Monday, 18 April 2016

Jack Hugo : Hamlet from Birth



from Birth
By Jack McInroy

The legendary Edgar Kail was a spectator at the 1934 FA Amateur Cup Final in which a battered and bewildered Dulwich Hamlet against all the odds recorded a magnificent victory over favourites Leyton. Kail, whose brilliant career had concluded exactly a year before, was now commentating on the amateur scene for the Daily Sketch. In his report, he wrote of never seeing such a chapter of calamities in one game before. Four of the casualties in the match were Dulwich men – either wandering around the pitch with concussion, or swathed in bandages. But it was the aftermath that stood out for him more than the events on the field: “I was present in the club doctor’s surgery [at the Boleyn Ground] while Benka and Toser were having their wounds stitched, and Hamer’s nose, which was at first feared to be broken, was being examined. When I saw for myself the seriousness of the injuries and remembered Miller in hospital, I marvelled at the pluck and endurance of the team. It was difficult to suppress my pride and delight that the whole of my playing career had been with this club.”

Because of the catalogue of injuries, the rest of the ‘34 final tends to get forgotten about. Apart from a plethora of players colliding mid-air and cracking skulls – “…their heads bandaged in the approved fashion of illustrated juvenile papers” said The Times – there was also a spectacular goal, against the run of play that put Dulwich 1-0 up. The direct free kick from 25 yards out was driven in by Robbins soon after the break, before Davis equalised a few minutes later. Herbert Benka scored the Hamlet winner on 73 minutes.

Dulwich had accomplished success in the competition two years prior to this, and they would again beat twice winners Leyton in the Final in just three seasons’ time. These were heady days for Dulwich Hamlet, with some great players in the side – men like Horace Robbins, Cecil Murray, Leslie Morrish and Taffy Hamer – who would all complete their club service with a clutch of medals.
One player who often gets overlooked is the instantly recognisable burly framed, tousle-headed, smiley faced defender Jack Hugo. Like Kail, indeed like most of these men, Hugo was a one club player. He was once described as ‘Hamlet from birth’ and I have no doubt that he remained ‘Hamlet ‘til death.’ 

Edgar Kail, the last non-league footballer to play for England, called him “A brick wall. A ninety minute player who did his job well, with no frills. One of the two finest third backs and stoppers in the amateur game – and that goes for Bernard Joy [the last amateur footballer to play for England].” The other, Kail said, was Hugo’s adversary, S. Preston of Leyton. The ‘third back’ style of football had been popularised by The Arsenal in 1925, using a stopper centre half and pivoting fullbacks to counter the changes that were made to the offside rule. As fearsome as he may have appeared to opposing forwards Hugo happened to be one of the most sporting players imaginable. 

Between his first appearance for the Dulwich Hamlet first team in the 1925/26 season and the start of the Second World War, Jack Hugo played in more than 450 games for the club. He continued to turn out whenever necessary during the war years.

The handful of games Hugo made for Dulwich in his first season coincided, with the aforementioned FA rule change. A player was now deemed to be in an offside position when two opponents were between him and the goal line; before that it had been three. Dulwich took full advantage of the modification to the law and promptly won the Isthmian League title. Edgar Kail amassed a phenomenal 53 goals in just 34 games that season. Sid Nicol the second top scorer bagged 32. In one match, which Dulwich won 12-2 the two men scored half a dozen apiece!

A great first season for the young Jack Hugo, stepping up from the Reserves when required so as to fill a significant defensive role. Breaking into the First Team and securing a position was not an easy thing to do. The strength and depth of the playing squad was such, that in his first full season (1926/27), two separate Easter tours were undertaken. One party ventured to Copenhagen in Denmark and another to Northern France (Dieppe, Rouen). Hugo was on the latter.

The Arsenal supremo Herbert Chapman, regarded as one of the most influential English managers of the twentieth century, showed an early interest in the right back. Firstly he approached Dick Jonas at Dulwich Hamlet to try and negotiate a move into the top flight for Jack Hugo, saying, “I am the last person to persuade a young player to leave a situation [his employment] to become a professional footballer, but if the player and his parents desire a change, then I want him.” Hugo however, decided to remain an amateur, leaving Dulwich to inform the North London club, “If the player at any time desires to turn professional you shall be informed.” 

