Willenhall History Society

The Picks

The story of Willenhall Pickwicks Football Club

1884 – 1916

Researched and written by Horace and Peter Davis

Chapter 7 THE PICKS FINEST HOUR

Little did the Picks and their supporters realise as they embarked on the 1912-3 season, that this season they would go farther in the English Cup than any other Willenhall team either before of since. They started quietly enough on September 14th when they began their campaign with a visit from Redditch in the Extra Preliminary Round which they won easily by 4-1. The attendance was poor and Picks line up for the game was:-

Goal, Henworth; Backs, Archer, Edge; Half Backs, Wootton, Robinson, Crabtree; Forwards, Paddock, Mason, Lally, Watton and Round:

The scorers were Mason 2, Watton and Lally.

Two weeks later on September 28th Picks had to travel to the Brookfields ground Cannock where a crowd numbering 2,000 saw them force a 1 -1 draw, with Watton getting Picks goal. For this game Skidmore replaced Robinson at Centre Half. The replay was fixed for the following Thursday afternoon October 3rd when a crowd of 500 saw Picks win through by 2-1. Lally and Watton got the goals and Picks made one change from the team that had done duty at Cannock , Cope coming in at inside right for Mason who was not available. Cannock complained that they had been unable to field their full eleven.

The first qualifying round brought Brierley Hill Alliance to Portobello on October 12th and what was described as a capital gate saw Picks again victorious by two clear goals from Watton and Lally. For this game Picks fielded:-

Goal, Henworth; Backs, Archer, Edge; Half Backs, Wootton, Robinson, Crabtree; Forwards, Paddock, Mason, Lally, Watton and Round:

The draw for the next round saw the Willenhall side again fortunate in having a home draw, this time against Birmingham League side Worcester City on November 2nd. In ideal weather a large crowd saw Picks take an early lead through Watton who scored from the rebound after his penalty kick had been saved. Mason increased the lead shortly afterwards and then Round got a third with what must have been the goal of the game. Collecting the ball near the halfway line he ran through the defence to score. City fought back strongly and managed to reduce the arrears with goals from Francis who converted a penalty and Caddick but try as they might they could not get on terms and Picks were through to the third qualifying round.

This time the draw was less favourable to the Picks and they were drawn to play Atherstone United away on Saturday November 16th. Excitement mounted in the town as the day of the match drew near and it was estimated that more than a thousand fans packed into special trains that left Stafford Street station on the day of the game gaily bedecked in the Picks colours of red and white to cheer on their favourites. The Picks again relied on the team which had done duty in the two previous rounds, Atherstone were represented by:-

Goal, Archer; Backs, J. Hargreave, Windridge; Half Backs, Hooper, H. Hargreave, F. Hargreave; Forwards, Ball, Drake, Ison, Vines and Norton:

A crowd estimated at 3,000 saw a very hard fought game with Atherstone taking the lead after 20 minutes with a goal by Ison. This was short lived however and much to the delight of the Picks supporters Harry Robinson, the Picks skipper, headed home the equaliser from a comer following a bout of sustained pressure from the visitors. Early in the second half Robinson gave Picks the lead with a powerful shot. By now the Picks were well on top and although the home side tried hard with both Robinson and Lally coming in for some very severe treatment from the home players there was to be no further score and Picks were through.

The 4th qualifying round saw the entry of some of the second division clubs from the football league, and all Willenhall waited with bated breath for the draw and when it came they were not disappointed. Picks were drawn to play Stockport County at Portobello on Saturday November 30th.

The Stockport club were not at all pleased at the prospect of a visit to the lock town and they immediately contacted the Picks committee suggesting that they might consider surrendering home advantage and allowing the game to be played on their new enclosure at Edgeley Park . The Picks committee duly met for their weekly meeting on the following Wednesday to consider the request but they were unanimous in their decision to decline the offer, feeling that it would be distinctly unfair to their own supporters, particularly to the thousand who had journeyed with them to Atherstone the previous week and who had given them such encouragement.

It was decided to do everything possible at the ground by banking up the side to accommodate a large crowd and it was expected that all previous records in regard to the "gate" would be considerably eclipsed. This was the first visit of a Second Division club to Willenhall and in view of the additional expense the price of admission would be raised to sixpence.

However, before they could concentrate their minds fully on the cup tie Picks first had to visit Bilston United at Prouds Lane for a local derby in the Birmingham Combination and for this Picks were without both Robinson and Lally who were still suffering from the effects of the battering they had received at Atherstone. Langford deputised for Robinson, Cope came in at inside left with Mason leading the attack. The game ended in a 0-0 draw with Joe Edge also sustaining an injury.

