Refuge in Cambridge –
and in football
The Gallego Brothers
Five Gallego children were among 4,000 Basque niños who, after fleeing their war-torn country aboard the SS Habana, arrived in England on 23 May 1937.
They had left behind their mother Luisa, whose Republican husband had been killed while fighting the right-wing Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. It was less than a month since the bombs of Hitler’s Condor Legion warplanes, flying in support of the Nationalists, had destroyed the sleepy market town of Guernica.
At 14, José was the oldest Gallego child to land at Southampton. With him were Antonio (12), Victorina (11), Genoveva (nine) and Maria Luisa (seven). The young refugees were soon dispersed to ‘colonies’ throughout the country, to be raised far from the threat of conflict, and the Gallegos ended up in Cambridge. Meanwhile, their mother found refuge in Paris; not until 1947 was she able to rejoin her children in England.
Image: Document known as ‘ficha’ recording each Basque child sent to Britain
José and Antonio, known as Joe and Tony to their new Cambridge friends, found football helped them to assimilate into English society. They both went on to play professionally – José as a winger for Brentford and Antonio as a goalkeeper at Norwich – before returning to star for the two senior Cambridge clubs, United and City.
Image: Tony Gallego catches the ball
Image: Joe Gallego in action
During his time at the Cambridge hostels Antonio Gallego wrote regular football reports such as this one in October 1937 for the ‘Ayuda’ magazine:
‘We went to Cambridge to play against the boys from Kings College Choir School. At the beginning they played better than us, as they were older. But our young ones were running a lot, although some like Gerardo always fell down when it came to kicking the ball. After a while, the right side midfielder threw the ball to the left side and passed it on to the full back to score the first goal for them. Then we began to play better and our midfielder passed it to a center forward who scored a goal. At half time we were 1 to 1. They attacked several times but they were not able to penetrate and we scored two goals – 3 to 1. Then we defended our eighteen yard box until the referee blew the whistle for the end of the game. We showered and they gave us tea and we went home very happy.’