Taking Care of the Boy
Mrs Rosa Kail was most impressed. She loved to often repeat the story about Mr Lorraine Wilson, a man held in high esteem in the Kail household. The incident was originally related to her by her husband James. Mr James Kail had returned from the railway station, having gone down with their son Edgar to see him off. The Hamlet team was playing away, and about to embark on their trip. As they were ready to leave, Mr Wilson put his arm on young Edgar’s shoulder and reminded the staff to “Please take care of the boy.” Wilson’s compassion struck a chord with Edgar’s mother, who was pleased that someone was showing a genuine concern for her dear son. The touching episode left an impression on Mrs Kail that she never forgot.
The teenage Edgar appears to have received little love from his austere father. A strict disciplinarian, Mr Kail demanded and received the utmost respect from his growing family. But at a cost – it distanced him from his offspring. By contrast, Dulwich Hamlet’s chief mentor Lorraine Wilson, known universally as ‘Pa’, demonstrated a more fatherly love. Pa had a wonderful track record in the supervision of young people. It was with boys of a similar age group back in 1893 that he had originally built Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. His fostering and nurturing of the boys that came under his wing, and the way he showed great care with those entering adulthood, was a breath of fresh air to Edgar.
However, we must not take anything away from Mr Kail, who was the major influence on his young boys. He often took groups of his children (he had nine) on day trips to central London, frog-marching them to and fro like a mini regiment. Occasionally they were allowed the luxury of a tram ride to Camberwell Green, where they would usually alight before continuing on foot. The part of East Dulwich where they lived is built between two hills, and even the shortest of journeys invariably involved climbing a height or two there and back. Mr Kail even instructed his children how to walk uphill properly, “Lift your feet up. Keep your shoulders back.” It was good tuition for young Edgar, who would later climb the heights that most schoolboys only dream of.
A Shilling Well Spent
Mr Kail also demanded that if a Kail boy needed money for anything, then he had to earn it. He always encouraged his children to be active and useful, and taught them to value the uttermost farthing. And it paid dividends; these precepts and principles learned in youth remained with the Kail family throughout their lives, especially Edgar, who, as well as being prudent would not receive any sort of payment under false pretences.
Before the First World War, Edgar earned his pocket money by doing an early morning paper-round with his brother Fred. The strict routine and good practise was made simpler by a grandfather clock (minus its minute hand) that stood at the foot of the stairs in their Nutfield Road home. The defective yet efficient timepiece governed the Kail household, sounding out the routine of the day, striking the boys into the good habits of timekeeping and dependability.
Following payday, and with sixpence each, Fred and Edgar often walked the couple of miles up to Camberwell Green to enjoy an evening in the old music-hall theatres. There were two at the Green, the Camberwell Palace of Varieties and the Camberwell Empire, where, seated in the ‘gods’, the lads got to see some of the leading entertainers of the day. Little Tich, Harry Champion, Marie Lloyd, George Roby, Harry Lauder and Fred Karno’s Troupe with the little known Charlie Chaplin in the ranks, were all seen.
When the first show was over they crossed the road to the other theatre to repeat the exercise, but not before they had had something to eat. While Edgar queued for tickets for the second house, Fred popped round the corner into Coldharbour Lane and brought back fish and chips. At the end of the evening, and with the time getting on for eleven o’clock, they traipsed home in the dark to East Dulwich, musing over the twenty or so first-rate turns they had seen, undoubtedly reminding each other of the best and funniest bits. They would be sure to get in before the clock struck, or else dad was waiting at the door with a slipper in his hand.
Schooldays at Goodrich Road
Edgar Kail began his schooling in September 1905, attending the Goodrich Road School just a five minute walk down the hill. He remained at Goodrich until he finished his education in his mid teens. London County Council Inspectors at the time described Goodrich as a “large and difficult school...but well maintained.” Some of the school logbooks from the early part of the 20th century are today kept at the London Metropolitan Archives. They record the day to day events that took place in the life of the school. Class trips to the Tower of London, the Monument, Kensington and Horniman’s Museum are all noted, as are local visits to Peckham Rye Park, One Tree Hill, Brockwell Park, Dulwich Park for nature studies, early morning swimming sessions at the Dulwich Baths, Shakespeare plays at the Crystal Palace and so on.
