Want to know who is Britain’s Greatest Ever Sportsman?

Max Woosnam may not be a household name these days but he has a great claim to being Britain’s Greatest Ever Sportsman. There are those that say that talent can get you so far, but Max Woosnam’s list of achievements suggest that some people are just born with a gift, and his gift was sporting prowess.

woosnamWoosnam was Born September 6th 1892 to a clergymen and his family in Liverpool but he spent much of his early years in the village of Aberhafesp Mid Wales. As he grew older Max attended Winchester college where he captained the cricket and golf teams whilst also playing on the football and squash team. His first sporting achievement would follow where he scored 144 and 33 not out for an all Public School XI Cricket team against the M.C.C at Lords.

After finishing his time at Winchester he enrolled in Cambridge University in 1911 where went on to represent the university in just the 5 sports. Cricket, Lawn Tennis, Real Tennis, Football a side which he would captain and Golf going on to be a Cambridge Blue, awarded for representing the university at the highest possible level in 4 of these 5 sports. The One he didn’t represent them at as a Blue… Golf, where he played off scratch.

If all this is starting to make you a little bit annoyed at just how much better a young Max Woosnam was at almost all sports than you are then this is only the beginning of his sporting Journey, upon graduating from Cambridge in 1914 he joined leading amateur side Corinthians who were one of the greatest amateur sides of the day and enjoyed a brief stint at Chelsea FC whoever they are, as an amateur, making three appearances. He was on tour in Brazil with Corinthians in 1914 when the First World War broke out, no sooner had his team arrived in Brazil they were turning around to go back home, shortly after which where Max enlisted in the Army. He served with distinction on the Western Front and in the Gallipoli campaigns but even in the army his love of sport was well known and he played in numerous football fixtures between the enlisted Corinthians players and command, also an Military vs Queens Club tennis match.

woosnamtennisAfter leaving the Army he resumed his life and his career with Corinthians before moving to Manchester and signing as an amateur with Manchester City in 1919. Woosnam was a solid center half who went on to captain the side at the behest of his teammates many of whom were professionals, a remarkable achievement for an amateur sportsman. He was offered professional terms at Manchester City but refused as he considered the idea of professional sport “vulgar”. Despite having a day job, which Woosnam refused to give up concessions to his sporting prowess had to be made by his employers. After a shock 3-0 defeat to Leicester in the 1920 FA cup 3rd round which Woosnam missed due to work commitments the fans blamed his then employers Crossley Brothers who from that point onwards ensured he was available to play. In 1920 he joined the British Olympic Tennis team where he and his partner Noel Turnbull won gold in the Men’s doubles. A day later in he won Silver in the mixed doubles. All of this while still working a day job and being on Manchester City’s books. Woosnam was offered captaincy of the British Olympic soccer team for the Olympics but refused because of his commitment to the tennis team.

In 1921 he reached the Final’s of Wimbledon in 1921 in the mixed doubles and won the Men’s doubles of that year. In late 1921 he captained England’s Davis Cup team in America which caused him to miss the opening of the 1921-22 season. It was in America that he added to his Legend, whilst at a party at Charlie Chaplin’s house, Woosnam had little time for the need to bow to Chaplin’s ego and the two took a very rapid dislike to one another. After thrashing Chaplain at tennis, Woosnam proceeded to challenge the greatest film star of the age to a game of table tennis. Woosnam not only beat Chaplin but humiliated him by using a butter knife instead of a bat. Woosnam got tired of Chaplin’s incessant whining at that point and threw the fully clothed star into his own pool. Chaplin retreated to his bedroom and refused to leave until all the guests at the party had left.

woosyHis impressive feat’s on the football field were rewarded in 1922 when he was called up to the England team and named captain for an international fixture against Wales becoming one of the few amateur players to be capped by England and even fewer as captain. His career was dealt a fatal blow in the 1922-23 season as Woosnam suffered a broken leg which would ultimately be what would drive him to retirement. After coming back from the Injury he had been robbed of his pace and although he remained committed to sport reaching the semi-finals of Wimbledon in the mixed doubles one more time ultimately his need for perfection forced upon him the decision to retire in 1925 at the age of 33.

His retirement wasn’t devoid of sporting prowess or success however, he played football Locally for Northwich Victoria, making his debut in a 3-0 win in a derby match against local rivals Witton Albion on Christmas day in 1924 (He was still on City’s books at this time). He would continue to play sporadically for Northwich until retiring from football completely in 1926. Even after that he continued to demonstrate excellence achieving a maximum break of 147 in snooker and he was named captain of Sandiway Golf Club in 1929. After his sporting career was over he turned his attention to business and after moving to London was elected to the board of chemical giant ICI in 1940.

Max Woosnam was a true sporting Polymath and possibly the greatest all-round sportsman in British History. He died in 1965 of respiratory complications, a life long smoker Woosnam passed away at the age of 72. If he had lived today then more people would know the secret history of Britain’s Greatest ever sportsman, instead only few know his name and fewer his remarkable achievements.

The book detailing his life All Round Genius by Mick Collins is available now, at bargain prices!

Header Image courtesy MCFC.co.uk Top Left courtesy bbc, centre right telegraph, bottom left doingthe92.co.uk we thank them dearly as photos of this guy are very very very rare.