This Friday marks the centenary of Sheffield United’s 3-0 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford, Manchester, in what has become known forever as the ‘Khaki Cup Final’. The club’s historian John Garrett looks back at the events and brings the story up-to-date
The only FA Cup Final played during a World War, the final was contested against a backdrop of misery and human suffering that, even now, is unimaginable. No history lessons will ever convey the human pain that ensued on such a grand scale.
Many had said that, as a mark of respect, the Cup should have been suspended in the same way as the Football League would be for the following season. History showed that it proved a great diversion from the harsh reality of the events that took place a short distance over the channel. The Cup went on and the Blades lifted it for the third time, up to that point.
The celebrations were muted. Following police advice, the trophy was brought back to Sheffield under the cover of darkness to Sheffield Midland station. Anyone who turned up to cheer their heroes was moved on. The players were ushered into waiting taxis and taken home. There was no victory parade, no celebration dinner. That took place five years later in 1920. There has never been a final quite like it before or since. One of the few known by a name, not a year.
I have been fortunate to meet a few descendants of the players back then…the Utleys, Cooks, Kitchens, Mastermans and even an Evans. As time passes by they get less. The names, through marriage change and so the chances of tracing families become even more remote. You have to rely on a little bit of luck and it is strange that sometimes things land in your lap when you least expect them to.
At a Football League seminar in Bolton I happened to check my emails. From a colleague of a huge Blade I know, was a communication telling me that she was to be wed this year to the grandson of the daughter of Jimmy Simmons – United’s first goalscorer in the Khaki Cup Final.
Down to the work of colleagues like Denis Clarebrough and Andrew Kirkham, we have Club records and stats better than most. Their hard work means that we generally have a ready record of who, what, when, where and why of everyone to play for Sheffield United. If there isn’t a date of death, date of birth or anything of that nature then, trust me, it is rare.
Simmons came from a little place near Mansfield called Blackwell. It had a colliery and it happens to be the place that the legendary ‘Fatty’ Foulkes resided and played, prior to being signed by the Blades back in 1894. A big signing in every sense of the word!
Coincidentally, Simmons also happened to be one of Foulkes’ nephews, and I am sure that fact made a big difference in getting his signature, for a donation of just £50 in 1908. It would prove to be money well spent.
The daughter of Simmons, Mrs Margaret Ellis, kindly agreed that I could go and see her to talk about Dad, something that she had not had the chance to do for some time. She and the family were a little taken aback by my interest. I mean, who could possibly be interested in a player from 100 years ago? The answer was Sheffield United and our desire to find one of the missing links in the DNA of the famous cup side.
She recalled that he told her on his debut for United he was late. He never, in all the years he was a player, lived in the Steel City. Blackwell was his home and there he stayed. He rushed from the station to the ground. When he arrived the steward refused him entry, he didn’t know who he was. It was only after much protesting that he convinced him he was the new United no. 8! The date was 10th April – the Blades beat the Middlesbrough 2-0 and Simmons scored…it was a good job they let him in!
United finished 12th that season and Simmons lined up at the side of Ernest Needham and Bernard Wilkinson, FA Cup winners and Blades legends from the golden era, players who had lifted the cup with his uncle Bill.
Training, Simmons once recalled, could sometimes involve the team being picked up at Bramall Lane and transported by Charabanc out onto the moors where they ran and did fitness training, a far cry from the Redtooth Academy at Shirecliffe today.
Simmons had a ‘punt’at a Cup Final appearance in 1914 against Burnley in the semi-final, played at Old Trafford, where he would walk out the following season in the showpiece game. He was injured, missed the replay and the team faltered to their Lancashire rivals. 1915, though, would see a different story.
Football records will always show that on 24th April 1915 United beat Chelsea 3-0 in the FA Cup Final. Simmons netted the first goal on 36 minutes, followed by Stan Fazackerley in the 83rd and Joe Kitchen on the stroke of 88. The press singled out Simmons as the most attractive player on the pitch – what we would now describe as man of the match – not bad in such an illustrious game.
