The Trials and Tribulations of Richard Askew
The ‘West Ham United Who’s Who’ book describes William Askew as “a steady performer and became something of a fixture in the Hammers' defence in the season leading up to the outbreak of the First World War.
But there’s more to this young man than meets the eye...
William Askew was first brought to the notice of West Ham United when he appeared in the Norwich City Reserve side against the east Londoners in a London Combination fixture at Upton Park on February 11, 1911. Birth records reveal he was christened William Richard Askew and born to parents William Charles and Jessie Askew on 22 May 1888 and his place of birth was Hackney, London.
It should be noted at this point in the story that William’s mother’s maiden name was ‘Leslie’. William Charles Askew, a stained glass artist, married Jessie Leslie in Bethnal Green in 1886. By the turn of the Century our twelve-year-old was living in the family home at Fulbourne Terrace, Walthamstow, London.
The youngster started his football journey with Xylonite F.C. in the Woodford and District League. He had first attracted notice in 1905 when, aged 17, he played at centre half for Gothic Football Club, the works team of a gas meter manufacturer based in Edmonton. A year later in September 1906 he joined Chadwell Heath Football Club in the Ilford League, however the 19-year-old amateur footballer’s career looked to be over before it had even started.
His football woes began in 1907 when playing for Chadwell Heath and tried to persuade a couple of his Gothic team-mates to join him. Gothic complained to the football authorities that their players were being approached without the club's prior consent. This practice, known as football poaching, was a very contentious issue at the time, and was in breach of FA Rule 38. An official enquiry was held where it was claimed that, amongst other things, Askew had forged the signature of one of the Gothic players on a league registration form.
On February 9, 1907, The Essex Guardian reported that, “the Chadwell Heath Football Club have got into hot water”. The Joint Committee of the London and Essex Football Associations announced their decision regarding charges made by the Gothic Football Club (Tottenham) against Chadwell Heath.
Their decisions were as follows;
1. That the charge of ‘poaching’ is not sustained.
2. That a player of the Gothic FC was offered 7 shillings and sixpence (37p) by the late honorary Secretary of the Chadwell Heath Football Club to play in an Essex Cup tie at Romford; the offer was refused.
3. That the Chadwell Heath Football Club is not properly constituted; and they are ordered forthwith to reconstitute themselves and to provide and keep the requisite set of books.
4. That the following player(s) be suspended for misconduct: W. Askew (Chadwell Heath Football Club) till the 31st of December 1908. (2 other players received lesser suspensions)
5. That the hon. Sec be warned off all grounds, of clubs affiliated to the Essex and London Associations and from taking part in football management.
6. Chadwell Heath FC will be fined £2. 2s.
As a result of the ruling, William Askew was now suspended for two years by the football authorities from playing football from 1st January 1907 to 31st December 1908.
Barely four-months into his suspension, there were glowing newspaper snippets’ circulating in the press on a promising player called William Leslie who was playing for London League Division One side Finchley FC. In the summer of 1908, the management at Southend United were casting their net far and wide in the recruitment of players for their Southern League and South Eastern League teams. Of the many professional footballers on the “open to engagement” list was William Leslie, a centre half-back from Finchley FC.
Leslie created such an impression on Robert “Bob” Jack the Shrimpers manager, that after watching him playing in the Hackney Marshes Sunday League he duly signed the amateur player on professional forms on August 24, 1908.
However, it wasn’t long before someone on the Roots Hall playing staff raised suspicions that he was the William Askew who was currently serving a ban. The Southend club immediately informed the appropriate authority and an inquiry was set up accordingly.
The November 25, 1908 edition of the ‘Athletic Chat’ reported on the details of the inquiry.
THE LESLIE CASE
AN EIGHT HOURS INQUIRY
One of the most, remarkable cases ever Investigated by a football commission engaged the attention of the Essex and London F.A. on Friday last. Two years ago a player named W. Askew was suspended for irregularities in connection with Chadwell Heath F.C. (Essex), now defunct.
