England’s most successful double international
By Frank Garrick
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TODAY, a flight from the UK to southern Italy would take no longer than two-and-a-half hours, but as Frank Garrick shows in his biography of double international (football and cricket) Willie Watson, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, aeroplane pilots, mindful of sporadic enemy resistance across Europe, took a more circuitous route to the Bay of Naples.
Called up in the spring of 1945 to tour with an FA party which included Matt Busby, Frank Swift, Tommy Lawton and Joe Mercer, Watson reported to Paddington station’s Great Western Hotel just as news arrived of Germany’s surrender.
However, to avoid any lingering danger, the party flew from Swindon and travelled south across the Bay of Biscay before heading east towards Corsica and on to Italy.
The journey took five-and-a-half hours.
This is one of several engaging anecdotes included in Garrick’s comprehensive biography of a man who won four international football caps and represented England at cricket on 23 occasions.
The record earned Watson the title ‘England’s most successful double international’, a moniker unlikely ever to be wrested from his name.
Only a dozen men have ever represented England at football and cricket and while Watson was good enough to be a member of England’s 1950 World Cup squad, he was better known as a cricketer who scored 25,670 first class runs and 55 centuries between 1939-64.
Having signed professional terms as a footballer with Huddersfield, his cricketing prowess was also noted by Yorkshire and he made his first class debut in 1939.
Yet like so many others, the intervention of World War II stifled Watson’s sporting career, so it was not until 1951 that he made his Test debut.
Famously, Watson shared a lengthy fifth wicket stand with Trevor-Bailey against Australia at Lord’s in 1953 which saved England’s bacon.
They would go on and regain the Ashes for the first time in 20 years.
This might be enough for any sportsman, but while representing England at cricket, Watson was also Halifax Town’s player-manager and later managed Bradford City after retiring from first class cricket. A fascinating tale of a bygone era, Watson’s feat will never be repeated which guarantees his place in Britain’s sporting pantheon.
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What was the final score in the 1953 Ashes series?