The enduring continuity of football is something that we are all familiar with in the 21st century. The wonders of the internet and satellite television enable us to digest as much information from the football world as we wish. The game is constant, every day there is top-flight action to enjoy. Many of us take an interest in the goings-on of Serie A or the German Bundesliga; for others, the entirely different subtleties of non-league football hold greater appeal. Some enjoy all three. Football, quite simply, is a constant.
The story of the football’s continuity in the early twentieth century, however, is an altogether more saddening reality. The untimely death of Sim Raleigh on December 1st 1934 in a game between Gillingham FC and Brighton and Hove Albion, received very limited national coverage. Column inches were very sparingly devoted to the reportage of such a tragic accident. Gillingham simply continued their Division Three South campaign the following week. Footballing continuity of the 1930s was a very different story to how we know it today. As crude as it sounds, life just went on.
Sim Raleigh, aged 25 at the time of his death, was a prolific centre forward who had built a reputation as a fine lower league goal-scorer. A South Yorkshireman from Brinsworth near Rotherham, he enjoyed as spell as a youngster with Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, before scoring an impressive twenty two goals in little over thirty appearances in the East Riding at Hull City. Raleigh’s goals helped Hull achieve two top half finishes in the Third Division North, before he moved to Gillingham in the summer of 1932.
Gillingham were a stable, if unspectacular force in post-war English football. Despite achieving League status in 1920 as founder members of Third Division, they finished bottom in their first year, but were re-elected to join the newly formed Third Division South. The club enjoyed, or rather endured, eighteen years at this level, achieving a highest finish of seventh in 1932-33 which was Sim Raleigh’s first season with the club, before their eventual demotion in 1938 after a series of previous re-elections.
During his career with Gillingham, Raleigh was a popular figure with team-mates and a frequent goal-scorer; in addition to his good record at Hull, he scored thirty-four goals in eighty-nine appearances, becoming the club’s top scorer in his second season, netting on eighteen occasions.
On December 1st 1934, Gillingham faced Brighton and Hove Albion in a home match at the then Priestfield Road. Soon after the start of the match, Sim Raleigh collided with Paul Mooney, an opposition defender. Fred Maven, Gillingham manager, described the collision: A cross was played into Raleigh, both he Mooney had eyes only for the ball, but instead clashed into each other. The referee, Mr Arthur Jewell, allowed play to continue, stressing that there was no foul play.
Although Mooney quickly returned to his feet, Raleigh was laid behind the Brighton goalmouth, and received little attention while the game continued.
Accidents such as this are common in the game, as we know, and perhaps with the expert medical care afforded to players of the modern professional game, events may have taken a totally different course.
As it was, Raleigh returned to the pitch after five minutes, and continued to play in a concussed state until shortly before the final whistle, when he once again collapsed, knocked his head on the ground, and lost consciousness. Sim Raleigh suffered a brain haemorrhage as a result of the collision.
Sim Raleigh died at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in Rochester later the same day. Despite the efforts of a team of surgeons, he was pronounced dead at 9.50pm. A Dr. Campbell of St Bartholomew’s attributed the death to ‘a blow on the skull’. The coroner taking charge of the case returned a verdict of accidental death, just four days after the game.
Raleigh left his wife, Mrs Hilda Gladys Raleigh (nee Newbolt), and one son, Sim Raleigh Jr. who was just one-year-old at the time of his father’s passing. His wife spoke at length of how she wanted no blame to be attached to Gillingham FC, Brighton and Hove Albion, and specifically Paul Mooney. Her words had little effect on Mooney, whose involvement distressed him to such an extent that he was forced to retire from the game.
Despite spending the majority of his short career in Kent, Raleigh and his family retained their best links with friends on Humberside, where he was laid to rest on Friday 7th December. His funeral took place in a small chapel at the Western Cemetery on Humberside, and his coffin was carried by six members of the Hull City club: E. Longden, G. Maddison, R. Thomson, E. Lloyd, C. Woodhead, and assistant trainer J. Lodge.
Sim Raleigh was a popular man and accounts from the Hull Daily Mail tell of the many people who gathered both inside and outside of the chapel as he was buried, while representatives of Huddersfield Town, Hull City and Gillingham FC all laid flowers. The same newspaper tells us that all the current Hull City squad attended, alongside their Secretary, Vice-Chairman and President. Hilda Raleigh received a cash donation of £250 from Gillingham to allow her to look after her young child.
The death of such a young, promising player was not publically grieved. The football world quickly moved on. The day after the funeral, full Third Division North and South programmes were played, with both Gillingham and Hull in action: Gillingham recorded a 2-0 win at Cardiff City, while Hull triumphed over Sheffield United.
The premature death of Sim Raleigh was simply forgotten. Even today, the official website of Gillingham devotes only the smallest section of an ‘On This Day’ to the tragedy, while a search on the Hull City site offers no results.
For further information and support about head and brain injuries check out the Headway website.