Even after sixty years their names are indelibly imprinted on my memory and they were the footballing lads who represented Brierley Hill Schoolboys in season 1950-51 reaching the final of The English Schools Shield.
They were Jimmy Allen (Bent Street), Jim Worton (Tipton Grammar), Tom Harris (Ocker Hill), John Timmins (Bent Street), Trevor Smith (Quarry Bank), Alan Machin (Ocker Hill), Ken Clarke (Dormston), Jimmy Cochrane (Bent Street), Brian Wooldridge (Quarry Bank), Alan Bayley (Tipton Grammar), Len Cooper (Robert Street), Bill Westwood (Robert Street).
In the final they were defeated over two legs by Liverpool. The first leg in front of a crowd of twenty thousand spectators at Molineux had resulted in a 2- 2 draw with Brierley Hill's goals being scored by Cooper and Wooldridge. In the return game held at Goodison Park, the home of Everton FC, Liverpool triumphed by three goals to one. Twelve names are listed as Tom Harris and Bill Westwood each played in one leg of the final.
Twenty-five years previously the area side had reached the semi-final, losing 4-3 to Grimsby, the side including Ray Westwood who went on to play three hundred and thirty nine games for Bolton Wanderers, also representing England on six occasions. Also in the side were Pat Beasley who went to Arsenal and Billy Guest who signed for Birmingham City.
The area Schools Association disappeared in the 1930s, reforming in 1945 to combine with Sedgley Schools Association.
However back to my heroes of 1951, fifteen year old schoolboys on whom, as a nine year old, I bestowed god-like status. During the course of an incredible season, in which they won The Birmingham and District County Shield as well as The Staffs County Leckie Shield, their full record was: P25; W17; D7; L1; Goals for 85; Goals against 25.
Their progress to The English Schools Shield Final was reached by eliminating Kings Norton, South Birmingham, Halesowen and Stourbridge, Cambridge, Acton, Manchester and, in the semi-final, Newburn. It would be unkind (and unthinkable) to say that they were a little fortunate to reach the final, although they did require replays against Kings Norton, South Birmingham and Cambridge, thus having to play a total of ten games to reach the final.
The majority of their opponents would have had a much greater number of boys to choose from and let us not forget that they defeated two city sides in Cambridge and Manchester.
Home games were played at Round Oak Steelworks sports ground with up to five thousand spectators cheering them on. I was taken to the games by my parents and I recall being taught an important "life lesson" by my father at the final of The Birmingham and District Shield final when Saltley were soundly beaten by six goals to nil. As the Saltley team were presented with their runners up medals I joined in the booing only to be lowered from my father's shoulders and being told how unsporting that was and never to do it again.
County Several of the team were chosen to represent both Birmingham and District and also Staffordshire with Len Cooper playing in the North versus South International trial match at Villa Park. All the boys signed for our local Football League clubs either as ground staff boys or as amateurs and I recall Len Cooper and John Timmins playing for Wolves against Kingswinford Wanderers in the Worcestershire Combi- Brierley Hill Schoolboys — My first sporting heroes nation at King George VI Park in Water Street, and after the game badgering them for autographs. John Timmins went on to play for Plymouth Argyle and Bristol Rovers and Len Cooper later joined Walsall.
Both Jimmy Cochrane and Trevor Smith played in the Football League Division One with Birmingham City, Smith making three hundred and sixty five appearances before being transferred to Walsall for whom he made only twelve appearances before a knee injury forced his retirement. He also played twice for his country.
The second leg was held at Goodison Park. My understanding is that any child in the Brierley Hill area who was able to travel to Liverpool for the evening kick-off was allowed a day off school and my parents agreed to book seats on the coach to take me although sadly the final score was 3-1 in Liverpool's favour and so 'we' lost 5-3 on aggregate. What a wonderful season, and I am proud to be able to say "I was there" for many of their games.
At the Cottage Street ground of Brierley Hill Alliance seven of the team turned out to represent Staffordshire against Worcestershire.
Staffordshire had their own "man-mountain" in Trevor Smith but included in the Worcestershire side was a colossus of a lad from Dudley, by the name of Duncan Edwards. What a privilege it was to later watch him play for Manchester United and England. Definitely "the late, great Duncan Edwards."
It is difficult to convey how much in awe I was of these demi-gods but two incidents spring to mind. Some two years after that great season I travelled to school each day from Wall Heath to Brierley Hill by way of The Midland Red bus No. 138. Each morning Jimmy Cochrane boarded the bus at Brockmoor to travel to training at Birmingham City. Inevitably the bus was crowded and Jimmy had to stand but I was unable to pluck up the courage to offer him my seat or even wish him good morning.
Great Some ten years later I joined the staff in the Cost Office at Revo Electric, Tipton.
After a few days I realised that I was sharing an office with "the great Jim Worton" right back and vice captain in my team of sporting heroes. I was "made up" to be able to say that I knew him. Every now and again Jim would run across the office and swing on the door frame, which he said was his way of reducing the tension that he felt. Jim eventually moved to south Wales, sadly passing away a few years ago.
I have recently visited Cyril Thomas who was a teacher at Bent Street and also acted as Treasurer for the Association.
Now aged ninety-two and living in retirement in Wall Heath he proudly showed me the pewter tankard that was presented to all the players and officials in recognition of their achievements in that wonderful season.