The committee met on the Wednesday before the game and expectations of a packed ground and a keen struggle were expressed. Preparations were being made for an attendance of anything between 8,000 and 10,000 although it was feared that the stand was nowhere near big enough to house all those wanting seats. The secretary stated that he had been inundated with requests for reserved seats, the latest from a party who were coming by bus from Wolseley Motors and asked for 42 reserved seats. Everything possible had been done to get Lally in condition for the game and Edge, who had been in some pain earlier in the week, was now fit and would definitely play. The team was expected to be at full strength for the game.

Saturday November 30th 1912 was sunny but very cold and a heavy overnight frost had left the ground frozen hard and very slippery, the early morning sunshine having failed to clear this. More drama was about to unfold however, for when the Stockport club arrived at the ground they immediately lodged a protest with the referee that the pitch was not properly marked out. The referee obtained a tape measure and after checking, announced that the centre circle was far too small and the penalty areas were 18" too large. He informed all concerned that he would allow the game to proceed but would have to make a report of the facts to the Football Association.

The Kick Off was at 2.30 pm. and as zero hour approached all roads led to Portobello as the fans finished their morning shifts and began making their way to the ground, intent on finding the best vantage points from which to view the game. Willenhall were forced to make a late change from the team selected when Joe Lally failed a late fitness test and it was announced that the versatile Langford would lead the line in his absence. Stockport also made one change from the team that had lost narrowly to Wolves the previous week. Houghton came in at left half in place of Hindmarsh who had been transferred to Manchester City that morning. The teams lined up as follows:

Picks: Goal, Henworth; Backs, Archer, Edge; Half Backs, Wootton, Robinson, Crabtree; Forwards, Paddock, Mason, Langford, Watton and Round:

Stockport : Goal, McIvor; Backs, Goodwin, Fagan; Half Backs, Tattersall, Garrett, Houghton; Forwards, Trotter, Rogers, Cook, Charlton and O'Brien:

The referee was Mr A. Weston of Shrewsbury .

The Picks won the toss and set the visitors to defend the Willenhall end facing the sun and before a large crowd. The game was evenly contested with Picks giving a good account of themselves on the frozen surface, but it was the visitors who scored first when Charlton broke through to give Henworth no chance from close range. Within a minute Watton netted following a pass from the right but was ruled offside. Just before half time Rogers was tripped in the penalty area but from the spot kick Charlton blazed the ball over the bar.

Early in the second half Archer cleared the ball from the Picks goal mouth but the ball only ran to O'Brien and he put the ball in the net as Henworth slipped on the frozen surface as he tried to save. Midway through the second half Goodwin handled in the visitor's penalty area but Joe Edge drove the resultant penalty straight at the goalkeeper and when the ball rebounded to Mason he put it wide.

The Picks last chance had gone and Stockport ran out winners by 2-0. After the game the Picks committee announced that the official attendance was “close on 5,000" and the receipt's £111.17s.9d. After match expenses were deducted both teams were left with £52.

Never again would the Picks reach such exalted heights in the National Cup competition.

Lally's injury proved more troublesome than at first thought and he played little part for the rest of the season and soon after the cup tie Round left the club to return to Wednesbury Old Athletic. Picks were running into selection problems to such an extent that in the second round of the Birmingham Senior Cup at Cannock on January 20th 1913 they were forced to experiment with goalkeeper Harry Hepworth in the Centre forward position and what's more he scored a goal in their 4-3 defeat. It appears that he played so well that the Picks had thoughts of an extended run in the position but changed their minds.

Once the cup run was over the team began to break up, Round returned to Wednesbury Old Athletic and Crabtree to Bournville, having joined Picks from these clubs during the close season.

During this season the Committee awarded Joe Archer their long serving full back, who had been with the club for 8 years, a well-earned benefit and the home league game against Bournbrook on April 5th 1913 was allocated. Picks won the game easily by 4-1 but unfortunately the turn out was not very good.

Picks league form was mediocre and they finished in mid table, occupying ninth position. Their playing record for the season was:

P

W

L

D

F

A

Points

30

9

10

11

74

53

29

Picks had for some time been troubled by waterlogged pitches. This was being aggravated by the opening of a new colliery nearby that was pumping their surplus water into the nearby River Tame. This was causing excess water to spill over onto the pitch. During the summer of 1913 the South Staffs Mines Drainage Board in co-operation with the local authority had put a lot of work in to try and eliminate the problem. The Picks were confident that they would have no further difficulty.

On the playing side Jack Mason had moved to Redditch and Harry Robinson was having serious problems with his knee and may have to retire from the game. Veterans Archer and Wootton may not play much in the coming season as Picks were anxious to give the young players a chance to show what they could do. As cover for Robinson Picks had signed a young Irish centre half named Wickham and he rapidly attracted the attention of a number of league clubs with his sterling performances. Picks also signed a young left winger named "Lol" Smith on contract at 15 shillings a game with a guarantee of 15 games a season. It was also reported that Arthur Potts who had played for both Picks and Swifts, had joined Manchester United.