As the League was abandoned he continued to play when he could, but went down Blackwell Colliery to help do his bit. In 1916 he married but also turned out for Blackpool whilst on his honeymoon! United had used the Lancashire seaside town for training prior to big games.
Simmons joined the forerunner of the RAF, the Royal Air Corps, as a mechanic in 1919, but was back in the Bramall Lane fold at the end of the war. Ssadly injury plagued him and a bid was accepted from West Ham United. He spent two seasons at Upton Park, making 27 appearances before retiring from the game.
After football he followed other players from the dressing room to behind the bar in a succession of public houses and off licenses. A long spell in Matlock at the Red Lion was remembered by many and he tended to stay around the area. He indulged in his love of playing cricket and played a large role in setting up Matlock Cricket Club after the war. He was clearly no slouch as for many years he topped the batting averages! It was also reported that he was a handy crown green bowler.
His famous uncle had also been a decent student of the willow and played for Derbyshire, all from a little row of terraced houses on Primrose Hill in Blackwell, cup winners, cricketers and sportsmen of the highest order.
It is interesting that his daughter remembers that he never went to watch professional football games again, even though Bramall Lane was no more than a little over 20 miles from most of his business enterprises. His daughter Margarets attended a game many years later as a guest of Norwich City at her father’s old stomping ground, the first of the family to return since the turn of the roaring 1920s.
She described him as being very good and careful with his hard earned money. He purchased three terraced houses to rent out. When she wed herself one of the properties was on the cusp of becoming available… he told her she could have first refusal on renting it!
Jimmy Simmons and his wife had a spell of five years by the sea at Mablethorpe. They didn’t settle and went back to their roots. Many moves meant that much of what he had accumulated in his football career got lost along the way. I live in hope that, one day, a family will tell me they have one of the shirts worn that day in 1915, broad red and white stripes with a lace up collar. I have never seen one yet, I doubt there is one left, but it would be up there with the very best things that the club has in its Legends of the Lane museum at Bramall Lane.
Margaret showed me some fantastic photographs and press cuttings telling me about this missing link of a Blade. Her wedding photographs showed a father giving away his only daughter, not a footballer lifting a Cup. To me, that always makes them real, husbands, dads. Human and not a sepia picture in an old football shirt with a brylcreamed, centre parted haircut.
Jimmy lived to a good age and passed away on 9th December 1972 – he was born in Blackwell on 27th June 1889, a few short months after the Blades were born. 83 was no bad innings then and his wife outlived him by a fair few years as well.
He would have been very proud of his daughter. 86 years old and as bright as a button, she herself received a medal, the MBE for her services to the local Conservative party, she is clearly proud of a man that I suspect was very modest about his sporting achievements.
She also keeps two Sheffield and Hallamshire County caps, both blue in colour and from the seasons 1913/14 and 1914/15 – they were from the games when the very cream of talent from United, Wednesday, Barnsley and others were picked to pit their wits against Glasgow’s finest in the Inter City games, she also keeps some cricket and local medals as well as one awarded for playing football in the army.
Also she has a medal that was handed to her father by Lord Derby on Khaki cup final day in Manchester 1915. An important piece of family history, something that survived the wars and countless moves in civilian life, a priceless piece of United history – another missing piece of the club’s Khaki Cup Final jigsaw. I have been fortunate to hold many of them, but even more fortunate to be invited to sit and talk with people like Margaret about something even more valuable to her. Dad.
The family have kindly loaned the medal and caps to be showcased in the club’s museum so all can see what Jimmy Simmons did, along with George Utley, Wally Masterman, Bob Evans, Joe Kitchen and Bill Cook. For a time, their medals will once more sit side by side along with the ball that Simmons slotted past Molyneux, the Chelsea goalkeeper, to start the 3-0 rout of the Blues in their first ever Cup Final.
Family members were present at Bramall Lane on Saturday for the match against Bradford City today along with the daughter of Bill Cook. The club believes them to be the last surviving children of members of the 1915 team. Ahead of kick off they unveilled the club’s tribute to the events of 100 years ago.
Sheffield United are always proud of the club’s past. Always proud of the lads who did it. Welcome home Jimmy Simmons – the club is indebted to what you did for us all those years ago.