AT first glance you might not necessarily think that today’s FA Cup quarter-final between Arsenal and Lincoln City provides a convenient excuse to write about two of Yorkshire cricket’s finest sons.
But then you would be under-estimating the sheer ingenuity of a journalist under pain of death from his sports editor to come up with 800 words about something, anything, to fill another of those pesky holes in your unbeatable Sports Weekend.
For the fact is that the legendary Brian Close played for Arsenal as an inside-forward between 1950 and 1952, while the legendary Fred Trueman represented – yes, you’ve guessed it – Lincoln City as a centre-forward in 1952.
Why, if the television in the celestial bar is tuned into BT Sport from 5.30 today, it is a fair bet that the pair of them will be glued to the action as they watch through clouds of cigarette and pipe smoke.
Under different circumstances, both Close and Trueman might have had long and successful football careers.
Close, who also represented Leeds United and Bradford City, was deemed a particularly fine prospect before a serious knee injury ended his hopes at 21.
As for the risks involved, I do not think professional soccer is as dangerous as a good deal of amateur soccer, particularly as we get the best possible treatment afterwards.Brian Close.
Close played 26 times for the Arsenal A team, scoring 13 goals, and he also netted three times in eight reserve fixtures.
As a 21-year-old, Trueman played several reserve matches for Lincoln at a time when they were the modern equivalent of a Championship club.
Close’s injury, sustained while playing for Bradford against Port Vale in December 1952, inspired Yorkshire CCC to intervene.
At the club’s annual meeting the following month, Yorkshire president TL Taylor outlined the club’s position over Close and Trueman playing the winter game.
“The risk of injury that would adversely affect their bowling is so great that I feel sure they would be well advised to take the long view and concentrate upon their cricket,” he said.
After a talk with his father, Trueman chose to do exactly that, confining his football to the odd game for the RAF at a time when he was doing National Service.
Close, however, was in no mood to buckle. “Professional football is as much my life as professional cricket,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“As for the risks involved, I do not think professional soccer is as dangerous as a good deal of amateur soccer, particularly as we get the best possible treatment afterwards.”
Despite his defiance, Close’s injury was so bad that he was able to play only two first-team games for Yorkshire in 1953. “I was lucky to get myself right for 1954,” he admitted.
Not unusually for Yorkshire, perhaps, controversy was not too far away. At the same annual meeting, club president Taylor made no reference to the case of Willie Watson, the Yorkshire and England batsman who played wing-half for Sunderland and who had been a member of England’s 1950 World Cup squad.
Yorkshire considered it okay for their batsmen to play football but not their bowlers – a classic case of one rule for one, one rule for another.
Although Close was good enough to play League football, Trueman’s involvement with Lincoln was part publicity stunt.
In the preceding summer of 1952, he had burst on the scene as a tearaway fast bowler, famously helping to reduce India to 0-4 on his Test debut at Headingley.
While playing football for the RAF, Trueman was spotted by a friend of Lincoln manager Bill Anderson, whose side were struggling and suffering with injuries.
Anderson spied not only a chance to boost his forward line but also to help the club’s finances by signing a new sporting hero.
Initially, Trueman played for the Lincoln third XI, but four goals on debut in a 5-0 win over Appleby Frodingham quickly saw him promoted to the reserves.
He made his debut in a goalless draw against Peterborough United at Sincil Bank in November, 1952, which drew a record Lincoln reserve crowd of 7,328, but he did not get on the scoresheet in a handful of reserve team matches.
Today’s quarter-final at the Emirates – the first meeting between Arsenal and Lincoln since 1915 – is an intriguing prospect on both sides.
Arsenal fans have been exclaiming Trueman’s famous catchphrase: “I don’t know what’s going off out there”, or words to that effect, with increasing gusto ever since the 10-2 aggregate Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.
Lincoln supporters have been saying pretty much the same thing – albeit out of wonder and amazement – after the Imps became the first non-league club to reach the quarter-finals since 1914.
With Arsene Wenger’s position as Arsenal manager coming under heavy scrutiny, and with Lincoln eyeing what would be, perhaps, the greatest upset in the competition’s history, it promises to be an intriguing contest.
No doubt, Closey and Fred will be pontificating loudly as they monitor it all from the Elysian Fields.