Each February, a visit to the South Metropolitan Gas Company in the Old Kent Road was arranged for the boys who were soon to leave school. ‘Metrogas’ was one of the main employers in the area, where many local boys began apprenticeships, and during the First World War three thousand employees of the company served at the Front. The ‘Gasmen’ also had a football team in one of the major amateur leagues. So just think, had Edgar Kail decided on a career as a gasman after his careers visit, then the Metrogas football team may later have enjoyed his membership as opposed to Dulwich Hamlet.
Running for the SchoolFor schoolboys in Dulwich, the South London Schools annual athletics meeting at Crystal Palace was the highlight of the summer term. Crystal Palace was the home of the FA Cup Final, and many of the boys taking part in the games must have imagined themselves running out in front of a cup final crowd. The organizers of these day-long events received much credit, as often, huge gatherings of four figures took part, whilst many more watched the youngsters from the terraces.
Among the supervisors largely responsible for the day’s proceedings one could always find three well-known faces. Before the First Word War George Wheeler was the chief judge and referee of events, Bob Crump was another of the judges and Bert Hardy fired the starter’s pistol. These three men were leading officials of, or associated with Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. When the Kail boy grew into a man these three good men became his friends and colleagues.
What a great thrill for the Kail family when they picked up their South London Press on Friday June 24, 1910, to see nine year old Edgar’s name in print, probably for the first time. Little did they realise that over the next thirty years his name would hardly be out of the paper, gaining fame as one of the best known sportsmen in the country.
Representing Goodrich Road School, Kail came runner-up in the final of the Under 12s 440 yards handicap race. South London’s leading journal described it as “a grand race won by three yards, a foot and a yard separating the next pairs.” It was not the only medal for Goodrich Road, they also won the tug of war.
In the 1911 report, Edgar Kail’s name does not appear in the placings among his contemporaries from the previous year. He may have been absent, or he may have had a rare off day, but he is back for the June 1912 games. Competing in the Under 12s 440 yards race he won his first heat, whilst in the 100 yards sprint, he won both heats, his second round time being 14 seconds. Alas, in the final he finished at the tail end, only three yards separating him from the winner. Incidentally, running in the 220 yards was F. Sivewright – could this be the same person who ten years later became a team mate of Kail’s at Dulwich Hamlet?
Practice Makes Perfect
The South London Schools Cricket and Athletic Association held its 22nd annual sports meeting in June 1913. Again in the press report (SLP June 27, 1913) we find Edgar, now 12 years old, appearing in three events. He finished first and third in the heats of the Over 12s 220 yards and won his first heat in the 100 yards sprint. He also came second in the obstacle race having won the heat. Edgar wasn't the only member of the Kail family there that day - his younger brother Harold did very well in the heats of the Under 10s 100 yards.
Up the road from the Kail family home was Dulwich Park. Less than twenty years earlier the Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, in its infancy, used the park for its home fixtures. One of the park’s main features, indeed the central attraction, is the picturesque boating lake. In Edwardian times sand blown over from the bridal path onto the tarmac surrounding the lake produced a gritty surface that was as near to the racetrack at Crystal Palace as one could find. The ideal location where the young athlete could practise his running. So it was here that Edgar, overseen by his father with the stopwatch, perfected his starting and finishing, his breath control, and the things that accompany attainment.
All the training eventually paid off, and in June 1914 Edgar Kail finally gained a winner’s medal in these games. Having recorded the best time in the heats of the 440 yards race - the only boy under 60 seconds - he went on to win the final by two yards, and a time of 57.8 seconds. The close race was made more exciting as the young Edgar was up against his schoolmate, W. Jones, who finished second. It was a triumph for Goodrich Road School, and a personal triumph for the boy champion. In the 880 yards (half mile handicaps), Edgar completed the two laps of the Crystal Palace track in bronze position, six yards separating him from the runner up.
