Jack Roscoe: an extraordinary striker, a special Prescotian

Prescot Rangers FC, 1924-25

My original article about the high-scoring Cables centre-forward Jack Roscoe came out in March 2014 as a two-parter of just over 3,000 words. I was not short of material. In addition to Neville Walker’s book From Slacky Brow to Hope Street, Bert Taylor’s column in the Prescot Reporter and anecdotes from Harry Boydell, Phil Taylor and others, I had the benefit of free access to a scrapbook lent to me by South Liverpool FC President John Whittingham covering South Liverpool’s glory days in the 1930s, when Jack scored about 190 goals for the Garston team in three-and-a-half seasons. By the time he joined South Liverpool from Cables in January 1936 he’d already scored over 120 goals in two seasons at Lancaster Town and just under 160 in three-and-a-half seasons at Cables. My interest in Jack was renewed in December 2016 when I met his youngest daughter Pat Sumner. I visited Pat at her house in Rainford a few weeks later and, once again, the story of this prolific goal-scorer began to unfold thanks to a scrapbook – in this case Jack’s own.

My original article chronicled Jack’s birth in 1909, the tenth child of William and Elizabeth Roscoe of 3 Saggersons Court, Moss Street, Prescot. His father was described in the 1911 Census as ‘mechanic watch tool maker’. I had found nothing about Jack’s schooling but was aware of his early football career with Rainhill Recs and Prescot Vics and the fact that he’d apparently spent time at Everton. After a short spell at New Brighton in the late 1920s Jack signed for Prescot Cables in 1930, scoring 59 goals that season plus another 50 in both the 1931-32 and 1932-33 season. After three seasons as Lancashire Combination runners-up, Cables parted with Jack, the team bound for the Cheshire League and Jack for Lancaster Town. Jack’s two seasons at Lancaster witnessed bagsful of goals plus winners’ medals in the Lancashire Junior Cup (1933-34) and the Lancashire Combination (1934-35). By the time he returned to Prescot in August 1935 Jack had acquired a wife (Lucy née Welsby) and daughter (Joan). Jack spent August 1935 to January 1936 at Hope Street, a spell which included six goals in an FA Cup match against Harrowby at Hope Street in September 1935. He was sold to up-and-coming South Liverpool in January 1936, scoring 27 goals for the team in less than half a season. His phenomenal hunger for goals continued until football was abandoned soon after the outbreak of war in September 1939: 49 goals in 1936-37, an astonishing 75 in 1937-38 (his second Lancashire Combination record score) and a relatively modest 39 in 1938-39. With South Liverpool winning competitions on all sides, Jack also notched up quite a few winners’ medals.

I knew nothing about Jack’s wartime service. He would have been almost 36 by the time conflict ceased – long in the tooth to be rekindling a football career. So he returned to working at BICC in Prescot and restricted his appearances on the field to the Annual Boxing Day Charity Match between Old Prescotians and Prescot Police. He also carried out a little scouting work for South Liverpool, one of his recruits being Harry Boydell. He is pictured, looking remarkably lean and fit for a man in his mid-70s, in photographs taken at the Centenary Re-Union Dinner in 1984. He died a few days either side of his 87th birthday in October 1996.

His scrapbook reveals a lot of new material about his personal and public life. Among the many items lent to me by Pat Sumner is a postcard showing High Street, Prescot in 1909 – the year of Jack’s birth. Thanks to Stephen Nulty of www.prescot-rollofhonour.info, I now know that Saggersons Court was located on Moss Street’s east side, on the plot now occupied by Seddons Court. The scrapbook also reveals that Jack was educated at Prescot Council School and, judging from another of Pat’s photographs, served as a Boy Scout. He was not the last of William and Elizabeth’s children, a daughter Margaret following in 1917. The Prescot Roll of Honour website also reveals that his elder brother Thomas served in the South Lancashire Regiment in World War One. By the time of Thomas’s military attestation in December 1915 the family had moved to Beesley Cottages, St Helens Road, a house they still occupied at the time of Jack’s wedding to Lucy in late 1934.

