THE demise of Darlaston Town FC has saddened many in the football fraternity and while there is hope for the future in that a new club may be playing in the town next season, it is also a time to look to the past and the great achievements of the old team.
Graham Lloyd is a life-long supporter of Darlaston Town and with perhaps more reason that most, given that his grandfather, William Lloyd, played in arguably the club’s most successful team. Graham has brought along to the Bugle office one of his grandfather’s medals for the 1907/08 Walsall Senior Cup.
The nine carat gold medal features the Walsall borough arms on the front, picked out in red and blue enamel. The medal was made by Vaughton and Sons of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, the company that has supplied the Football League with its medals since 1911.
Darlaston FC was founded in the 1870s and it played in the Walsall and District League. A grandstand was built at the club’s City Ground in 1903 and this marked the beginning of a fine run of form for the team. They won their first league title in the 1903/04 season and were runners-up the following season. Darlaston finished top of the table again in 1905/06 and were second once more in 1906/07.
After such an impressive run the Citizens, as they were nicknamed, were ready to move on to a bigger stage. In fact the top four teams of the Walsall and District League, Willenhall Swifts, Darlaston, Bilston United and Hednesford Town, as well as Wednesbury Old Athletic, all moved to the Birmingham Junior League for the following season.
Darlaston were certainly not overawed by the step-up in competition and they won their first six games. In fact, they were unbeaten, with 10 wins and three draws, until Christmas Day, when local rivals Wednesbury Old Athletic took them apart, 5-2.
The team picked themselves up and got back to winning ways, vying with Bilston United and Cradley Heath St Luke’s for the title. The title was clinched on the final day of the season, Darlaston finishing one point ahead of Bilston and five ahead of third placed Cradley Heath; Darlaston were champions of the Birmingham Junior League at their first attempt. Their record for the season was played 30, won 21, drawn 6, lost 3, goals for 83, goals against 32, points 48.
Joining the Birmingham Junior League made Darlaston eligible to enter the FA Cup for the first time. Their first cup match was in the first qualifying round on 5th October, 1907, against Coventry City, then playing in the Birmingham League. Darlaston took around 800 fans to Coventry but they were to return home disappointed as Darlaston were thrashed 7-1. William Lloyd was in the Darlaston XI that played that day.
As well as the Birmingham Junior League championship Darlaston collected another three trophies that season. They beat Walsall 1-0 in the final of the Walsall Senior Cup, dispatched Willenhall Pickwick 3-1 to carry off the Walsall Charity Cup and they also won the Bilston Charity Cup.
At the end of the most successful season in their history Darlaston applied to move up again and join the full Birmingham League, but they were refused entry in favour of Wellington Town.
The following season Darlaston put up a sterling defence of their title, although the league changed its name to the Birmingham Combination League. They scored over 100 goals for the first time, but they could only manage a creditable third behind winners Willenhall Pickwick and second placed Cradley Heath St Luke’s, although they did win the Wednesbury Charity Cup.
1909/10 saw Darlaston win their first FA Cup match, beating Halesowen 4-3 in a replay following a 1-1 draw. That season they were knocked out in the third qualifying round by Cradley Heath St Luke’s but could still be satisfied with fourth place in the league.
Darlaston regained their league title in 1910/11, with William Lloyd still in the squad. They won at a canter, with a perfect home record, finishing six points ahead of runners-up Nuneaton Swifts, scoring 115 goals and conceding only 52.
Following this success the club was promoted to the Birmingham League, along with Willenhall Swifts. This was a big step up for the club, as they now faced the reserve teams of Aston Villa, Wolves, West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham and Stoke as well as the first teams of Walsall, Worcester City, Kidderminster Harriers, Shrewsbury and Wrexham. But lowly Darlaston acquitted themselves very well in that first season and finished in second place behind Aston Villa Reserves, winning the Keys Cup, awarded to the highest placed first team in the league.
That was very much a high point; the following two seasons Darlaston finished the Birmingham League well down the table and then the First World War disrupted all leagues and schedules. But there would be, near enough, another 100 years of football played by Darlaston at their City Ground.
l Have you any Black Country sporting memorabilia to share with Bugle readers? Was one of your ancestors a sports star of days gone by? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Bugle House, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL