Wednesbury Hockey Club 1931-2011
Geoff Webb, the President of Wednesbury Hockey Club provided most of the information below, and all credit goes to the Wednesbury Hockey Club web site: Wednesbury Hockey Club
The Early Years 1931-1939
The inspiration for the formation of the Club came from one forceful character in the form of Cyril George Morrish who was employed by the Borough of Wednesbury as the Assistant Borough Surveyor. He had studied at Cambridge University and been awarded a hockey half blue [hockey only merited a half] and had gone on to represent the county of his birth, Herefordshire. Without his initial enthusiasm Wednesbury Hockey Club may never have seen the light of day. Whilst working in the Surveyors’ Department he suggested the idea of forming a mens’ hockey club and he coerced, forced or instructed those members of staff that he had an influence over and liked to form the nucleus of a hockey club. The earliest members were Morrish himself supported by Edward Wilson, W. Rees Davies, Ron Highfield and Len Middleton all from the Surveyors Department and Sandy Fraser, a friend of Cyril. These then were the founder members of Wednesbury Hockey Club.
The need for equipment to play the game was of paramount importance as the number of members with even a stick was limited to two or three and the others had probably never seen, let alone handled one. Fund raising through whatever means necessary were undertaken, jumble sales, raffles (in those days illegal), plus dances at Saint Paul’s Institute and in the Town Hall. Whilst the enthusiasm of Morrish drove them on, the spade work was carried out by others notably Wilson, Highfield and Middleton.
At last on February 7th 1931, a mixed match was played under the guise of Wednesbury Surveyors against a mixed team raised by Wednesbury Ladies Hockey Club. Amongst the men who played on that occasion were five people from the Surveyors together with J.G. Alexander a Wednesbury solicitor who was 63 years of age! Following on from this the first all mens’ match was played against Birmingham University 3rds.
Home matches were played at Pleck Park on a pitch shared with Bescot Ladies Hockey Club and before long the name had been changed to Wednesbury Hockey Club with a ground at Bescot which had been smoothed out by the Corporation steam roller. Edward Wilson had arranged a number of fixtures including Aldridge and Wombourne. The membership had increased so full sides could be fielded. Amongst the new members was Austin Whitehouse at centre half, who’s son Bob became the first team goalkeeper in the late 1950’s – the first evidence of family commitment to the Club.
August 11th 1932 saw the Club hold its first Annual General Meeting in the Horse and Jockey pub in Wood Green, the venue for successive AGM’s until the 1950’s. Amongst the officers appointed was Ron Highfield as Secretary, a position he held for many years before retiring at the end of the 1951-52 season; the first of many outstanding and loyal servants the Club has benefited from over the past seventy years.
The Club continued on its nomadic round of pitches moving to Elwell’s Oval in 1934 after losing the Bescot ground for building. However, some stability was now achieved with the Club fielding two sides. The Club remained at Elwells until activities were suspended shortly after the outbreak of World War Two.
During these years the Club was able to attract players from other Clubs, notably Tom Whittingham from Butlers who played for Wednesbury from 1932 until his untimely death in 1956 and occasionally first class players working in the area such as Nigel Boyce of Cambridge University and Middlesex who taught at Wednesbury Boys’ High School.
The earliest dated information held in the Club’s archives is a postcard dated 14th March 1932 arranging two fixtures home and away with Wombourne Hockey Club as well as a team photo from the 1932-33 season, unfortunately not naming the players.
The Changing Faces 1957-1969
This period of the Club’s history began with the fielding of three established teams fulfilling fixtures every Saturday throughout the season at least as often as the weather permitted. All the games were played on grass and many of our past and more senior players will recall that in those days the slope on the pitches at Wood Green were much greater than it currently appears when watching cricket.
The growth of the Club caused some headaches in finding suitable pitches to play upon and the Club made use of facilities at Old Park School, Pleck Park and Frank F Harrison School. The Club also became involved in discussions with the Town Council asking for sympathetic consideration for the use of facilities at the proposed new Hydes Road playing fields.
As the people who had been instrumental in the formation of the Club began to retire from active participation, a new set of enthusiastic younger members began to take responsibility.
The advent of the motorways particularly the M6 and later the M5 changed the habits of the previous 35 years. By now a Sunday side, the Club ranged far and wide playing games against Clubs new to Wednesbury; Moreton in Marsh, Ross on Wye, Kettering and Nuneaton. Also on a Sunday the Club fielded a Boys team against Young Wulfs, RAF Cosford, Cannock Boys and other local teams. In the season 1964-65 a 3rd team was formed again playing on a Sunday. A leading light in the recruitment of new members was Bert Goodreid who helped to recruit pupils from local schools. West Bromwich schools produced Ron Campbell, Keith Hall and John Martin amongst others. Wednesbury Boys High School had a long history of supplying players, notably Steve Tibbetts, Gareth Hayward and other youngsters.
