James Joseph Crabtree (1895-1965) was born in the Lancashire town of Clitheroe in December 1895 and died in Huddersfield, Yorkshire in 1965. An amateur international goalkeeper, Crabtree played 77 games in the Football League either side of the First World War, during which he served as an officer in the British Army and won the Military Cross.
Crabtree began his career playing at Stonyhurst College, a public school located in the Ribble Valley, before turning out for Clitheroe Amateurs. After some impressive performances, Crabtree was invited to play for Blackburn Rovers and would make 10 amateur appearances for the club before the First World War. He would also win one amateur international cap in 1914, playing in England’s 9-1 thrashing of Wales at Home Park, Plymouth on 7 February.
After playing one match as a wartime guest for Preston North End, Crabtree returned to Ewood Park following the armistice, but would subsequently find playing opportunities severely restricted. In June 1920, Crabtree signed for Third Division North side Rochdale, where he would establish himself as first-choice keeper and play 60 games in two seasons. During the 1922/23 season, Crabtree even played at inside-forward in a match against Hartlepool, scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory.
In February 1924, Crabtree left Rochadle to join Accrington Stanley but would struggle to establish himself at the Lancashire club. After playing just six first-team games, Crabtree left Stanley and retired from the game following a spell at Colne Town. Crabtree later worked as a linesman in the Football League and a Lancashire Combination referee, undertaking the former while still an active non-league player. He would also play club cricket for Barrow CC.
First World War Service
Private 2520 Crabtree enlisted in the 1/5th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment on 5 September 1914 and underwent training before embarking for France on 11 February 1915. Having quickly shown his leadership qualities, Crabtree soon won promotion and was finally recommended for officer training. On 9 October 1915, Crabtree was commissioned as a second lieutenant and attached to the 1st Loyal North Lancs.
Wounded during fighting at Morval on 25 September 1916, Crabtree spent time in hospital before returning to his unit in December. The battalion would then see action during the Battle of Arras and the Third Battle of Ypres. On 26 September 1917, Crabtree was involved in fighting that would eventually lead to the awarding of the Military Cross. Notified in The London Gazette on 10 January 1918, his citation read:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When his company commander had been killed and the other officer wounded, he led his company on and captured his objective in spite of heavy machine gun fire. He afterwards reorganised the company, which had suffered many casualties, and successfully consolidated his position. During the three days which followed, his splendid cheeriness and disregard for personal safety very greatly inspired his men.
Four weeks after the action, Crabtree was wounded for a second time and returned to Britain. He would remain in there until the end of the war, by which time he had risen to the rank of Captain. In 1919, Crabtree spent three months in Central Asia before finally leaving the army to resume his career in football.
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