The Picks had an uncertain start to the season. In the first qualifying round of the English Cup the Picks lost to Bilston United at Portobello. In the Birmingham Senior Cup they lost at home against Aston Villa Reserves by 4-1. The Picks soon decided that the steadying influence of Archer and Wootton was what was required after all. Their re-introduction into the side at the end of November seemed to bring about an improvement. They managed to finish in a more respectable 5th position in the league. Their playing record for the season was:

P

W

L

D

F

A

Points

30

15

9

6

61

52

36

This represented a considerable improvement on the previous season's performance. Picks organised a special game on December 26th in aid of Joe Edge's benefit and although nothing was reported of the actual game what is known is that Joe himself suffered an injury during the course of the game that was to keep him on the sidelines for some time to come. It must have been a hard fought "Benefit".

Picks reached three finals that season but only won one. In the Walsall Senior Cup they defeated Bilston United at home on Monday September 1st by 3-2 in the Semi-final but lost to Walsall in the Final on Monday April 27th 1914 by 3-­1 at Portobello. Picks line up was:-

Goal, Henworth; Backs, Archer, Edge; Half Backs, Wootton, Wickham, Silvers; Forwards, Bates, Mason, Lally, Cox and Smith:

In the Willenhall Nursing Cup Swifts, due to their heavy league commitments, were unable to play the Picks in the final, but eventually Bloxwich Strollers agreed to play at Portobello on April 25th, This was Picks only success for the following team won by 3-1.

Goal, Henworth; Backs, Archer, Edge; Half Backs, Wootton, Wickham, Silver; Forwards, Griffiths, Mason, Lally, Pritchard and Smith:

This season Picks entered the Forresters Charity Cup and having reached the final, bowed out to Hednesford on the Cross Keys Ground.

As preparations for the 1914-15 season got under way preparations were also being made for another contest of a far more serious nature and by the time the season actually got under way this country was embroiled in a war with Germany that was to last for four long years and was to cost the lives of a great number of men from many countries. For the time being, however, no one knew what would happen and many people thought the war would be over by Christmas so for the Birmingham Combination this season it was to be business as usual. Most teams would be faced with many difficulties during the months ahead as the war began to bite deep into everybody's lives. Changes in personnel would be frequent from week to week as players went off to war and those that were left were soon working long hours in the munitions factories.

Harry Robinson, who had been the backbone of Picks defence for so long, had been forced into retirement after a long struggle with a knee injury. Harry Hepworth had moved across the town to Willenhall Swifts, and had been replaced by Yarnell. Wickham, Robinson's replacement had returned to his native Dublin when war broke out giving as his reasons, "The war and Slackness of trade". By October he was back in Willenhall. James Jillard who had signed from the Swifts during the close and Lol Smith, last seasons left winger, had joined the Army and were no longer available.

Picks excursion into the English Cup came to grief in the Preliminary Round when on September 12th they travelled to Walsall and were soundly beaten by the home side by 5-0. A crowd of only 500 watched the game and Picks lined up as follows:-

Goal, Yarnell; Backs, Archer, Edge; Half Backs, Wootton, Corbett, Grout; Forwards, Turner, Mason, Lally, Burton and Rogers :

Of the old guard Archer, Edge, Wootton, Mason and Lally formed the basis of the team with the rest being unknown. Picks new left winger, Rogers, was the uncle of Tommy Rogers, a Willenhall man who would make a name for himself as a boxer of some repute during the 1930's.

The season was not without its lighter moments - one being on October 3rd when Picks set off by train to travel to Atherstone for their league game. Mistaking the station at which they had to change trains, the trainer alighted at Lichfield taking the basket containing the player's kit with him and did not arrive at Atherstone until the second half was under way. Meanwhile the players had played in kit loaned to them by the host club, unfortunately, although the Atherstone club did their best, it meant that some players were playing in boots either too big or too small. When the trainer finally arrived with the kit the referee kindly stopped the game to allow the Picks to change. In the circumstances it was not surprising that Picks lost 2-0.

On another occasion Picks were travelling to Nuneaton on November 21st for their Birmingham Senior Cup second round tie. They alighted at Castle Bromwich, where they were due to change and promptly boarded the wrong train. By the time they arrived at Nuneaton the light was fading and the game was eventually abandoned with the home side leading by 1-0. The match was replayed in mid week and Picks, with 5 reserves in their side lost heavily.

