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Stanley Matthews and Oakwood Old Boys - part seven
WITH the 2007/08 association football season now kicked-off and television's Match-of-the-Day tune ringing in our ears again, it is time to resume our popular series of Post War Football by Gordon Brown.
1953 went down as one of the most momentous soccer years of that era, if only for the fact that Stanley Matthews won his coveted FA Cup winners' medal after two unsuccessful attempts with Blackpool in 1947/48 and 1950/5l seasons.
Arsenal won the League Championship on points difference from Preston North End and on the Warrington front ICI (Winnington) won the district league championship, while the great Oakwood Old Boys' team gathered together by Oakwood Junior School head Vernon Rigby collected the Guardian Cup, Runcorn Amateurs the Depot Cup, Rylands Recreation the Starkey Cup, Weaverham Youth Club the Head Cup, Thames Board Mills the Division Two title and Kingsway United Division Three.
But, back for the time being to the FA Cup Final, which was the first one I had ever seen on TV and all thanks to a road sweeper.
I was still a cub reporter with the Leigh Guardian and always cycling round the country lanes hunting for news.
One of my valued contacts was the road sweeper Mr Unsworth.
The roads and lanes of Culcheth, Croft and Risley were spotless when he had done his daily stint.
He was an extremely keen Bolton Wanderers fan, one of many in that district at that time (including Roger Hunt and his brother Peter). "Why don't you come along and watch it?" Mr Unsworth asked.
As my only previous experience of instant information from a Football Association Cup Final had been confined to Raymond Glendenning radio commentaries and as my parents could not, as yet, afford a TV, there was only one answer to the question.
So cometh the hour cometh the man, and well before Abide with Me and kick-off time I had arrived at Mr Unsworth's home at Culcheth Hall Lodge, what was known as a lodge house, a small cottage, at the entrance of the drive to Culcheth Hall.
Culcheth Hall, which had been the seat of the local Lord of the Manor, Squire Withington, developed soccer connections.
It was bought by the Co-operative Society, who had their barden nurseries there in the time I attended school in the village.
The son of the occupant, Derek Chesters, later helped to run some successful Glazebury Church A.F.C. teams. Derek was a classmate of mine. I had not met him for about 30 years until one day in Cumbria of all places.
I was searching for the temporary office of a newspaper while their permanent office in Workington was being renovated when suddenly a voice called "I know you, don't I?." Workington is about l20 miles from Culcheth. I could not believe my eyes. It was Derek with an office equipment van crew.
The other soccer link with Culcheth Hall is that after it was demolished, smart houses were built there and along the drive, and the most famous resident of what became Culcheth Hall Drive was Roger Hunt.
But let's get on with the match -- truly an unforgettable "first" for an armchair fan (I was not normally one of those, I must add). All in black and white, of course, as colour TV was light years away in Coronation Year, it was a truly great game.
Although a disappointment in the end for Mr Unsworth and many other Bolton fans outside in the village after the team had led 3-1, it was great for any neutral to see Stanley Matthews get his coveted F.A. Cup winners' medal.
This time it was Blackpool's Cup, held aloft by Harry Johnston, who sadly died in the early 1990s. It was sheer magic to watch Matthews and his relationship on the field with Jackie Mudie and the late Stan Mortensen, whose statue outside the club's refurbished Bloomfield Road ground I took a photograph of the other week.
Anyway, though, it was Mr Unsowrth's time for disappointment, for Bolton had beaten Everton in the semi-final at Maine Road. I was there.
I queued with my father for tickets the Sunday before the tie and when the great day came joined a crowd of around 80,000 with not a bit of trouble.
All seven-stone of me pushed to the front of the terraces to see the fare. It was not a pretty sight for an Everton fan to see Bolton take a 4-0 lead and the Blues miss a penalty, all in the first half.
But what a fight-back after the interval. The Second Division side, as they temporarily were, got three goals and could easily have drawn level had Tommy Clinton not put that penalty well wide of the late Stan Hanson, the Bolton goalkeeper and later the sub-postmaster for the post office outside Burnden Park.