In an undated newspaper clipping from Ernie Toser’s scrapbook the acclaimed Tottenham Hotspur footballer Arthur Grimsdell said of Hugo, “[Dulwich] are indeed fortunate to have a fullback of his calibre. Of heavy build, Hugo is nevertheless active, and his tackles are made with grim determination. Although at times he goes astray in some of his rushes, he also shows considerable judgement. He is an admirable foil for his partner Robbins, who is more restrained and quieter in his methods, but nonetheless effective.” Grimsdell also believed, “If a tank was the opposing forward, Hugo would get in the way and try to stop it.”

Born 4th February 1907, and the youngest of ten children, Arthur John ‘Jack’ Hugo was the fifth son of Arthur and Amelia, a Cornish couple who settled in South London following the birth of their first child. AJ Hugo Snr. was a master craftsman, a carpenter by trade, who passed on his joinery skills to his boys. By contrast his sisters were taught dressmaking by mum, a tradition that continued through later generations of the family. From Stockwell the growing family moved to a four bedroomed terraced house in Santley Street on the border of Brixton and Clapham. Jack spent his whole life residing in the borough of Lambeth. When he married Nellie West in September 1931 the couple moved to Herne Hill and afterwards to Tooting, Upper Norwood and Streatham Vale where he ended his days.

Jack who shared the same real name as his father, also shared a similar interest. In addition to his day job Mr Hugo Snr. spent his leisure time as a model yacht enthusiast carving and constructing pieces of wood into scaled down sailing vessels suitable for local competitions. He was heavily involved in the South London Model Yacht Club and later the Clapham MYC, where he became Commodore (Commanding Officer of the squadron, in effect the club President) sailing his boats on the Long Pond, Clapham Common.

As a child young Jack would undoubtedly have observed his father at work amidst the sawdust and wood shavings, and the whiff of resins, varnish and polyvinyl acetate, fashioning sections of timber into a miniature seafaring craft. And then down to the Common in all weathers to marvel at the buoyant yacht, driven by the wind to the other side of the pond, and only prodded back on course if it drifted too close to the bank.

Mr Hugo Snr. went on to design and build a number of 10-Rater class model yachts. (10-Raters were the main competitive class of model yacht.) He became a leading light on the scene and served on the board of the Model Yacht Association, the governing body of the sport, of which he was eventually elected Chairman in the 1930s. His generosity knew no bounds and he often passed on his beautifully crafted models to promising youngsters at the Clapham club. One of his boats he presented to a teenaged Norman Hatfield, who also rose to Chairman of the MYA in the 1970s and 80s and was internationally renowned. The picture above shows two of Hugo Snr.’s models.

Hugo Jnr., himself a chip off the old block, possessed great craftsmanship of his own which was later put to good use, turning and shaping timber for something which was much more important than a mere hobby. It would be his vocation.

His other vocation – which would bring him national acclaim – was that of the sporting variety. His talents on the football field, representing the Haselrigge School team began to take shape in his early teens. So keen was he to be involved in the sport, it became his chief delight to take the ball home on a Friday evening to bring to Saturday’s game. He would arrive pitchside Clapham Common well in advance of his teammates to help Mr Foskett the sports master set up the goal posts.

Around the time Dulwich Hamlet won the FA Amateur Cup for the first time, Hugo was selected for South London Schools, and had the privilege of playing on the hallowed turf of Champion Hill. One particular game was against Walsall Schools, whose side included an international schoolboy on the left wing, that he had to mark. Hugo played such a good first half that the England boy did not get a look in, and was promptly moved to centre forward after half time. Such was the impression the young South Londoner made, that it wasn’t long before he was chosen to represent London Boys against Newcastle Boys at West Ham. London won the match 3-1.

As well as a talented footballer, the Hugo teenager was also a keen track cyclist. Due to his commitment with this other sport, he spent many summer months involved in race events. In his first few years at Dulwich Hamlet, the boy racer often missed the start of the football season because it overlapped with his cycling competitions.

Sooner rather than later he was going to have to commit to just one sport. Competitive cycling and top class football do not really go together – the stretching of muscles and tightening of tendons are in conflict – so one needed to prevail. Fortunately for Dulwich Hamlet the ballgame won.

