BY Vince Cooper

Whilst followers of Blackpool have a number of heroes to look back on in the club’s almost 140-year history with the likes of Sir Stanley Matthews, Jimmy Armfield and Alan Ball perhaps the standouts it’s necessary to go back 90 years to discover the first superstar for The Seasiders. That man was Jimmy Hampson, to this day the club’s record goalscorer.

Hampson, who was also recognised by England during his career, regularly topped the scoring charts for the Lancashire side over a ten-year period before his career, and indeed his life, came to a tragic and untimely end.

James Hampson was born in Little Hulton, Salford on the 23rd March 1906. Having played football at his school, Ogden Primitive Methodists he followed his father by working in the mines and played for Walkden Park before moving on to Little Hulton St John’s where his goalscoring prowess brought him to the attention of league clubs. After trials with Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers saw both clubs turn down the chance to sign him he joined Nelson, then of the 3rd Division in 1925.

Jimmy is second from the right in the front town in this Nelson team photo

Having been called ‘one of the most promising players on the books’ by the club before the 1925-26 season he was soon promoted to the first team for The Admirals and found the net an impressive 13 times in 20 starts during his first season including three successive hat-tricks.

He followed that up with 23 goals in 35 games in the 1926-27 campaign and was proving just as prolific when 1927-28 got underway with six strikes in the first nine games. Blackpool, who had sold the prolific Joe Lane to Birmingham for a club-record £3,600 beat off other interested clubs and spent £1,000 of the proceeds to sign Hampson with the deal completed in a Nelson cinema when Seasiders secretary Edward Crabtree, having agreed the fee, persuaded the manager to bring the player out into the foyer to sign.

The forward hit the ground running at his new club, scoring their only goal in a 3-1 defeat at Notts County on his debut and he followed up by giving them the lead against Manchester City and then popping up with the equaliser after they had fallen behind 2-1 a week later.

A week later and he was at it again with a last-minute equaliser at Hull City and Hampson would go on to score an impressive 31 goals in 32 games as Blackpool clung on to their 2nd Division status despite a leaky defence that conceded 103 times.

The Hampson tally included two hat tricks and a four-timer against Nottingham Forest.

Small for a front man at just over 5ft 6, Hampson had what was described as ‘a sturdy build’ and he relied on speed and anticipation, as well as an innate ability to be in the right place at the right time.

He did even better in his second season with the club, finding the net 40 times in 41 starts. He was chaired off the pitch after a 2-0 win over Stoke City and then followed this up by scoring five in the next home game against Reading. That 1928-29 season finished with The Seasiders in 8th place but the following campaign would prove even better, both for club and player.

1929-30 began for Blackpool with a home game against Millwall and Hampson found the net in a 4-3 win. And he just kept on scoring, finishing the season with a league-leading 45 of his team’s 98 goals as they took the 2nd Division title by three points from Chelsea.

In Blackpool orange 

In the top flight, Blackpool’s defence again proved the problem with the team conceding a record 125 times. Hampson scored 32 league goals, finishing as the club’s top scorer for a fourth successive season but The Seasiders went into their last-day clash with Manchester City needing a point to ensure survival.

Blackpool fell behind early then a Jimmy Oxberry goal levelled but when they went 2-1 down they  looked doomed until Hampson set up Albert Watson to level for a second time for the hosts.

Thus despite Leeds winning their final day clash with Derby County 3-1 it was the Yorkshire club who joined Manchester United in falling out of the top flight with Watson’s strike described as a ‘£10,000 goal’ with the amount being the extra income the club would earn from being in the 1st Division.

If the club had been relegated there is every chance that they would have been forced to sell Hampson, clearly their star asset. There had been offers in the past with Millwall and Derby County among those placing bids whilst Arsenal were said to have offered £10,000. But survival meant that the club could hang on to to the man who had been called ‘The Darling of Blackpool’.

1930-31 also saw Hampson’s scoring exploits (which included a new record for the fastest player to a century of league goals, achieving the feat in just 97 games) gain him international recognition for the first time.

Picked for the England team that took on Ireland at Bramall Lane, he was set up by Liverpool’s Gordon Hodgson in the 25th minute to score the second goal in a 5-1 win. It came as little surprise when he was picked for his country’s next match, against Wales at Wrexham and he went one better, scoring twice in a 4-0 win.

Despite those two strikes in his first two matches for England he was left out for the next match, away to Scotland although it was Dixie Dean who took his place, showing how fierce the competition for the centre-forward spot was.

A member of the England team

Aston Villa’s Tom Waring became the first choice at centre-forward for a while, and it either him or Dean until the December 1932 match against Austria’s so-called ‘Wunderteam’ at Stamford Bridge saw Hampson given another chance.

Stamford Bridge before England’s game against Austria

He could do little more to prove his credentials, scoring twice inside half an hour as England prevailed 4-3 in a match that many felt would prove the country’s biggest-ever challenge against an overseas team on home soil.

Ready to shoot

Hampson proved a constant threat that day to a team that had been exceptionally well coached by Jimmy Hogan and had swept all before them on the continent.

Jimmy’s England caps. Now the proud property of Blackpool

It is somewhat mystifying therefore that after 5 goals in 3 matches Hampson was never picked for his country again. George Hunt of Spurs came in for the next game against Scotland and kept his place, despite England losing, for the summer internationals in Italy and Switzerland after which Jack Bowers, George Camsell and others were given chances in front of Hampson As well as the international caps Hampson represented the Football League four times scoring nine goals including a hat-trick against the Irish League and he played for the League against a combined Irish/Welsh XI in a match held to in aid of the King George V jubilee trust fund at Goodison Park in May 1935 scoring five times in a 10-2 win

Undaunted by the international snub, Hampson carried on scoring regularly for his club. He again top-scored in 1931-32 bagging 23 goals but defending again proved the Achilles heel with over a century of goals let in and Blackpool again claiming safety by a single point.

