AMATEUR football teams of the past live on in the pages of the Bugle as regular readers will know, but there is now another source we can all turn to if we want to find out about those early grass roots clubs in our neck of the woods.
Mike Bradbury of Walsall has spent the best part of the two years since he retired delving more deeply into the Midlands' lost football teams than anyone before him, and the results of his extensive research are now available in the form of a weighty new book, Lost Teams of the Midlands.
Mike's research fills 450 pages, and there are a surprising number of photographs, given that pictures of long-lost teams are by their nature very rare in a lot of cases.
"I already had a lot of information on various local teams, which I'd collected gradually over several decades," Mike told the Bugle, but over the last year and a half especially, I've been doing it full time. I'd started out with Walsall Swifts, my home town club, and originally said I would cover twelve teams. But I just kept going."
Teams covered are from the whole of the wider Midlands, reaching as far as Nottingham, Stoke and Worcester, but it's fair to say that the emphasis lies on the clubs of the Black Country and Birmingham.
"These clubs were the foundation of the game," says Mike, "many of them in existence long before the big names of today's Premiership were even thought of.
Among the Black Country clubs featured are Bloxwich Strollers; Coombs Wood FC; Cradley Heath St Luke's; Crosswells Brewery of Oldbury; Great Bridge Unity; Old Hill Wanderers; Salters of West Bromwich; Stafford Road of Wolverhampton; Tipton FC; Willenhall Pickwick and more – including four teams from Wednesbury.
The book is, Mike asserts, 'a layman's attempt to provide a picture of what things must have been like in the early days (1870s-90s) of Victorian football in the Midlands," rather than to give a dry and exhastive list of facts and figures. And along the way, he has managed to put to bed a few inaccuracies peddled by various websites.
Many of these teams' histories are peppered with curious tales and incidents. Most of us would have thought, for instance, that questioning of decisions and complaining to the authorities after a match was a curse of the modern game, but we would be wrong.
Following a Birmingham Junior Cup tie on 12th February 1898, when Coombs Wood of Blackheath lost at home 2-1 to Willenhall Pickwick, the 'Woods' lodged a protest with the Birmingham FA on the grounds that one of the 'Picks' had previously played for an amateur works side. The FA ordered that the game be played again, this time at Molineux – where Coombs Wood suffered an even heavier defeat.
Great Bridge Unity FC, founded in 1878, didn't last far beyond the turn of the century and there are very few records relating to their brief existence. However, that side, who were founded by workers of the Horseley Iron Company and played at their own Horeseley Fields ground, managed to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1887, finally knocked out by Old Carthusians, a side so highly regarded that they had been shortlisted for the original Football League, which was to be founded the following year.
Old Hill Wanderers FC lived an even shorter life. Founded around 1889, they had folded within about a decade, but in the meantime had managed to attract regular crowds of 2 to 3,000 when playing local opposition such as Halesowen. They also featured some notable players among their ranks. Alex Leake was at half back when Old Hill won the Birmingham League title in 1894, and after 200 appearances moved no to Aston Villa, and then Burnley, collecting five England caps in 1904/5.
And many an old West Bromwich Albion player is known to have finished his career with Old Hill. Billy Williams, George Timmins and Harold Green all went to Old Hill after serving at the Hawthorns; the latter two having been originally part of the George Salter's Spring Works team, and both bearing FA Cup winners' medals.
Lost Teams of the Midlands is available now, published by Xlibris. You can buy it from Waterstone's, order by calling 0800-056-3182, or online at www.xlibrispublishing.co.uk and amazon.co.uk.