Jack’s main football experiences as a boy were with Prescot Rangers. A team photo dated 1924-25 and shown at the top of this page shows him in what was to become his usual No.9 position (front row centre). It was a season in which Jack scored 84 goals, a club record broken only by Bill Watkinson just before World War Two. A brief press clipping shows that at the age of nineteen Jack had signed amateur forms with Everton, the official 1927-28 reserve team photograph showing him in the No.7 position (front row left). According to Michael Joyce’s Football League Players’ Records 1888 to 1939, however, Jack never played for the first team. But Joyce does record Jack’s time at New Brighton: five goals in sixteen games.

Jack’s time playing at Hope Street while living a stone’s throw away on St Helens Road was covered with reasonable accuracy in my original article: 159 goals in two-and-a-half seasons, with the remaining half season spent in Football League Division 3 North at Rotherham United, where thanks to Michael Joyce I now know he scored three goals in five games. By New Year 1932 he was back at Cables, notching up 50 goals in just four months.

The scrapbook contains a large number of press clippings and photographs from Jack’s two seasons at Lancaster (1933-35). He made his debut with a hat-trick against Dick Kerrs at Ashton, Preston on 26 August 1933. This may have been either a cup match or a friendly because a later clipping records that Jack scored not three but six goals on his Lancaster debut ‘followed … by a bag of four – then a couple of hat-tricks – and, in the last game, a two’: eighteen goals in just five matches! No wonder the same report dubbed him ‘Dixie Dean II’ and mentioned possible links with Fulham (Football League Division 2) ‘and several other clubs.’ Another clipping describes Jack as ‘one of the most consistent goal-scorers in the Lancashire Combination … [and] the subject of inquiries by Burnley’ (also Division 2). No further details have emerged about links with Football League clubs. Having failed to make a mark at New Brighton and Rotherham Jack may have decided to stay put in non-league football, enabling him to keep his job at British Insulated Cables – a sum no doubt matched by his earnings as a footballer. Having joined Lancaster after failing ‘to come to terms’ with Cables (the Prescot and Huyton Reporter’s Bert Taylor writing in 1963), he must have been on a good wage at Giant Axe.

By this stage he had attracted the attention of football writers at both ends of Lancashire. ‘“Watch Roscoe” is the hint commonly passed around to defending departments of teams that are opposing Lancaster Town’, a local newspaper reported.

Usefully built, … Roscoe never fails for want of keenness. He believes in positioning himself well up the field, and alertness off the mark enables him to make good use of the timely pushed-up pass. In head work he is particularly adept. … The game revealed Roscoe as a ready opportunist.

By the time this report was published (about November 1933) Roscoe had scored 29 goals in 23 games. Other words and phrases used to describe Jack’s style included ‘cool’, ‘deadly’, ‘dashing’ and ‘clever’; and images of him ‘foraging’ in his opponents’ half, ‘trapping, tapping and driving’ the ball, and forcing or bundling it into the net, are common. As I mentioned in my earlier article, it took a particularly aggressive type of attacker to score five disallowed goals in a match!

Meanwhile Cables were making precious little headway in the Cheshire League, as we can see from two issues of the Prescot and District Reporter from Autumn 1933.

The more one sees of the Cables this season the more persistently recurs the thought that the player whose absence they are feeling most is Roscoe, last season’s centre-forward, who is building up such a fine goal scoring record at Lancaster. He was credited with another hat trick on Saturday.

Prescot want a centre-forward badly; indeed, they have been without one all the season. … One hears some glowing accounts of Jack Roscoe these days, but he is away with Lancaster Town, enjoying himself by bagging a crop of goals each week. I am not advocating Roscoe’s return, though it would certainly be a tonic to Hope-street, both in regard to the team and spectators. 