Getting NoticedFreeman’s Ground at Champion Hill was another football venue close by that was drawing larger and larger crowds as its occupants, Dulwich Hamlet FC, started collecting silverware on a regular basis. Improvements were made to the ground, and before long it was being used for many other representative games, including semi-finals, and county and schoolboy matches. The columnist F.B. Douglas-Hamilton was watching such a match at Freeman’s Ground one Saturday in 1910. Of all the players on the field, it was the handsome little kid playing up front which caught his eye. He wasn’t alone either, it was the opinion of a number of others that the lad with the exceptional skills could make the grade and one day become a famous player.
The diminutive forward was a few years younger than the rest of his team-mates who ranged from thirteen to fifteen. The match in progress was a trial to pick the school team. Two Kail boys were being considered – thirteen year old Reginald, who was hoping to be promoted from the second team, and his nine year old brother Edgar. Suffice it to say that the younger sibling won a place whilst poor old Reg remained in the reserves. A year or so later Edgar was made the captain of the Goodrich School side.
Douglas-Hamilton took every opportunity of watching schoolboy football, especially savouring the county games, and if that was London FA XI, then Edgar Kail, in his mid teens, was often playing. Sometimes the boy astonished him with his knowledge of the game. One time he overheard Edgar and another boy discussing the centre forward capabilities of a fellow student. “He’s simply great.” remarked Edgar Kail. “In fact another G.O. Smith.” “Smith, Smith?” queried the other boy. “Who’s G.O. Smith?” Young Edgar, disgusted by his friend’s ignorance of one of the greatest centre forwards England had ever produced, frowned, “You don’t know G.O. Smith! Dear oh dear, go and learn your history of England!”
The Start of the Great WarWhen war with Germany broke out in August 1914 Edgar Kail was acting as the scorer for the Dulwich Hamlet Cricket Club. Despite his youth and slight stature Edgar was being noticed as a general all-round sportsman, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before he was good enough to take his place in either the Hamlet’s cricket or football team. Or both; the Hamlet cricket team was virtually the football team in a different set of togs. It was to the credit of the DHCC officers to allow Edgar along for the experience of some first class cricket, and to show their complete confidence in the boy. Edgar relished the responsibility of recording the correct scores, and undoubtedly appreciated the assurance shown in him.
The match in progress was on the Army Barracks ground in Caterham, Surrey, with the Guards Depot being Dulwich’s opponents. When the bugles were sounded, the game was immediately abandoned, and it must have been a very odd sight to the youngster to witness the guardsmen dashing from the field to change from their whites into battle dress!
No one could have foreseen the effect that this Great War would have on the British nation over the following four years, and for generations to come. Thousands of bright young lives were suddenly plucked up and dumped in the thick of a carnage on a scale not known before, many never to return. Fortunately for us Edgar Kail was the safe-side of recruitment age.
Schoolboy HonoursThe season came and went, and May 1915 concluded what was a very unimportant nine months of football. Most clubs tried to carry on in some shape or form, but Dulwich Hamlet FC, like many others in the land, had exhausted its funds. Neither was there any need for the usual engagement in battle on the continent in the shape of an Easter tour. Players looked forward to these trips, but the hard fact was that thousands of them were out there anyway, and the majority of those fields had been “torn up by the greater conflict.” (SLP April 9, 1915) What the next season held in store in the increasingly troubled times was anybody’s guess. With most of its playing force signed up for the war, football’s governing bodies looked to schoolboys to continue the game.
Increasing in confidence with every representative match, Edgar (along with his peers up and down the land) was also bringing enjoyment to many devotees, starved of league football. The young ambassador of the beautiful game appeared in the forward line of the South London Schools team that defeated East Ham 2-0 in the 4th round of the English Schools Shield on Saturday 13th March 1915. The match was played at Champion Hill, the home of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, and it was probably at this game that a select few of his future followers first caught a glimpse of their hero. Following a bye in the first round, South London had disposed of Chatham 12-0 in the second round and Woolwich 10-1 in round three. Later in the Spring (May) he represented London in a match against Birmingham, scoring five of London’s seven goals.
