Football History

Speaking to the Gatling Gun: An “interview” with George Hilsdon

1907-08

GAME OF THE PEOPLE has been able to access some archive material from a lesser-known newspaper from the early 20th century. From a series of spotlight articles, we have been able to produce an interview with Chelsea and England centre forward George Hilsdon. It has been written in the modern style as if GOTP had an exclusive interview with the player known as “Gatling-Gun”. The words of Hilsdon are actually taken from these archive articles. This brief interview takes place in the Chelsea dressing room on the eve of the 1907-08 season.

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George Hilsdon was enjoying a glass of cloudy lemonade as he sat sweating following an intense training session at Stamford Bridge. There was an air of expectation about the ground as the club prepared for its debut first division campaign. The beads of perspiration were rolling off his head and his hair, to quote the Chelsea centre forward, was “as dank as seaweed”. His team-mates were dotted around the dressing room, either sitting on the wooden forms or were walking around in various stages of nudity, enjoying a rub-down from the trainer. There was plenty of good-natured banter going on as Hilsdon talked of the summer training sessions. Jimmy Windridge, another of Chelsea’s talented forwards, was singing “Excelsior” but was stopped in his tracks by the flick of a damp towel. “That was the vilest bray I have heard outside the throat of a donkey,” joked Hilsdon.

He had come a long way from his humble beginnings in Bromley-by-Bow, where he was born in 1885. He was spotted playing at Marner Street School and then Plashet Lane. After his schooldays, Hilsdon played for Boleyn Castle FC and later South West Ham FC. On Sundays, he turned out for the British Empire FC. Before too long West Ham had signed him  as an amateur. “I scored nine goals against Barking National and that was enough for West Ham to invite me along,” he recalled.

Scoring goals has always come naturally to Hilsdon and there have been several occasions where he has netted in multiples in a single game. “I remember with some satisfaction the four goals I put in against Bristol Rovers for West Ham in a Western League match,” he said.

Hilsdon was injured in 1904-05 season and was still suffering from the after-effect in 1905-06, but Chelsea’s manager, John Tait Robertson saw something special in the young forward and took him to South West London.

HilsdonAt Chelsea, he made a big impact in his first game, scoring five against Glossop on his debut. The Fulham Chronicle reported: “Hilsdon’s form was quite phenomenal – he justified the high opinions which had already been formed of him, and his “bar” of five goals stamps him as a first-rate marksman.”

He scored 10 goals in the first eight games of the 1906-07 season and was soon attracting the attention of the international selectors.

In fact, he was picked to play for the Football League against the Irish League in 1906-07, scoring three of the League’s six goals. In February 1907, he lined-up for England in the British Championship game against Ireland at Goodison Park. Hilsdon was not too pleased with the way his England debut went: “I was injured while shooting for goal. Nobody was to blame, I jarred the muscles in my foot myself.” A lot of people felt that the Irish had set out to injure Hilsdon after his performance against the league side.

He ended 1906-07 with 28 goals, all scored in the league, and promotion from the second division. How important he will be to Chelsea’s season among the big names of the English game.

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A special thanks to Mr Hilsdon for his words of wisdom!

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