WE'VE HAD an excellent response to our recent feature on the Brierley Hill women's football side who represented the Handy Angle works back in the fifties and sixties.
Ronald Lloyd of Kingswinford has brought in an excellent album of photographs and cuttings which document his late wife Shirley's time in the team, covering the period from 1957 to about 1960.
Shirley (nee Greenway) was one of the team assembled by coach Harry Rides who regularly thrashed all-comers, usually playing centre half and wearing the number 5 shirt; which husband Ronald still has to this day. Sadly, Shirley died quite young, in 1979. The scrapbook is liberally sprinkled with press reports of almost unfeasibly high scores – an 18-0 walloping of Birmingham City Supporters Club; 14 goals without reply against Birmingham Excelsior; 15-0 over Birmingham City Ladies. On another occasion they beat the latter 25-0: Pam Aston scoring ten and Margaret Bottley eight. Their leading scorer Margaret Parkes wasn't even in the side that day.
Crowds were regularly into the thousands; 6,000 turned out to see them play City Ladies, and they raised thousands of pounds for local charities into the bargain. But the Handy Angle girls weren't just a local phenomenon, as another of Shirley's cuttings demonstrates.
The undisputed champions of the north in the late 1950s were Manchester Corinthians Ladies Football Club – in fact they were holders of the ladies football European Cup. They had, over a couple of seasons, put together a run of ninety matches without defeat. And then they played Handy Angle.
The eagerly anticipated tie took place on a Saturday in Quarry Bank in aid of three local charities, with 3,000 fans in attendance. One report cut from a local papers enthused:
"The game, played in sweltering heat, was the finest seen in the district. It had everything. Goals, good football and thrills kept the crows on its toes throughout, and the players must have been exceptionally fit to have stood the pace."
Corinthians presumably weren't expecting much of a fight, but they were shocked out of their complacency early on.
Star striker Margaret Parkes went close twice andPam Aston once, before the northerners had even managed to threaten, and Handy Angle's keeper Valerie Cox pulled off a brilliant save from their first attack, throwing herself at the attacker's feet.
Margaret Botley opened the scoring on ten minutes, but before the home crowd had finished celebrating Corinthians had equalised, and with one in the bag began to play a better game. The Angles were up against it for the rest of the first half, but held on until Margaret Parkes managed to weave through four defenders and 'crash the ball home for a magnificent goal'.
In the second half they looked like running away with it, with Parkes completing her hat-trick, but Corinthians pulled back another two and were so fired up an equaliser looked inevitable. But Margaret Parkes pulled off more of her solo magic with ten minutes to go, and Rita Farley made it 6-3 just before the final whistle.
"It was like a cup final scene," the report said, "as the crowds swarmed on to the field to congratulate the winners, who were also heartily applauded in true sportsmanlike manner by the losers."
Handy Angle manager Harry Rides was over the moon, and Corinthians' manager told the press that the Black Country girls were without doubt the best his team had met in all their nine years.
But Handy Angle's most high profile matches were played against a TV All Stars XI – all of them men. Founded, and captained, by comedian Bernie Winters, the All Stars played the Handy Angle girls on at least three occasions, and Ronald Lloyd has a programme from one of the matches, played at Porth in Wales.
The All Stars were all household names, many of them still well-remembered. Alongside captain Bernie (though line-ups varied slightly from game to game) were his brother and comedy partner Mike Winters; DJ Pete Murray; singer Anthony Newley; actor Larry Taylor from William Tell; Norman Rossington from The Army Game; Carry-On star Bernard Bresslaw; singer and trumpeter Roy Castle, singer Jess Conrad in goal, and a surprising choice of forward in the diminutive form of Ronnie Corbett.
Ronald doesn't recall the score of the game, but a good time was had by all involved, judging by the photographs taken on the day.
On the subject of Handy Angle, the Bugle's own cartoonist Dave Green pointed out to us that he worked there frm 1961 to '74 – and occasionally played in goal for the women's side!
"My wife Joan worked there as well," Dave explained, "and Harry Rides, knowing I was a goalkeeper, asked me to train Joan for the Handy Angle keeper's position. But on the odd occasion when they played girls against boys for a charity match, he'd put me in goal."
Have you played for a women's football side in the Black Country? Let us hear your story: drop by Bugle House in Cradley Heath High Street, give us a call on the usual number, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.