Willenhall History Society

The Picks

The story of Willenhall Pickwicks Football Club

1884 – 1916

Researched and written by Horace and Peter Davis

Chapter 1 THE EARLY YEARS

 

picks team photo

Willenhall Pickwick is believed to have been formed about the year 1884 by a group of young men who met regularly in the old Shakespeare Inn in Somerford Place . Fired with enthusiasm at the way in which the game was catching on, they talked of the possibility of forming a team of their own. Job Broadbent, who was the landlord of the pub, promised them that if they could form a team he would provide them with a ground on which to play, and true to his word he allowed them the use of a piece of land that he owned, just over Portobello bridge and running parallel with the railway line. The ground is still in use today as the sports ground of Messrs Josiah Parkes & Sons Ltd. That means that football has been played continuously on the ground for over 100 years. Mr Broadbent also allowed them the use of the pub for its headquarters and a room over the pub was also made available for use as changing accommodation. The club adopted Red and White striped jerseys as their official colours from the very beginning.

In those days there were no leagues of any kind and clubs vied with each other to arrange the most prestigious friendly matches possible and these were supplemented by entry into some of the many local cup competitions that were springing up everywhere. It seems that a sudden death type of cup tie football was extremely popular in those early days and these games soon began to attract large crowds. The games were played on pitches with no internal markings and with a rope stretched across two upright poles to form goal posts.

Reports of matches in the press in those early days were scant indeed and the press largely relied on clubs themselves to send in information on matches they were involved in.

The earliest reports of Picks games that have survived from press reports took place in the second half of the 1885-6 season and were reported as follows.

Saturday January 16th 1886 .

Pickwicks 0 Wednesbury St Johns 3.

This match was described in the press as "A pleasant game".

Saturday February 6th 1886 .

Darlaston 0 Pickwicks 2.

This was followed on March 6th with the first indication that even in those far off days Picks were able to field a second eleven. On that day it is recorded that they visited the second eleven of Willenhall Strollers and lost a keenly contested game by 5-4. The next recorded fixture was an Alliance Cup third round game played on Saturday March 20th when Picks visited and defeated Cheslyn Hay Excelsior by 4-1. Unfortunately it is not recorded how they reached the third round or for that matter how much further progress they made in the competition.

The final match recorded in that season was on March 27th when they entertained Cannock Town at Portobello and won a closely contested game by 1-0. No information regarding the names of players who took part in these games has survived. Other games must have been played but they were not reported and again no information has survived.

The start of the 1886-7 season saw coverage in the local press becoming more extensive with many more games being reported. The Picks were also becoming a well organised and powerful side in the locality as can be seen by the fact that on September 26th they travelled to Wolverhampton where they took on and defeated the strong Stafford Road team by 3-0. At that time Stafford Road played their home games at the Molineux Grounds and vied with Wolves for the honour of being the best team in Wolverhampton . Their fixture list included some of the best teams in the country and they were already competing in what was then known as The English cup. The return game was arranged for November 27th and again the Picks were successful by the same score.

The Picks fixture list was becoming more extensive, teams like Cannock Town , Hednesford Town , Darlaston Town , Walsall Wood Athletic, and Wolverhampton Wanderers Reserves were among the teams making up the Picks fixtures. Teams called Willenhall Strollers and Wolverhampton Clutha were also to figure prominently later in the season.

It was in this 1886-7 season that the Picks won the Wolverhampton Wanderers Junior Charity Cup. This was their first trophy success. Their progress in this competition is well documented. In the first round they were drawn to play local rivals Willenhall Strollers on January 1st 1887 at Portobello. But on the day the Portobello ground was shrouded in thick fog causing the game to be postponed until the following Saturday when the Picks won decisively by 3-0. The following comments appeared in the Express and Star on the following Saturday. "Judging of the play witnessed at Willenhall in the Wolverhampton Wanderers Junior cup tie between the Willenhall clubs, Pickwicks V Strollers, the former, who won by 3-0 certainly are the best trained team and on form should be well in the running for the cup. The Strollers, who are strong physically, are evidently in want of good training. They have not lost hope that at some future time they maybe able to beat their rivals".

The second round saw them paired at home to Bilston St. Lukes on February 12th and a crowd of 1,200 saw them win narrowly at Portobello by 3-2. This result appears to have put them into the Semi-finals that were due to be played on Wolves ground at Dudley Road . Both of the Semi-finals were to be played on the same day, one after the other.

On the morning of the games the weather had been uncertain with snow followed by rain, making conditions for the games treacherous. The first game between Wolverhampton Clutha and St. Marks resulted in a win for the former by 3-0. Clutha had been visitors to Portobello on the previous Saturday when a goal from Ledger had given Picks victory before a crowd of 500 supporters.