Jack Roscoe’s first winner’s medal arrived on Saturday, 7 April 1934 when Lancaster Town beat Chorley 3-0 in the final of the Lancashire Junior Cup at Deepdale. About this time he broke Fred Marquis’s 1927-28 Lancaster Town record of 55 goals in a season by scoring 57. With typical Roscoe panache the record was achieved by scoring six goals in the final match of the season against Horwich RMI. Jack repeated his Lancashire Junior Cup win on three further occasions, all with South Liverpool (1937-39). He was also on the losing side with South Liverpool in 1936. As Bert Taylor remarked, ‘There were invariably league honours to be won for a team which had Roscoe in the forward line.’ A careful study of the scrapbook and league and cup records reveal that Jack Roscoe was awarded four Lancashire Combination championship medals (Lancaster, 1935 and South Liverpool, 1937-39), four Lancashire Junior Cup medals (as outlined above), one Lancashire Combination Cup (South Liverpool, 1938) and, best of all, the Welsh Cup in May 1939: a total of ten winner’s medals in a period of just six seasons. Ten winner’s medals plus four runners-up medals in nine seasons if we include his first three seasons at Cables. Inevitably, a centre-forward like Jack was a great crowd puller. His time at South Liverpool saw some of Holly Park’s highest attendances: 9,298 versus Brighton in December 1937; 7,781 versus Everton in a Liverpool Senior Cup tie in March 1938; and 6,857 versus Oldham Reserves in a Lancashire Combination match in April 1938. Not that crowds at Lancaster had been small. In 1933 7,345 spectators turned up to witness an FA Cup defeat against Stockport County.

1934-35 witnessed personal and football achievements for Jack. In late 1934 he married Lucy Welsby of 7 Cyprus Street, Prescot. There was just one problem: it was a Saturday and Jack had a match. ‘… the bride wore a Lancashire Junior Cup medal won by Mr. Roscoe last season’, a short photo-article explained,

[But] owing to the fact that the bridegroom was down to play in the afternoon the couple did not plan a honeymoon. Instead, after the reception, Mr. Roscoe journeyed to Great Harwood and assisted his club … to defeat Harwood by three goals to nil.

The Lancaster Town match programme for Saturday, 19 January 1935 added its congratulations to the happy couple: ‘May he and his wife be as happy in their home life as Jack is when playing football.’ Jack scored two of Town’s goals against Great Harwood, by the way. He and Lucy set up home together initially in Garden Walk, Prescot before moving to 20 Williams Street some time later.

Football achievements included the Lancashire Combination championship, the team finishing with 60 points from 38 games. More to the point, Lancaster scored 143 goals in the league and Jack set a new Lancashire Combination record of 67: 56 goals in the league and eleven in cup matches.  1934-35 included a ‘Christmas scoring riot’ in which Lancaster scored 30 goals in just three matches: seven against Darwen on Christmas Day (Jack scored two), thirteen against Bacup on Boxing Day (Jack scored six) and ten against Rossendale around New Year 1935 (Jack’s goals unknown). In these three teams only Darwen replied, with a single goal on Christmas Day – a seasonal consolation gift if ever there was one. I have traced five occasions on which Jack scored six goals in a single match:

  1. Lancaster Town Debut in August 1933 Opponents unknown
  2. Lancaster Town Last match of 1933-34 Versus Horwich RMI
  3. Lancaster Town 26 December 1934 Versus Bacup (see above)
  4. Prescot Cables 23 September 1935 FA Cup match against Harrowby
  5. South Liverpool 7 May 1938 Versus Morecambe

Jack’s ten years in the game coincided with the golden era of the sports caricaturist, and my original article featured cartoons by George Green (who captured his striking features mostly during Jack’s Cables days). I also mentioned Bert Wright, who covered much of Jack’s South Liverpool career. While at Giant Axe, William Cavanagh (1884-1966), alias ‘Furnival’, published many cartoons for the Lancashire Evening Post before war broke out and he became a political cartoonist with the Daily Express. His New Year 1935 message to the Lancaster team and its thirty goals in three matches is an excellent example of his work.