There were also changes in playing surfaces, with from 1967 the use of Redgras being the first move away from traditional grass.
During this era the Club and particularly Stan Smith were honoured by his appointment as Vice President of the Staffordshire County Hockey Association.
These were the years when Easter tours began with trips to Bournemouth and Paignton, a tradition which continues today with an Easter tour to Blackpool.
The Seventies – Leagues For all
During this decade league hockey became more formalized. The organisation of the early leagues left much to be desired and fixtures ranged far and wide. At the end of the 1977-78 season, the Club finished second in Division 4 North West and won promotion. This meant travelling to places as far afield as Corby and Grantham. Not all teams wished to play in Leagues, so the Club’s Fixture Secretary had to juggle League fixtures with long established Friendly fixtures.
At this time the Club was fortunate to be able to use the two Redgras pitches at Wood Green High School, within walking distance from the Clubhouse. Who will forget the walk down Wood Green Road carrying nets and backboards to make up the goals? The cry of “anybody brought some string?” to secure the nets was a frequent occurrence. A fishing net was also essential to fish balls out of the nearby River Tame.
It was towards the end of this period that Ron Campbell began a long period as captain of the first team and subsequently the second eleven. Ron later went onto manage the first team and is currently Chairman of the Club.
The seventies also saw the recognition of players from the Club in representative hockey, with both Keith Hall and Phillip Burnell being called up to the County under 23 side.
The Eighties – Youth to the Rescue
The eighties began with the membership getting older, the competition more fierce and the Club facing the prospect of declining from its former glories. Doubts were expressed about the Club’s ability to field the number of teams which the Club had previously been able to maintain. As a result the Club decided to start a Youth Policy and set about interesting youngsters from the age of 6 upwards in hockey. Eddie Johnson, Alan Brayford, Graham Noakes, Jon Bailey, Andy Webb and others began the whole thing visiting local schools and organising Saturday morning training sessions.
This produced many youngsters including Michael Johnson, Chris Lal, Brent Manns, Jimmy Singh, Mar Whitehouse, Bhavesh Patel, Armaan Sarwar, Subash Mehmi, Grant Jones and many more.
The first achievement was to win the Midlands under 16’s Indoor Championship in 1990 and to follow that by becoming National Champions winning the title at Crystal Palace later that year. These achievements did much to bring the name of the Club to the forefront both locally and nationally. Press coverage, radio interviews and a reception by the Mayor of Sandwell at a full Council meeting were the rewards for the players. In 1995, an under 16 team from the Club also reached the national indoor finals in Kidderminster finishing third after winning at Staffordshire and Midlands level. The squad included Leighton Clare, Michael Brown, John Summers, Hitesh Makan, Andrew Bennett, Matthew Heslop, Michael Johnson, Pritpal Bhurji, Gavin Shayler, Richard Drewe and Pavinder Sandhu.
Towards the Millennium
The Nineties saw an increase in competitive hockey through the establishment of a formal League structure. Sponsorship became more important to the Club. Early sponsors included The Beeches Residential Home and Wednesbury Motor services. More recently West Bromwich Building Society, MEB, South Staffs Water, Ikea and West Bromwich Police have also supported the Club. Mick Simmonds has been instrumental in gained shirt sponsorship in recent years.
The Club continued to produce young players and some of these moved on to play at a higher standard. Michael Johnson moved to Cannock Hockey Club and then played many international games for England and Great Britain. Amiruz Zaman and Chris Drewe also moved to Cannock. Jimmy Singh moved to Barford Tigers to play National League hockey. Andrew Bennett has played for both Hounslow and Indian Gymkhana in London.
The Club also introduced a Badgers team to introduce youngsters to competitive hockey. A first was achieved in May 2000 when a young team representing Wednesbury played a side representing several clubs from Bremen in Germany.
The changing pace of the game saw the club move homes once again to play on an Astroturf pitch at Bescott Stadium and eventually moved to a new pitch at Willingsworth Comprehensive School, Tipton.
The mid 00’s saw Wednesbury’s teams across the board have great success in the MRHA league structure with the first team gaining promotion as Champions of the West Midlands Premier League to reach the clubs highest ever league status. In the new Century, the WHC decided they had the numbers to enter a Fourth Team in the Central League as well as run three adult teams and a Badgers team. The club still runs five teams every Saturday to this day. The Club moved all its games to the new Astroturf pitch at Willenhall Comprehensive School and it has developed strong links with the school thanks to the hard work of the clubs Youth Development Officer Eddie Johnson. Saturday morning training continues with over fifty junior members attending training or playing for the Club’s teams, giving the Club a sound base for the future.
For social activities the Club continues to be based at the Wednesbury Sports Union on the site of Wednesbury Cricket Club in Wood Green Road and has been happy to support the Sports Union in the recent upgrading of facilities.