Graham Bailey turns 101 next month and he’s Huddersfield Town’s oldest surviving player.
Graham told his story to author Lee Morris who is working in conjunction with Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association’s heritage project.
Graham, born in Shropshire on March 22 1920, was brought into the world just as Town were about to conquer it, winning the FA Cup and three division one titles in a row in the same decade.
Graham signed on at Leeds Road on August 10 1936 aged 16 as part of the ground staff. The then manager Clem Stephenson, a former Town player himself, made sure Graham signed professional forms when he turned 17.
On signing for the club Graham said: “I was taken on the ground staff and we got 30 shillings a week for digs and then there were 10 shillings left for yourself.”
In today’s mega-rich football world a 16-year-old can be on upwards of £500 a game. Wind time back 75 years and Graham had earned in week less than the price of two loaves of bread.
Graham said: “I’d been in the ‘A’ team and also played in the Central League and I was expecting £6 wages, because you got £1 for playing in the Central League and 10 bob for playing in the ‘A’ team.
“When I got the money, I only had £4 wages, and was expecting £6, so I went back in to see him (Clem Stephenson) and he was sitting there smoking his pipe. I asked him why I’d only got £4 and he said ‘Do you remember signing a contract for £4? If you’re retained next season make sure you read your contract next time.'”
Graham had only just begun his blossoming career as a footballer when it was immediately halted due to the outbreak of World War Two. Like many footballers at the time Graham missed a large proportion of his career because of the war. They had to either join up or find other employment.
“When war broke out there were three of us in digs and we decided to join up but one of the directors at the club at that time was high up at Brook Motors so we ended up getting jobs there. We would go training after a 12-hour shift at Brook Motors and had to train in the dark.
“I remember when we’d be playing certain ‘important’ games during the war, we’d get bonuses. David Steele (Town’s manager in the war) called them ‘treats’. We were on 30 bob for a game during the war. There was one marvellous outing at Newcastle where we were on a 10-shilling bonus if we won. We did win and I lost 8 shillings on the way back playing Brag!
“I was called up towards the end and was stationed in Durham, where Bob Hesford was my senior officer. I carried on playing for Town and I used to leave Durham on the Friday and then stay in Crewe and make the rest of the journey to Huddersfield on the morning of the game if we were at home.”
Graham was an ever-present in the side for the 1944-45 season, playing all 45 games as Town won the Football League North Championship.
Although the war came to an end in May 1945, the Football League continued with the Wartime League as they felt they didn’t have enough time to organise a proper season. Graham was virtually ever-present once again, playing 41 out of 42 games as Town finished 15th. He also played both games in the FA Cup, which returned for the 1945-46 campaign.
Despite playing in the first team for the majority of the Second World War, Graham only featured for Town in the Football League for one season, playing 33 games during 1946-47.
In December 1946 Town travelled to Copenhagen on a trip and Graham recalls: “David Steele took us on a trip to Denmark. I had a wonderful time there, although I did lose a shoe! It was an education for me. We took this taxi to a racecourse and I was taught by some of the other players to never get out of the taxi last, as that was the person who ended up paying.”
Town played a game during their time in Denmark, against a Copenhagen Combination side, though their preparation left a lot to be desired.
Graham said: “We actually played a game in Copenhagen but they took us to a brewery beforehand. I remember saying to Ken Willingham ‘don’t breathe on me’. It was funny.” For anyone wondering, Town drew the game 2-2 with Jimmy Glazzard and Arnold Rodgers getting on the scoresheet.
After 12 years at Town, Graham’s time at Leeds Road came to an end in 1948, when Sheffield United expressed interest in signing him. As was customary for long-serving players in those days, Graham received a benefit from the club.
He said: “I was a bit green in those days as most of it didn’t go to Graham Bailey. I remember, Harry Beever was the secretary at the time. It should have been £750 and I think I only got about £450 at the end of it.
“I ended up transferring to Sheffield United, with Albert Nightingale going the other way. I was in the office and the offer was £10 a week and £12 if we won.
“I said to the manager, Ted Davison, that I’d heard that there were usually backhanders paid when someone was transferred. I can still remember his face to this day, I must have shocked him as he said ‘Heh?! No we’re not that type of club!’
“It turned out he was a churchgoer. I ended up becoming very friendly with Ted but it was my first telling off. He said: ‘You’re getting exactly what we’ve offered you.’ In my very first game at Sheffield United we actually played Town and I remember giving Vic Metcalfe a bit of a hard time.”
In 1949, Graham retired from the game and went into a common profession for footballers at the time. He recalled: “I had to retire as my father-in-law was ill and he was a newsagent. And it was a case of, if one of the family didn’t take it on, then it would have been sold.
“Back in those days footballers either became a newsagent or ran a pub. Later on, I learned I could have become an assistant trainer at Sheffield United.” Graham eventually retired from that profession and moved to East Yorkshire in the late 1990s.
After research was done in 2018, it was thought that Albert Bateman, who was alive and well at the age of 94 in Thornton-Cleveleys, was the oldest living Town player.
He had been a teammate of Graham’s and played at Leeds Road between 1943 and 1950 before an injury ended his playing career. However, in early February this year, Graham Bailey was tracked down and found to be alive and well and living with his wife in Bridlington.
Graham is also Sheffield United’s oldest living player and Graham said: “They did tell me I was the oldest not long ago. I still think about all the lads at Town and, until recently, didn’t realise I was the last one.”
Graham is also thought to be the oldest living Town player ever, with Joe Walter previously believed to hold the honour after he passed away aged 99 years and 281 days in May 1995. Graham, who still confesses to still being a big Town fan, is in great health, we’re delighted to report.
Happy birthday, Graham, from Town fans and all of us at Huddersfield Hub!