Martin Smith column: The Sheffield Wednesday star who escaped a German prison

Owls fans at the Macron Stadium....Pic Steve Ellis
Owls fans at the Macron Stadium....Pic Steve Ellis

Football fans, like the players they love to watch, aren’t generally known for their intellectual ability or studiousness.

The stereotype suggests much the opposite, reeking of beer, mob-happy supporters cheering money-mad philistines media-coached to say: “Yeah, no, obviously…” to less than forensic post-match questioning.

You might not think, therefore, that Sheffield’s Off The Shelf literary festival would fill up their collective senses like Annie’s Song or Hi Ho Silver Lining. But of course that stereotype is cobblers.

Football fans, perhaps more than many others, love a good yarn and there is a belter to be had at Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema this Friday. It’s all about Fred Spiksley.

Fred who?

Fred Spiksley, one of those Victorian types who did the most remarkable things mainly because no-one thought to tell them that he couldn’t. Fred was a Lincolnshire lad who joined Sheffield Wednesday from Gainsborough Trinity in the days when that wasn’t quite the leap it sounds today.

The fastest and most talented winger of his generation, the ‘Olive Grove Flyer’ scored the first international hat-trick against Scotland. In 1896 he scored four goals to take Wednesday to FA Cup glory.

Spiksley won every major honour for club and country, coached on three continents, toured the music halls with Charlie Chaplin, escaped from a German prison in 1914 and was chased along a football touchline by the future Queen of England.

Now that’s a story. Writers Mark Metcalf and Clive Nicholson will be telling it at 7.30pm.

Sandwiched between segments of the absurdly long preview of Liverpool v Manchester United on BBC Five Live on Saturday, Mark Clemmit found time to gush about Sheffield United and manager Chris Wilder’s ‘go-for-it’ attitude. Not before time. The Premier League-obsessed world is starting to notice what Blades’ fans knew a year ago.

Much has been said about Sir Bobby Charlton following his 80th birthday last week.

Older taxi drivers throughout the world still smile and cite his name with reverence when you tell them you’re English.

He found the game embarrassingly easy to play, so great were his gifts. How lucky are we to have seen his like.