The 1932-33 season proved a tough one for Hampson and even tougher for his club. The centre-forward saw his goals tally fall to 18 in 35 starts – still far and away the team’s top scorer – but they only managed 69 goals in total while conceding 85 and finishing bottom of the table to lose their 1st Division status.

In fact Hampson had been dropped was when he was reinstated it was on the right wing as the club experimented with defender Phil Watson. However he was back leading the attack for the last couple of games, although it was too late to save his team from the drop.

Back in the second sphere and with a new manager in Sandy MacFarlane all was not right between the Bloomfield Road club and Hampson. He initially turned down a new contract and although this was eventually resolved an injury limited him to just 21 games in which he scored 13 times – still enough to finish top scorer for the seventh consecutive season – as The Seasiders finished the campaign mired in the mid-table mediocrity of 11th place.

1933-34 would be the last time Hampson donned the famous orange shirt. But this wasn’t due to moving on, it was because the club changed their kit to dark blue and light blue stripes. They wouldn’t revert to the colour they are now so well associated with for five years.

A hat-trick in the against Bury in the 1934-35 season opener seemed to give notice that Hampson, still just 28, was right back to his best but he soon hit a scoreless streak which saw MacFarlane drop him and the club admit that they would be prepared to sell him. Returning to the team in February, he came right back to form to finish the season as top scorer yet again with 21 goals as Blackpool finished on the heels of the promoted clubs in 4th.

Bobby Finan

MacFarlane was replaced by Joe Smith before the start of the 1935-36 season but two years previously he had recruited centre-forward Bobby Finan from Scottish club Yoker Athletic and the new manager went with Finan to lead the line when Hampson was injured and forced to miss the start of the new season.

Finan began racking up the goals to such an extent that when he was fit, Hampson couldn’t regain his spot at the head of the attack having to settle for the inside-left position when he did get back into the line-up.

Hampson scored a mere six times in 21 matches that season whilst Finan found the net 34 times as Blackpool finished 10th.

However the Hampson/Finan partnership worked well in 1936-37. So well in fact that, after their team turned down a Manchester United offer of £10,000 for the pair they fired 44 goals between them (of which Hampson got 16) as Blackpool finished runners-up to Leicester City to regain their 1st Division status.

Back in the top flight for 1937-38, Hampson struggled to find the net with his usual regularity and scored just four times in his first 18 games. Although he was still proving effective for the team it was more in the role of creator of chances than scorer of them.

In early January 1938 Hampson’s wife Betty gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy who was sadly still-born and she was reported to be in danger herself, seriously ill in a Blackpool nursing home.

On Saturday the 8th he visited his wife in the morning and, after first not wanting to leave her, was persuaded to join his teammates for trip to Birmingham for the FA Cup 3rd Round tie. With seven minutes remaining his quick throw in caught the home defence napping and set up the game-winning goal for T. W. Jones.

On Sunday Hampson again visited Betty at the nursing home and then he went to see her once again on the Monday. He didn’t want to go on the fishing trip he had planned and Betty later admitted; “I didn’t want him to go. I nearly stopped him but didn’t want to spoil his holiday”. So after returning to the boarding house the couple owned in Blackpool’s South Shore, Jimmy went, along with four friends and the son of one, to take the yacht ‘Defender’ out on the River Wyre off Fleetwood.

As their boat was leaving the harbour he was heard shouting to the occupants in another boat; ‘who have we got in the next round?’ ‘Aston Villa’ came the reply.

The trip was one the footballer, a keen fisherman, took often but this time it ended in tragedy. During their return and as they were in the cockpit checking through their catch, the yacht collided with the trawler ‘Cameo’ and was quickly sunk.

The six were left hanging on to wreckage in an effort to keep afloat. Whilst four of them were rescued, Hampson and Harry Newsome were last seen clinging to an oar that was drifting out to sea. Their bodies, said to have been swept out into Morecambe Bay.

Newsome’s body was later recovered on a sandbank in the Wyre channel but Hampson’s, said to have been swept into Morecambe Bay, never was.

Blackpool manager Jimmy Smith made a statement after learning the shocking news. He said; “There will never be another Jimmy Hampson. Perhaps there were better players, but never one who was such a good fellow, clean living and decent, an example to juniors.

“He was a real sportsman in every sense of the word, and all we can say here is ‘God bless his memory.’”

St John’s Church

A memorial service for both Hampson and Newsome was held at St John’s Church Blackpool which Hampson’s wife listened in on the telephone from the nursing home where she was continuing her recovery. The church was packed with 1,000 people inside and at least the same amount on the street listening as the service was relayed through loudspeakers

Hampson played 361 times for Blackpool, scoring a tremendous 248 goals, a club record that is likely to stand forever whilst he also holds the club’s single season record with the 45 he amassed in 1929-30.

A fine cricketer with both Nelson C.C and Blackpool C.C. Jimmy’s younger brother Harry also had a professional career and also lost his life tragically early.

Born in 1918 Jimmy started out at Everton but never made a first-team appearance for The Toffees. The inside-forward moved to Southport then Sheffield United who he helped to promotion in 1938-39.

Harry enlisted in the Army at the outbreak of World War Two. He was evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940 and was serving with the Royal Armoured Corps when he contracted septicaemia from which he passed away in 1942 aged just 24.

Jimmy Hampson was one of the original inductees into the Blackpool F.C. Hall of Fame when it was opened by another club legend Jimmy Armfield in 2006 and as befits a man with his record he is still thought of with great respect by the club’s fans today