Len Shackleton

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Len Shackleton
Personal information
Full name Leonard Francis Shackleton
Date of birth 3 May 1922
Place of birth Bradford, West Yorkshire, England
Date of death 27 November 2000 (aged 78)
Place of death Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, England
Playing position Inside Forward/Outside Left
Youth career
?? Bradford Schools
?? Kippax United
1938–1939 Arsenal
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1939–1946 Bradford Park Avenue 217 (171)
1946–1948 Newcastle United 57 (25)
1948–1957 Sunderland 348 (101)
Total 622 (297)
National team
1948–1954 England 5 (1)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

† Appearances (goals)

Leonard Francis Shackleton, (3 May 1922 in Bradford – 27 November 2000) was an English footballer of the post-World War II period. Known as the Clown Prince of Soccer, he is generally regarded as one of English football's finest ever entertainers.[1]

Early career[edit]

A boyhood Bradford City fan,[1] his career started at Arsenal where he was signed as an amateur and was employed as a member of the club's ground staff during the summer of 1938. He made one appearance for Arsenal's A team in the Southern League, scoring one goal. However, on the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 he was released by the club. Following a couple of trial games, he signed his first professional contract with Bradford Park Avenue in August 1940.[2]

He came to the attention of the talent scouts by scoring 171 goals[3] in six years of wartime football at Bradford PA. As part of Second Division Newcastle United's plan to spend their way to promotion at the start of the 1946–47 Season, they bought Shackleton for £13,000. He scored six goals on his debut in Newcastle's record 13 – 0 defeat of Newport County.[4] However, his individualistic approach came into conflict with the authorities at St. James' Park. Newcastle's captain Joe Harvey himself was quoted as saying "Newcastle would never win anything with him in the team".[2]

Journalist Malcolm Hartley, who wrote a history of the Bradford team, wrote of Shackleton: "Apart from the adhesive ball control and breathtaking body swerve, Shack could hit a ball. His slender legs could crack the ball like a Bofors gun."


In February, 1948, after less than two years with Newcastle, he was signed to their local rivals Sunderland for a then-record fee of £20,500. Shackleton was adored by Sunderland fans and he was known to prefer Sunderland to his previous club, once remarking: "I'm not biased when it comes to Newcastle – I don't care who beats them!"[5]

During games he frequently exhibited behaviour which pleased many of his fans, though upset much of the football establishment, and some in the game thought his antics to be "unsportsman-like". On one occasion, 2–1 up against Arsenal with 5 minutes to go, he dribbled the ball into The Gunners' penalty area before putting his foot on it, pretending to comb his hair while looking at his watch. Other examples include mocking opposition full-backs by playing one-twos with the corner flag, literally sitting on the ball to torment defenders who couldn't dispossess him, and teasing a beaten goalkeeper by putting his foot on the ball on the goal line.[1]

One of his contemporaries remarked: "Once in possession, and few can match his dexterity at bringing the ball under control, the ball becomes his slave. All the skills of inside forward play – dribbling, feinting, correct positioning and accurate passing are his to command."[6] He was also adept at back heeling penalty kicks into the goal.[7]

While playing for Sunderland, Shackleton played cricket for Wearmouth Colliery and for Northumberland in the 1948 Minor Counties Championship.[8]

His genius and humour was also evident on the cricket field. At Wearmouth CCC he would entertain the crowd by pretending to miss slip catches, then looking behind him as if the ball had gone to the boundary, before producing the ball from his pocket.

Shackleton scored 101 goals in 348 games with Sunderland, but despite their high spending and his own outstanding skills his team's fortunes were inconsistent and he never reached a cup final, though he did make two semi-finals during his spell, in 1955 and 1956.

His highest league finishes with Sunderland were 3rd in 1950 and 4th in 1955, meaning that his playing career ended without a major trophy to his name.

In 2011, he was voted by Sunderland fans for a place in Sunderland Solid Gold XI.[9]

International career[edit]

Selectors always viewed the rebellious Shackleton with distrust, and once when challenged over his continued snubbing by a journalist the reply was "we play at Wembley, not the London Palladium."[2] As it was, he gained 5 international caps for England between 1948 and 1954. His one goal was scored with a chip against the then World Champions West Germany in December 1954, the last England goal scored by a Sunderland player until Darren Bent's goal against Switzerland in September 2010 .[10] England boss Walter Winterbottom would tell of his unsuccessful attempts to 'tame' him for the England set up – "If only Len would come half-way to meet the needs of the team there wouldn't be many to touch him."

Later life[edit]

Shackleton was forced into retirement in September 1957 after suffering an ankle injury, and became a journalist.[5]

On announcing his retirement he famously threw a penny into the air and caught it on his instep before flicking into the air and catching it in his chest pocket in front of watching journalists.

Shackleton was famous both on and off the field for his sense of humour. He used his nickname, "The Clown Prince of Soccer", in 1956 for his autobiography. One chapter of that book was The Average Director's Knowledge of Football. It consisted of a single blank page.[5]

While at Sunderland he played for Wearmouth Colliery in the Durham Senior League.

He also played cricket for Lidget Green in the Bradford League, and for Northumberland in the Minor Counties League.

He died on 27 November 2000, at Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria.


Chumbawamba included a song entitled "Song for Len Shackleton" on their 2002 album Readymades


  1. ^ a b c "BBC SPORT | FOOTBALL | Len Shackleton: Clown Prince". BBC News. 2000-11-29. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  2. ^ a b c "Len Shackleton". Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  3. ^ Slater, Gary (2000-12-04). "UniBond League: Park Avenue to honour Shackleton with memorial". Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  4. ^ The Times, 7 October 1946, Association Football Newcastle's 13 Goals
  5. ^ a b c Malam, Colin (15 August 2005). Clown Prince of Soccer?: The Len Shackleton Story. Highdown. ISBN 1-905156-08-1. 
  6. ^ Dykes, Garth (2000). All the Lads. Great Britain: Sunderland AFC. ISBN 1-899538-15-1. 
  7. ^ The 50 greatest North strikers The Chronicle, 26 June 2011
  8. ^ "Player profile: Len Shackleton". CricketArchive. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  9. ^ "Solid Gold XI". Sunderland AFC. 5 March 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  10. ^ "Player Profile". Englandfc.com. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 

External links[edit]