Yet by all accounts, he was hardly ever off his two wheels. Bill Kirby, who has been a regular at Champion Hill since 1932, said that Hugo always turned up pre-match on his bicycle. And because he lived locally he would often be seen whizzing round the area on his pushbike.

The 1932 FA Amateur Cup Final saw an out of this world Edgar Kail orchestrate a trouncing victory over Liverpool’s Marine club in exceedingly difficult conditions. Despite a muddy ground and a heavy ball, a high standard of football was displayed for 22,000 packed in the West Ham United ground. Another Jack in the pack, Jack Moseley at inside-left, hit four in the 7-1 win. He was immediately snapped up by Millwall. Kail (2) at inside-right and Goodliffe (1) at centre forward scored the other goals.

It had been no easy route to the final. Gorleston, Cambridge Town, Stockton (plus replay), Ilford and Kingstonian had to be taken care of along the way. The quarter final versus Ilford brought a 16,000 crowd to the Hamlet’s new ground. Kail scored the decider in the 2-1 win, his shot sailing just under the bar, in what was regarded as one of the most thrilling ties ever seen at Champion Hill. Murray, Kail and Hugo, it was noted, were outstanding. The semi-final against Kingstonian at Selhurst Park in front of a massive 27,000, was won by a ‘Buster’ Court goal, but it was mainly due to Hugo’s brilliant exhibition of how to defend in a tight corner, reports said, that Dulwich survived.

Look through any matchday programme from the 1930s and Jack Hugo’s name will invariably appear in the line-up. Cup, league or friendly, he is usually there at right back or alternatively at centre half. In five of the seasons during the 1930s he actually played in more games than anyone else. For much of the first half of the 1932/33 season Hugo played under quite a bit of duress. First he had a bout of tonsillitis causing him pain and difficulty in swallowing, and this was followed by dental problems, but he carried on regardless – and still topped the appearances for that season!

For the first match at the new Champion Hill stadium in October 1931 his name is there on the team sheet; the first round proper of the FA Cup versus Southend United (“Hugo, the outstanding player on view.”), versus Torquay United, versus Swindon, versus Newport County (scored), versus Aldershot (“The best of the Hamlet performers.”), he’s there. Right up until the Isthmian League was suspended due to the start of a new world war he’s there.

Hugo even featured in the club’s biggest ever win, a 13-0 thrashing of Walton-on-Thames in the Surrey Senior Cup in January 1937. The crowd was apparently in fits of laughter throughout as Walton’s hapless goalkeeper, caked in mud from head to foot, spent as much time trying to keep his weighty shorts from falling down as he did picking the ball out of the net. “Hugo,” one report stated, “deserves a little bouquet of his own. Not only did he subject Hill, a constant trier, with the utmost confidence, but his speed on the waterlogged turf was a revelation.”

Scan the newspaper reports from Hugo’s time and he is the one Dulwich player above all others that seems to be singled out for praise. Not just for his defensive abilities, where he literally struck terror into the opposition, but his all-round game. He was a good passer of the ball, had a powerful shot and always gave his all.

“This shock-headed Peter of the round chubby face never knows when he is beaten.”


“The palm [honour] must go to Hugo the Hamlet right back. His positional play was superb, and I have seldom seen an amateur give such a display of powerful and accurate kicking.”

“Bluntly Hugo must have been just about as popular with the Crittall forwards as a safety razor at a barber’s convention. The burly centre half has his critics, dozens of them, but he must have silenced them all by his great display on Saturday. The crowd rose to him time and again as he charged down the centre of the field, an advance comparable to that of an armoured tank. Blue shirted players occasionally came up to tackle him, but like Tennyson’s little brook, Hugo seemed to go on for ever.”

 “No-one did better in defence than Hugo the Hamlet pivot, who possessed an uncanny habit of appearing time after time in the exact place where he was most needed.”

“Hugo attracted most attention; he tackled and kicked in a manner that compelled admiration, and frequently gained the plaudits of the crowd.”

It is a mystery why Hugo failed to make the international grade. In his column in the Daily Sketch in February 1938, Edgar Kail suggested:  “What a great compliment would be paid if [England’s] amateur selectors awarded Jack Hugo a cap against Ireland.” But it wasn’t to be, and one of the finest backs in amateur football was again bypassed.

