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Was AIDS caused by monkey gland injections?

John Simkin

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In the summer of 1937 Major Frank Buckley, the manager of Wolves, was approached by a chemist called Menzies Sharp. He claimed he had a "secret remedy that would give the players confidence". It is believed that Sharp's ideas were based on the experiments of Serge Voronoff, a French doctor, who had been born in Russia. Between 1917 and 1926, Voronoff carried out over five hundred transplantations on sheep and goats, and also on a bull, grafting testicles from younger animals to older ones. Voronoff's observations indicated that the transplantations caused the older animals to regain the vigor of younger animals.

Sharp's "gland treatment" involved a course of twelve injections. Major Buckley later explained: "To be honest, I was rather sceptical about this treatment and thought it best to try it out on myself first. The treatment lasted three or four months. Long before it was over I felt so much benefit that I asked the players if they would be willing to undergo it and that is how the gland treatment became general at Molineux."

Two Wolves players, Dicky Dorsett and Don Bilton, refused to undergo the "gland treatment". Bilton recalls that he was signed by Major Buckley from York City. On his arrival at the club he was instructed by Buckley to report to the medical room for gland injections. Bilton replied: "I'm sorry Sir, but I am only seventeen and still under my father's guidance. He will not want me to have injections." Buckley told him that he was under contract and had to do as he was told. Bilton's father went to see Buckley the following day and after a heated row the manager backed-down. However, Bilton claimed that: "Buckley was not at all pleased by this and I never did much good at Wolves after that!"

Rumours circulated that Wolves players were being injected with "gland extracts from animals". Tommy Lawton, who was a member of the Everton team that lost 7-0 to Wolves, believed that these injections were improving the performance of the players. He claimed that before the game he tried to speak to his England colleague, Stan Cullis, but "he walked past me with glazed eyes".

After Leicester City were beaten 10-1 they complained to the Leicester MP, Montague Lyons. Lyons demanded that the government instigate an investigation into this treatment. When Walter Elliot, the Minister of Health, rejected this request, Emanuel Shinwell, the Labour MP, suggested that considering Wolves' impressive form, ministers of the Conservative government should be put on a course of these injections.

The Football League carried out an investigation into the "monkey gland" treatment. However, it refused to ban these injections but they did arrange for a circular to be posted on the walls of dressing rooms of every club in England and Wales. This declared that players could take glands but only on a voluntary basis.

That season (1937-38) Wolves finished second to Arsenal in the First Division championship. The following season they also finished second in the league. Wolves also did well in the FA Cup but were beaten by Portsmouth in the final. Afterwards, it was discovered that the Portsmouth players had also been injected with monkey glands.

On a serious note, it has been speculated that the AIDS virus discovered in the 1980s might have entered the human population through these "monkey gland" injections.

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