It’s How You Play The Game: Olympic Sports In York by Van Wilson (York Archaeological Trust, £9.99) (From York Press)
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It’s How You Play The Game: Olympic Sports In York by Van Wilson (York Archaeological Trust, £9.99)
AS the world’s finest athletes gather in London for 16 days of lung-bursting competition in pursuit of Olympic gold, it is worth pausing to remember York’s own sporting heroes.
Oral historian Van Wilson has done a wonderful job of celebrating their achievements in her book published by the York Archaeological Trust.
Not all of the sportsmen and -women represented actually took part in the Olympics – in fact, most did not. But they all excelled in traditional, Olympic sports, representing their country or their county in everything from boxing and gymnastics to football, swimming and table tennis.
There are some genuine Olympic heroes in the book – from York-born gold medal-winning swimmer Anita Lonsbrough, who has written the foreword, to John Sherwood, the young Selby PE teacher who, at Mexico in 1968, took bronze in the 400 metres hurdles.
A certain David Hemery won that day, prompting commentator David Colman to come up with one of those moments of sporting commentary that will never be forgotten. “It’s Hemery, Great Britain,” he screamed, as the athlete crossed the line. “Vanderstock in second… who cares who’s third?”
John cared, since it was he who was third – but he forgave Colman his gaffe.
Among the scores of other athletes and sporting figures from 25 Olympic sports represented in Van’s book, there are some genuine heroes who never made it to the Olympics.
They include Frank Fowler – who, in the 1920s and 1930s, was one of the best-known boxers in the country. In one fight he beat the light-heavyweight champion of Britain, Billy ‘Gypsy’ Daniels – but because it was a ‘catchweight’ fight where the boxers didn’t fit into any weight category, there was no title at stake.
In the book, Frank’s son Norman – well known in York as the singer Steve Cassidy – pays affectionate tribute to his father. “He used to tell the tale that when he was at school, he did a paper round and a gang of boys set on him and beat him up,” Norman recalls. “So he waited for each one in turn when they were on his own and he got his own back.”
Frank, who died in 1981, was once featured in a newspaper article holding a letter from America addressed to ‘Frank Fowler, York boxer, England.’ Enough said.
• It’s How You Play The Game is available from the Barbican bookshop, Waterstones, Jorvik, Visit York and York Central Library, priced £9.99.