Black Country Bugle

Sale of vintage trophy prompts author to chart its proud history

Restored Charity Cup is one of the oldest of its kind

- By GAVIN JONES gjones@blackcount­

WHEN football enthusiast Steve Carr saw that a local football trophy had been restored and put up for auction six years ago, he decided its full history needed bringing to light.

So he began to research the story of the impressive silver cup and the competitio­n it represente­d – and eventually unearthed so much that this year Steve has literally written the book. A History of the Wednesbury Football Charity Associatio­n (1880 to 2009) is now available to buy. Steve told the Bugle: “The inspiratio­n for this book came about following an auction organised by Cuttleston­es Auctioneer­s & Valuers in Penkridge, back in 2016.

“One of the exhibits turned out to be this solid silver trophy, one of the oldest football trophies of its kind in the world. Having been restored to its former glory, it sold for £7,250, with vendor Aaron Sheldon from Bowjangles Jewellers in Wednesbury donating some of the profits from the sale to charity, thus befitting its charitable origins.

“What particular­ly interested me was that I knew some of the publicised historical background to the competitio­n’s history was incorrect. The last inscriptio­n on the trophy implied that Cradley Town were the last winners in 1991, but failing to have names inscribed on trophies is not as unusual as people might think!”

In fact, Steve had been at one of the finals less than twenty years earlier, when he saw Darlaston Town lift the trophy in 1999, courtesy of a 5-2 victory over Great Wyrley at the former’s City Ground.

Frustratin­gly, evidence of the Cup’s winners post-1991 was to prove very hard to come by. There was no published list of winners, not even on the internet.

So Steve got to work in the hope of setting the record straight. He initially set himself the task of compiling a seasonby-season list of winners by ploughing through more than a century’s worth of local newspapers, but soon stumbled on something that made his job a fair bit easier – a Wednesbury Football Charity Associatio­n archive, held by the Community History and Archive Service at Smethwick Library.

“This surprise discovery consisted of minute books and financial records which had been donated by the family of the late Cyril Willetts, longtime secretary and treasurer of the WFCA,” said Steve.

“Instead of being merely a record of meetings, the minute books had evolved into scrapbooks, containing tickets, programmes and newspaper cuttings, documentin­g the WFCA’S history in a way that gave me the idea of putting together a publicatio­n of some sort.”

Several years later, the results of Steve’s labours are available to the general public.

Scores, dates and venues are listed for all finals, as far as Steve has been able to trace them. Famous clubs and players who took part are featured, as are several of the WFCA’S long-serving and famous officials. The WFCA archive also means that the book is far better illustrate­d than would otherwise have been the case.

“Charity Cup competitio­ns were a popular feature of football in the Victorian era,” said Steve, “but largely died out over the years as the football calendar became increasing­ly congested, few surviving into the 21st century.

“However, the Wednesbury Football Charity Associatio­n existed for almost 130 years, so its place in football history is well worth recording.

“Football in the 1870s and 1880s bore very little resemblanc­e to today. There were no global television deals guaranteei­ng untold riches for an elite group of players. There were no glory-hunting supporters following the fortunes of clubs from far away cities. There was no Champions League, no Premier League – in fact, no leagues at all, as the concept had not yet been devised.

“The game was very much a winter pastime, filling the gap between the end of one cricket season and the start of the next, and remained a leisure activity until men with foresight and imaginatio­n instigated knockout competitio­ns as a means of identifyin­g the best club in a given area.

“Competitio­ns such as the

Several current or future England internatio­nals competed in the Senior Cup Steve Carr

FA Cup, Birmingham Cup, Staffordsh­ire Cup and Walsall Cup quickly grew in popularity.”

The competitio­n initially attracted some of the top clubs of the day – Wolves and Albion, who were even then two of the biggest in the country, Small Heath Alliance (later to become Birmingham City) and Nottingham Forest also lined up alongside the likes of Elwell’s, Birmingham St George’s, Walsall Swifts and Walsall Town (who merged to form Walsall FC). When Nottingham Forest beat Albion 5-3 in the 1883 final it was the club’s first trophy success of any sort.

Several current or future England internatio­nal players competed in the Wednesbury Charity Senior Cup, Steve discovered.

“Albion’s Bob Roberts, Forest’s Tinsley Lindley, Wolves’ John Brodie, Villa’s Billy Walker, and George Holden of the Old Athletic all took part in it. Furthermor­e, either side of World War II several gifted youngsters achieved success in the Schools Shield before going on to achieve club and internatio­nal honours in the profession­al game, such as Jack Burkitt and John Sleeuwenho­ek.”

Steve’s findings show that entries were attracted from Shropshire and north Staffordsh­ire, and even on occasion from clubs as far afield as Sheffield and Wales.

“The sheer number of entries was also quite an eyeopener,” said Steve, “for although there were years with just a handful of entries the 1899-1900 season saw a staggering 59 clubs taking part!

“Also unusual to modern eyes is the staging of numerous replays, for the concept of penalty shoot-outs only dates from the 1970s. A semi-final tie in 1899 required five games to

produce a winner, and with the final being played the next day, the exhausted victors of the semi were soundly thrashed!

“Stafford Road, the team from the Great Western Railway workshop in Wolverhamp­ton, were the first winners way back in 1880, and remained the top club in the town for a few more years until the emergence of the Wolves,” said Steve. “By way of comparison, the last winners in 2009 are unconfirme­d – local legend is that it was Darlaston Town, but documentar­y proof of this currently remains elusive!

“Despite this, Darlo were easily the most successful club in the competitio­n’s long history, with 19 confirmed successes, well ahead of Walsall with 13 (which were split between first team and reserve team successes).

“Finally, no organisati­on can

survive, let alone prosper, without the services of skilled and dedicated officials, and the WFCA was blessed with several such individual­s who went over and beyond what could really be expected. Most notably, the first 116 years of the Associatio­n’s existence saw the role of secretary filled by just three individual­s: Samuel Tranter, from 1880 to 1913, Jack Smith, (1913-50) and Cyril Willetts, (1950-96).

“Cyril was also treasurer for many years, and had his family not had the foresight to donate his records to CHAS, my task would probably have amounted to little more than an incomplete list of finals.”

A History of the Wednesbury Football Charity Associatio­n 1880-2009 by Steve Carr is now available from Blue Sheep Books in Wednesbury, or online from ebay or Amazon.

 ?? ?? Wednesbury Old Athletic, who won the Wednesbury Football Charity Associatio­n Cup in 1902
Wednesbury Old Athletic, who won the Wednesbury Football Charity Associatio­n Cup in 1902
 ?? ?? Wednesbury Football Charity Associatio­n Cup
Wednesbury Football Charity Associatio­n Cup
 ?? ?? An early programme from the competitio­n
An early programme from the competitio­n
 ?? ?? Walsall FC ... winners of the Wednesbury Charity Cup in 1913
Walsall FC ... winners of the Wednesbury Charity Cup in 1913
 ?? ?? Christmas Day clash between Bilston and Darlaston
Christmas Day clash between Bilston and Darlaston
 ?? ?? Darlaston Town FC on a cigarette card in 1936 when they won the Wednesbury Charity Cup
Darlaston Town FC on a cigarette card in 1936 when they won the Wednesbury Charity Cup

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