Sport historian Terry Ainsworth remembers a legend in local football
I was sad to hear that the last member of the legendary Bentham United team of the 1950s, Frank Wheildon, passed away in January 2019. Arguably they were the finest team in the history of local football dating back to 1891 and Frank was part of the wonderful halfback line of Wheildon, Bill Noble and Bill Mashiter.
Frank was born in Burton-on-Trent in 1926 and had a hard childhood but loved football and cricket.
His football skills were recognised early in life and he signed for Derby County Colts.
At the age of 18, in 1944, he was called up and joined the 3rd Kings Hussars, being posted to Palestine, trained as a paratrooper and jumped 13 times out of a plane.
He left Palestine with excellent credentials, an exemplary soldier who then became a despatch rider at Catterick.
Eventually he was stationed at Heysham and met his future wife, Jenny, at a dance in High Bentham.
They married in Burton-on-Trent, lived at Greenfoot Cottage in Low Bentham and had two sons Roger and Trevor. Frank worked locally at Angus’s in Bentham where he became foreman fitter and head of trades.
I was fortunate to visit Frank at his home in Bentham about 15 years ago and found an affable man who loved talking about his friends at United.
I asked him whether they had been paid cash for playing but he insisted that food was far more important in those post-war days of rationing and eggs, chickens and ham were gratefully received.
In the years after World War II sport was a huge part of everyone’s life and football in particular was extremely popular for many reasons. During the years of rationing local communities took great pride in their teams and supported them in a quite extraordinary manner. Particularly in villages, committees of men and women worked to support this pastime and great rivalries sprang up all over the district.
Season 1953-54 saw Bentham United emerge as North Lancashire League Division I Champions, Senior Challenge Cup Winners (beating MGSOB’s 2-1 at the Giant Axe in front of 1,400 spectators) and winners of the Lancashire Junior Shield.
Lancashire Junior Shield 1953-54
Bentham United 11-0 Grange
Bentham United 6-1 Lancaster Moor Hospital
Bolton-le-Sands 1-5 Bentham United
Wren Rovers 1-6 Bentham United
Milnthorpe Corinthians 1-5 Bentham United
Bentham United 1-0 Howard & Bullough (Accrington)
Record Attendance at Bentham, approximately 2,600 watched the game.
Bentham United 2-1 Little Lever (Bolton)Played at Peel Park, Accrington, in front of a crowd of approximately 2,400.
The semi-final clash at Bentham in the Lancashire Junior Shield against Howard & Bullough attracted record crowds to the Bowker House Field. People stood five deep around the touchlines and not a blade of grass could be seen on the hill overlooking the pitch.
In a well contested first half Des Churchman, the flying left winger who consistently turned down offers to sign for Morecambe & ended up with Bolton Wanderers, suffered an ankle injury which slowed him for the rest of the game.
A highly contested game appeared to be heading for a draw when right winger Jack Bowery crashed the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle in the 88th minute.
In the final at Peel Park on a slippery surface Bentham took the lead after 18 minutes through Johnny Worden from a pass by Bobby Holt but Little Lever equalised within 30 seconds.
After half-time Bentham again forced the pace and Frank Ashworth scored the winner after 48 minutes with a cracking drive that hit the right-hand post, then the left-hand post and finally ended up in the back of the net.
Frank Wheildon played for a legendary team, but he was a legend himself to all his family and many others who recognised a man who never turned his back when others needed help.
He embraced village life in Bentham, joining many communities and running the local branch of the British Legion, helping ex-servicemen with their many problems.