Jack’s departure from Lancaster Town in time for the 1935-36 season was surely linked to the birth of his first child Joan in May 1935 – at about the same time that his team was celebrating their Lancashire Combination championship. Combining his job at BIC in Prescot (where he worked as a crane driver) with matches in Lancaster and beyond must have put a lot of strain on the emerging Roscoe family. And what about training? The usual non-league practice at the time was for players to train twice a week, usually on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. It is unlikely that Jack would have found the time or money to make the long train journey from Prescot to Lancaster and back (a three-hour round trip) for two training sessions as well as Saturday and midweek matches. Perhaps he anticipated the routine of Joe Mercer following his transfer from Everton to Arsenal in 1946. Joe continued to live in Hoylake and trained at Liverpool’s Melwood. Jack may well have done his training at Hope Street.

Cables fans must have been delighted to see the return of Roscoe. But it was not at centre-forward, as ‘Pivot’ of the Prescot and District Reporter explained following a cup-tie against Buxton on 9 November 1935:

[The match was] a personal triumph for Jack Roscoe, who, after playing for years at centre-forward, was drafted to outside-right. The change was an instantaneous success. Roscoe … always was a favourite with the Prescot crowd, but his play has never been so appreciated as it was on Saturday. Tricky and fast, he put across some glorious centres. The forward line was admirable from start to finish…. Roscoe … scored twice.

Other Cables matches at this time included the occasion in September 1935 when Jack celebrated goalkeeper Horace Whalley’s wedding day with six goals in a 10-0 trouncing of Harrowby (see above) and a 2-1 victory against South Liverpool on 14 October. Jack scored both goals. Perhaps it was this match that prompted South Liverpool to buy him a few months later.

After scoring 29 goals for Cables between August 1935 and January 1936, Jack was no doubt delighted to join the emerging Holly Park club halfway through its first Lancashire Combination season. He made his debut on 15 January. A few weeks later his four goals against Rochdale Reserves increased his total for South Liverpool to thirteen and 42 for the season as a whole. South Liverpool finished the season fourth in the league and as Lancashire Junior Cup runners-up. Jack scored 27 goals for South to add to the 29 scored at Cables: a combined total of 56 goals, making 1935-36 the sixth successive season with over 50 goals to his credit. South Liverpool went two steps better in 1936-37 by emerging as Lancashire Junior Cup winners and seizing the Lancashire Combination championship. It proved a slightly below-par season for Jack: 36 goals in the league and thirteen in cup ties – a paltry 49!

Jack’s goal tally soared in the 1937-38 season when he beat his own record of 67 goals by reaching 69 with a hat-trick against Marine in the penultimate match of the season. With the Lancashire Combination championship and a second victory in the Junior Cup in the bag, the last match of the season, at home to Morecambe on 7 May 1938, proved a personal triumph for South Liverpool’s centre-forward. As Jack annotated in his copy of the match programme, South beat Morecambe 8-1 and he scored six goals, bringing his total for the season to 75 goals. A newspaper clipping elsewhere reveals that he had scored 50 league goals and 25 in cup ties. The team as a whole scored a staggering 177 league goals – a Lancashire Combination record that was never beaten.

1938-39 was slightly less successful for Jack (39 goals in 37 matches) but unbelievably triumphant for the team as it captured an amazing quadruplet of trophies: the Lancashire Combination championship, the Junior Cup (both for the third year in succession), the Lancashire Combination Cup and the Welsh Cup. Jack’s scrapbook includes a photograph of the South Liverpool captain receiving the cup straight after the match and a group shot of players and officials in civvies at what was probably an official reception back in Liverpool a few days later. Jack is standing on the extreme left of the picture. Dressed smartly in shirt, tie, dark sports coat and light-coloured Oxford bags he looks like a dashing F. Scott Fitzgerald character. I wonder if he knew at the time that the Welsh Cup final had been his last match for South Liverpool. Three months later he was back at Hope Street.

