IN the immediate post-war era, there were three soccer leagues in the Warrington area - the Warrington and District (open age), the Warrington and District Sunday Schools League and the Stockton Heath Youth League.

My home village of Woolston had two clubs in the Stockton Heath Youth League.

Hayfield Rovers were nearer to where I lived than Woolston Wanderers on "the other side" of the main Manchester to Warrington A57 road.

The latter, in shirts of green bodies with black arms, were slightly more successful than the former, who wore white shirts and black shorts. I frequently went to watch Hayfield, who had a sloping pitch on a field nowadays occupied by a school in Hillock Lane.

Hayfield and Woolston were in the under 11s and under 13s sections. The under 11s were my counterparts. There were three outstanding players, Jones, the goalkeeper, familiarly known as Cobbles, and prolific goalscoring forwards, Jimmy Cleaverley and a lad called Winstanley, whose nick-name was the aptly doubly-meant Winner!

Invariably, the team were winners when Winner was playing, excepting when they met Woolston Wanderers.

In l947, Woolston and Hayfield met in a semi final of the Oakdale Cup, the divisional knockout competition.

The cup was so called because the league secretary, Alan James, lived in Oakdale Avenue, Stockton Heath.

The second division (under 13s) knockout competition was for the Heath Cup and the first division (under 15s) the Stockton Cup.

The semi final was staged on a bright Saturday afternoon at Padgate Cottage Homes. Cobbles was in Hayfield's goal and at the other end between the sticks was the brilliant Ashbrook, known to his mates as Ashes.

Such were his displays that any ashes were nearly always reserved for the opposition. So it was for Hayfield that day. Woolston won 2-0. The second goal floated over the head of Cobbles into the net to end any hopes Hayfield had of reaching the final.

Wanderers' opponents on a grey Easter Monday morning at Padgate Royal Air Force camp ground were none other than Harry Lilly's team from the Cottage Homes, known as the 11th AFC because the lads were members of the 11th Warrington Boy Scout Group Harry ran from the Homes.

Harry's team won 5-2 and one of Woolston's players, Johnny Nuttall, later a star for Monk & Co works team at Padgate and Crosfields Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society, broke his little finger.

Woolston, however, who had Stuart Bellamy in goal in the final, had won the divisional championship shield and this took pride of place in the display window of shopkeeper Mrs Mellor opposite their ground.

Hayfield were jointly run by Stan Mugan, Mr Richardson and Mr Bailey, and later teams operated under the names of Hayfield Athletic and Hayfield Boys' Club and another helper, Mr Dixon, whose sons were good players, became involved.

Woolston's main organisers were George Green, later a trainer for Warrington Town, and Mr Lester. The latter had a son called Harold. He achieved the much sought-after target of that time of 60 goals in a season, Evertonian Dixie Dean's l928 Football League record still being a yardstick of most players.

Harold was a much-feared centre forward and as the Woolston and Hayfield teams grew older, he progressed with them in to the Sunday Schools League, which catered for under 16s (junior), under 18s (intermediate) and open age (senior).

In the late l950s, the Warrington and District Sunday Schools League and the Stockton Heath Youth League amalgamated to form the Warrington and District Sunday Schools and Youth League. A few years later that league, in turn, amalgamated with the Warrington and District League.

In l949 Woolston got their name on the Heath Cup, beating Penketh Boys' Club in the final at Stockton Lane, a ground on the banks of the Bridgewater Canal at Lumb Brook, Grappenhall, which was later to become part of the history of what is now Warrington Town Football Club.

While quite a bit of success was coming the way of Woolston teams, Harry Lilly was quietly building up a new under 16s team mostly of "outsiders" who played under the name of Padgate Cottage Homes and later Padgate Hall.

In the l949/50 season he had assembled arguably the best under 16s team ever to play in the Warrington district at that time. Attired in shirts of green and white quarters, white shorts with green piping and green and white hooped socks, they were unbeaten throughout the season in the Sunday Schools League, winning the league championship and Chapman Cup knockout competition in a remarkable double.

They beat Newton Sea Cadets 2-1 in the Chapman Cup semi final on a rain-soaked Woolston pitch and then overcame Oakwood Youth Club 4-1 in the Easter Monday morning final at Rylands Recreation Ground, Gorsey Lane.

Padgate obviously had brilliant players. Inside right Harry "Joey" Rudge, who had trials with Everton, was nearly always on the mark and also achieved the magical 60 goals in a season. Eddie Roberts was in goal; there was long-legged Cyril Butterworth at centre forward; Gordon Starkey, a centre half whose mop of ginger hair flowed in the breeze as he headed away danger; John Kane and Stan Butler.

They all went their various ways. Butterworth and Starkey later took up refereeing, but Starkey also had a spell as a professional rugby league player with Swinton, and as a cricketer with Cheshire in the Minor Counties League and finished his soccer playing days with Newton, when they were a force in the Warrington and District in the l960s.

Kane became a member of a fine Rylands Rec team in the late 1950s which won the Warrington and District League, Liverpool Junior Cup and Guardian Cup in 1958. More of them later.

Penketh Boys' Club, under their leader Alan Boardman, were also supreme in local youth circles. While running the successful Padgate Cottage Homes under 16s team, Harry Lilly maintained his 11th AFC line-ups in the Stockton Heath Youth League.

One Saturday, he had got another 11th AFC under 11s team to another Oakdale Cup Final, this time at Stockton Lane against Penketh Boys' Club.

I was fortunate to get a lift with the team in an old van. Who should be sat on the floor of the van as a reserve who never got a game, but Roger Hunt, eventually to become a Warrington area and Liverpool Football Club legend and a member of England's l966 World Cup winning team and whose career I followed passionately from when I first saw him playing when he was 10. Roger is a story of his own, also later on. Penketh won 2-1 that day.

My first visit to Rylands Rec, the best enclosed soccer ground in Warrington at that time, was in 1949 for my first Guardian Cup Final. Dad's old RAF station at Padgate were playing Burtonwood Old Boys, a fine team by Warrington standards, run by CV Smith, headmaster of Burtonwood Secondary School, who had assembled a side of old boys and later took them into the Liverpool County Combination.

In blue and white quarters, they captured the Dodds Shield for the Warrington and District League Division One title, and beat RAF Padgate, in red and white quarters, 5-l to take the Guardian Cup and complete a double.

One of the Old Boys, who led 3-0 at half time, was the late Jimmy Pennington, who was signed by Huddersfield Town on the strength of his Burtonwood displays and finished his career, also in the Football League, with Southport. In later years he became my hairdresser in Earlestown and sadly died at Haydock Park Golf Club.

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