For nearly eighty years Albert Geldard was the youngest player to turn out in a Football League match. In September 1929, aged 15 years, 158 days, Geldard appeared for Bradford Park Avenue against Millwall, setting a record which he shared with Wrexham’s Ken Roberts until Barnsley’s Reuben Noble-Lazarus trumped it – aged 15 years 45 days – in autumn 2008. It was the first distinction of a lengthy and illustrious career that would take in England recognition and an FA Cup win.
A fine all-rounder, Geldard could have taken up cricket professionally and later cited not playing county cricket for his beloved Yorkshire as one of his biggest disappointments. For Bradford he was no flash-in- the-pan and soon developed a reputation as the Yorkshire club’s most exciting player. A right winger who possessed fine close control and an electric turn of pace, he soon attracted the notice of bigger clubs.
Bradford Park Avenue had already turned down a £5000 bid from Huddersfield when financial necessity forced them to sell Geldard to Everton for £4000 in November 1932. Geldard was introduced straight into the Everton team in place of the unfortunate Ted Critchley.
After scoring on his debut at Middlesbrough, Geldard gave Evertonians a glimpse of his sumptuous talents on his home debut, versus Bolton. Dean took possession on the right wing and, seeing Geldard sprint into the centre forward position, played him through. Geldard still had much work to do, however. But his pace carried him past two onrushing defenders; he then drew the goalkeeper and glided past him, before strolling the ball over the goal line.
Although Everton were inconsistent in the league during the 1932/33 season, they made great strides in the FA Cup. Geldard was struggling with an ankle injury, however, and missed the quarter-final annihilation of Luton Town and also the semi-final against West Ham. Critchley returned to take his place and scored Everton’s late winner in the semi.
A month later, in the run-up to the final, there were still doubts about Geldard’s fitness. But at Everton’s pre-final retreat at Buxton, he received extensive massages from Harry Cooke, Everton’s famous trainer, and recovered in time to play. The unlucky Critchley missed out and Geldard provided the cross for Jimmy Dunn’s third goal.
At the end of the 1932/33 season Geldard’s form for Everton saw him included, along with Tommy White, for England’s end of season tour of Italy. The visit included a now notorious meeting with Mussolini. Geldard received the first of four international caps in a 1-1 draw in Rome against Italy just a fortnight after lifting the FA Cup with Everton.
Through the 1933/34 season he shared responsibilities on Everton’s right with Critchley. But after his team-mate’s sale to Preston in June 1934 he was first choice on the Everton wing. In particular he developed a fine understanding with Cliff Britton, the Everton right half. Geldard’s biographer, John Rowlands, recalled:
Cliff Britton was Albert’s best friend on and off the field and whenever Albert was crowded into a corner Cliff always appeared to receive the pass. On one occasion, against Leeds at Goodison Park, he dribbled through the whole team from his own half, but hit the side netting as he had no strength left to score. The crowd applauded for ten minutes. Albert regards him as Everton’s finest player and a joy to play with. Cliff would take the ball within six inches of an opponent, lean back and suddenly be past him.
On Boxing Day 1935 Geldard ‘fulfilled a long ambition’ when he deputised for Ted Sagar for 20 minutes while the goalkeeper was off the field receiving treatment. At one point he leapt at full stretch and felt something flick his wrists. ‘He landed facing Tommy White,’ recalled Rowlands. ‘“Where is it, Tommy?” he asked.“Tha’s aw reight, it ower bloody top,” he replied. Albert could have hugged him.’
In 1937/38 Geldard was in exceptional form and was recalled to the England team for the 5-1 win over Ireland. Ireland shifted Billy Cook to left back to mark his Everton team-mate and his aggressive defensive play overwhelmed Geldard. Next time England played he was replaced by Stanley Matthews. Geldard was inconsistent, however, and sometimes earned catcalls from his own supporters. He said at the time: ‘Players delight to play away from home rather than hear the catcalls of home spectators who, being sportsmen, should try to help a player rather than hinder him.’ Twice, in 1936 and 1937, he requested a transfer, but only at the third time of asking, in June 1938, did the board accede to his request, and Geldard joined Bolton Wanderers.
A year later war intervened, but when peace came Geldard was still only in his early thirties and he played on for another year with Bolton. Geldard vigorously campaigned to improve the working conditions of professional footballers and was the Player’s Association representative when he was at Burnden Park. A colourful figure, Geldard was a part-time magician and member of the Liverpool Mahatma Circle of Magicians. Later he turned to journalism and wrote for the Sunday Post.
GELDARD, ALBERT AND JOHN ROWLANDS, Life and Times of a Professional Footballer, Countryside, 1990