Julie Ryan, IN AND OUT OF THE LION’S DEN, Poverty, war and football £8.99
Fans of social history and football will enjoy this book in which a triumph for love and freedom provides a fitting backcloth to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the economic depression of the 1930s.
John Shepherd was a professional footballer with Millwall, Brighton and Gillingham in the 1950s and early 1960s. He sprung to fame with four goals on his debut for the south London side in October 1952. Author, Julie Ryan, is his eldest daughter. She was born just months after her dad played a major role in Millwall’s toppling of Cup Goliaths, Newcastle United, in the 1957 FA Cup.
After meeting at a North Kensington youth club, Shepherd had courted and married Esther Gonzalez two years earlier. The young Spanish bride was born during the height of the conflict in her country between 1936-1939. This saw General Franco’s Nationalist Forces seeking to overthrow the elected Republican Government that was set to reform a corrupt political system.
Esther’s father, Jose, an anarchist, was part of the encircled defence forces in Madrid. In January 1937 he helped his wife, Marcelina, and newly born daughter, escape to a small hillside village close to the Albacete headquarters of the International Brigades, in which the later TGWU leader Jack Jones served at Ebro. This was the largest battle in the civil war and combatant Jose was fortunate when he evaded capture. He thus avoided the fate of his comrades who were mowed down in cold blood by Nationalist forces that enjoyed the military backing of Germany and Italian fascist leaders Adolf Hitler and `Benito Mussolini.
Escaping to France, Jose, like thousands of refugees, was held in a concentration camp. When Germany subsequently invaded France he was shipped to Algeria. Liberated when Allied Forces invaded North Africa he joined the British Army and was later helped make contact with his family back in Spain.
In 1947 the trio were finally re-united and moved to live in North Kensington, a working-class area where five generations of the Shepherd’s had lived and which suffered the dark days of the Blitz during the Second World War.
Four years later John Shepherd’s promising football career seemed over when he was struck down by polio. An amazing recovery helped put him on the path to fame - but not fortune! Footballers were badly paid and often abused by managers, who didn’t even tell them if they were being transferred!
Unsurprisingly, footballers organised themselves within a union and achieved improvements in pay and conditions that Shepherd enjoyed towards the end of his playing career. Following which he became heavily involved in local Sussex football and helped establish Brighton’s first youth team during the 1970s. One of the stars he helped discover was Gary Stevens, who later played for Everton and England.
Former England player Alan Mullery has provided the foreword to this fascinating, heart-warming book.
The book is available from http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1481081993/
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