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You are here: Home Newsletter Examiner #11 - July 1999 Babe Ruth Makes Waves at Arsenal
Babe Ruth Makes Waves at Arsenal
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #11 - July 1999
Written by Mike Ross   


Ed: Mike got this story from the horse's mouth - from Wilf himself. We are currently trying to confirm the exact date of the Babe's visit to Britain.

Back... back... back...

A short time before his final illness, probably in late 1947 or early 1948, during a visit to Britain, Babe Ruth was responsible for instigating a mini player insurrection which may at the time have led to a transformation of labour relations in British sport. There was no doubt as to the universality of Ruth's popularity and influence; as with Muhammad Ali today, Ruth's appeal knew no borders or boundaries. Former star footballer for Middlesbrough (The Boro) Wilf Mannion was greatly influenced by the words and thoughts of Ruth, so much so that he went on strike for higher wages. As a result he was close to being purchased by Oldham Athletic in a deal that fell through because of the high price tag on Mannion.
Wherever the Babe visited he was renown. "Even the kids in the seats knew him," soccer great Wilf Mannion recalled. "Everyone here talked about him for years and years and years." Ruth strolled down through the tunnel at the Arsenal Football Grounds in London to take a bow to the assembled crowd of 50,000 supporters, there for their Saturday soccer treat. On the way he was introduced to the great striker for Middlesbrough FC, Wilf Mannion, who by the end of an illustrious career had earned a prodigious 26 international caps for England. In baseball terms a bit like having performed in 26 World Series games. In those days and up until the 1970s such stars as Mannion were earning £8-£10 per week. Not a bad whack for a working man. Meanwhile Ruth was on nearly £1000 per during his earlier heyday, a period well before Mannion's revolt took place. Many of Ruth's fellow big leaguers could have easily taken home ten times that of a top British soccer star at any time during Ruth's career.
When Ruth asked and was told what the wages were for the likes of such stars as Mannion, "He could not believe it", recalled Wilf, now in his early 80s. "He looked at the stadium and saw 50,000 fans at the Arsenal and said, 'I don't know any professional players hanging out for that kind of money. Why don't you guys get together?' What Babe meant by get together was for the players to 'hold out'. He couldn't understand why we didn't fight for our rights." So the pair talked. "He put a bit of something in me," Wilf admitted. So there was Babe Ruth at the head of what turned out to be a one-man insurrection. "I went out for nine months. No-one would do it. Only me. Not one of the others came out with me."
"[Judge] Shawcross took my case to Parliament. I went down to London but everything got spoiled. Of all the things to happen, I had to go back home because my son was being born while I was away. That killed it." And so Wilf was beaten, out of money and all at once with a child to support. He went back to work for the same £10 and was lucky to get it while saving Middlesbrough from impending relegation. But the Babe came close to possibly altering the course of labour relations in Britain.


Last Updated on Monday, 06 April 2009 19:51