• Quote: ‘This is not just a ukulele signed by George Formby, it’s a ukulele he actually played. This ukulele has a great story behind it’.

By Andrew Atkinson

Former England and Bolton Wanderers footballer Ray Westwood was gifted an autographed Melody-uke by George Formby in the 1930s after befriending the star.

Westwood, renowned for his goalscoring, by netting 144 goals in 333 games for Wanderers, between 1930 and 1948, was uncle to Manchester United ‘Busby Babes’ player Duncan Edwards, killed in the aftermath of the Munich Air disaster in 1958, aged 21.

Westwood was a member of the Wanderers teams that reached the 1935 and 1946 FA Cup semi-finals. He also played in the 1946 Burnden disaster match.

The Burnden Park disaster occurred on March 9, 1946, at Burnden Park stadium. A crush resulted in the deaths of 33 people and injuries to hundreds of Bolton fans.

Capped six times for England, Westwood became good friends with Formby, who gave him one of his famous ukuleles in 1933, signed ‘best wishes, George Formby’.

The Melody-uke gifted to Westwood was brought to the attention to me by Simon Sutherland from Newton Heath, Manchester, which went to auction following Westwood’s death in 1981.

Film star, comedian and ukulele legend Formby OBE, who died on March 6, 1961, aged 56, is remembered for his songs, including My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock, When I’m Cleaning Windows and Leaning on a Lamp Post.

Andy Eastwood, ubiquitous ukelalian, renowned George Formby Tribute artiste, unaware of the Melody-uke, told me: “I didn’t know about that! There are plenty of stories of George giving ukes out – but I wasn’t aware of that one!”.

After going under auction Roy Stokes, from the Biddle and Webb Auction House, said: “This is not just a ukulele signed by George Formby, this is a ukulele that he actually played.

“An instrument that has been played by the star is more valuable than one that hasn’t. This ukulele has a great story behind it.”

During the second world war, Westwood served with the Rotal Artillery Territorial Army at Dunkirk and in Egypt.

He began his schoolboy career playing in Brierley Hill, and played at junior level with Stourbridge FC. Westwood was at Bolton for two seasons, before being signed by Birmingham League side, Brierley Hill Alliance FC in October 1929, during which time he had an unsuccessful trial with Aston Villa.

Westwood then joined Bolton Wanderers in February 1930. In July 1934, Aston Villa were unsuccessful in making attempts to sign him. In November 1937, Chelsea offered £12,000 to take Westwood to Stamford Bridge, a bid rejected.

In December 1939, Westwood assisted Kidderminster Harriers FC, and represented the Army on several occasions. After WW 2, he returned to Bolton Wanderers. In December 1947, Chester FC broke their transfer record fee to sign Westwood, scoring on his league debut against York City.

In August 1949, after 38 league appearances and 13 goals, he was placed on the ‘open to transfer list’, because of his ongoing business interests in Bolton.

He signed for Lancashire Combination side, Darwen FC in September 1949, making his final appearance in February 1951.

Son of a Postmaster, after retiring from football, he became a newsagent. Westwood died on December 9, 1981, aged 69.

*Formby’s Lost Love by Andrew Atkinson. £10. email: lancashiremedia@gmail.com