Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler’s interests are diverse – he’s written much over the years about local mining history, the industrial dynasties, power-brokers and workplace safety – but today, he turns his gaze slightly further afield and towards fairly uncharted territory for him – football.
This is a lovely article that should prove interesting to those missing the weekly Walsall Wood football fix, and hopefully spark some debate.
Thanks, as ever, to Peter for all he does, and for yet another wonderful article on the Brownhills Blog.
Bloxwich Strollers in 1989. They finally folded in 1998. Image from More Lost Teams of the Midlands.
From Bloxwich Strollers to the Villa
If you are a Villa supporter at present its about as bad as it gets. Yes, we’ve been through the 3rd Division, but that team would walk over the present one, I even believe Walsall Wood could beat them [Of course they could, For the Good of the Wood! – Bob]. So it was in the Pub that I was reminiscing with and old Wolves supporter, with tears dripping into my pint of Sunbeam.
I said to my mate, a little tongue in cheek, that I remembered a Villa player who used to run down the wing with an umbrella, but couldn’t remember his name. The search for the name led into Methodist circles and the Red Lion at Bloxwich. The player of course was Charlie Athersmith (1872-1910) and his story can be seen on Wikipedia here….
One of the first mentions of Charlie that came up in papers was in 1905 due to a summons when running the Vine in Bloxwich. I did not realise at the time that he was a native. I then stumbled on an article from the Sports Argus of March 1916 which was running a series called ‘Boys of the Old Brigade’ and in this edition they featured William Henry Bratt, who was the son of Harry Wheeler Bratt. Harry was known all over the district as ‘Little Harry’ and was a precocious Methodist preacher active everywhere in the Cannock Chase district.
William was known as ‘Old Cobbler’ and was as famed as his father in Walsall, Bloxwich and districts around. In football, athletics and all sports he was well known. He became secretary for Bloxwich Strollers FC who he saved financially on occasions at a cost to himself.
I’am assuming the Red Lion Hotel is the Red ion in Leamore, but welcome clarification. Here’s the pub in question in a September 1969 image by David Hillas posted on Geograph with the following description ‘Walsall trolleybus at the Red Lion, Leamore Crossley TDD43/2 trolleybus 850 (HBE 541) turning at the “Red Lion” public house on a private tour. Green Lane joins the B4210 (Vice A34) main road from the left.’
William was mine host of the Red Lion Hotel, Bloxwich, which was ‘the’ sporting house of the town. In the grounds to the rear assembled the footballers, cricketers, bowlers, cyclists, dog fanciers, pigeon fanciers, and everybody who had a sporting taste. On the spacious grounds, situated in one of the highest points in England, footballers who have become reputed have played, some of the most famous athletes, amateurs and professionals, stretched their legs, and some of the fleetest dogs afoot fought for prizes.
I’m up here every morning, before breakfast winter and summer, rain, hail, or sunshine, I gallop round the ground about twice every morning….after breakfast I go for an eight miles walk… I have never made a penny out of football. I have been secretary of the the Strollers for years and have never had a penny for my work…
Charlie Athersmith, local hero. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Hanging on the walls of the Red Lion is a souvenir of a memorable schoolboy match. In 1910 the Walsall schoolboys played Sunderland in the English Schools Shield, the match was drawn, and in the replay they were beaten. Photographs of incidents in the match, players and officials were presented to William with the inscription… ‘Presented to Mr WH Bratt by Walsall Schools FA, for long and valuable services in support of Walsall Schools FA’. He was also presented, in 1905, with a Staffordshire Association medal for services rendered to Bloxwich Strollers FC.
He was a little more definite in regard to one famous athlete whose name is familiar to Sports Argus readers. That was Charlie Athersmith, of Aston Villa fame.
Yes, I knew Charlie very well indeed. He was originally in Bloxwhich Wanderers team. They amalgamated with the Strollers and Charlie played for the Strollers after amalgamation. He left us to go to Unity Gas, and then to the Villa. And in time he returned to his native Bloxwich, and became landlord of the Red Lion. I followed him here. I helped to train him for some big races.
William also added that the Strollers used to play on a small field at the back of a garden attached to his home in Revival Street.
[There is much more local info on William Bratt and the Strollers in the first April edition of the Argus…if anyone is interest I will summerise.]