Martin Kenny looks at the fascinating history of football in Stratford-upon-avon.
‘It’s lucky for town when the year ends in 63′
Last year I used this headline to commemorate the year when the Town lifted the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1963. By chance 1863 was quite a significant year as the Stratford District hosted on 2nd January its first ever reported football match.
The venue on 2nd January for this hybrid public school version of the beautiful game would be Church Place in Alveston. The teams had fifteen players a side and the match lasted only 40 minutes.
The Herald gave much emphasise to the enjoyment of the occasion. “During the game an amusing incident occured as a gentleman who was known for this activity, was taking the lead, he came into contact with an opposing player and actually pitched him over the iron railings into the road.”. Studying old maps I went to have a look at Church Place and discovered a section of what may be the old iron railings.
As an ex Winchester School pupil the Vicar of Alveston William Harding may have put forward the sport as a healthy pursuit for both mind and body. It is widely recognised that over a quarter of current Premier League and Championship clubs were formed originally as church teams.
An example locally would be Aston Villa who were founded by members of the cricket team of the Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel in 1874.
The sides of fifteen for the Alveston match were selected by the Captains William Barnard and Mr W.Gibbs who is described as being a junior from Alveston Hill. Both Captains attended St James Church which is the small church in the village which is surrounded by old graves.
However this game has significance not for any of the players but for a spectator watching with great interest, Captain Hamilton who lived at Avoncliffe in Tiddington.
His son Robert Hamilton would go on to organise one of the most famous football matches of all time. The First World War Christmas Eve 1914 truce game in no man’s land at Saint Yven at Ploegsteert in Belgium.
The events and how the game was initiated are detailed in Robert Hamilton’s diaries. The significance of this game would reach far beyond Belgium and represent a display of peace around the world.
Incidentally one of the Hamilton family close neighbours in 1928 and 1929 would be Sir Edward Elgar who rented Tiddington House. As a young man he regularly made the long journey by bike from the Malverns to support Wolverhampton Wanderers. Tiddington House was demolished in the 1960’s and replaced by several properties by what is now Beeches Walk.
It would not be until 1875 that the first game of football as we would recognise it would take place in Stratford. This game was reported briefly by the Herald and took place on Alcester Road on land currently occupied by Morrisons car park. There had been considerable build up to the game in the town with a team being put together of mainly 16 to 18 year old players to face a team from Edgbaston in Birmingham.
The performances of Thorpe, Talbot, W.Dickie, Pitt, Bland, Hyde and Archer stood out for Stratford. The local police turned up not for crowd control but to watch the game. The match was umpired by E.Skidmore from Stratford and ‘was well contested and resulted in favour of the Birmingham team.”
The embankment from the Train Station was used as a makeshift Grandstand which was useful as a vantage point. There was a larger crowd than anticipated of around 400 and included many watching from the platforms and the railway bridge.
Of course the town would go on to build the Alcester Road ground close to this site before later relocating the short distance to Masons Road. After a short time out of Stratford in exile there was the highly anticipated return to Knights Lane in February 2006.
Football is a game heavily linked to tradition so it is no surprise to see clubs return to old venues. It will remain to be seen if 2063 follows the trend and is another significant year for football in the town.