Ernest “Ernie” Blenkinsop joined the Tigers in October 1921 from his local Barnsley League village side in Cudworth, an historic turnpike village surrounded by coal mining and railways by the time Ernie was born. City manager Percy Lewis had used his links as former Barnsley manager to chart Blenkinsop’s progress, who was also interesting Doncaster Rovers when City claimed his signature in return for £100 and a barrel of beer. Joining at the age of 19, Blenkinsop had already spent six years working in Brierley Colliery and had narrowly avoided death in a rockfall, so the prospect of earning £5 per week as a professional footballer was no doubt appealling. Ernie had been a forward as a teenager but had converted to left back by the time he joined the Tigers. He competed with Teessider Matt Bell for the first team left back role but Bell’s consistency meant that Ernie made only three starts in his first season, two in December 1921 and a third the following April against The Wednesday.
The 1922/23 season started with Bell again chosen as first choice left back but Blenkinsop was proving himself a talented full back in the reserves, combining stout defending with an ability to start attacks. In November 1922 a thigh injury to Bell allowed manager Lewis to give Blenkinsop his first extended run in the City senior side. While the Tigers’ form was poor and Lewis was on the verge of being replaced, Blenkinsop immediately impressed and within two months and eight starts he was attracting the attention of other clubs. The Tigers’ financial state meant that cashing in was inevitable and in January 1923 Ernie transferred to Second Division rivals Sheffield Wednesday, then simply known as The Wednesday, for £1,500. One that got away.
Blenkinsop’s influence on The Wednesday was immediate and lasting. Managed by Robert Brown, the Owls were languishing towards the foot of the Second Division table in early 1923. By 1925/26 The Wednesday had been transformed into a Second Division title winning side with Ernie missing only one league game all season and scoring four times (out of a total of five goals in his entire career). Blenkinsop remained first choice left back for the next five seasons as The Wednesday – renamed Sheffield Wednesday in 1929 – won the First Division title twice in 1929 and 1930 and also reached the 1930 FA Cup Semi Final where they lost to Huddersfield, the same season that Hull City reached the same stage and lost to Arsenal. Wednesday finished 3rd in the First Division table three consecutive times between 1931 and 1933, with Blenkinsop again at the heart of the team. By the time Ernie left Wednesday in March 1934 he had made 425 senior starts and was enshrined as a club legend.
In March 1934, with Ernie now appoaching his 32nd birthday, Liverpool paid £6,500 for his services and appointed him club captain. Blenkinsop stayed at Liverpool for nearly four years but a cartilage injury suffered in November 1935 kept him out of the side for several months. Another injury sustained in 1936 kept him out of the side once again and in November 1937 he was released by the Reds having made 71 starts. He joined Cardiff City, a Third Division South side, but injuries meant his appearances remained sporadic and he gave up playing in the 1938 close season. He was appointed to the Cardiff coaching staff for the 1938/39 season but left after a year and returned to Sheffield where he worked in an Iron Foundry during World War Two. During the War he also played in wartime fixtures for Buxton, Halifax Town, Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford City. After the war he owned and managed two pubs in the Sheffield area. the Mason’s Arms at Crookes and the Sportsman’s Inn at Crosspool, while also contributing articles on various footballing subjects to the local Sheffield press. On 24 April 1969 Ernie died at the Sportsman’s Inn while serving a customer.
Blenkinsop’s excellence at The Wednesday soon attracted international recognition. He made his England debut against France in Paris in May 1928 and started the next 25 consecutive England internationals. He was made England captain in 1931 and won his last international cap in April 1933 in a 2-1 defeat to Scotland at Hampden Park.
Ernie Blenkinsop was a giant of the English game in the 1920s and 1930s, he has been described as the finest footballer of his generation and the finest full back of all-time. While the part that Hull City played in his development was modest and rarely heralded, the role of his former City manager Percy Lewis was not forgotten by Ernie himself. When Lewis fell on hard times after an operation, Blenkinsop donated the proceeds of the sale of eight of his England caps to Lewis to get him back on his feet financially. What a legend.
Date/Place of Birth: 20 April 1902, Cudworth
Hull City First Game: 27 December 1921, Rotherham County A (Division Two), 19 years, 251 days old
Hull City Final Game: 26 December 1922, Southampton A (Division Two), 20 years, 250 days old
Cudworth Village (1919-1921), Hull City (1921-1923), Sheffield Wednesday (1923-1934), Liverpool (1934-1937), Cardiff City (1937-1938)
Hull City Record
Career: 11 apps, 0 goalsErnie Blenkinsop