Showing his great versatility, he eventually moved into the role of central defender, filling the shoes vacated by former Hamlet captain Taffy Hamer. In one terrific cup tie against Walthamstow Avenue, a highlight of the 1936/37 season, Hugo played out of his skin. “In his years of association with the Dulwich club” said one report, “AJ Hugo has rarely given a greater display than he did in this match as centre half. Hugo played at right back in the teams which won the cup in 1932 and 1934.”

Now in his thirties, Hugo had the opportunity to do what few had done before – win a third Amateur Cup winner’s medal. Dulwich and Leyton were paired once again for the 1937 Final, again at West Ham in front of another 33,000 crowd. Both teams missed penalties in the game, which was won as much by Dulwich’s sterling defensive work – “Hugo was the master of everything after 25 minutes.” – as by Leslie Morrish’s two goals scored in quick succession midway through the first half. So brilliant was Haydn Hill’s goalkeeping display, that the Hamlet’s ‘Corinthian’ was chaired from the pitch by the adoring fans before Horrie Robbins reclaimed the coveted trophy. The Millwall scouts were at the match again, and this time Dulwich’s professional neighbours nabbed midfielder Ernie Toser to bolster their own squad.

Of the outfield players Toser was the odd man out. The other nine – Waymouth, Robbins, Murray, Hugo, Morrish, Anderson, Wright, Ingleton and Ball – had all graduated from the Dulwich Hamlet Juniors through to the First Team, a magnificent triumph for youth development. The chief objective of the Juniors was: “To maintain a sufficient supply of recruits not only possessed with football ability, but able to conduct themselves according to well-known club traditions.” Not a million miles from Gavin Rose’s present day Aspire Academy.

Jack Hugo had started out in the inaugural Dulwich Hamlet Juniors team at Champion Hill way back in 1922. That first group of players was chiefly drawn from the successful South London Schools side, a constant source of budding Hamlet players. Hugo was just fifteen, but nurtured under the wise guidance of Bert Hardy and coach Ernie Haley, the sturdily built youngster gained much experience. As he matured, developing muscle and speed, he gradually became a better and better player, enabling him to move up from the ‘nursery’ through the senior teams – the Strollers and the Reserves – into the First XI.

Inevitably, like so many sportsmen, he was going to be given a nickname. And because of his size – he was built more like a pro-boxer than a footballer – he was ‘affectionately’ called Firpo, and later Carnera. The surnames of two of the world’s top heavyweight boxers – Argentinian and Italian respectively. 

The same year that the Hamlet attained its fourth FA Amateur Cup, the Surrey Senior Cup was also won, for the tenth time in the club’s history. The Surrey Cup campaign in 1936/37 was particularly pleasing for Hugo and his fellow defenders; eighteen goals scored yet none conceded!

By contrast, the London Senior Cup was the trophy that the interwar Hamlet side found one of the most difficult to secure. It was first won at the end of the 1924/25 season, before Hugo’s time. For the second occasion, the club and Hugo in particular, had to wait until 1939. This was the one that had eluded him for so long. Once secured it completed a full set of amateur medals for the competitions Dulwich Hamlet competed in. Erith & Belvedere were comfortably beaten 3-0 in the Final at The Den, home of Millwall. Parr, Ball and Anderson scored the goals and Hugo and co. in defence kept the clean sheet.

At the end of the decade there was paper talk of Hugo retiring. Despite retaining a youthful cheeky grin, he was now the veteran of the side. However, the Sketch’s Edgar Kail was still enthusing about his old teammate from the 1920s. The usual banter was still there, “He’s almost as broad as he is long!” but “…the excellence of his general game amazes me. Hugo was almost put on the shelf early this season. Now he is the dominating force in the Dulwich team.” Another journalist who dared to suggest that Hugo was in his twilight, popped into the dressing room after another magnificent defensive performance for some post match sound bites, only to be met with the smile of a conqueror, who asked, “What about that twilight now!”

From a little boy, playing with his model yacht, Hugo had had a real love affair with the sea. So when the call to arms came at the start of the Second World War, he had high hopes of joining the Royal Navy. However, the nature of his occupation meant that he was exempt from being called up to active duty. His career was in the key industry of prosthetics, imperative for severely maimed soldiers returning home, and those who lost limbs in the air raids.

