For the second season in a row a tie against Oldham Athletic awaits the reds in the FA Cup, but this time it’s a tricky trip to Boundary Park is the reward for Brendan Rodgers men. And the match throws up memories of a bygone era when David Ashworth the then manager of reigning league champions Liverpool inexplicably left the club at Christmas to take over bottom of the table Oldham Athletic. At the time it was a real shock to the system for all Liverpool supporters as the club were riding the crest of a wave, both on and off the pitch.
An improvement in results was immediate as the reds went on a fine run of form winning eight on the trot as they finished a creditable 4th position at seasons end. The following season with the help of twenty-two goals from Harry Chambers the club finished in 4th position once more and an assault on the major prize loomed the following season.
The 1921-22 season wasn’t to disappoint, as David Ashworths men claimed top spot, six points ahead of nearest challengers Tottenham to claim Liverpool’s third league title as the man from *County Waterford in Ireland became the first reds boss to deliver the holy grail since Tom Watson in 1906. The reds clinched the title with a win against champions Burnley on a 2-1 score-line as news filtered through that nearest rivals Spurs lost leaving Ashworths men seven points ahead with just three games to play. Harry Chambers once more had a fine season and was ably supported by Dick Forshaw as the two combined for a total of 36 league goals from 63 in total.
The club’s great form continued into the following season as Liverpool retained their league title in style, hitting top spot in October and never relinquishing it all season, but the manager in charge at season’s end was not to be David Ashworth but one of John McKenna’s ‘Team of Macs’ Matt McQueen. In a move that could be rivalled to Bill Shankly’s shock retirement many years later, Ashworth upped sticks at Anfield and returned to Oldham Athletic, who were bottom of the First Division table. Just prior to the shock departure the rumour mill in Oldham was rife that Ashworth would return to Oldham in time for the Christmas double-header against of all teams, Liverpool. The Echo tracked down the man in question and in the Echo of 19th December the following statement seemed to ease the worries of the red half of the city. “Mr Ashworth, manager of the Liverpool Football Club asks me to deny the story that is all over Oldham that he is about to become their manager.”
You can only imagine the media of today’s reaction to such a story and it was to get even more ‘sensational’ when the just the day after Ashworth denied he was leaving the club, the Echo relayed the shock news to their readers that David Ashworth was indeed to become the new manager of Oldham Athletic. “The Echo learns today that there was smoke where there was fire. It will be remembered that we stated yesterday that the Liverpool Football Club manager, Mr. David Ashworth, denied that he was to made successor of Charlie Roberts, the ex-Manchester United captain, who has been acting as manager for Oldham Athletic for two years. To-day we learn by special wire that Mr. Ashworth has signed as manager for Oldham, a side that he spent so many years with and with which he was connected when they finished second in the Football League in 1915. Mr. Ashworth’s earliest managerial work was with Stockport County and he joined Liverpool three years ago. These have been Liverpool’s most successful years, financially and in a playing sense, therefore it will come as a severe shock to all football supporters that Mr. Ashworth has seen fit to leave Liverpool at their zenith and join Oldham in the depths. At any rate all Liverpool will be surprised that a change has been made, for there had been no suggestion of any movement in connection with the Liverpool Football Club for some time.”
It is believed that Mr Ashworth wanted to be near his wife and daughter who were both invalids and lived in Stockport, a mere 11 miles from Oldham. Whether this was the case or not, it was still a shock to football fans across the land. The campaign continued and under the temporary guidance of Matt McQueen the club finished 6 points ahead of Tom Watson’s old club Sunderland to reclaim the title.
What became of Ashworth? Well Oldham never recovered and finished bottom of the division and he took over the hot-seat at Manchester City in July 1924 where he lasted just over one season before joining Walsall. In his latter years he joined Blackpool as a scout and he lived his final days in the seaside town until his death in 1947 at the age of 79.