The reason for Jack Roscoe’s return to Cables is simple. On 9 May 1939, five days after South Liverpool’s Welsh Cup victory, Lucy had given birth to their daughter Pat. Including Joan and their second daughter Eileen, born on 17 February 1938, Jack now had three children under the age of five to support. His place was not in Lancaster or Garston, Liverpool, but in Williams Street, Prescot. Jack’s plan was no doubt to spend his thirties in the bosom of his family. But with only three matches of the 1939-40 season played these plans went dramatically awry. World War Two was declared on Sunday, 3 September 1939 and Jack was destined to travel much further away than Lancaster and the outer reaches of the Lancashire Combination. His years aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Azalea were about to begin and would take him much further a-field. Not that a mere World War would stop Jack Roscoe playing football.

Jack Roscoe during his time in the Royal Navy‘FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY’

The war must have featured many such newspaper headlines above short photo-articles about local men doing their bit. The one that featured Jack probably appeared in the Prescot and District Reporter or one of the Liverpool papers and mentioned his pre-war successes at Prescot Cables, Lancaster Town and South Liverpool. The piece also lists Lance Corporal Jonathan Welsby of the RAF and his brother Gunner Richard N. Welsby of the Royal Artillery – Lucy’s brothers and Jack’s brothers-in-law. Lucy and her father Edward must have been enormously proud.

The latter part of Jack’s scrapbook includes numerous newspaper clippings and photographs focusing on Jack’s time in the Mob. It includes two portraits of him in uniform. One is a head-and-torso shot (but no hat) that must have served as an unofficial ID card since on the back are his basic details written in pen: his work as a First Class Stoker in the RN; his pre-war job as a Labourer at British Insulated Cables; his two years and two months in the Home Service (suggesting that the details were recorded in 1941 or 42); his education at Prescot Council School; his football career in the Lancashire Combination; and Lucy’s name and address as next of kin. The other portrait, a full-length shot of Jack in uniform (this time with hat), is marked ‘Plymouth’ and shows Jack leaning nonchalantly against a handrail aboard what was probably HMS Azalea. The scrapbook also includes a photograph of the Azalea, a flower-class corvette launched in July 1940 which saw active service in the Battle of the Atlantic and the D-Day landings. Posterity records the Azalea’s part in two major incidents. The first was on 12 April 1943 when on escort duty in the mid-Atlantic it picked up a total of 142 survivors from three merchant ships torpedoed by German U-Boats: British ships Fresno City (45 survivors) and Pacific Grove (56 survivors) and the Dutch merchantman Ulysses (41). Jack was no doubt on board. The following August his skipper Lt. (later Lt. Cdr.) George Carlow Geddes RNR (1910-87) was awarded the RD (a Royal Navy Reserve decoration) for his ship’s part in the operation. The second event came on 28 April 1944 when HMS Azalea was involved in ‘Exercise Tiger’ and, specifically, what became known as the ‘Battle of Lyme Bay’. The occasion was meant to be a routine rehearsal for the US assault on Utah Beach. It went horribly wrong. Jack’s boat was one of two escorting RN vessels on duty. The other was the destroyer HMS Scimitar, which collided with one of the troop ships and had to return to Plymouth. Enter nine prowling German E-boats from Cherbourg. The resulting debacle led to the deaths of 750 US troops. Thankfully, lessons were learned and the real invasion of Utah Beach by the US VII Corp on D-Day (led by Lieutenant General Omar Bradley) ended in success: just 197 casualties among the 21,000 troops landed. Earlier in the war Jack and HMS Azalea must have been involved in escorting troop ships around the Cape of Good Hope to Egypt – hence the photograph of him with a group of African adults and children. Taken in Freetown, Sierra Leone according to Pat.

If as a Royal Navy Stoker Jack’s role in these mammoth events was modest, his contribution to HMS Azalea’s morale as captain of its football team must have been much appreciated by Geddes and his crew. Under the headline ‘Terror of the Little Fleet,’ a Merseyside newspaper had this to say about an unnamed Royal Navy vessel, its football team and centre-forward:

[The team has] helped a corvette to be recognised as the terror of the Little Fleet. [It is] even keen on tackling … the destroyers … and very rarely [has] the corvette suffered defeat. In their latest engagement they finished the game with only eight men and… fought so gallantly … to suffer defeat by only two goals to one. One of the victims was Jack Roscoe … [who] had to go to hospital with an injury to his ankle. Jack, who acts as captain, is the Prescot Cables and South Liverpool player.

