The Market District Boys Club

by

blog The Market 

The author remembers wonderful teenage years at The Market District Boy’s Club Marsh Lane, Leeds. The football, the camaraderie, The preparation for life that we were unaware of at the time. 

                              The Market District Boy’s Club

During the last few years at school, East Leeds lads in particular, would become aware of the name ‘Market District’ or more commonly ‘The Market’. ‘He plays for the Market’, they would say with no small measure of respect. This was a club recognised for regularly winning football honours – or at least being in the final of things. You would notice that the pick of the school team and a fair smattering of the Leeds City Schoolboys team would migrate to either, ‘The Market’, or their great rivals, Ashley Road Methodists and Leeds Catholics upon leaving school.

My first close encounter with ‘The Market’ came about while actually playing against them in the under 16’s Minor League during 1952. The Market in their red and black squared shirts thrashed us six nil on our pitch and ten nil on theirs. Such was the magic of their football these scores seemed no disgrace. I can remember being particularly impressed by receiving a rollicking for hoofing the ball up the field instead of trying to play it out of defence. The reason I was so impressed was that the criticism came from not one of our players but one of theirs! These are the true aristocrats of football I thought and it became a growing ambition to wear one of those black and red shirts and what a thrill it was when I finally got to pull one on the following season – even, if by this time, they had become faded to pink and grey.

In the early fifties the club used two of the three Shaftsbury pitches on York Road; evidently this had not always been the case as older members recall playing on East End Park, Snake Lane and even the ‘cindery’ but handy ‘Paddy’s Park’. Pre-season we would train on the Shaftsbury pitches and change at the side of the field but on match days we would change at the club and without benefit of our own transport catch a tram from the club up to the Shaftsbury pitches already attired in our football gear. This was alright on the journey up there when we were clean but if the day had been wet there would likely be forty muddy lads ‘cheek by jowl’ with city centre shoppers doing their best to avoid muddy contact with us in the swinging tram gangways.

Back at the club, this was all made worthwhile by a wallow in the splendour of the huge sunken bath, which was a real luxury for the time. The bath was big enough to swallow twenty/thirty mucky lads with ease into its steamy depths. There is a the legendary tale of the occasion when a lady councillor was conducting a group of female councillors on a grand tour of the club (much later I became aware that the club was used as a model for keeping us lads from potentially deprived backgrounds on the straight and narrow but we were unaware of that at the time). Anyway, this lady proudly waltzed into the bathroom in order to show her colleagues what luxuries they had provided for us but to her horror as the steam cleared they were confronted by a bath full of whistling footballers in the ‘nuddy’. She is reported to have said: ‘and here is the big bath. Oh dear! I fear it is occupied.’ With that they made a hurried retreat.

At a recent reunion of old ‘Market’ members a great old sepia photograph of lads in the bath came to light. It showed that bath full to the brim with laughing little urchins, climbing over one another to get on the picture while a member of the clergy (the club was attached to Leeds Parish Church) complete in cassock held out a packet of ‘Lux’ soapflakes. What a great advert it would have made for Lux soapflakes. 

            If you looked back at the results of the various ‘Market’ teams playing normal run of the mill teams on a Saturday afternoon – there would be four or five football teams and a rugby team on the go at any one time – it would not be unusual to see scores of twenty goals to nil. Our team once won thirty eight nil and we had our goalkeeper sent off for sitting down by the posts, he got bored as he never got to touch the ball. This, the referee deemed was ‘ungentlemanly conduct’ and he had to go. Not all teams were ‘pushovers’ though. Every season there would be one or two teams who were able to give you a hard game. In our time these were, Ashley Road and Leeds Catholics. These two always managed to attract their share of last years Leeds City Boy’s team. In other eras, the Market’s main rivals had been Carlton Stormcocks, Leeds Wanderers, St Pat’s, Osmondthorpe YMCA and Pudsey Juniors etc. If you lost a match against one of these great rivals, it would be shear misery for a full week.