At the corner of Goodrich Road stood the Lordship Lane Chapel, where the Kail children, encouraged by dad, attended the Sunday School. Some evidence suggests that half the time the boys didn’t turn up at three o’clock, but could be found elsewhere, presumably with jumpers for goalposts. The folks at the church also ran the 36th Battalion of the Boys’ Brigade. The object of the Boys’ Brigade, was “the advancement of Christ’s kingdom among boys and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect, and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.” One couldn’t argue with that. And it is no surprise to find included among Edgar’s collection of medals was one for the Boys’ Brigade South London Sports.
That clutch of medals won by Edgar as a schoolboy also includes; the South London Schools FA Senior Winners, the South London FA Senior Bronze, TSSA London v Newcastle 1914, Camberwell Carnival School Sports and the Hardy Competition 1914 [A competition possibly organized by Bert Hardy, but more likely one associated with the ‘Hardy’s Own’ regiment of Boy Scouts in South London led by troop surgeon Dr Hardy] and the London Schools FA Silver 1915. The Newcastle match, played at Tottenham Hotspur’s, White Hart Lane, saw Edgar representing an all-London side that won 3-0.
English RoseIn April 1915 Edgar Kail was chosen for the English Schools FA team. He was now numbered among the eleven finest young footballers in the country and honoured with the privilege of wearing the Rose of England. The annual match versus Wales took place on April 24th, this year at Ninian Park in Cardiff. The English team was a made up of six youngsters taken from the London area and five from the North East. Photographs were taken of the two sides before the match, which was watched by 4,000 spectators.
In the 1-1 draw, the Welsh took the lead and England equalized before the break. Later in the game, “England through Kail became extremely dangerous, and after a pretty bit of combination in which some good re-passing was witnessed, the ball was again left in the possession of Kail, who running through, had the goal at his mercy, but shot inches wide.” So ran the report in Cardiff’s Evening Express Mail.
A week later on May 1st Scotland were taken on at Molynieux, the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was the first of Edgar’s encounters with the auld enemy, and it turned out to be a game to remember.
F.B. Douglas Hamilton, writing towards the end of Kail’s career, recalled how he accompanied the party of schoolboys and the small army of officials on the trip to the Black Country. Several of the youngsters were quite nervous. On arrival the boys enjoyed a bit of sightseeing at the famous oak tree in which Charles the Second supposedly hid from the Roundheads. “What do you think of it?” asked Edgar. One of the boys replied, “I wish I could hide in it while the match is being played.” Douglas-Hamilton kept glancing at Edgar to see if his young friend might also be overawed by the occasion, and consequently fail to do himself justice. However, any doubts he may have had were soon to be dispelled.
The following day, in the home dressing room Edgar’s leadership traits were displayed when he half jokingly said, “If any of you chaps are nervous you’ll lose the match first and I’ll punch your heads afterwards.” Before the contest, in front of another 4,000 plus crowd, the team was again photographed with various mustachioed dignitaries. The surviving picture shows a fresh faced Edgar in confident mood. As the photographer packed away his camera, and the players began to take up their positions, Douglas-Hamilton said, “Half a sovereign for every goal, Edgar.” Edgar’s beaming young features instantly took on a furrowed brow, “Money for playing football?!” Edgar queried with a cringe. Even then, he had a horror of professionalism – and he was still only fourteen years old.
The Scottish Schoolboys were soundly beaten 6-2, with Edgar bagging a hat-trick. His tally would have been higher but he had a fourth goal disallowed due to a handball. The pick of his goals was described in the classified edition of the Express & Star Newspaper later that evening. “Six minutes after the interval Kail gave England the lead in very fine style. He was challenged by a couple of opponents, but by skilful maneuvering he secured an opening, and let fly, the ball entering the net high up, and well out of the reach of McDonald.” This early report of Edgar Kail’s style of play and finishing would become typical over the next two decades.
So, before he had even begun his amateur career at Dulwich, Edgar had already played at a number of the Football League’s best-known grounds. Kail’s next visit to Cardiff’s Ninian Park would be five years later for Dulwich Hamlet, on the road to victory in the Amateur Cup.
