This piece records a particularly sad event which affected one of the Junior sides in Prescot. It was published in the Prescot Cables match programme for the game against Market Drayton Town on September 15th, 2018.
Prescot True Blues recorded their first games during the 1887/88 season, and by the following season they were playing regularly. They were the proud possessors of a fine pitch, situated in Sparrow Lane (now Grosvenor Road), and by 1890 were operating two strong elevens. The True Blues played in Liverpool and St Helens Junior Leagues for several years during the 1890’s.
In October 1896, a prolonged spell of severe weather battered the west coast of England, causing the loss of ships at sea and much damage to property. During this period a melancholy incident occurred involving the youthful Prescot True Blues reserve XI on an away trip to Romilly Rec’s at Newsham Park, Liverpool, in the West Derby and District Minor League.
On the Saturday afternoon, vivid flashes of lightning, loud thunder and darkness, accompanied by heavy rains, prevailed nearly the whole of the afternoon. “When their ordinary clothes had been changed for football habiliments, and slight refreshments partaken of, the Prescot men sallied forth” from their dressing room in Boaler Street and walked across Sheil Road and down Gardener’s Drive, to the entrance to the Park. “They were all hanging together like swarm of bees, some leaning the shoulders of others, laughing, chatting, and singing by turns.”
The travelling squad from Prescot for the match was William Dickie of Chorley’s Farm (captain), David James Williams of 3, West End Cottages, Derby Street, James Gaskell, 2 West End Cottages, Luke McGarry, Sewell Street, George Davies, Millhouse, Warrington Road, Walter Jondrell, 56, Sewell Street, Edward Roughley, 9 Derby Square, Henry Green, St Helens Road, Benjamin Naylor, Moss Street, Frederick Mercer, 10 Ward Street, John Chesworth 62, Warrington Road and John Alfred Taylor, of Moss Street. Thomas Watson, an enthusiastic supporter of the True Blues, accompanied the playing members of the team in the capacity of the appointed “linesman”.
Scarcely had the company entered the park when an appalling flash of forked lightning hovered in their midst, startling and temporarily blinding everyone in the vicinity. “By jove,” said Taylor, “that was a bad one.” Watson, Roughley, Green, Davies and McGarry had dropped to the ground as if they were dead, and the others ware dazed, staggering and falling about the road.
Thomas Watson, a jovial youth, much liked by his companions, was an orphan who lived in Prescot with his grandparents. He was discovered on the ground dead, his injuries being of a shocking nature. “His face was found to present dreadful spectacle, the electric fluid having played terrible havoc with his features. His countenance was of a metallic hue, pale and blue mingling”. There was a deep, clean cut across the throat, while his pants were ripped right up, the boot and stocking on his right foot were torn off, and the seam of the back of the boot cut through as if by a knife. Watson had carried in his pocket a watch and chain and these were both smashed and partially melted by the electric current.
The whole of the other youths who made up the team, were flung to the ground, each of them being more or less injured. Edward Roughley was found with his arm and shoulder badly injured, while Henry Green was cut across the forehead and bruised about his face. Davies and McGarry suffered from the effects of the shock and were unable to rise for some time.
Several of the lads were transported to Mill Road and the Royal Southern Hospitals, whilst the rest, although shaken severely, were able to proceed home. Henry Green, when awoken to consciousness in Hospital shouted, “Who struck me then?”
John Chesworth had an extremely narrow escape. He had on his head a cap with a steel button on the top representing the three legs of the Isle of Man. It was discovered that this had been cut clean from the cap, which was partially burnt by the lightning.
The following week, the Prescot Reporter noted that the body of Watson, lying in the Prince’s Dock mortuary presented “an almost natural appearance. Of actual wounds there are none whatever, the skin not having been broken anywhere about the body. It reported that, “The gash in the throat as if it had been cut by a sword,”… “and the other sickening details of the terrible injury are absolute fiction. These statements …. seem to have been the natural outcome of the terror and excitement caused by the awful suddenness of the visitation.”
Prescot came to a standstill for the funeral cortege of Thomas Watson. In reporting the funeral, the Prescot Reporter said;
“The funeral of the unfortunate young man, Thomas Watson, took place on Wednesday at Prescot Churchyard. The body had been conveyed from Liverpool to Prescot the previous evening and when washed and placed in the coffin the face of the youth presented quite a natural appearance. The tragic affair made a very great impression on the people of the town and neighbourhood, who turned out in thousands to witness the mournful ceremony. The cortege, which was composed of a hearse and two carriages, preceded by members of the football club proceeded by way of Moss Street, High Street, Atherton Street and Eccleston Street to the church, where a very large crowd had assembled.”
A number of projects were arranged to raise funds on behalf of Watson’s family and the other injured players. The following week, the West Derby Minor League cancelled all the scheduled fixtures and decided to play two benefit matches, one between the Prescot True Blues first team and a Rest of the League XI, in Liverpool, and the other between the True Blues reserves and a Second Division Representative XI, at Prescot.
In addition, the directors of Everton Football Club agreed for a ground collection to be taken during their next home league game (v. Sheffield United) on behalf of the injured members of the True Blues and to defray the funeral expenses of the victim. That collection realised a “satisfactory total” of £21 1s. 4d.
The celebrated Liverpool Electric Darkies Minstrel Troup also offered to bring the “darkies” to Prescot to give a benefit concert, if the True Blues could arrange a suitable hall for the concert.
In total more than £28 was raised for the victims of the accident.
Goalkeeper Edward Roughley, one of the other young players injured in the incident, continued to play football with local sides. He even made at least one appearance for the “senior” Prescot club during the players strike in 1902. After the demise of the Prescot club in the summer of 1902, Ted Roughley played for three seasons at St Helens Recs during which time he only missed one game.
He joined Hull City in 1906, (another scouted by the indomitable Bill Robinson) and was described as a “clever and resourceful custodian” and as a “determined player, who tries at everything”. In the 1911 census, Roughley is listed as living in Sculcoates, Hull, with wife Margaret and daughter Alice May. The census notes his profession as “Professional Footballer”.
Ted made his reputation as one of Hull City’s greats making 166 appearances before signing for the, then, Midland League outfit, Chesterfield Town in 1914. Despite approaching 40 years old, he joined the Birmingham Combination side Rugby Town in 1919, where he became a crowd favourite over the next 3 seasons, gaining “the admiration of the spectators for his all-round brilliant custodianship”. The Rugby Advertiser described him as “cool, quick and fearless and has a powerful kick. He has a true eye, and frequently saves with seemingly miraculous skill”.
Roughley finished his football career with the Birmingham side, Great Heath in 1923, aged 43.