It is with great sadness that Wrexham AFC has learnt of the passing of one of our former players from the 1950s. The war hero and ex-footballer was finally beaten by coronavirus at the Royal Bolton Hospital at the age of 99 years-old on Tuesday,14 April - just two months shy of his 100th birthday.
Cyril played for Wrexham in the 1950s, but he was originally spotted as a junior by First Division side Blackpool in 1939, after someone called into the club offices at Bloomfield Road and said they knew of ‘a young outside-right who deserves a trial’.
Having joined the ‘Tangerines’ he was close to making a breakthrough into the Blackpool first team squad which also included Stan Mortensen, when the outbreak the outbreak of the Second World War threatened any thoughts he might have had of a career in football.
Instead, he lied about his age to join the Royal Navy, and once he had completed his military training returned to Blackpool in December 1939 turning out against Bolton Wanderers in the Wartime League. As football was encouraged to lift morale, although the size of the crowds was strictly limited, and some games even had to be abandoned amid air raids.
As for Cyril, his military service at sea saw him make just one further appearance for Blackpool during the conflict, which came four years later in 1943, although he was able to play several times for Hyde United, where one of his teammates was Joe Fagan, later to go on and manage Liverpool.
He was deployed on the brand-new battleship HMS King George V, assigned to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. He spent more than five years serving as a gunner on the ship, which performed an active combat role and witnessed some of the most historic episodes of the war in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic and Pacific.
Notably seeing action in the pursuit and destruction of the German Battleship Bismarck on 27 May 1941; on Arctic convoys to supply the Soviet Union; the battle of Okinawa; and the final surrender of the Japanese home islands, for which he had a full view of the event which took place in Tokyo Bay.
Fortunately, Cyril survived WW2 and was able to return to Blackpool after the conflict had ended, where he signed professional forms in February 1946, on a deal worth £5 a week with a £3 bonus when he made the first team.
However, Cyril failed to make a first team appearance at Bloomfield Road, and he left the 'Seasiders' in April 1947 to join Third Division North side Rochdale. It was with them that Cyril was to make his Football League debut in the second match of the 1947/48 season, playing at centre-forward in a scoreless draw at Hull in front of a crowd of over 25,000. Later that season he was to switch positions to outside-right, and he spent the remainder of his time at Spotland on the right wing.
He left Rochdale in September 1950, having scored five goals in 44 league appearances, and signed for fellow Third Division North side Wrexham, along with his Rochdale team-mate, Dick Grieve.
Manager Peter Jackson put Cyril straight into the side, making his debut on the Racecourse in a scoreless draw against Gateshead in his old centre-forward position in place of Frank Fidler. He led the attack for the following nine games, during which he scored three goals.
He was then switched back to play at outside-right in place of Dennis Grainger, as he went on to make a total of 50 League appearances for Wrexham, before leaving the club at the end of the 1951/52 season. Cyril, who was then 32 years-old and drifted into non-league football, initially with Hyde United.
After retiring, he lived quietly in Salford, with his health failing in recent years he was admitted for some respite care before the Covid-19 pandemic broke and whilst in lockdown caught the disease.
He was admitted to the Royal Bolton Hospital on 11th April and was given palliative care, saying his goodbyes to his family via a video link. He died three days later.
Everyone at Wrexham AFC sends out sincere condolences to Cyril’s family, especially to his wife Clara (herself aged 99) and two daughters, Elaine and Norma. Our thoughts are with you.