Book Review: The Sad Story of Billy Callender by James (Jim) Wright

“…it has always been said that goalkeepers are a breed apart – often extrovert but also prone to brooding introversion…”

Sadly this statement has come to carry significance in tragic circumstances on two occasions in recent years. Back in November 2009, Robert Enke, goalkeeper for Hannover 96 and a German international and just 32 years old, committed suicide by standing in front of a train at a level crossing in Eilvese on the outskirts of Hannover. After his death, his widow, Teresa, revealed that Enke had suffered from depression for six years and had struggled to come to terms with the death of their daughter, Lara in 2006. Enke’s story was captured in the 2011 William Hill Sports Book of the Year, titled, A Life Too Short by Ronald Reng. The tragedy touched the public in Germany and further afield. As a result, the German Football Association, the German Football League and Hannover 96 pledged to finance a Robert Enke Foundation, which would in future help with mental health issues of players.

Here in England in December 2010, 24 year old Rushden & Diamonds goalkeeper, Dale Roberts committed suicide. At the inquest details emerged that Roberts has killed himself after struggling to come to terms with an injury and national media speculation about his fiancee’s alleged affair with team-mate Paul Terry. Subsequently, his parents set up The Dale Roberts Memorial fund to help worthy causes including providing Christmas presents to children in a local hospital and helping youngsters off the streets and into football.

What struck me about whilst researching this article was firstly how readily available information is about the circumstances of these deaths, secondly that the suicides are seen as tragic and that lastly, the players memory is honoured through memorial funds and foundations, so that some good comes out of these sad events.

However, it has not always been thus. In The Sad Story of Billy Callender by James (Jim) Wright, the story of a goalkeeper who took his life in July 1932 is told. The adopted Billy Callender (real name Coulson) was originally from Prudhoe in Northumberland and worked briefly at the local colliery. Callender played for West Wylam Primitive Methodist Church, then Prudhoe Castle FC. Whilst here he was spotted and signed by Crystal Palace in October 1923, making his first team debut against South Shields in a 1-0 win on 22 March 1924. It wasn’t until the transfer of Jack Alderson to Sheffield United that Callender established himself in the first team at the start of the 1925-25 season in the Third Division (South). He was regarded as one of the “…most effective stoppers in the Football League…” and was selected to play for the Football League against The Army in 1926. In total, Callender played 225 matches for Crystal Palace and as an excellent servant to the club had a benefit match against the Combined Universities in April 1931. However, tragedy struck Callender when in May 1932, his long-term sweetheart and fiancée died from poliomyelitis. Callender travelled to his native North-East to visit family before returning to London in July 1932 for the start of the new season. On Monday 25 July Callender went to Selhurst Park “…to collect his registration papers and to confirm his health and fitness…” He didn’t report for training or the practice match arranged for the Tuesday, but he was found later that day hanged at the ground. At the inquest a verdict was returned that, “…Callender had taken his own life while of unsound mind…”, whilst the Croydon Advertiser wrote that Callender was “…inconsolable…” after the death of Ella.

Author Jim Wright makes some excellent observations towards the end of this book regarding attitudes at the time to suicide, “…death was seen essentially as a private matter – not an issue for too much public expression of grief…suicide was a taboo subject – indeed any attempt to take one’s own life, effective or otherwise, was deemed a criminal offence until as recently as 1961…” This sits at odds with how modern day society reacts (thankfully) to suicide. The author has carried out some wonderful research in writing this tribute to Billy Callender and to Ella, but acknowledges that so much information is just lost to the passages of time and which leave questions unanswered about Callender’s child-hood, his real parents, his brother and any therefore the ability to trace any possible descendants. However this doesn’t detract from this publication and Jim Wright should be proud that he has kept the memory of Billy Callender alive.


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Posted June 14, 2012 by Editor in category "Reviews

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