By the end of October James Dillard had been invalided out of the army, he was serving in the Worcestershire Regiment, and on October 31st 1914 Lol Smith was killed in action. He was 21 years of age. Picks had suffered their first casualties of the war.

By the end of October Wickham was reported to have returned to Willenhall and to have signed for Walsall .

On December 26th Picks travelled to Bloxwich for a league game with Strollers and they commenced the game with only nine men, but they did manage to increase this to ten as the game went on. It was hardly surprising that they went under by 6-2. On March 13th Picks went to Cannock without the services of Joe Lally, their Centre forward, who had enlisted on the previous Wednesday, nevertheless they managed a goal-less draw.

Picks played their last ever match in the Birmingham Combination on Saturday April 24th 1915 when they entertained Cradley Heath St Lukes at Portobello and won by three clear goals. They finished the season in 10th place. Their playing record for the season was:

P

W

L

D F

A

Points

30

13

12

5_ 56

55

31

At the end of the 1914-5 season the Birmingham Combination suspended all activities until the end of the war.

With the local senior leagues in abeyance for the duration, teams were left kicking their heels as the 1915-16 season began and some of their players went off to play in the local amateur leagues that were still managing to run. There were two schools of thought on whether football should continue in some form.

One said that it was morally wrong to take part in sport and compete for prizes while men were fighting and dying on the battlefields of France . There was a school of thought, however, which felt that it was desirable to have some form of entertainment to relieve the tension and provide entertainment for those working long hours in the munitions factories and in the end this school won for the time being.

After a September without organised football it was decided to form a league to be called the Walsall and District Combination and to commence operations at the beginning of October. The following ten teams indicated their willingness to take part:-

Bloxwich Strollers, Hednesford Town , Darlaston, Bilston United, Walsall Wood, Walsall , Willenhall Pickwick, Wednesbury Old Athletic, Cannock Town , and WiIlenhall Swifts

Fixtures commenced on October 2nd 1915 with Picks first game at home to Bilston being cancelled at the last minute. Guest players were permitted when available and Picks had the services of Jack Shelton of Wolves who had played in the famous cup final of 1908. The team which was actually selected for the postponed Bilston game was as follows:-

Goal, Hill (Wellington), Backs, Archer, Edge; Half Backs, Wickham, Brown (Heath Town) Thomas (Walsall); Forwards, Davies (Dudley) Shelton (Wolverhampton) Corbett, Deakin (Wellington) and Rogers:

On October 30th Picks played the Swifts at Spring Bank in what was to be the last meeting between the two clubs. Picks won by the only goal scored. On December 10th it was announced that Swifts had resigned from the league and suspended activities for the duration. Their place had been taken by Old Park Works and this was to create problems for the Picks in the near future.

Gates were showing a marked decline too as can be seen by the fact that the visit of Walsall to Portobello on October 23rd attracted only 250 spectators to see the Picks win by 3-2. The return game at Fellows Park on November 13 th, which Walsall won by 3-1, was watched by only 300 spectators.

On December 26th Picks were due to play a league game at Walsall Wood but failed to turn up and the game was re-arranged for January 1st when Picks turned up with an incomplete team and played only 30 minutes each way with the result being a draw 1-1. Picks had to borrow players in order for the match to be played. At the League meeting held on January 19th 1916 Walsall Wood claimed £1 for non fulfilment of the fixture on December 26th and £5 for loss of gate on New Years day when they claimed Willenhall turned up with only seven men. Mr Charles Hobley told the Committee that Old Park Works had taken three of their players for New Years Day and as regards Boxing Day the men just refused to go to Walsall Wood. Walsall Wood were awarded 10 shillings on the first claim and the Committee ruled that the match on New Years Day could not stand as it was only of 30 minutes each way duration. On receiving the 10 shillings Mr Lote of Walsall Wood then offered it back to Mr Hobley towards the cost of re-staging the game. Old Park Works were later fined 10 shillings for playing three of Willenhall's men.

The season spluttered on with all its problems with Picks managing to complete all 18 fixtures. On Tuesday April 25th they played their last game at Portobello, defeating Old Park Works by 4-1 and the following Saturday April 29th 1916 they travelled to Cannock for the last match of the season and what was also to be the last match Picks would ever play. They lost 3-2.

The Picks playing record in the last season of their existence was:

P

W

L

D

F

A

Points

18

5

10

3

31

38

13

The Walsall and District Combination, which had lasted but one season, went into abeyance and the Picks also suspended their activities until the end of hostilities and were never to play again. In 1919 they amalgamated with Willenhall Swifts to form a new club called Willenhall Football Club Limited playing in the Birmingham and District League and using the Spring Bank Stadium as their home ground, but then that is another story.

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Originally published in book form by Willenhall History Society 1994

©Willenhall History Society