Record Opening BatIn Dulwich Park Edgar was still knocking off hundredths of a second from his own speed. Laps of the lake got quicker as he learned how to breathe properly, conserve his lungpower and use his muscle power to get the maximum from his body. With the nation at war with Germany the South London Schools games were toned down somewhat in 1915, and held in Wandsworth rather than the usual lavish surrounds of Crystal Palace. To compensate, schools in the borough of Camberwell were invited to enter their best young athletes into the Dulwich Hamlet School’s fourth annual Sportsday. Held at the Herne Hill Track on Thursday 24th June 1915, Edgar Kail again represented Goodrich Road School in the 220 yards race, and won the final in 29.6 seconds.
It is a wonder that Kail picked up an education at all; he never seems to have been at school! Only the previous day he was a cricketing hero at the Kennington Oval, making a record opening partnership of 139 in the annual trial match arranged by the South London Schools Association. For the twenty second year South East London schoolboys met their South West London counterparts in a one sided match that was won by an innings and 36 runs. The record score knocked up by Edgar Kail and his partner J. Robinson apparently lasted for many years after. “Both played,” said the South London Press, [SLP July 2, 1915] “for their age, what can only be described as really good cricket.” In fact, they played the game of their lives, making the game safe before a wicket had even fallen. Kail, honoured with captaining the East team, was the first batsman out. Having hit 9 boundaries, he was eventually caught for 68. In the field he was also quite accomplished, bowling two wickets, and taking a good catch.
Edgar Kail’s feats over these two days proved his all round sporting ability. In fact, he now excelled in cricket, track athletics and football. Whichever sport he was to finally decide upon he was certain to achieve greatness in it. We can be thankful that he chose football.
The same newspaper that reported the above events also carried the sad story of a local soldier’s recent death in the war that was taking place on the continent. It is an extraordinary coincidence that Rifleman Stanley Peart had not only been a Dulwich Hamlet footballer, but had also once captained the South East London Schools cricket team at the Oval, in 1906. Stan Peart was the third Hamlet man killed in the conflict. He was 23 years old. By the end of the war twenty two Hamlet men were counted among the dead.
The Principal Duty of ObedienceWith the war on the continent increasing in ferocity and in casualties, sporting life in Britain took a backseat. The condition of the grass on a football pitch became almost irrelevant, and at Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill ground things were no different from anywhere else in the country. Weeds had taken root all over the field of play and wild flowers were springing up along the clinker terracing. Nevertheless, to one young man with a great affection for his local club, these things did not go unnoticed.
With the support and encouragement of Bert Hardy, Edgar Kail took it upon himself to assemble some of the best footballers in the area that had just left school, to help out at the run down Champion Hill. Most evenings Bill Caesar, Fred Pilkington, Bill Brierly, Alan Braggington, (a fellow pupil at Goodrich Road School) and a number of others, would all meet Edgar at the ground. After the usual kickabout, the youngsters got on with some of the urgent and ongoing jobs that needed doing at the neglected football ground: painting the goalposts, mowing and marking the pitch, scrubbing out the dressing rooms and generally keeping the place from further deterioration.
What may have looked like some very menial tasks to some, quickly became a labour of love to these lads. If nothing else it was a character-building exercise for the youngsters who were hearing news of soldiers killed in action each and every day. Their elder brothers, including Fred and Reg Kail, and their cousins were at the Front putting their lives on the line, and they were not going to sit at home and laze about. Anyway, if the war didn’t hurry up and reach a conclusion it would soon be their turn to don the khaki.
When the Camberwell Gun Brigade rightly commandeered most of the local open spaces, Dulwich Hamlet found that its ground, which was barely two years old when the war started, was also required by the Military. Amazingly, the Dulwich Hamlet Board, through gentle persuasion and skilful diplomacy, managed to secure the pitch for football. The rest of the Hamlet quarters however, including the grandstand and the ‘old’ pre-1912 enclosure, were all utilized, dozens of army horses tethered round the barrier of the pitch whilst the stand became a harness-room.
The Groundsman’s Beautiful DaughterThe Champion Hill ground staff made all the arrangements essential for the comfort of the spectators visiting Champion Hill. This had always been the case, and from time to time the club received letters of praise regarding its stewarding of matches, and this was due in large part to Mr A. Dalhousie Ramsay.