In the second Semi-final, the Picks played Wednesfield Rovers and ran out comfortable winners by 7-1. They then qualified to play Wolverhampton Clutha in the Final of the competition. For the first time in a game involving the Picks the team line ups were reported and given as follows:-

Picks: Goal, Banks; Backs, Hill and Perry; Half Backs, Jones, Osborne and Mellor; Forwards, Loat, Tonks, Clarke, Ledger and Lowe:

Rovers: Goal, Lees; Backs, Turner and E Pritchard ; Half Backs, D Pritchard Woodland and Kendrick; Forwards, Sidebottom, Bradley, Evans, Mattocks and Giles:

The names of the scorers were not given in the report of the match.

The Final between Wolverhampton Clutha and Willenhall Pickwick was played on Monday May 9th 1887 at the Molineux Grounds and was the main event at a Fete organised by The Grand National Order of Oddfellows by kind permission of Messrs Gittoes & Co., who presumably were the owners of the ground at that time. The weather was fine and an already large attendance was further increased just before Kick Off time when a large number of Willenhall football enthusiasts poured into the ground's intent on supporting their "favourites". The game swung to and fro with Clutha taking the lead through Pickerill but Picks soon levelled matters and then took the lead following a goal mouth scrimmage. Clutha however, scored an equalising goal shortly before half time following good work on their left wing. Play was fast and furious in the second half with neither side able to break down the other's defence until just before the call of time when Picks snatched a goal to win 3-2.

The Willenhall Reporter of May 13th described the scene thus "Our Willenhall reporter writes that very great interest was manifested in the town in the football contest which was determined at Molineux Grounds. A large and eager crowd waited in the Market Place for the telegram announcing the result of the match, and most uproarious cheers were given when the Pickwickians were declared victorious. These were again and again renewed when the winning team returned in brakes through the town. The result was anticipated and much money is believed to have changed hands over the event".

No details were given of the Picks scorers or of team line up but no doubt both teams would field the teams who played in the Semi-finals.

The 1887-8 season saw Picks continue their programme of friendly matches and although not all games have been recorded their list of fixtures was growing ever more impressive. On September 24th they entertained the strong Stafford Road side once more at Portobello and held them to a 1-1 draw. In the return match played on Christmas Eve the game was also a draw but no score was given, it was reported however that 1,000 spectators watched the game.

Other games recorded are as follows.

October 8th. Picks 3 Langley Green Victoria 1.

October 15th Picks Reserves V Brownhills Town Cup Team. The result of this was given as a draw but again no score.

March 3rd 1888 Picks 0 Wednesbury Old Athletic. 2.

March 31st. Picks 0 Stoke Swifts. 1

This game attracted 1,500 spectators to Portobello.

April 21st. Picks 7 Ironbridge 0.

The Picks also retained their hold on the Wolverhampton Wanderers Junior Charity Cup when they defeated Heath Town 4-1 on Saturday May 19th 1888 on Wolves Dudley Road ground. A full record does not exist but what is known is that along the way they accounted for St Phillips 3-0 and Wolverhampton Druids 5-0 in a replay following a goal-less draw.

The 1887-8 was also the season in which the Walsall Junior Cup was competed for, for the first time, and the Picks, having donated 5 shillings towards the cost of purchasing the trophy, then proceeded to be the first team to put their name on it. They disposed of Cheslyn Hay Excelsior by 15-0 and Elwells by 2-1 before coming up against Wallows Rovers, whom they beat 4-1 in the Semi­final. The Final was against Wednesbury Old Athletic and after a goal less draw in the first game they finally defeated them by 3-1. They become the first holders of the trophy.

The Picks also entered and made their mark on the Birmingham Junior Cup. They reached the fourth round before falling to Birmingham Victoria on February 4th 1888 by 4-3 in a replay, after a 2-2 draw on January 28th. The replay was marred by crowd trouble and it is reported that Picks had 2 men injured and in a fiercely contested game the crowd repeatedly showed their displeasure at some of the decisions of the referee, eventually becoming so unruly that the police had to be called to restore order.

In an earlier round the Picks reported a gate of 1,100 on December 3rd when they disposed of Great Bridge Unity by 4-1.

Season 1888-9 saw the formation of the Football League with just 12 clubs and this was to be followed in the coming seasons by the springing up of many local leagues, but for this season at least the Picks and most other teams had to be content with the usual mixture of cup competitions and friendly matches. The Picks continue to be supported by a reserve team that seems to have been there since the earliest days and we find, from time to time, reference to this team playing friendly games, as on October 6th 1888 when they entertained Wolverhampton Clutha and were defeated by 4-1. This was followed by further games on October 20th when they defeated Wednesfield Villa by 10-0, January 20th 1889 when they visited Dewsbury Albion losing narrowly by 3-2. and April 13th 1889 when they entertained Mellish Rovers and lost again by 3-2.

It was in the summer of 1888 that a young player named Albert Fletcher of the Pickwicks was signed by the Wolves. His wage at Wolves was the princely sum of 10 shillings per week and he also received one guinea as a signing on fee. Albert became a regular in the Wolves first team, playing in the F.A. Cup Final of 1889 against the mighty Preston North End. Unfortunately his career was cut short by an injury that he received in a game at Villa Park during the 1890-1 season. 3,500 turned up at Molineux on Monday October 12th 1891 to see Wolves play a benefit match for him against a Select Eleven following which Albert served Wolves as trainer for a further 29 years until his retirement in 1920.

