Saints Official Historian David Bull remembers Don Featherstone, the club’s physio in the 1950s, who has just died.
Main pic: Physio Don Featherstone manipulates the knee of full-back Bill Ellerington, while manager George Roughton looks on.
Don Featherstone, who has died aged 95, was the club’s physio at a troublesome time in the Saints’ history.
After war-service in the Royal Armoured Corps, Don was practising physiotherapy in his native London, hoping ‘very much to get into sport.’ He had spent a couple of years at the Athletes Clinic in Harley Street; and then, when AIK Stockholm visited London in November 1949, to play Chelsea and Arsenal, he acted as their physio during their stay.
For the 1950-51 season, Don was the first-team trainer to Hounslow Town in the Corinthian League and was writing a column, in Topical Times, on sports injuries. When that magazine received an advert from Southampton FC for a physio, the editor shared it with Don in advance of publication.
Thus given a head-start, Don dispatched a one-page letter of application-cum-cv. He didn’t’ mess about. He told the club that only two Hounslow players had missed a match through injury and the team had gone 17 weeks, unchanged – not bad, he suggested, for a part-time physio, treating injuries two evenings a week and an occasional Sunday morning. Just think what he might achieve, working full-time. Don told the Southampton directors that he’d appreciate a club-house and ‘a salary on a level with the basic pay of First Team players.’
He was appointed forthwith and started work in August 1951. It was an odd set-up, under Sid Cann, a former Manchester City and Charlton Athletic player who had qualified as a masseur. He had been Southampton’s masseur-cum-assistant trainer for three seasons, until the manager Bill Dodgin left in 1949. Of three internal candidates, Cann landed the vacancy. But trainer Sam Warhurst, an unsuccessful applicant, was still there. A former Saints goalkeeper, he didn’t have a lot of time for Featherstone, with his ‘new-fangled’ ways. At least Don felt that he got on well with the players, including the all-powerful captain, Joe Mallett – the “Godfather”, as Don saw it.
It was Mallett who tipped Don off about an odd development in December 1951. The side had been having a poor run, including an 8-2 defeat at Bury, when Cann resigned. So the Board apparently decided that, while they no longer wanted him as manager, it would be good to retain him as the physio, in which case Featherstone would have to go. Cann, to his credit, was having none of that.
So Don remained until 1955, when the chairman advised him that, despite his ‘excellent work’, the club’s ‘difficult financial situation’ required ‘the utmost economy’, which included dispensing with his services. Don was not without work – he had a private clinic round the corner from The Dell – but when Ted Bates became the manager in October 1955, Don did ask for his job back.
Bates continued to plead that the club had no money. Before long, Don realised that his dismissal ‘was the best thing that ever happened’ to him. He was soon writing books on physiotherapy and then branched out into military history and war-gaming, a field in which he would become an internationally-renowned author, with 40-odd titles to his name.
DONALD FREDERICK FEATHERSTONE
20 March 1918 – 3 September 2013