Dal Ramsay was known to everyone who made a trip to Champion Hill. A quiet, yet extremely popular man, Ramsay was a regular feature from the turn of the century, overseeing the stewarding duties at Freeman’s Ground and the new stadium built in 1912. Serving on the Committee, it was Ramsay’s responsibility to see that visitors and spectators were well cared for. The assistance received from the keen bunch of young lads allowed him to get on with more pressing needs.
As much as Edgar Kail took great pleasure in lending his hand, he also had an ulterior motive for making the daily trek to the ground. He had fallen in love with Ramsay’s pretty young daughter Irene, or Rene as she was known.
The walk from Edgar’s home in 13 Nutfield Road to the Hamlet ground took him directly past Tintagel Crescent where the Ramsay’s lived at number four. Mr Ramsay saw traits of himself in the boy (a genial disposition, a thorough sportsman and jolly good fellow), and felt that his only daughter could not have fallen for a more excellent chap. His hopes that the ‘childhood sweethearts’ would stick together for the duration were realized when the couple eventually got engaged in December 1923, and married in February 1926.
The Dulwich Hamlet ApprenticesIn September 1916, just as the new season was about to commence, all involved in both amateur and professional football were fully aware, as one report put it, “of the greater game before the nation”. (SLP Sept 1, 1916) Where possible, some sort of play between youngsters and veterans would be attempted, but with Europe now into the third year of the war, and virtually every member of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club on active service, the Club Secretary George Wheeler was prompted to ask in the press, if anyone desired a game to write to him.
This clarion-call saw the likes of Reg Leutchford, Andy Kempton, Sam Laycock, Bob Aspinall, Bill Dash and the Nicholls brothers join the Hamlet and become important members of the team. With Bert Hardy, diligently arranging the fixtures, and a local goalkeeper called Mortleman greatly encouraging the younger element of the club, things were kept together during the troubled times. The usual team at that time was:-
George Hudson (goalkeeper)
Sam Laycock, Fred Pilkington (backs)
Bob Aspinall, Jack Guilliard, Tope Klein (half-backs)
Len Goodsell, Edgar Kail, Roger(?) Thompson, Ernest Siever, Gilbert Laws (forwards)
Sam Laycock, Fred Pilkington (backs)
Bob Aspinall, Jack Guilliard, Tope Klein (half-backs)
Len Goodsell, Edgar Kail, Roger(?) Thompson, Ernest Siever, Gilbert Laws (forwards)
Andy Kempton was the main utility player, and Curly Evans played when available. But priority was given to Dulwich Hamlet members and visitors on leave from the Front, or their call of duty.
Edgar Kail was still only fifteen years old; a fresh complexioned, grey eyed, brown haired boy. He was still a little short of his final height of 5’8”, yet he was the first choice inside right, and fast becoming well-seasoned in the national sport. Cuttings from the period reveal the emergence of one of the best loved amateur sportsmen and great footballers of the era between the two world wars.
The South London Press from Friday November 3, 1916, reported Nunhead and Dulwich scraping up two teams, “providing their few remaining crocks and friends with a little entertainment.” Kail scored one goal but Nunhead won the match 3-2. A week later, “Kail was first to find the net,” in a 7-2 victory over the Army Ordnance Corps., “the London representative schoolboy, playing in capital form.” He later scored a second goal.
He celebrated his sixteenth birthday on Sunday November 26, 1916, although ‘celebrated’ might not be the right word to use in such dark days. The day before he scored for the Hamlet against another top amateur side, Leytonstone, but despite getting the equalizer before half-time, Dulwich went on to lose the match 4-1.
Along with matches against old adversaries Leytonstone and Nunhead, Dulwich Hamlet entertained and visited their old friends from the Guards Depot of Caterham. A team from the Horse Transport was taken on, as were the Royal Naval Depot side from Crystal Palace, the Royal Bucks Hussars, the Army Ordnance Corps, the Scots Guards, the Army Catering Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. One particular game, against an AOC side in February 1917 saw the ‘crocks and boys’ of the Hamlet win 13-3, with nine of the goals coming from the boot (or head) of Edgar Kail.
