By Jamie Allen
The 1920’s was something of a golden decade for Bury Football Club, the small team from Greater Manchester enjoyed one of the most successful periods in their history as they made a name for themselves in the First Division of the Football League.
The 1923-1924 season saw The Shakers secure promotion to Division One for the second time since the formation of the Football League in 1888, finishing in second place behind the Division Two title winners, Leeds United. Bury’s second spell in the English top division saw them register their highest placed finish in the league when they ended the 1925-26 campaign in 4th position, ahead of the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton.
Bury achieved further success that season as they secured the Manchester Cup in 1925 and then the Lancashire Senior Cup in 1926. After arguably the most positive season in the clubs history, it was time to strengthen their position in Division One and build on their success.
Born in Neston, Cheshire, Samuel Wynne spent his early career playing for the Neston Colliery team in the local leagues followed by a brief spell with Connah’s Quay in Wales, where a colliery was also in operation at the Point of Ayr, which suggested that Wynne was following the coal mining work that was available at the time. However, Wynne signed professionally for Oldham Athletic in 1921 to play in the English professional football league.
Wynne became infamous during his time at Oldham for one of the most bizarre 90 minutes a single player could experience. In October of 1923, the Division Two clash between Oldham and Manchester United saw the Latics come away with a 3-2 victory, a seemingly average game on the face of it. However, Wynne had a decisive role to play in the extraordinary match as the Oldham full-back grabbed 4 of the 5 goals scored.
The game began badly for Wynne as he headed into his own net from a United corner just before the 10 minute mark. He then atoned for his initial error by tucking away a penalty to level the scores. His team mate, Billy Howson then made it 2-1 to Oldham before Wynne stepped up to dispatch a free kick to make it 3-1. A miscue in the box then saw Wynne register his second own-goal of the game as he kneed the ball into his own net, setting up a tense finish and becoming the first player ever to score two goals for each side in a single match. Oldham held out for the 3-2 victory.
Bury signed Wynne from Oldham in December 1926 for a fee of £2,500, which was a club record transfer fee at the time. James H. Thompson, the Bury manager bought him as a replacement for the injured Heap, who had broken his leg against Derby County earlier in the 1926/1927 season.
Wynne brought with him a wealth of experience playing at full-back in Division One and Division Two for Athletic where he made close to 150 appearances. His defensive experience would prove important in a season which was supposed to be a chance to consolidate and build upon the clubs highest finish in the top division in the previous campaign. However, what transpired was the complete opposite as Bury found themselves fighting for survival in the 1926/27 season in Division One.
Wynne became an ever present figure in the Bury side deputising for the injured Heap. However, his career at Bury would last only 3 months before tragedy struck, cutting short not a career in professional football but a life as well.
Bury came into the game with Sheffield United on the back of a 1-1 draw away at Leicester, however, the Shakers were still languishing perilously close to the bottom of the table on 36 points with 3 games remaining. At this point Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion occupied the relegation spaces on 27 and 29 points respectively with Everton just outside on 30 points. Although, Bury had a game in hand over all three of their rivals, there was a still a danger that they could be relegated, depending on other results.
It was 30th April 1927 and the perfect day to stage a game of football, with the sun beaming down and the crowds gathering in their droves. Wynne had arrived in Sheffield with the rest of the Bury squad and eaten fish and toast with his team mates before the game, showing no signs of ill-health or injury.
The game got underway in front of around 20,000 spectators (reports on the exact attendance varies). It was a clean game with both sides playing good, attractive football and the match passed without a major incident until the 38th minute. One of the Sheffield forwards had been called offside and the referee duly awarded a free kick to Bury in their half of the field. Sam Wynne had placed the ball down in order to take the free kick when tragedy struck.
The Yorkshire Evening Post reported the incident on 2nd May 1927:
Wynne, a man of fine physique, who, up to that point had been conspicuous with his clean and clever play, bent down to place the ball in position, stumbled and collapsed.