In the Staffs Junior Cup the Picks met Stafford Weslyans on September 15th 1888 at Portobello before a crowd of 1,500 and won easily by 8-0. The second round on October 13th took the Picks to the Cross Keys ground where they forced a draw with Hednesford Swifts 1-1 before winning the replay at Portobello on November 17th by 3-1. This brought Burton Wanderers to Portobello, on November 24th for the third round, and again the game was marred by crowd trouble when, with 30 minutes left to play Picks player Osborne sustained an injury that forced him to leave the field. The crowd then stormed on to the pitch bent on showing their displeasure and refused to move. After consultation between the two captains it was agreed to abandon the game and to replay at Burton . The replay took place on December 15th and Picks lost a hard fought game by 3-2.

In the Wolverhampton Wanderers Junior Charity Cup the Picks progressed to the Semi-final where, on Saturday April 6th they met Wolverhampton Druids on Wolves Dudley Road ground. A large crowd of 4,000 saw a keen game end in a draw of one goal each. The Picks line up for the game was given as follows:-

Goal, Broom; Backs, Tonks and Partridge; Half Backs, W. Pearson, Mellor and Price; Forwards, Loat, Ledger, J. Lowe, Osborne and J. Jones:

No report on the replay has yet been found but the winners were due to play Heath Town in the Final of the competition.

In June 1889 the Birmingham and District League was formed to commence operations in the 1889-90 season. The Picks successfully applied to join the league and thus became one of the 12 teams that commenced operations. In this first season, teams encountered all sorts of problems not the least of which was the travelling arrangements when teams had to make long tiring journeys by tram or horse drawn brake to reach their destination. In this first season only one of the 12 teams completed their full programme of 22 league games and that strangely was Ironbridge for whom every journey must have seemed like a marathon. Picks to their credit completed 21 but whether it was they or their opponents who defaulted on the remaining match is not known.

So on September 7th 1889 Picks played their first ever league match at home when Unity Gas Dept ( Birmingham ) provided the opposition and the game ended in a draw 1-1.

This was followed by defeats at the hands of Kidderminster Olympic on September 14th by 2-1 and Aston Victoria on September 21st when they lost 3-­0. The following Saturday October 5th Picks were due to make the journey to Ironbridge, which they must have done but the score was not recorded.

For some reason the reports in the press suddenly stopped and the only other result recorded in the league was on February 5th 1890 when Picks visited Hednesford Town and came away with a draw 2-2. The Picks however, finished 10th of 12 teams with 14 points and the final league table was as follows.

 

P

W

D

L

F

A

Pts

Kidderminster Olympic

21

19

2

0

85

9

40

Kidderminster Harriers

21

13

2

6

75

38

28

Oldbury Town

21

11

4

6

43

33

26

Smethwick Carriage Works

21

11

3

7

72

46

25

Langley Green Victoria

21

9

7

5

52

40

25

Hednesford Town

19

7

3

9

50

72

17

Wellington St George's

21

6

5

10

41

61

17

Aston Victoria

20

7

1

12

53

64

15

Unity Gas Dept

21

5

5

11

37

68

15

Willenhall Pickwick

21

5

4

12

44

78

14

Ironbridge

22

5

3

14

46

65

13

Great Bridge Unity

19

6

1

12

41

65

13

The Picks had found the going hard and at the end of the season they resigned. They returned to three more seasons of friendly and cup games before venturing back into league football. The 1889-90 season was not however without its compensations for the Picks reached the Semi-finals of the Birmingham Junior Cup before bowing out to Birmingham Carriage Works. They also reached the Final of the Wolverhampton Wanderers Junior Charity Cup (later to be known as the Wolverhampton Charity Cup) and although nothing is known of the earlier rounds, they eventually reached the semi-final where, on Saturday May 24th 1890 they played Heath Town at Dudley Road to decide who would meet Wolverhampton Druids in the Final of the competition. The Picks duly won 3-1. but Heath Town lodged a protest on the grounds that the Picks team had turned up 40 minutes late for the game. Surprisingly the game was ordered to be replayed on Monday June 9th again on the Dudley Road ground but Picks made no mistake and a crowd of 1,000 saw them emphasise their superiority by winning again, this time by a score of 1 -0. In a season that must have seemed as if it would never end the Picks were now set to play the Druids in the Final of the competition, but there is no evidence that this match was ever played. It maybe that due to fact that the Semi-final was so late being played the trophy was held jointly.

The Picks line up for the replay was as follows:-

Goal, Banks; Backs, Partridge and Lazell; Half Backs, Pearson, Lowe and Osborne; Forwards, Ledger; Jones, Pearson, Loat and Southam:

The name of the goal scorer for this game was not recorded.

RETURN TO PICKS INDEX

Originally published in book form by Willenhall History Society 1994

©Willenhall History Society