Stubbs and French hit form for England
Yellow Sports Brian Jeeves turns the clocks back to 1952 and a time when Southend United supplied England with a couple of starlets.
WITH THE HELSINKI GAMES of 1952 rapidly approaching, Walter Winterbottom, joint manager of the England and Great Britain football teams looked to put his charges to the test before the qualifying matches for the Olympics.
On April 20, 1952, Winterbottom saw an opportunity not only to give his Olympians some match practice but also to run the rule over some of the countries up and coming talent by pitching them against an England B team at Highbury Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club.
Lined up to play for the England team were several bright prospects such as Brentford’s Ron Greenwood (a future West Ham United and England manager), Tottenham Hotspur’s Bobby Smith and Jimmy Hill of Fulham. The match attracted a great deal of local interest when Southend United’s Great Wakering born outside left, Les Stubbs and right half, John ‘Jackie’ French, a native of Stockton and formerly of Middlesbrough who’d joined the Shrimpers in 1947 after finishing his national service with the 121 Training Regiment Royal Artillery, were also included.
The plucky Olympians, all-amateur players, proved to be no match for the young lions, who ran out winners by three goals to nil, with both Stubbs and French finding the net. Tommy Harmer of Tottenham Hotspur grabbed the other England goal. Interestingly, Bill Healey played for England in the second half having already played for Arsenal in a London Combination Cup fixture that afternoon, what’s more, the game went to extra time!
The Southend Pictorial dated May 2, 1952, ran the headline FRENCH AND STUBBS SHONE FOR ENGLAND B. It went on to say how Leslie Stubbs had opened the scoring in the twelth minute, with Jackie French scoring midway through the second half.
The Pictorial described French as being one of the best players on the pitch and that he gave a grand performance as an attacking wing-half.
The Great Britain team would continue their preparations with a couple of matches against Germany, losing 2-1 in Dusseldorf, then 2-0 in Nurnberg.
They fared little better at the XV Olympiad in Finland. After being, humiliated 5-3 by Luxembourg in Lahti, Great Britain would then lose 4-2 at the hands of Greece in Hameenlinna. Having embarrassingly been eliminated before the opening ceremony, most of the British players stayed in Finland to play several hastily arranged friendly matches against local sides to recoup some of the losses uncured by the FA following the team’s early exit.
Later that year the beleaguered Great Britain team finally ended their run of defeats after recovering from two goals down to claim a creditable 2-2 draw with Norway in Oslo.
Jackie French would go on to play 198 games for Southend scoring 22 goals either side of an injury-hit spell with Nottingham Forest. Towards the end of his career, he played for Folkestone Town before becoming the manager of Basildon United. Despite his North Eastern roots, his heart was clearly in south-east Essex. He would return to Southend United to work for the supporters’ club.
As for Les Stubbs, his 83 appearances and 40 goals for Southend including 14 goals in 14 games at the start of the 52/53 season, enticed Chelsea to shell out £10,000 for his services. During almost six-years at Stamford Bridge Stubbs scored 35 goals in 123 appearances. He would Win a First Division champions medal (1954/55) followed by a Charity Shield winners gong (Chelsea beating Newcastle 3-0). He would also represent London in the Inter-City Fairs Cup before returning to Southend United for two seasons in 1958. Stubbs played a season at Southern League Bedford Town before returning home to join Great Wakering Rovers.
Whilst back at the Rovers, he would capture the imagination of the locals who packed the Wakering Rec touchlines to get a glimpse of the local boy who’d done good. He would be a pivotal part of a team that dominated the Southend & District League for more than a decade.