Just recently it was discovered that the player, who was suspended from 1st January, 1907, to 31st December, 1908, had been playing during practically the whole of the period of his suspension, and moreover had signed as a professional for Southend United as Leslie, his mother's maiden name. Numerous players and officials of various clubs for which "Leslie" had played were examined, during the course of which much interesting information was gleaned respecting Sunday football. Eventually the commission, after an enquiry which altogether took nearly nine hours to unravel, promulgated the following findings :-
1. That W. Askew (alias Leslie, alias Hunt), having been suspended from 1st January 1907, to 31st December, 1908, played football for various clubs during practically the whole of that period, and having wilfully attempted to mislead the commission, is further suspended from 20th November, 1908, to 1st September, 1910.
2. That C.W. Todd, of Finchley and Southend United F.C.s, is Suspended until 30th April, 1909, for misconduct. (Todd admitted that he know Askew was under suspension and that "Leslie" was not his real name.)
3. That the action of the Southend United F.C. with reference to the matter is of an unsatisfactory nature, and the club is ordered to pay ten guineas.
4. That it is not proved that either Leyton, Clapton Argyle, or Finchley F.C.s had any knowledge that the player in question was under suspension.
5. That W. Leslie having been registered as a professional for the Southend United F.C., his real name being W. Askew, and he being under suspension, the facts be reported to the Football Association, Ltd.
Newspaper coverage also reported on Southend’s dilemma...
“There is not much smiling or satisfaction in the Southend camp this week, for the sensational suspension of our mysterious ‘Leslie’ has created great consternation. His discovery in Sunday football by Secretary Jack was considered to have introduced to the club its best asset, and William Askew, as his proper name is now known to be, has amply shown in his short period of service here that he possessed every attribute to ensure a brilliant future. His latest suspension is up till 1st September, 1910, and the club has ten guineas to pay through the misfortune of having played him. The fine inflicted upon the club is surprising and hardly warranted, seeing that, neither the directors nor the secretary had the slightest inkling of "Leslie's" real identity, and that when the rumour did arise as to his bona fides they made inquiry into the matter and reported to the Association”.
With no viable income to draw on in the football sense, Askew sort employment with the local Southend Borough Tramways Corporation. A month into his service, the traffic superintendent sort permission from the secretary of the Essex F.A. for Askew to assist the Corporations Tramway football club, who were members of the local Wednesday League but were affiliated with the Essex F.A. Not surprisingly the request was declined.
After serving his suspension in full, Askew’s football talents were still sort after and he signed professional forms for Norwich City in September 1910. Whilst at Carrow Road, both Manchester United and Middlesbrough kept tabs on his progress. At the end of his initial one-year contract with the Canaries he was placed on the transfer list and Aston Villa won the race of his signature in June 1911. However, he would soon change his claret and blue allegiance when he signed for West Ham United on 28 June 1912.
On the opening day of the new season, Askew made his Hammers debut in the 4-0 victory against Exeter City at the Boleyn Ground on 2 September 1912. He scored his first goal for the east London side in the 5-0 victory over Stoke City on Christmas Day 1912. An ever-present in the 1913-14 campaign and was made skipper for the Southern League side when Tommy Randall’s injuries made his appearances scarce.
With the outbreak of the Great War, he continued to help the club in the initial war-time season of 1915-16 by turning out 28 times in the London Combination. To underline the seriousness with which this makeshift tournament was regarded by the players he managed to get sent off twice! Danny Shea was also given his matching orders in the same campaign. Askew’s early bath came against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on 27 November 1915, for which he received a 14 day suspension. His second misdemeanour was against Chelsea in March 1916 for charging an opponent in the penalty area and giving away a spot-kick in the process. On both occasions the media reporting sided with the West Ham man, believing the occurrences were not generally considered deserving of the punishment. At the end of the 1915-16 season, Askew had clocked up 140 appearances, scoring 2 goals over four seasons.
With the war still raging in Europe and his playing days behind him, he once again found himself in front of a tribunal. In August 1916 at the Essex Appeals Tribunal he successfully appealed against conscription into the Armed Forces on conscientious grounds. He said that he had a moral objection to warfare and he thought he was doing better work by cultivating land as a smallholder having just over 10 acres at Chingford. The Tribunal granted him an exemption, conditional on doing work of national importance.
Less than a year later, Askew sadly passed away in the London Hospital, Whitechapel, on 24 May 1917. Cause of death by complications following an appendix operation 8 days previously.
William Richard (Leslie) Askew born Hackney, London 22 May 1888, died 24 May 1917, Whitechapel (aged 29).