MEMBERS of a Wolverhampton church youth club turned their football passion into reality in the late sixties by forming their own team.
One of the founders and a mainstay of the team, Dave McLean, a local sports journalist, hoped to make the headlines with Saints Youth Club who were based at Lea Road Congregational Church.
The youth club attracted big numbers who danced to weekly live bands and socialised, while table tennis was another pastime enjoyed by members, with Dave, brother Pete, Tony Deeley and Roger Nicholls turning out in the Wolverhampton TT League.
It was in the mid-60s that Dave ran a football team under the banner of Lea United, playing friendlies, comprising teenage church members and friends who played on a patch across the road from the Gunmakers Arms in Bradmore. However, an adult league was the next step for the group of young footballers and Saints FC made their debut in Division Six of the Wolverhampton Sunday League in 1968. "I brought together lads from the youth club and a few friends and we achieved immediate success," said Dave, who was secretary and manager in those early days as well as a player.
"It was a lot of hard work as many who run teams will testify but I had always wanted to run my own football team and I had excellent support from a great set of players. In our first season we reached our league cup final and were promoted.
"I well remember we played the final one evening at Wolverhampton Transport's ground in Park Lane but just missed out losing 2-1 to Bilbrook Rangers who became our big rivals. Some 12 months later we faced the same opponents in the Division Five cup final and again finished second best."
It was towards the end of that second season that Dave arranged a successful Easter tour to Arnhem in Holland where Saints got a little more than they bargained for. They were only due to play two matches over the weekend, but ended up playing three.
"We drew our opening game, then ran out 3-1 winners in our second on a Sunday morning. As we trooped off for a welcome shower and some refreshments our Dutch hosts asked if we could take on another team. We agreed, moved straight to another pitch and took a 5-0 half-time lead. However, we conceded five goals in the second half and had to settle for a draw as fatigue took over!
"The entire trip was a great experience, with plenty of laughs and memories and our hosts made us very welcome, although one Dutch taxi driver must have wondered what had hit him (not literally!) when around seven or eight of us left a night club in Arnhem and squeezed into his cab for the trip back to our hotel."
Promotion to Division Four of the Sunday League followed at the end of the 1969-70 season for Saints, who continued their good cup form and the following campaign.
"That particular season saw us reach two semi-finals, in the league cup and the relatively new Corinthian Shield.
"In the shield we received a big boost by finally defeating Bilbrook in the quarter finals. We had made several new signings that season and I really thought we would put the Saints' name on a winner's trophy that year," said Dave.
Saints faced a young, talented Red Dragons side in the semi-finals of the Corinthian Shield and in a thrilling encounter broke the deadlock with just five minutes to go. But Saints were to suffer heartbreak when the Dragons roared back and took the tie 2-1, before going on to defeat Gospel Oak 5-1 in the final.
In the League Cup, Dave recalls a windswept clash against Charles Clark, at the Dunstall Park, Wolverhampton. "We hit the woodwork on more than one occasion, created numerous chances, but still went down. In the final, Bilbrook defeated Charles Clark to extend their fine league cup form." Saints, who reached the Third Division for the start of the 1972-73 season, had by now relocated from the youth centre to the Mitre public house in Church Road, Wolverhampton and changed their name to Mitre Saints.
Another league cup final was reached, but a much-changed Mitre Saints side crashed 6-1 to a strong Four Ashes side, managed by Frank Northwood at Aldersley Stadium.
Although Mitre Saints' fortunes in the Sunday League dipped thereafter, they did win one piece of silverware during their time. As Saints they took in several five-a-side tournaments and victory came in the Great Brickkiln Street School fives, a competition that was played over several evenings and attracted over 50 teams.
The victorious quintet of Dave, brother Pete, Brian Collins, Sid Stuckey and Tony Gittins emerged triumphant when defeating the hosts 2-0 in a thrilling final.
"They were good times as we climbed the leagues. We attracted some talented players and I've many wonderful memories of that era. It would be good to get back in touch with some of the players and supporters we attracted," said Dave, who has just retired as sports editor of the Staffordshire Newsletter after 36 years.
If you were connected with Saints FC or Mitre Saints in any way, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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