Book Review – The Man of All Talents: The Extraordinary Life of Douglas ‘Duggy’ Clark by Steven Bell
Back in August 2019, Steve Bell wrote the heart-breaking yet inspiring book, From Triumph to Tragedy: The Chapecoense Story, which looked at the small-town Brazilian football club that made worldwide news following their meteoric rise from non-league to continental sensation, and the tragic air disaster involving them that followed. Whilst that first book from Bell told the story of a team over 5,000 miles from his Huddersfield home, his second, sees a tale much closer to the North of England, as readers are treated to a book about Douglas ‘Duggy’ Clark.
Reading this you may well think, ‘who is Douglas Clark and why would anybody write about him?’ And the reason is that his life was quite simply an incredible story, which Bell has researched diligently to produce an intriguing book. ‘Duggy’ was only 59 when he died in 1951, but what he achieved in those years is quite astonishing and is aptly summed up Bell in the books title.
Essentially there were three significant phases to Duggy’s life, and this is reflected in the way Bell has structured his book. Part 1 covers his early years growing up in Maryport, assisting his father with his coal round and his introduction to the local style of wrestling known as Cumberland & Westmoreland. Duggy as a young lad had incredible strength and was also a prodigious rugby forward, and his talent was soon spotted resulting in a move south to join the Northern Union club Huddersfield (who today are known as Huddersfield Giants playing in Super League). This first section of the book focuses on Duggy’s rugby league career where he became part of the “Team of All Talents” who in 1914/15 won all four of the competitions available to them. He also became a Great Britain international and took part in the infamous Rorke’s Drift Test against Australia in July 1914 when the Lions overcame incredible odds to win the game.
Part 2 sees the World plunged into the Great War of 1914 to 1918, and after he enlisted in 1916, Duggy is posted to some of the worst conflicts during that time including, the Somme and Passchendaele. Duggy earned the Military Medal for his bravery, but the injuries suffered meant that when he was discharged, “the doctor awarded him a 20 percent disability certificate” and warned “if Duggy wanted to live a long and comfortable life, he should avoid any form of strenuous activity – forever.” However, once back in England and he recuperated, Duggy resumed his trophy-laden rugby league career with Huddersfield playing his last game for The Fartowners in February 1929, his beloved county Cumberland in 1930, England in 1925 and a final Great Britain tour to New Zealand 1920. This second section doesn’t end with Duggy retiring gracefully, as he concentrates more on the wrestling circuit in Cumbria as he captured numerous Cumberland & Westmoreland belts and was crowned World Heavyweight Championship in 1925, 1926 and 1930.
The third and final section of the book looks at the period from 1930 with the emergence of ‘All-In’ wrestling with Duggy adapting his skills as he reached his 40s. Despite his age and having to deal with this new style of wrestling Duggy continued to enjoy success before Father Time eventually caught up with him and younger opponents came to dominate the sport which had become a huge success at home and abroad. Duggy’s prowess and the popularity of wrestling even saw him make a trip to Australia and New Zealand which coincided with the Great Britain rugby league tour in 1938 as well as tours to mainland Europe and the USA.
In the first two parts, Bell has the gift of access to some of Duggy’s journals and war diaries, which are woven seamlessly into the narrative. They provide a warmth and generosity of spirit that deliver a glimpse of this gentle giant, but on the other hand also give a first-hand account of the horrors of life on the frontline during the First World War. For the third part, Bell continues the story without the ‘voice’ of Duggy, who never documented his time in the world of ‘All-In’ wrestling. However, Bell’s research provides the readers with tales of Duggy’s later career that saw him travel the globe to promote the sport. Indeed, Bell doesn’t tell Duggy’s tale in isolation, as there is context provided in terms of his Huddersfield teammates, the First World War, the realities of working class life and wrestling post his retirement and subsequent death.
Like Duggy and his incredible range of talents, this book will appeal across a range of readers, with rugby league, wrestling and military aficionados all able to take something from this quite fascinating story. Douglas Clark – indeed a Man of All Talents.
(Pitch Publishing Ltd. October 2020. Paperback 256 pages)