The report continues:
The referee (Mr. G. S. Osell of Tipton, Staffs), called for a doctor and three doctors separated themselves from the crowd and were quickly by the player, who was taken on a stretcher to the dressing room.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported that both team’s respective trainers attended Wynne on the pitch accompanied by Dr F and Dr H.L. Willey who had been watching the game in the crowd.
After Wynne had been carried from the field the game continued up until the interval. No sooner had the half-time band started playing, they had to be cut short with the terrible news that Sam was beyond the aid of the doctors who came to his side and he had died after his collapse. The game was abandoned.
Although there were incidents of football players dying due to injuries incurred on the pitch, the circumstances surrounding Sam Wynne’s death were unique.
The Guardian reported on 1st May 1927:
It is true that men like Cropper of Grimsby and Powell of Woolwich Arsenal died after being injured in the course of play and that Robert Benson passed – during a game at Highbury in war time but as far as first class football is concerned the circumstances surrounding the death of Wynne in the arena whilst the match was being played have no parallel.
Initially, there was suspicion surrounding Wynne’s collapse on the field and subsequent death. He was a fit and healthy man of athletic build according to the various reports from those who knew and worked with him. According to Harry Unsworth, a director of Bury FC, he had known Wynne for three years and he had always been a healthy man, in the best physical condition.
However, soon after Wynne had been taken from the field, it was discovered that the football in use during the game had actually burst sometime before his collapse. At the inquest, Mr W.A. Lambert appeared on behalf of Sam’s relatives and questioned witnesses about the game. Mr Lambert was quoted in a report published in The Guardian on 3rd May 1927.
Mr Lambert: During the game did Wynne head the ball?
The Witness: Yes, he was very good at that. He was considered very smart with his head
The initial theory was that Wynne’s death had been caused by a cerebral haemorrhage incurred during his constant heading of the burst football throughout the 38 minutes of play. However, this theory was proven to be false during the inquest.
The post-mortem examination of Wynne’s body discovered that he had been suffering from the early stages of pneumonia. The doctor carrying out the examination also reported that there were no signs of cerebral haemorrhage disproving the initial, ‘burst ball’ theory. The strains of a high-level and physically intense football match had put too much strain on his body and caused his sudden and unexpected death on the Bramall Lane pitch. The official cause of death was given as syncope caused by pneumonia and toxaemia.
Sam’s widow, Hannah Elizabeth Wynne had filed a compensation claim against Bury FC for £600 under the Workman’s Compensation Act after his unexpected death and by October 1927, 5 months after Sam’s passing, Bury County Court delivered the verdict.
The Guardian reported the verdict on the 11th October 1927, where Judge Spencer Hogg found in favour of Sam’s widow. The Judge stated:
The facts of the case are simple. The deceased was employed by the respondents. In the course of his employment he collapsed and died. His death was due to pneumonia and toxaemia.
The Judge then went on to reference several related cases and how he will judge the case:
I shall therefore adopt the law as laid down in those cases. I therefore ask myself: Was there personal injury to the deceased caused by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment? The answer is in the alternative. The second question is… Was it the disease which killed him, or did the work he was doing help in any material degree? I find the work helped in a material degree.
Although, the Shakers contested the initial compensation claim, the court found in favour of Sam’s widow. Bury FC in collaboration with others raised a fund for Hannah Wynne which would see her procure more compensation than the initial award of £600 and despite Bury FC’s questionable decision to contest the compensation claim, the principles of integrity and common sense won out in the end.
Sam Wynne left a lasting legacy as Bury FC’s record signing during the 1920’s. Not only that he was the first player to score two goals and two own-goals in a single, professional football match, making it into the Guinness Book of Records in 1927. His record was only equalled when Aston Villa’s Chris Nichol scored all four goals in a 2-2 draw with Leicester in 1976. The only difference was Nichol managed all of his goals in open play.
Sam was survived by his widow; Hannah Wynne, his daughter, Gwendoline Wynne and a son, Samuel John Wynne who arrived only 8 weeks after his death in 1927.