BY MARK GODFREY – EDITOR

My wife knows a fair amount about football considering she isn’t really a fan; Soccer Saturday for her is a soothing mechanism to bring about cosy Saturday afternoon naps rather than a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow account of what’s going on in stadiums up and down the country . So imagine my surprise when she out-knowledged me on something very obscure recently.

As she burst into a rendition of – for me, at least – an unknown song called ‘Stiffy the Goalkeeper’, it got me wondering whether this tune had actually existed as a recording or was just something made up by her Grandma to garnish childhood playtimes.

Google and the internet are wonderful inventions in such circumstances and no doubt saved me many fruitless hours trying to find the necessary evidence.

harry-weldon

It transpires that Stiffy the Goalkeeper was the creation of Liverpool-born comedian and music hall performer Harry Weldon, and according to the YouTube page where an old gramophone version can be found, it was “taken from a much loved music hall sketch dating to 1900…. When performed with the young Charlie Chaplin the sketch became famous and much in demand. The disc appeared in the Regal catalogue in February 1914, but was taken from an earlier Columbia master. So popular was the record that it was not deleted until 1929.”

So, Charlie Chaplin – a.k.a. the Little Tramp – had sprinkled his stardust over this quaint old ditty? No wonder it had been such a success. Chaplin was one of the early pioneers and superstars of 20th century cinema and entertainment.

Weldon – born James Henry Stanley – was well known on the music hall circuit from around 1900 onwards, up until his death in 1930. Apart from Stiffy the Goalkeeper, his other comedic creations included ‘The White Hope’ and ‘Bronzo the Bull Fighter’. His trademark was to prolong the pronunciation of the ‘S’ in words using a whistling sound.

chaplin

Chaplin’s career and profile needs very little explanation, but one thing came to light recently that potentially changes everything we thought we knew about his beginnings.

It was believed that he was born in Walworth, South London in 1889, although actual proof of this was never found. But in 2011, it emerged that Chaplin’s daughter Victoria had found a letter sent to him by a Jack Hill from Tamworth, which claimed that he had in fact been born in a gypsy caravan in Smethwick just outside Birmingham. Chaplin’s son Michael believes there to be a large degree of probability in this story otherwise he doubts the silent movie star would ever have kept the note.

This debate leads me to wonder who might Charlie Chaplin have supported as a boy; Millwall, Charlton Athletic or Dulwich Hamlet, in and around the parish where he grew up, or – if he knew of his alternative West Midlands roots – Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion or Birmingham City?

Anyway, here’s that recording of Stiffy the Goalkeeper and lyrics.

Hark to the shouting, Stiffy is the lad they’re cheering
Stiffy is the best goalkeeper that ever let a ball through
They said this morning by over a hundred goals they beat us
But they never knew the man they had to deal with
‘Cause we only lost by sixty-two
I guarded my goal quite contented and cool
Kept dashing about like a little mad bull
I scarcely had time to draw my breath
It’s a wonder I wasn’t trampled to death.

Chorus: But when Stiffy’s between the sticks
When Stiffy’s between the sticks He can stop any kind of ball
A football or a brandy-ball
And all the forwards say
When I’m up to my monkey tricks
‘What’s the use of me trying to score
When Stiffy’s between the sticks.’

(There then follows 38 lines of patter, to the effect that there is only a very small crowd watching the game and Stiffy can’t stop any ball however slow, but he’s cheered off the field for letting so many in.)

Chorus: But when Stiffy’s between the sticks
When Stiffy’s between the sticks
He can stop any kind of ball
A football or a brandy-ball
And all the forwards say
When I’m up to my monkey tricks
‘What’s the use of me trying to score
When Stiffy’s between the sticks.’

 

 

 

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