It was the season when Everton had collected some famous scalps in the competition. I was at Goodison for the fifth round tie when the reigning League champions Manchester United were beaten 2-1 by Second Division Everton.
Dave Hickson, the bustling centre-forward, put up the most courageous performance I have seen in football, playing on with a gashed head and nothing the winning goal with blood running down his cheek after a clash of heads with Allenby Chilton.
I can see that goal now in the mind's eye as though it was yesterday, being stood with Dad near the corner flag on the side of the goal the ball bounced into.
Dave had been off the field for stitches and had returned. The cut had opened up again.
The sixth round took the Toffees to Villa Park to play Aston Villa, also in the First Division. Dad and I were unable to travel to Birmingham and the radio had broken. So for one rare Saturday we were unable to listen to Sports Parade at 5p.m.
Even the fact that our next door neighbour in Woolston kept pigeons did not prevent us from being starved of the score until we had walked more than a mile to the nearest newsagent's shop at Paddington to get the Liverpool Football Echo.
Imagine our jubilation when we bought our copy and immediately looked for the only result that mattered that day and found that Everton had won 1-0 and Dave, who autographed a programme for me 50 years later when he attended a Supporters' Club function in Cumbria, where I now live, had scored again.
We were cheering all over the shop with the newsagent, Mr Joyner, who did not seem to share our enthusiasm for the game, wondering what all the fuss was about.
Ironically, Dave later played for Villa... and Liverpool (of all teams for an Evertonian).
Years later, Dave helped at Ellesmere Port Town and someone tried to organise a testimonial for the hero. Surprisingly there was little response. Fans have short memories.
Excuse me for wandering off the Warrington patch a little, but I think my memories in this respect are of local interest in that in the absence of a top flight team in the town, a lot of support for the game went, as it does now, to the big clubs in Manchester and Liverpool and to Bolton Wanderers. Therefore, I hope my reminiscences over a wider field are of general interest.
But back home, the team to watch in Warrington circles was undoubtedly Oakwood Old Boys. Still tutored by Oakwood Avenue Junior School headmaster Vernon Rigby, they had passed their "A" levels by the time 1953 arrived compared to the side beaten by Padgate Cottage Homes in the 1950 Chapman Cup final.
Spearheaded by a wonderful centre-forward, Dave Robertson, and including his brother, Don, and many other fine players I just cannot remember by name, they played scintillating football all season.
They had worthily taken over the mantle of Lowton St Mary's, although Lowton secretary Fred Hampson was reluctant to concede the fact until the sides met, and when they did, in the second round of the Guardian Cup, Oakwood won 4-1.
If any team looked like doing the coveted hat-trick of Championship, Guardian and Depot Cups, it had to be Oakwood.
But it was not to be. Like a marathon runner leading the field for 25 and a half miles they faltered on the last straight, allowing I.C.I. (Winnington) to pip them to the Championship and Runcorn Amateurs to beat them in the Depot Cup final, only taking the Guardian Cup, in a final in which they got revenge over Runcorn Amateurs, to show for all the attractive football they had produced throughout the season.
It was amazing really that for three successive seasons teams with homes on some of the worst pitches imaginable carried off the top prize in Warrington soccer.
Golborne United played on the sloping, uneven Legh Street Recreation Ground, Lowton St Mary's on a pitch already described in the chapter on 1952, and Oakwood on an extremely rough surface on a field neglected for years at Orford Road.
Of the Oakwood contingent, schoolteacher Dave Robertson was my favourite and I had the pleasure of reporting on his games in the 1960s when he played for Earlestown.
Quietly watching the exploits of Oakwood was Stockton Heath secretary Jimmy Drinkwater. By strange coincidence with Oakwood's great season, Jimmy hit on the wonderful idea of elevating Stockton Heath from the Warrington League to the Mid-Cheshire League (it has changed name to the Cheshire League this season) and many of the Oakwood team, but not all, followed him, but this great adventure I will dwell on in my next article when 1953 will be continued.