Gradually a mighty camaraderie developed within our team, there were times when the whole of our team plus non-playing members would socialise together on Saturday nights as a group. First we would visit the city centre pubs; the Vine, the King Charles seem to be the favourites and then onto the Scala Ballroom where we would ‘smooch’ beneath a revolving glass ball that threw shards of light across us. Magic. Sometimes we would have a change and visit the Mecca or Mark Altman’s or perhaps the Central School of Dancing which was opposite the Corn Exchange, there to indulge in our ‘bopping’ or waltzing,  to magical fifties ballads like; Mobile: ‘I saw a Sparrow Building its nest…….’  Alternatively, we might catch a couple of buses to the ‘Bull’ at Pudsey, then on to dancing at the Pudsey Baths. We often ‘kopt’ for a black eye and regularly had to walk all the way home but it didn’t matter that was all part of a great Saturday night out. All in all I think the Scala became our staple favourite venue.

Soon it became apparent that ‘The Market’ was far more than just a series of football teams, it was a club in the truest sense of the word. There was a thriving boxing section, a rugby league section, table tennis, billiards, girls section, canteen and chapel but most of all there was a sense of belonging.

Rapidly one’s teenage week became centred around the club. Tuesdays and Thursdays were football-training nights; Wednesday was for the rugby league lads, Monday for the girls. We all came together for dancing on Fridays and Saturdays in the basement. We decorated that basement ourselves to suit the ‘rock and roll’ era and we dimmed the lights for those dreamy waltzes:  Blow me a kiss from Across the Room, A blossom Fell. Hold my Hand’. They don’t make songs like that anymore!

The Sunday dances included a mandatory visit to the chapel midway through the evening. This may have seemed a little strange to newcomers but personally I found that chapel a powerhouse you could sense an aura in there. Sometimes I wondered, perhaps hoped, there was a residue clinging in there of members no longer with us who had congregated here, perhaps before going off and being lost in the War. Maybe their young hopes and aspirations remained encapsulated in here. The concept was quite humbling.

Lifelong relationships were being forged within these walls fortified by a whole host of leaders, clergy and voluntary helpers who gave up their time to keep us on the straight and narrow, just as their predecessors had done for the generations who came before. Without doubt, this was the real work of the club and far more important than the production of a few decent football teams. That was just the carrot to attract us in, then the real work began, although we did not realise it at the time we were being prepared for life and what a debt of gratitude we owe to those who made it possible. I’ll not mention any by name lest I should inadvertently omit anyone – enough to say: in my eyes they were all great.   

Around 1954 our gang went on a club trip to Blankemberghe in Belgium. There would be about thirty or forty of us, most travelling abroad for the first time. There is a tale of how one of the lads put a coin into one of those machines you could ask a question and it spat out a ticket with the answer. It was the night before we were due to travel, he asked. ‘Will I ever go abroad?’ the machine answered, ‘No!’ Luckily the machine was proved wrong the very next day. Of course continental travel was not so prevalent at that time as it is today, then it was all a great adventure for us: cars coming towards us, seemingly on the wrong side of the road, shops open all hours, nightclub – we’d never seen nightclubs in Leeds. It was all very strange.

