It’s fun to…play at YMCA

The mind-boggling sums that football clubs pay for players in today’s market are a far cry from the humble beginnings that many sportsmen and women have within their local YMCAs.

Aside from tennis and golf, YMCA’s reputation for promoting sport within their centres stretched worldwide with the invention of basketball and volleyball in the 19th century, as well as Futsal (an indoor style of football).

In Britain, especially during the inter-war years, YMCAs became the perfect breeding ground for talented young, amateur footballers to be scouted by local clubs and Grimsby was no exception.

The first example of Grimsby YMCA making inroads on the national game came in 1926 when the Association was accepted into the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup, losing their only outing in the competition.

There were three notable footballers of the 1930s that would begin their careers with Grimsby YMCA and go onto play in England’s top flight, the equivalent of turning out in the Premier League of the 21st century, with two more players Harry Allard and Babs Field making appearances in wartime competitions.

Albert Emptage was born in Grimsby on Boxing Day 1917 and was described as a ‘hard working inside-right, who shows particularly good ball control.’ Joining Scunthorpe and Lindsey United (the forerunners of Scunthorpe United) in early-1937, Albert spent a month on trial in North Lincolnshire, signing professional forms in February 1937.

His stay with Scunthorpe was to be a short one, just one week into his new deal he was sold to Manchester City for £300. Although he did not make his debut for the Citizens until January 1938 (a 4-1 victory over Leicester City), Albert watched on as his new club won the Division One title in his first six months at Maine Road.

His 136 appearances for City sandwiched World War II and he ended his career with Stockport between 1950 and 1953, making a further 36 appearances, before joining the coaching staff at Rochdale.

fkurzFreddie Kurz (left) was of German descent but had a remarkable scoring record for Grimsby YMCA, netting 100 times in two seasons during the early-1930s. Born in Grimsby on 3 September 1918, Freddie joined local side Grimsby Town as a 16-year-old in 1934, turning professional two years later.

These were the Mariners’ glory years, regularly being amongst the top ten sides in the land and reaching the FA Cup semi-finals on two occasions in 1936 and 1939. Freddie immediately showed his potential for the club with 54 goals for the reserves in two years between 1937 and 1939.

Making his debut for the Mariners on 17 September 1938, during a 1-1 draw with Derby County at Blundell Park, Freddie made a further two appearances for the Mariners in the following weeks, a 3-1 defeat at Blackpool and a 0-0 draw at home to Brentford.

The outbreak of World War II the following season meant Freddie never got to find out whether he could repeat his goalscoring exploits of his formative years at the top level. But his wartime career was a memorable one. On his 21st birthday, Freddie joined the Royal Artillery and was based at Woolwich Barracks for the duration of World War II.

Unsurprisingly, he was sought after as a guest player by London clubs for appearances in wartime competitions. Indeed a February 1942 appearance for Watford against Brighton and Hove Albion saw Freddie playing under the pseudonym ‘Newman’, as he not received permission to leave base.

Appearances for Charlton Athletic, Chelsea, Fulham, Millwall, Clapton Orient and Crystal Palace followed. His performances earned him a Wembley appearance in May 1945 for the Combined Services against the National Police.

Scoring ten goals in 17 games for the Mariners during the war years, Freddie’s form for Crystal Palace earned Grimsby £4,000 when the Eagles made the transfer permanent in 1945. He would go onto score 48 times in 148 games for the club, before moving to Boston United.

His goalscoring feats continued with the Pilgrims, finishing top scorer in 1952 with 24 goals from just 40 games. Kurz also caught the eye as the Lincolnshire side embarked upon an FA Cup run the following season, netting ten times in the competition, including the only goal as United were beaten 2-1 at home to Oldham Athletic in the First Round Proper.

Settling back in Cleethorpes and working for Lloyd’s Cars. He passed away in November 1978, aged 59.

Bill Harvey (right) was born in Grimsby in 1920 and Bill Harveyhe went onto enjoy a 60-year association with the game, being awarded the Football League’s ‘Services to Football’ silver rose bowl by the Football League Executive Staff Association, joining such revered company as Bill Nicholson, Jimmy Sirrell, Derek Dooley and Bertie Mee.

His career in the spotlight began early, playing for Grimsby Schools against Sunderland in front of a crowd of 20,000 at Roker Park. World War II meant he was 25 before he made his bow for the Mariners, after signing from Grimsby YMCA in 1937.

After serving with the Army in the early years of the war, both at home and abroad, Bill became a wartime guest for Halifax and Carlisle, as well as representing the Army XI against their RAF counterparts – opposition that included England greats Stan Matthews, Stan Mortensen and Raich Carter.

An outside right, Bill appeared for his hometown club when they were beaten 2-1 at Sunderland in an FA Cup Third Round Second Leg tie on 9 January 1946. He then moved into non-league with Boston United, Scarborough, Spalding United, Bourne Town and Peterborough United.

He earned more fame as a coach and manager and made his first foray into the dugout with Chatteris Town, before finishing his playing career back at Spalding.

Gaining his full FA Coaching Badge in the late-50s, Bill was a coach at Bristol City and then in 1962, took charge of Luton Town.

In 1964, he joined the coaching staff at Swindon, before jumping at the opportunity to take charge of hometown club Grimsby in 1968. But he resigned after a year in charge at Blundell Park with the club struggling at the wrong end of Division Four.

The 1970s brought stops at Cardiff City as a coach, Chelsea as a scout and finally Northampton Town, again as a coach, before settling back at Peterborough in the 1980s.

Bill was a real stalwart for Posh, primarily a coach and physio, he also served as caretaker manager, kitman and was even named as substitute for the club’s reserve side at the age of 62, having driven the team to a game at Portsmouth.

Bill Harvey Silver Bowl
Bill Holding the ‘Services to Football’ silver rose bowl
presented by the Football League Executive Staff Association

Credited with having a large part in the early career of England international David Seaman, Bill continued to lead the Old Posh XI until he was 73. Ending his time in the game in 1993, Bill ran his own sports injury clinic until his passing in 2002 after illness.

All three players saw their promising careers cut short by the outbreak of World War II but their presence at the very top of the English game leaves a legacy for Grimsby YMCA in the Football League’s long history.

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