Our Heritage: The story of professional footballer Bill Harrison

Marsh Wesleyans are pictured with the Infirmary Junior Cup with Bill Harrison centre on the back row.
Marsh Wesleyans are pictured with the Infirmary Junior Cup with Bill Harrison centre on the back row.

In the first of a two-part series historian Terry Ainsworth looks back at the career of professional footballer William Harrison - great grandfather of Lancaster Guardian sports reporter Adam Lord

The journey in search of William, or Bill, Harrison was unexpected and exciting.

Lancaster Town 1933-34 featuring Bill Harrison.

Lancaster Town 1933-34 featuring Bill Harrison.

Bill was born in Lancaster in 1901 and played in an era that showed huge change as the country recovered from the ravages of World War I.

He also played against some of the giants of the football world. People like the incomparable manager Herbert Chapman of Huddersfield and Arsenal, and the indestructible William “Dixie” Dean, the goalscoring sensation from Everton.

As a goalkeeper for Bury in Division One of the Football League he measured himself against great custodians like Elisha Scott of Liverpool and Ireland and Birmingham and England’s Harry Hibbs.

In season 1927-28 when the great Dean scored a record 60 goals in the league Bill faced him twice and conceded two in a 3-2 defeat at home to Everton and one in the 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.

In 1925 the offside law was changed in an historic decision which has been the subject of heated debate ever since as the number of opponents necessary to keep a player onside was reduced from three to two.

Under the old law 4,700 goals were scored in the season but under the new rule that number increased to 6,373, putting goalkeepers like Bill Harrison under even more pressure.

In season 1921-22, Harrison played in goal for Marsh Wesleyans when they won the Lancaster Infirmary Junior Cup by defeating Dolphinholme 1-0.

For the time he was a giant of a man at more than 6ft 1ins tall and weighing in at 12 stone.

The final of the Infirmary Junior Cup took place on Giant Axe on the evening of Saturday, April 22, 1922 in front of an enthusiastic crowd.

Marsh on the whole were full value for their win that was secured with a goal by centre forward Morris in the 65th minute.

Early in the game Harrison was called upon to save a “hot” shot from Lindsay of Dolphinholme and in the final seconds he was applauded with another good save to ensure victory for his team.

His performance on this ground confirmed his move from the Wesleyans to Lancaster Town for the following season.

After joining them for the 1922-23 season Harrison was described in the club biographies as being a goalkeeper, a native of the county town of Lancaster and 21 years of age who should progress further in the game with experience.

He first played for Dallas Road Council School and kept goal for the town team against Liverpool Schoolboys.

Later he appeared in a few games for Scotforth but was principally associated with Marsh before joining Lancaster.

On September 12, 1922, he was called on in an emergency to play for the first team and retained his place for the rest of the season missing only two games because of injury.

Bill’s debut came in an away game at Chorley and resulted in a 1-0 win with Harrison earning positive comments in the match report for some excellent saves, especially in the second half against a very strong wind.

But just how did his impressive performances result in a move to First Division Bury in 1924?

Arthur Paine, of Newsham Road, Lancaster, was secretary of Lancaster Town after World War I and went on to become both secretary and manager of Bury in the 1922-23 season.

It would appear likely then that Paine was the man who was behind the transfer of Bill Harrison to Gigg Lane.

*Next week - Part two looks at his career with the Greater Manchester club which saw him play in front of 20,000 crowds against the country’s top teams and players before his return to Lancaster in 1933.