The Iron in His Soul: Bill Roberts and Manchester's Sporting Heritage

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9781903158326: The Iron in His Soul: Bill Roberts and Manchester's Sporting Heritage
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Born in a Northern grimy city that was described as "the ugly illiterate scrawl of the Industrial Revolution". Left school at 13. Manager of a timber yard at 18. Leader of a part - time dance - band. Inspired to achieve the highest honours in athletics by the example of a legendary clubmate. The life-story of Bill Roberts is an enthralling one, stretching from before the First World War into the 21st Century. His finest hour on the running track came about at the Berlin Olympic Games of 1936 - - Hitler's Olympics - when he was the lone working - class member of a Great Britain 4 X 400 metres relay quartet which beat the Americans and won the gold medals. No British team has yet managed the feat again at the Olympic celebration. Learning his athletic craft in hell-for-leather races on makeshift rough grass tracks laid out round football fields, he set his sights on a fellow - Salfordian, Walter Rangeley, who had won three Olympic medals and was described by all who saw him as one of the most graceful athletes of his generation. From a membership of no more than a dozen Salford Athletic Club fashioned the best medley relay team in Britain and sent three men to the Olympics. In his first year of top-level competition at the age of 22 Bill Roberts won a silver medal at the 1934 Empire Games but was mysteriously denied a place in England's relay team. After the Berlin Olympics he accepted selection for the 1938 Empire Games in Australia as a matter of honour - and was told by his lifelong employers that he would lose his job if he went. He went, anyway, and won the 440 yards. After wartime service in the RAF - where he won many an impromptu race against unsuspecting Army challengers and kept his wager-winning comrades in beer money - he returned to action in the 1946 European Championships and almost took the relay again for Britain single-handed. At the age of 36 he was chosen as Great Britain's athletics team captain at the 1948 Wembley Olympics and but for the luck of the draw might have salvaged yet another medal for a depleted British 4 X 400 metres team. He turned out again for the 1949 season - though by now having established a thriving furniture business - but after a few races retired in disgust when quizzed by over-zealous officials about a no. 2.50 radio interview fee which he had donated to his club. He kept a direct interest in the sport for several more years by writing a lively weekly column for the "Manchester Evening News". Fifty years after their Berlin Olympic success, the British team met up again to fondly reminisce. Godfrey Brown had become a headmaster, Godfrey Rampling a senior Army officer, Freddy Wolff a city financier. Not at all out of place was Bill Roberts, the self - made son of Salford.

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Published by Parrs Wood Press 2002 (2002)
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