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The Eddie Kilshaw Story

posted 3 May 2018, 13:03 by Roy McDonald   [ updated 21 Feb 2020, 15:47 ]
This article has not been published previously and tells the story of one of the most famous players ever to don a Prescot Cables shirt. Thanks to reader Mike Travis, who contacted me, I have made a small correction to the school in Huyton at which Eddie taught. 

On Christmas Day 1936 – his 17th birthday - Edmund Ainsworth “Eddie” Kilshaw signed as a professional footballer for Prescot Cables. He will be remembered as one of the greatest players ever to don the black and amber colours of Cables. His performances at outside right during his short time with the Prescot club attracted the interest of several football league clubs.

Kilshaw’s own story is quite remarkable. During his brief career with Prescot Cables he was offered to Everton for the princely sum of £250. However, the Everton minute books for September 1937 record the opinion of Mr H Hart that ”this outside left was 17, 5 foot 4 inches and only 10 stone. He was not nearly good enough and he could not recommend him”.

Little more than a month later - after just 10 months at Hope Street - Eddie Kilshaw, joined Bury. He went on to become one of the Shaker’s most famous players, making 149 first team appearances and scoring 17 goals in a career interrupted by the second world war. 

During the war Kilshaw served as a pilot in RAF Coastal Command.

On the evening of 12 May 1944, Catalina Flying Boat JX273 of RAF No 17 (Training) Group in Coastal Command / 302 Flying Training Unit, took off from Oban on the west coast of Scotland, with a full fuel load and with depth charges under each wing. The aircraft was on a night training exercise with a complement of nine persons, including the pilot, Flt Sgt David Clyne and co-pilot, Sgt Eddie Kilshaw.

The intended course was via Barra Head. However, the aircraft was flying well off-course, and was no longer over the sea, as the pilot believed. Realising the navigational error, Clyne endeavoured to gain height. However, when he had reached about 213m (700ft), the Catalina which was, by now, was over higher ground, crashed into the side of Heishavel Beag on the Island of Vatersay, in the Outer Hebridies.  Of the nine personnel on board, the pilot, wireless operator and a mechanic were killed and the remaining six – including Kilshaw - were injured. The flight engineer, who was the only conscious crew member, managed to put out a fire in one of the engines by throwing clods of earth on it. He also obtained help in the morning from a croft below the crash site. The survivors were taken by the Royal Navy to hospital in Oban via transfer from the Isle of Barra. Later they had a spell of convalescent care in Oban.

A monument to the crash, together with some of the wreckage of the plane, can still be seen at the roadside on Vartersay.

The pilot of the aircraft, 27 year old David Johnstone Robertson Clyne was, himself, a prominent Scottish amateur footballer. He signed for Queen's Park on 10 September 1937 and played at full back for the Glasgow club on 63 occasions. He was selected for the Scottish Amateur International side twice in 1938, against England on 12 March, and Ireland on 13 April. Unfortunately, he was on the losing side on both occasions, 2-5 and 1-2 respectively.  His name is recorded on the Queens Park Football Club war memorial at Hampden Park.

After the war Kilshaw resumed his football career with Bury, and resumed a prolific partnership with Eddie Quigley. Quigley attracted the attention of Sheffield Wednesday, who eventually persuaded the cash-strapped Bury club to part with one of their prized assets. Quigley moved to Hillsborough for £12,000. At the same time, Wednesday, made a tentative enquiry about Kilshaw, realising his contribution to the striking partnership. However, Bury were most reluctant to lose both their stars and resisted the advances. A host of clubs – including Everton and Sheffield Wednesday - made further enquiries about the availability of Kilshaw, both reputedly offering £10,000 for his services. (How Everton must have rued their decision not to follow up Kilshaw’s signature back in 1937!).

During the close season in 1948, Sunderland reportedly made an offer of £15,000 to take Kilsahaw to Roker Park. However, when Sheffield Wednesday increased their offer to £20,000, Bury realised that they could hold out no longer. One of the Bury directors suggested that the fee should be £20,060, which would have made Kilshaw the most expensive English player, at the time, being £10 higher than the fee paid by Sunderland to Newcastle United for the transfer of Len Shackleton in February 1948. However, Sheffield Wednesday refused to meet this demand and burden Kilshaw with this “most expensive” tag.

Kilshaw eventually moved to Yorkshire in December 1948, for £20,000, still a colossal sum for a player who had never played in a representative match, nor collected any honours. At Hillsborough, Kilshaw renewed his partnership with Eddie Quigley. He went on to make 19 appearances for the Owls during the 1948/49 season before sustaining a bad injury to his left knee during a match with Leicester City in April 1949. The injury was severe and looked like it would end his career.

However, the club doctors believed that there was a chance of recovery through a new method of operation. Kilshaw’s positive attitude convinced the club that it was worthwhile. He was certain that he would play again and placed absolute faith and trust in the medical team to make this happen.

After the operation, Kilshaw was determined that he would be fit for the start of the 1949/50 season. In July 1949, Wednesday forwarded his contract for the new season. Kilshaw, honourably, returned the forms unsigned with a covering letter saying that since his fitness was still in some doubt it would not be proper for him to draw wages from the club until such time as he was pronounced fit to resume playing. Sheffield Wednesday was a club renowned for it’s fair treatment of players and they responded, saying that they intended to pay him throughout the time he was regaining fitness – even if it took him the whole of the season for his complete recovery. After a lengthy argument, Wednesday manager Eric Taylor finally got Kilshaw to sign the contract.

By September 1949, Kilshaw was back in serious training, including riding a fixed bicycle and running up and down the terrace steps at Hillsborough. He underwent extensive tests to prove his fitness. However, after weeks with his leg in plaster, his muscle development was slower than expected and his return was put off until the new year. By December the medical team were pessimistic of his chances of playing again.

But Kilshaw, and the club, refused to accept the medical opinion and remained confident of his full recovery. Magnanimously, in May 1950, the club signed him on again, on exactly the same terms as his original contract, saying, “They had never known a player persevere for so long, but if Eddie thinks he will play again, the club will stand by him until he does”.

Throughout the Summer of 1950, Kilshaw’s fitness improved and he was able to take part in strenuous ball practice.  Early in 1951 a practice match was arranged to test Kilshaw’s recovery and determine his career. Unfortunately, it proved to be too much for his leg and Eddie Kilshaw was forced to admit that he would never play again. In May 1951, Kilshaw was given a free transfer by Sheffield Wednesday – effectively ending his career. On his retirement Kilshaw said, “I have finished with football. I told Wednesday I did not want to be retained for my left leg is not strong. I have nothing definite in mind, although I was trained as an analytical chemist, and I may take that up again”.

Kilshaw returned home to Merseyside where he went on to become a much-loved and respected teacher at St Columba's Secondary Modern School in Huyton.

Eddie Kilshaw may have finished with football, but football had not finished with him.

In the early 1970’s he jointly managed, with a young English and P.E. teacher called Alan Bleasdale, the Huyton Boys team which, remarkably, won the English Schools FA Trophy in 1971. The stand-out member of that successful schoolboy side was a 14 year old, called Peter Reid.  

Eddie Kilshaw passed away at his home in Huyton, in 2006.