THEY are hardly household names in the town today but the late Joe McClure and Billy Elliott are so far the only two Workington-born footballers to have played for England.

Strangely, their names have never been perpetuated on trophies or street names, which is an uncharacteristic reaction from an area which habitually reveres its sporting heroes.

In the past 12 months, Brian Edgar and Ike Southward have been, rightly, inducted to Workington Town’s Hall of Fame and two more Town rugby legends, Billy Ivison and Gus Risman, have had new streets named after them.

Additionally, permanent tribute was paid some years ago to great Scot Bill Shankly, through the naming of the Shankly lounge at Borough Park, the ground where he coached Workington Reds before taking Liverpool FC onto the world stage.

So what happened to the memories of centre half Joe McClure of Everton, capped once for England in 1931, and of flying winger Billy Elliott of West Bromwich Albion and England, who was capped twice and was on many other occasions the understudy for the great Stanley Matthews?

It may be that their exploits were dimmed because they reached the pinnacles of their careers a long way from home, in the pre-television era, with media interest in West Cumberland very subdued, and years before everybody started getting confused about what was sport and what was showbiz.

There may be an additional reason why Joe McClure’s name is not up there with the other heroes of his home town.

When McClure’s career took off, he virtually abandoned his wife and four children (three of them girls) back home in Workington during the hungry 1920s.

His wife Martha, who refused to divorce him, struggled to make ends meet and was forced to go out to work full-time as a school cook and later kitchen manageress. She died in 1968, the year she retired from work.

Joe McClure played centre half behind one of the greatest strikers in English football, the incomparable and record-breaking Dixie Dean. But today the few mementoes of Joe McClure’s football career are kept in a Tesco carrier bag by his son, Peter, in his home at Poole Road, Salterbeck.

Those include the cap he was awarded against Canada in the England tour of 1931.

For a reason so far unexplored, McClure’s name does not appear on the official list of England internationals. But Peter McClure has the cap and the photograph, and that is good enough for him.

McClure, who was tall and strong, played for Egremont FC and then Wallsend. He lodged in the town while training to be a welder. Everton spotted him and signed him on apprentice forms in 1929, and he was with them for four seasons in the old English first and second divisions before he was sold to Brentford.

Joe died around 1970 in Derbyshire. And the youngest of his 10 siblings, Mrs Amy Meldrum, formerly of Casson Road, Salterbeck, died earlier this year at the age of 89. The family were all raised at the ‘bottom end’ of Workington, in Griffin Street and North Watt Street.

Widower Peter McClure, 71, says: “I am very proud of my dad’s achievements in football, and I am very proud to have some of the souvenirs of his career, including his England cap.

“But these are very bitter-sweet memories for me, because I would have been four when he left home, so I never really knew him as a father and I never saw him play football.

“But some of the lads I worked with at Mossbay steelworks said he was one hell of a tough player. My mother refused to divorce him and to give him the freedom to re-marry, but he met somebody else and had four more children. He came back to see us once or twice. I would have been eight or nine when I first remember him coming to see my mam at Holden Road at Salterbeck, and he always sent me a new leather football every Christmas. Believe me, a real football with leather panels was some present in those days.

“One of the last times I saw my dad was when he came to see me playing for Salterbeck FC in the 1960s. He was limping and walking with a stick. I wasn’t sure whether that was an old playing injury – he broke his leg in the FA Cup semi-final in 1933 and missed the final – or whether that was an injury he got in the second world war.

“He probably never earned more than £8 a week as a player and ended up as the bar steward of a club in Derbyshire.”

OUTSIDE HALF Billy Elliott, who captained West Brom at the peak of his career, was one of the fastest and most dangerous wingers of his era. He was born around 1918 to Walter and Nellie Elliott and brought up at Rose Hill, Harrington by his grandmother, Maggie.

He played briefly for Carlisle United, Wolves and Bournemouth before having his best years at West Bromwich Albion. But his best years coincided with the Second World War, so his matches in the big time and in an England shirt were curtailed.

Both his appearances for England were classed as wartime internationals, though the second was an official victory international against Scotland at Hampden Park in April, 1946, which was won by the Scots 1-0.

Billy made the team even though Matthews was fit, and played in a virtual who’s who of some of the greats of English football, including Billy Wright Joe Mercer, Len Shackleton, Tommy Lawton and Denis Compton.

Billy’s first cap was against Wales in Cardiff in May, 1944. England won 2-0.

Billy served in the army during World War Two and became its 100 yards sprint champion, in addition to which he played for the army in six European countries.

In the immediate post-war period, he was described by the Daily Mail in the following terms: “Sturdy and stocky, Elliott, a native of Cumberland, has great speed and a shot that can tear holes in goal netting. He would assuredly have played more frequently for England but for the brilliance of his contemporary, Stanley Matthews.”

Billy settled in the West Bromwich area and married a local girl, Ivy. He died before his 50th birthday while holidaying in Tenerife.

Billy and Ivy had twin daughters, Athalie and Carol. Carol is married to former Workington Reds defender Brian Wood. The Woods were in West Cumbria earlier this year to help celebrate the golden wedding anniversary of Derrick and Elinor Huddart of Main Road, High Harrington, Mrs Huddart being a full cousin to Billy Elliott.

n PETER McClure would dearly like to have returned to him the championship medal awarded to his dad in either 1931 or 1932. He lent it to his school headteacher in the 1940s and it was never returned.

If anyone has the inscribed medal and would like to return it to Peter, they should contact Phil Cram at the Times & Star on 01900 607631.