These visiting sides would invariably contain one or two professional players in their ranks. One Navy team, which included three internationals, got a little more than they bargained for when they faced the young Hamlet team, and were soundly thrashed 6-1. Edgar and his friends fully understood the service they were providing. It was a bit of pleasure for soldiers on leave; and for some who returned to their units at the Front, it was the last indulgence they would know.
The on-off partnership Edgar was forging with Sid Nicol and Bill Davis when they were on leave would pay dividends after the war when the trio became the most feared inside forward line in the amateur game. And thus Edgar received the best kind of apprenticeship a fresh-faced young footballer could wish for.
The First World War finally came to an end only a fortnight before Edgar Kail was eighteen years old – the national conscription age. What goes through a young man’s mind as such a time draws nigh? There would have been a lot of fear and trepidation, no doubt: but also a characteristic aspiration and preparation to give his all. Fortunately, Edgar would have to wait until the next terrible war before he would serve his country in uniform as part of the Police War Reserve.
End PieceIt is impossible to say what triggered Edgar Kail’s sporting prowess as a youngster; even before his tenth birthday his natural ability was unquestioned. But generally speaking, boys in their formative years are impressionable and seek to emulate their heroes. Edgar’s role models must have come from the football and cricket fields and the athletics track. We can only speculate on who his sporting heroes were, but we can take a good guess.
The 1908 Olympic Games were held in London’s White City, and it would seem odd if Mr Kail did not take his sports-loving sons to the Games. Among the many athletes taking part was the flamboyant British sprinter Willie Applegarth. Applegarth held several world records before the First World War in 100 yards (1913 & 1914) and 220 yards (1912, 1913 & 1914) and appealed to the picture card collecting masses and Boy’s Own readers. The tabloids and the sports papers further fired the public’s imagination before he left these shores and became a professional in the United States in 1915. When it came to sprinting, Applegarth was regarded as being years ahead of his time, and his running style was to influence the great Harold Abrahams.
It is also inconceivable that the budding batsman did not visit the Surrey County Cricket Club during the summer season. The Kennington Oval was only a fifteen minute tram-ride from Edgar’s home, and Jack Hobbs, the game’s chief exponent with bat and pad plied his trade there. Hobbs was called ‘the Master’, and it is generally agreed that he was one of the most accomplished batsmen the world has ever seen. A charming man of great integrity, Hobbs became the first cricketer to be knighted [in 1953]. Like Edgar, Hobbs’ talent was seen early on. The story goes that he played his first first-class cricket match against WG Grace, who commented, “He’s going to be a good ‘un.” And the old man was dead right. Jack Hobbs went on to smash Grace’s own record of 126 centuries! In his long career, Hobbs scored over 61,000 runs, including 197 centuries.
And then there was Hussein Hegazi, the quicksilver Egyptian inside-forward for Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. Hegazi, the crowd favourite and an idol to the schoolboys of SE22, hailed from Cairo, and brought great style and flair to Champion Hill in the three seasons before the War. The similarities between Hussein Hegazi and Edgar Kail (ten years his junior) are striking: both started out as athletics champions, with amazing bursts of speed over short distances; each player, though slight in build, possessed great skill with the ball and a confidence to take on an entire defence single-handedly, which often resulted in a powerful shot and goal; Hegazi later gained international caps for Egypt whilst Kail played at the highest level for England.
It is tempting to think that the teenager saw in the exemplary Egyptian a role model that he could base his own character and whole career upon. It is just as appealing to wonder what Hegazi made of Edgar Kail – this new kid on the block. “Have you seen the Kail boy?” I can hear him say. “He’s going to be a good ‘un.”
Thanks to: Dorothy Bedwell (nee Kail), Marjory McKenzie, Callum McKenzie, Colm Kerrigan, Mishi Morath, Roger Deason and Bill Azzi.. Sources: South London Press, DHFC programmes, handbooks and 75 Year Book, Boys Own Annual 1933, The Dulwich Hamlet Story by John Lawrence.
Original article from HH14 Winter 2005.
Copyright © Jack McInroy