Based locally in Clapham, Blatchford & Sons, where Hugo plied his trade, was one of the biggest manufacturers of artificial limbs in the country. Following the war, the company linked up with the newly created National Health Service, providing prosthetic devices for amputees, which it continues to do today. Its on-going research and technological innovations into microprocessor-controlled lower limb systems, makes Blatchford a world leader in the demands and rehabilitation of the amputee. 

Despite exemption from war duties, Jack Hugo could still serve his country and immediately signed up for ARP (Air Raid Precautions). This was a vital role in the large cities bombarded by the Germans during the blitz. In fact, his own loved ones were affected by bombing. His daughter Jackie recalled one air raid where her mother and the kids were rushed into the bomb shelter. When they emerged after the ‘all-clear’ all the windows in the street had been blown in. 
About eighty of Jack Hugo’s Hamlet colleagues were scattered abroad among the Services, with almost half serving in the RAF. Sadly, two of his teammates – the right wing partnership of Reg Anderson and Bill Parr – were shot down and killed within a week of each other in February 1942.  Ron Ebsworth and Eric Pierce would also not return from combat.

Daughter Jackie, who speaks so fondly of her kind ‘gentle giant’ father, was born in January 1940.  Her birth was proudly broadcast on the pink sheet of a wartime Hamlet matchday programme! Hugo also had a son Rex, born a couple of years earlier.

Although her father had retired while Jackie was just a little girl, she remembers he hung on to his boots for a while, and can still picture him in her mind’s eye, screwing the studs into the soles. She was taken to a handful of games after the war, but her abiding memory is of the players having very long shorts! Nevertheless, football has remained a family passion, and her son Fraser, grandson of the Hamlet legend, has an executive box at the soon to be demolished Boleyn Ground in Upton Park. Rather fitting as all three of his grandfather’s Amateur Cup medals were won at West Ham United’s iconic ground.

Jack Hugo’s love of cycling continued into his later years; playing bicycle polo and thinking nothing of riding to the coast and back. He did not own a car until late on when he purchased a Ford Poplar. But he seemed at his happiest when he was on the water, which was most weekends, being a member of the Minima Yacht Club in Kingston upon Thames.

A step up from his father’s hobby, Hugo Jnr. utilised his carpentry skills and his technical know-how from his time at Blatchfords, and built his own full size yacht – named Flutterby – in his own back garden. Although one of his sisters knocked up the sails on her sewing machine, according to his daughter Jackie, such was her father’s skill in practical matters, that he could easily have done it himself. “He certainly matched my own expertise in dressmaking!” Whatever he put his hand to he seems to have excelled at it. If a practical person was needed Jack Hugo was your man.

Heart disease was the cause of Hugo’s demise. He died 2 September 1964 aged just 57. Having suffered some severe chest pains he shook it off as nothing more than indigestion problems. Without fully realising it, he had in fact had a heart attack, from which he did not fully recover. After a third cardiac arrest he passed away in his home in Streatham Vale.

He had never ever had the best diet, even whilst playing for the top amateur side in the country. Yet, in his prime, and despite a robust thirteen stone frame, he was clearly an outstanding defender; one of the finest ever to have graced the fields of Champion Hill.

Dulwich Hamlet won the Isthmian League twice during his time and on three occasions came second, but no trophies or medals were ever given out, as the honour alone was always regarded as sufficient. His phenomenal medal haul included three FA Amateur Cups – the biggest prize on offer for amateur clubs; one London Senior Cup, plus a runner’s-up medal in the same competition; three Surrey Senior Cups and three runner’s-up medals; and a clutch of charity cup medals and representative honours.

Add that lot up and you will find Jack Hugo to be one of the most decorated players Dulwich Hamlet has ever had. Not many footballers in the history of this distinguished organisation, or the Isthmian League for that matter, can boast success like his, which makes him certainly worthy of far greater praise.

Acknowledgements: Jackie Abayasiriwardhana (nee Hugo), Jeremy Hugo, Bill Kirby, Russell Potts (Chairman of the Vintage Model Yacht Group).
Sources: DHFC handbooks and programmes; Jack Hugo’s personal scrapbooks; The Times; Daily Sketch; Brixton Free Press;         

Original article from HH29 Spring 2016
Copyright © Jack McInroy

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