From Gallipoli to Wembley
The Remarkable Story of Harry Cook, Everton's 'Blind Masseur'
Gallipoli, June 1915 – Private Harry Cook of the East Lancashire Regiment came into close combat with the enemy:
“I fired at the Turk: missed. The Turk threw back a grenade which exploded a yard or so in front of me. Everything went black – I was blind.”
This life changing moment would lead 18-year-old Harry on the road to a “hands-on” role in three Football League Championships and an FA Cup victory. Richard “Harry” Cook was born in January 1897 and turned out as an amateur forward at Clitheroe FC whilst dreaming of playing for Everton in the F.A. Cup final. Gallipoli seemed to have shattered his dreams until he found himself in September 1915 at St Dunstan’s, Sir Arthur Pearson’s rehabilitation home for blind serviceman in Regent’s Park. Here Harry learnt that blindness was “not an affliction but a handicap which could be overcome. Soon he was joining in blindfolded “shoot-out” matches for the “St Dunstaners” and even played in a match against Arsenal. Spotting Harry’s potential staff persuaded him to re-train as a “Blind Masseur” (physiotherapist) and it was whilst learning this new profession that he fell in love with one of his nurses, Kate Penfold, who would later become his wife.
For Harry the shattered dream of playing for Everton had now been replaced by a desire to work for them as a masseur, an ambition he attained when he was taken on as the team’s physiotherapist in August 1923. Such was his skill and memory that he came to recognise every Everton player by touch. Knowing this, the players would attempt to trick Harry but he always recognised his “patient” – even an attempt to pass off the tea-lady as a player failed.
In 1933 Harry achieved his life time ambition of walking out of the Wembley tunnel with the Everton team on F.A. Cup Final day. After the game, as he celebrated Everton’s 3-0 victory over Manchester City, Harry realised that he too had triumphed over what had happened to him at Gallipoli eighteen years before.
In 1939, with Everton the reigning League Champions, World War 2 brought a premature end to Harry’s Goodison career. He continued in private practice, on the Wirral, before taking up a post in 1945 at Hackney Hospital in London. Tragically he would die within weeks of his retirement on 25 February 1961.
And what became of St Dunstan’s? The charity has continued to assist people who have suffered loss of vision during, or after, military service. It is now known as Blind Veterans UK (www.blindveterans.org.uk) with a motto that Harry would have endorsed wholeheartedly: “Life Beyond Sight Loss”.