Another clipping shows Jack looking on as Mr Bob Lethaby presents the ‘GFA Cup’ to the captain of an RAF XI. Looking a little disappointed, Jack is obviously in the unenviable position of losing captain of a Royal Navy XI. The Gibraltar Football Association Cup (also known as the ‘Rock Cup’) dates from 1895, its winners a mixture of local teams like Britannia XI and Europa and guest military outfits like HMS Hood (winners in 1936), 2nd Battalion The King’s Regiment (1939) and 4th Battalion Royal Scots (1944). It was RAF New Camp that defeated Jack’s Royal Navy XI – 3-0 as it happened – in 1943.

Like many demobilised servicemen Jack, by now 35-years-old, returned to his crane and his role as husband to Lucy and father of Joan (now aged ten), Eileen (seven) and Pat (six). His professional football days were over. Neville Walker mentions that he played for the Old Prescotians in several of its Boxing Day charity matches. His scrapbook includes a copy of the programme for the 1953 fixture featuring Jack in his customary position of centre-forward, goalkeeper from the 1920s Bob Monteith and half-back Jackie Gore. As I mentioned in 2014, at about this time Jack acted as a scout for South Liverpool, recruiting Harry Boydell just a day or two after demobilisation from the RAF in March 1952. Jack’s collection also features a team photograph of South Liverpool in which he is pictured standing in the back row on the extreme left – the traditional place occupied by the trainer. He is dressed in a dark suit, collar and tie, scarf, long football socks, football boots and holds a towel. Judging from the presence further along the back row of ex-Cables player Alex Muir, I would date this circa 1958-60, when Alex had left Cables in favour of a second spell at Holly Park. But Harry Boydell insists that Jack was not a South Liverpool trainer. A stand-in, perhaps? Together with so many Cables veterans, Jack was present in the Social Club on 1 December 1984 when the club celebrated its centenary. The scrapbook includes a copy of the printed programme signed not only by Jack but also by his old Cables and South Liverpool team-mate Tommy O’Brien, fellow goal-grabber Bill Watkinson, and Sandy Lyon, Harry Boydell, W. Marshall, Bill Rainford, Alex Muir, Vic Townley and Eddie Kershaw.

Jack’s daughters all married: Joan to John Dennis, Eileen to Harry Daley and Pat to Brian Sumner. Jack’s grandchildren comprise Michael and Andrew (Joan’s family), John and Phillip (Eileen) and Deborah and Craig (Pat). So far Jack’s family tree has produced six great-grandchildren (Jessica, Gemma, Kyle, Abbey, Eleanor and Owen.)

There remains the vexed question of how many goals Jack Roscoe actually scored in his career. Back in 2014 my calculations showed a grand total of 477 (190 for South Liverpool, 160 for Cables and 127 for Lancaster). But at this stage I was unaware of his five goals for New Brighton, three for Rotherham United and, most importantly, the 29 he scored for Cables between leaving Lancaster Town in the summer of 1935 and joining South Liverpool in January 1936. Having trawled through his scrapbook, I can now publish a new set of figures.

New Brighton1929-305
Prescot Cables1930-35190+
Rotherham United1931-323
Lancaster Town1933-35124
South Liverpool1936-39190
GRAND TOTAL1929-39512+

If we include Jack’s unsuccessful time with New Brighton, in which he played just 16 times, his average for the ten seasons between 1929 and 1939 was 51.2 goals. Counting only the nine seasons during which Jack was fully engaged (1930-39) this figure rises to 56.34. An astonishing achievement. His grandson Craig Sumner, himself an ex-Preston North End professional, summed Jack up as follows:

He was passionate about football and took me to my first Everton game. He was a very strong character who would sit me down and talk about football for hours.

I am indebted to Jack’s daughter Pat Sumner for access to his scrapbook and photo collection, Stephen Nulty of www.prescot-rollofhonour.info and Harry Boydell for his constant help and support.

Glyn Williams