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Midlands football heroes of the 1930s

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 29, 2014

  • Local stars of the 1935-36 season from a set of Wills cigarette cards

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A NEW football season has started, which means that there is a new football sticker album to collect. And have you completed your World Cup sticker collection yet?

Football fans young and old have collected these images of their soccer heroes for generations but before sticker albums became popular in the 1970s, there were collectible cigarette cards.

British tobacco retailers began giving away collectible cards inside their cigarette packets in the 1890s. From the beginning sportsmen were a popular choice and, naturally, footballers were among the most sought after.

These cards come from Association Footballers 1935-1936, a set issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills , makers of Capstan Full Strength and Woodbine, among other brands. The complete album has been loaned to us by Sheila Cole of Darby End, Dudley.

The series was made up of 50 cards and given the number of professional footballers playing in the 1935-36 season, we wonder what criteria was used to select the 50. Were they the most famous or popular players of the day?

Players from 39 English and 4 Scottish clubs were chosen but for some reason Preston North End was the only First Division side to be omitted.

Only six of the 50 were from Midlands teams. The players are listed alphabetically and so Dai Astley of Aston Villa was card number one. Astley (1909-89) was born in Dolais, Wales, and played for Merthyr Town, Charlton, Aston Villa, Derby County, Blackpool and French team FC Metz. He scored 92 goals in 165 appearances for Villa and for his country he scored 12 in 13 games. In the 1940s and '50s he managed Inter Milan and Genoa and Swedish clubs Djurgårdens and Sandvikens.

West Bromwich Albion were one of seven clubs in the series to be represented by two players – Wally Boyes (card 5) and Teddy Sandford (card 37).

Boyes (1913-60) was only 5' 4" and came from Killamarsh, Derbyshire. He turned professional with Albion in '31 and scored in their 1935 FA Cup final defeat at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday. In 1938 he joined Everton and later played for Notts County and Scunthorpe United and picked up three England caps.

Sandford (1910-95) was born in Handsworth and joined Albion in 1930. He also scored in the 1935 FA Cup final and left the club to join Sheffield United in 1939.

Wolves were represented by card 22 Reg Hollingworth (1909-69). Bugle football historian Tony Matthews describes him as "one of the more unfortunate footballers to have played for Wolverhampton Wanderers." Tony continues, "just before he was due to play in an England international trial at Huddersfield, he was injured playing at Barnsley in March 1932, just when a cap was considered a near-certainty. Then in 1936, another injury forced him to retire."

From Birmingham the card makers chose Wilson Jones (card 25) and Willie Steel (card 41). Welshman Jones (1914-86) was top scorer for the Blues three times in the 1930s. He began his career with Wrexham, his home town club, moved to Birmingham in 1934 and later played for Nottingham Forest and Kidderminster Harriers.

Steel was born in Lanarkshire in 1908. He played for St Johnstone and Liverpool before joining Birmingham in 1935. In '38 he moved to Derby County and later managed Airdrie and Third Lanark.

Have these old cards revived memories for you? Are you a collector of football memorabilia? Please contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to our editorial address.

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