The match between Prescot Cables and Lancaster Town in September 1930 is long forgotten except for the performance of one particular player: Cables’ 21-year-old goalkeeper Horace Whalley. The football correspondent of the Prescot and District Reporter praised his ‘parrying, fisting and kicking away all kinds of shots, including a penalty. ‘Bobbing up and down like a cork,’ he was summed up by a Lancaster supporter present at the match as ‘nobbut a little ‘un, but he’s a good ‘un!’ In the same way that Frank Garton was custodian supreme of the Cables’ goal during the 1950s, Whalley dominated the goalmouth for most of the 1930s, and only a world war curtailed his claim to be Cables’ greatest ever keeper.
Horace Walter Whalley was born in Prescot on 29 March 1909, the son of John and Eleanor Whalley, who were both born in 1886. All we know about his parents is that in 1924 they took over management of the Bath Springs Hotel on Kemble Street. At about the same time their teenage son appeared in goal for Rainhill Recs. Horace represented the Recs for two seasons during which they remained unbeaten and conceded just eleven goals. At the age of sixteen (c1925) he joined Whiston AFC and a year later was playing for Everton Reserves. Not retained at Goodison, Whalley signed for the Cheshire County League team Harrowby aged seventeen or eighteen (c1926/7).
He joined his hometown team Prescot Cables in time for the 1929-30 season. He was in good company. Cables had acquired the services of Liverpool defender and captain Don McKinlay (see Cables programme for 6 October 2012), who arrived as a veteran professional. Whalley was very much the unpaid apprentice. His first two seasons at Hope Street were quietly successful, the team finishing fifth in the Lancashire Combination at the end of 1929-30 and runners-up in 1930-31. Whalley’s sterling service was rewarded in March 1931 when he was selected for a Liverpool County FA XI. He played for the LCFA XI several times during the ensuing years. Following a ‘trifling difference’ with Cables’ management (Neville Walker, unpublished notes for his book From Slacky Brow to Hope Street), Whalley returned to Harrowby, his place between the Cables sticks passing to Jimmy Trill. In 1933 Trill was ruled out of action by a severe dose of influenza and Whalley stepped in as temporary keeper. Appearances for Cables during this brief sojourn included a 5-1 away defeat at Nelson that marked Frank Soo’s last appearance before seeking fame at Stoke City. Whalley’s next port of call was Prescot BI, where he made a name for himself as a penalty taker, scoring from the spot twelve times.
For the three seasons between 1933 and 1936, Cables sought what Neville Walker called ‘a new sphere of influence’ in the Cheshire County League, an event heralded by the return of Horace Whalley, this time as a paid master. Records from these three seasons in the Cheshire League are sparse but it is clear that Horace made a vital contribution to the team. ‘Whalley was in particularly brilliant form … [and] amazed the crowd’ (Walker).The Prescot and District Reporter remarked that his ‘absolute finesse compelled [the home crowd] to applaud his efforts … when he came out of the dressing room after the change round. Whalley received a great ovation. On Saturday’s display, he deserves a quick passage to any First Division club’. But a call from the top flight did not materialise.
Saturday, 23 September 1935 was a monumental day for Whalley. In the morning he married Margaret Birchall at Prescot Parish Church and in the afternoon played in the 10-0 thrashing of his old team Harrowby in an FA Cup Preliminary Round match at Hope Street. Local cartoonist George Green was on hand to chronicle the event, ingeniously fusing the idea of wedding and football match to comic effect. The ten goals are shown as ten grinning balls each wearing top hats, and Cables centre forward Jack Roscoe is hailed as the Best Man for scoring six of Cables’ goals. As that Lancaster Town supporter implied a few years earlier, Horace Whalley was not a big man. He had neither the height of Harry Nickson nor the robust frame of Frank Garton. But his compact physique and sharp features were heaven-sent for George Green and that other local cartoonist Bert Wright. Occasionally, of course, his relatively slight figure suffered at the hands of big, aggressive centre forwards. Men like ex-Bolton and England star Joe Smith (later manager of Blackpool during the Matthews Era), who Horace faced in a match against Manchester Central during his first spell at Cables. Smith charged Whalley so fiercely that ‘the goalkeeper finished unconscious in the back of the net and it took a couple of trainers and an ambulance man to bring him round!’ (Walker).
As his parents’ long spell in charge at the Bath Springs came to a close, an eye injury kept their son out of the Cables line-up between Spring 1936 and Easter 1937. He was sorely missed, Cables conceding over a hundred goals during the period. By October 1937 he was ‘back to his brilliant best’ (Walker) and in the ensuing November the Liverpool Echo reported that Cables were lucky to have such experienced players as Whalley. On 26 February 1938 he assumed the role of Cables’ penalty-taker, converting a spot-kick in a thrilling 3-2 defeat against South Liverpool at Hope Street. Cartoonist Bert Wright captured the occasion in one of his amusing pictorial match reports. After a well-deserved benefit match in May 1938 (Cables versus South Liverpool again), when Horace was 29 years old, he ‘was playing as well as ever’ (Walker) during the ensuing 1938-39 season. He did not play in any of the three Cables matches that preceded Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war on Sunday, 3 September 1939, though, keen to play as ever, he did turn out for Prescot BI against Earlestown Bohemians at the end of the month. Nothing is known of Horace’s war service. He was aged 30-36 during the conflict.
Like Bill Rainford, Fred Finney and many other Cables players, Horace was more than an outstanding footballer. He was also a talented all-round athlete, ‘engaged in running, jumping, tennis, cricket and billiards in his time’ (Walker). It must have been painfully frustrating when, in 1946, he suffered an accident at work that resulted in the amputation of his left foot. In an undated clipping from the Prescot and District Reporter (kept at the Prescot Museum), Bert Taylor reports on Whalley’s welcome appearance in the vice-presidents’ stand at Hope Street.
Horace, well known in Prescot for his sporting qualities, was only recently discharged from Whiston County Hospital … Despite his handicap, he has, happily, managed to retain his cheerful disposition, and in answer to my inquiry regarding his welfare, said: ‘I will feel better when I get something stuck on the end’. For many seasons, Horace was a popular member of Prescot Cables’ playing staff and was regarded as one of the most brilliant goalkeepers in the Lancashire Combination. His valuable services to the club will long be remembered. It is pleasing to note that, as a vice-president, he still takes a deep interest in the club, and supporters will join me in expressions of good luck for his future.
Virtually nothing is known about his subsequent life. He died close to his 68th birthday sometime between January and March 1977. Rather surprisingly, his death was registered in Greenwich, London. If any readers can shed light on Horace Whalley’s family life and later years, please contact the club.
I am indebted to my brother John Williams for help with Horace Whalley’s birth and parentage, Jack Whittingham for allowing me access to his South Liverpool FC scrapbook and, as always, Neville Walker for unpublished notes for his book From Slacky Brow to Hope Street.