at Wednesday he became a hero, scoring both goals in their 1896 FA Cup Final win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Crystal Palace, and later helping them to win promotion back to the top flight following relegation.

His first goal in the final may have been the fastest of all time as newspapers reported it came after 20 seconds, although Mark concedes that Louis Saha’s goal for Everton against Chelsea in 2009 after 25 seconds may be considered the quickest because there is no confirmation of the exact timing of Spiksley’s strike.

During an 11-year career with The Wednesday, Spiksley scored 100 goals in 293 league games. He also scored 14 goals in 28 FA Cup appearances

Mark said that Spiksley never forgot that Gainsborough was his home and used the town as refuge in later life from his off-the-field problems.

The book will be available at www.spiksley.com and at Gainsborough Trinity.

The authors hope that Trinity will display many old photographs of the team that they have uncovered. Mark said the authors also hoped to give a talk at the club about their research, the book and the life of Fred Spiksley.

He said: “Clive first told me about their research six or seven years ago and a couple of years ago they asked me to write the book. They had something like two and a half million words of research for me to read through.

“I have done pre-first world war books on Everton, Manchester United, Sunderland and Barnsley, so I know that era extremely well.

“I have also written a book about the first Football League season and the first League goal. It took about 400 hours of research to show who socred the first goal, Kenny Davenport for Bolton Wanderers, who Fred later played against.

Former England and Wednesday star Chris Waddle has penned the foreword to Flying Over An Olive Grove.

He writes: “It is clear that he (Fred Spiksley) was loved by the Wednesday fans for his blistering pace, remarkable ball control, and an eye for goal.

“With Fred on the field the crowd and his teammates believed anything was possible and on many occasions they were proven right.

“The description of the second goal (in the FA Cup Final) suggests it was one of the greatest goals ever scored in any final during the Victorian era. The shot combined such power, spin and accuracy that it so confused the Wolves keeper that he did not even realise it was a goal until the end of the match!”