David Ashworth seemed to have the world at his feet at Liverpool FC, an exciting team which he knew inside out, a board of directors that he got on with and supporters coming through the turnstiles to witness a champion side. Whatever the reason, to walk away from his job and life in Liverpool must have been a huge wrench for Ashworth. He was already a title-winning manager with the club and on the way to another, in different circumstances and even a different era David Ashworth would have achieved so much more in L4.
*Many LFC books and sites understand that David Ashworth was born in Co Waterford in Ireland but Manchester City researcher Gary James believes this is not the case, on the website www.bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk he states:
According to most reports he was born at Waterford in Ireland around 1868, but the 1881 census claims he was actually born in Blackpool. It does appear the Waterford line is incorrect; however the story is a little confusing as by 1881, when he was 13, David was living with his grandmother, Elizabeth Ashworth, at Newchurch, near Rawtenstall in Lancashire. The only other person living at that address was 24-year-old Elizabeth Alice Ashworth who was described as Elizabeth’s daughter. As the surname of all three residents are the same, and the two ladies were both born in Newchurch, it seems likely that David was living with his paternal grandmother and auntie.
Derry City are known throughout the football world as the Candystripes, but the story about how they got their colours has a distinct Donegal flavour. It’s all down to one man, Kerrykeel born and Sheffield United legend, Billy Gillespie.
Billy Gillespie was born in Kerrykeel, on 6 August 1891. The son of a policeman he made a name for himself in local junior football ranks and was quickly signed up by Derry Institute when he was just 17. It was to be the start of an outstanding career.
Northern giants Linfield made an offer for Gillespie in May 1910, but Leeds City beat the Windsor Park outfit to seal his signature. It didn’t take long for Gillespie to make an impression with the Yorkshire outfit. He opened his scoring account for Leeds in the 1-1 draw with Birmingham at Elland Road on October 1st. It was a start of a goal-scoring spree that resulted in Gillespie scoring seven times in the following eight games. After a poor run of results he lost his place in the side and after playing the first four games of the 1911/12 season, Gillespie was left out again.
On 22 December, the Yorkshire Post broke the news that the Irishman would be leaving Elland Road for a fee in excess of £400. It was a fee the board said they could not refuse as the club was in financial difficulty. However it would be a decision they would regret as Gillespie went on to prove himself as one of the outstanding Irish players of all time, enjoying a 20-year career at Bramall Lane and scoring over 130 goals in nearly 500 games.
The Kerrykeel man made his international debut in February 1913, scoring twice as Ireland achieved a first historic victory over England (This was a period when Ireland players were drawn from both sides of the border). One year later he was a member of the first Irish team to secure the Home International Championships. Gillespie was a thorn in the English side as seven of his thirteen international goals came against the English. That international goal haul was an Irish record, which stood until 2004 when David Healy took his international total to fourteen goals. In total Gillespie would win 25 Irish caps.
At Bramall Lane, Gillespie was well on the way to becoming a Sheffield United legend. He suffered heartbreak when missing the Blades’ FA Cup triumph in 1915 as he was out with a broken leg. But ten years later Billy Gillespie captained the Blades to victory in the final against Cardiff City. The scribes of the day were impressed; “Sheffield United played wonderfully well but special praise is due to Gillespie, the man who waves a wand and whose influence has played such a vital part in United’s capture of the Cup.” To date this is still Sheffield United last major honour.
In 1932 Billy Gillespie returned to Ireland to take over as manager of Irish League side Derry City. As part of the deal taking him back to Ireland, Gillespie had to take a red and white team strip with him and Derry City adopted the colours, the candystripes we see them wear today. He led Derry City to two City Cup triumphs and on four successive occasions they finished runners up in the Irish League.
When Gillespie left Derry City in 1941 he relocated to Bexley in Kent, where he died a month short of his ninetieth birthday in July 1981.
The Donegal man is still revered in the Yorkshire city and deserves to be mentioned in the same company as Donegal and Ireland heroes, Pat Bonner and Shay Given. December 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of Billy Gillespie signing for Sheffield United; it could be the ideal opportunity to honour the Sheffield United, Ireland, and most of all, Kerrykeel legend.