Among our particular difficulties was deciding what alcoholic beverages to drink – really we shouldn’t have been drinking at all it was not good for the image of the club and we were all under age anyway but try telling that to us at the time. Undaunted, about fifteen of us went out one night intent on getting ‘well oiled’ regardless that we didn’t know what was safe to drink. We entered that which  we believed to be their equivalent of an off licence and each of us bought a bottle of that we thought would be alcohol – we couldn’t read the labels we just guessed. So stocked we transported the bottles from the shop to the beach where we all stood in a circle and taking a swig of our bottle, passed it on so that everyone had a swig of every bottle. Some of the tastes were quite diabolical – one in particular must have been undiluted coffee essence it made you jip every time it came round – I can still taste it. As you can imagine in no time at all we were all completely legless and falling about in the sand dunes – the whole issue. Those who weren’t so bad made an attempt to drag the ‘stiffs’ back to the hotel. One of the worst affected had the hotel key but he was coherent enough to know not to surrender it, saying: ‘I’m keeping tight hold of this; it’s my ticket back to the hotel’. We finally managed to deliver the worst to their beds. We had four of them laid out on two double beds in just their underpants, a couple were suffering from what were evidently ‘ delirium shivers’, when Duncan Gibson, the club leader arrived in the room, when he saw the state of them he went wild. He went on as how we’d let the club down and we would be sent home the next day, he was very serious. Then to our grate relief good fortune smiled upon us: in the midst of his ravings one of the ‘shiverers’ ceased his shivering for a moment and with his eyes still shut, began picking his nose. The sight was so funny Duncan could not remain serious and once he had burst out laughing the situation was saved.

Another night we blundered into a posh nightclub where the leaders were having a well-earned respite away from us, they had booked a table and had a fancy burette of wine – the lot. Their pained expressions should have told us they were not best pleased to see us but we, being thick skinned, were not easily put off. Instead of leaving with good grace to allow them to enjoy themselves, we messed about and the situation deteriorated, especially when a piano was espied and quickly manned by the pianist in our ranks who also happened, at the time, to be a smoker and who proceeded to park his cigarette on top of the piano. Unfortunately, the piano lid was open and the cig dropped into the interior igniting years of accumulated dust and causing a fire. Black smoke billowed everywhere. Thereafter the question of us leaving the nightclub was no longer open to debater we were unceremoniously escorted from the premises in quick time and banned from ever returning.

Around the age of twenty there was a tendency to drift away from the club – some of the better players joined top amateur open age clubs, some were good enough to turn professional. Some stayed on to become helpers themselves and to play for the Market District open age team which, having lost the cream of its talent was not generally up to the standard of the underage teams, others were off to get married or due for National Service. Those wonderful teenage years were over, eventually the grand old building in Brussels Street became outdated and demolished – but thankfully, never to be forgotten by those generations who drew inspiration from within its walls. This was confirmed by the way old members flocked to recent reunions.

Prior to the reunions my thoughts of the ‘Market’ tended to be parochial, centred on our times and circle of friends at the club. The reunions were complete ‘eye-openers’ the enthusiasm being generated was brilliant. The ages of folk who attended spanned almost the whole of the twentieth century.  Some old members could remember a time in the 1940s when the building had been requisitioned by the War Office and the club had to function in accommodation nearer to the Parish Church itself. Pre war photographs surfaced of happy camping expeditions and pantomime productions.  Nostalgic tales stretched right back to the founding of the club by the Rev Mackie. The oldest member to make contact was a lady already well into her eighties, though unfortunately, she was unable to attend the reunion in person as she lived in the North East. Those who were able to attend seemed to enjoy the experience. There was a tendency to migrate into groups of peers and pour over old team photographs. An eves-dropper was quoted as saying, “Each group I passed could be heard saying things like: ‘We should have won that match, we were robbed’ and the like”.

Time has obviously taken its toll on us all physically of course but what magic to see lads enter the door that you hadn’t seen since you played alongside them in the final match of a season perhaps: forty, fifty even sixty years ago. How wonderful that within minutes we were back into the same old routine of camaraderie and nicknames, probably the first time they had been brushed off and used in all that while. Our old comradeship was still apparent; seemingly, teenager friendships are able to transcend the passage of time.

 

 

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One Response to “The Market District Boys Club”

  1. Barry Fox Says:

    Hi,
    Reading Duncan Gibson’s memories brough back many happy memories for me. I played soccer for various teams at MD between 1957-59. I am in New Zealand at the moment or I would be attending the reunions. However, good luck to all my soccer pals from those years.
    Barry Fox.

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