The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (1)

Near to the clay mining village of Woodville where I spent my childhood there is a very similar coal mining village called Church Gresley. From 1882-2009, Church Gresley was the home of a football team called Gresley Rovers.

Here is a small scale map of where I am talking about. The orange arrow points to Church Gresley:

Rovers managed more than 125 years of inoffensive existence until, in our new and wonderful world of money, money, money, they found they hadn’t got any money, money, money, and immediately went bankrupt.  Rovers went into receivership and disappeared for ever. Shortly afterwards they re-emerged as Gresley FC. I’m afraid I stopped bothering with them at that point. I used to go to see “Rovers” as a lad, not “Gresley FC”.

Rovers had a ground called the Moat Ground which dates back over a century:

Here is a larger scale map of the village with the orange arrow pointing to the stadium, if that is the right word:

The club played quite a big part in the life of my family. Before the First World War, my Grandad, Will, played a few games for the reserves and before the Second World War, my Dad, Fred, managed a few games for the same team. When I was still a toddler in a pushchair, my Dad used to take me up to the Moat Ground to watch Rovers play. This would have been in the 1950s. My Dad used to teach in the school in Hastings Road, only half a mile from the ground. You can find Hastings Road on the map in the top right corner. He taught many of the players and supporters over the years. The team manager and coach was the school caretaker (or janitor).

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the school isn’t there any more. Because of mining subsidence, it has had to be pulled down.

The last football match I ever attended with my Dad was the Final of the F.A.Vase. It was between Gresley Rovers and Guiseley, a team from near Leeds in Yorkshire:

The game took place at Wembley Stadium, and I left it to Fred to buy the tickets and arrange the transport down to London.  We left in one of the many, many coaches full of happy Rovers supporters which streamed out of the village on that hot, sunny Saturday 26 years ago.
Another big day in the club’s history came on May 9th 1945, when Rovers played a match to celebrate the end of the Second World War. I don’t know if they realised it at the time, but the supporters had the privilege of seeing some of the greatest players of the era. It was billed as “Gresley Rovers (Selected) v RAF”.  Last year I bought the single sheet programme for the game on ebay.

I paid far too much by the standards of people who don’t need their heads examining. In the auction I was extremely cunning. I bid “a very large sum of money I have never told my wife about” plus a penny. I won the auction by a penny.
Rovers’ opposition that joyful day were the RAF. Captain of the RAF team I believe was Raich Carter, the only man to win the FA Cup both before and after the Second World War:

He played top class football for 21 years, appearing in midfield for Sunderland (245 appearances, 118 goals), Derby County (63 appearances, 34 goals), Hull City (136 appearances, 57 goals) and Cork Athletic (9 appearances, 3 goals). He played for England in 13 matches and scored 7 times. He then became a manager with Hull City, Cork Athletic, Leeds United, Mansfield Town and Middlesbrough. He also played first class cricket for Derbyshire and Minor Counties cricket for Durham.

Carter mentions the Gresley game in his autobiography:

“One vivid memory from this period was of a team put together by Carter and Doherty which played charity matches against local sides. One such match was played at a packed Church Gresley on a May evening in 1945. The result was not important.”

What was important was the fact that the war was over, Hitler was defeated, and within weeks, all of Britain would move forward into a Golden Age.
The other great star in the RAF team was Peter Doherty who partnered Raich Carter in midfield at Derby County.

On April 27th 1946, the two of them would help Derby to beat Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
Peter Doherty, from Northern Ireland, played for several clubs, including two Irish teams, Coleraine and Glentoran, and then Blackpool (82 appearances, 28 goals), Manchester City (119 appearances, 74 goals), Derby County (15 appearances, 7 goals),  Huddersfield Town (83 appearances, 33 goals) and Doncaster Rovers (103 appearances, 55 goals), giving a total of 200 goals in 402 appearances. He played 16 times for Northern Ireland and scored 3 goals. When he moved into management, he managed Doncaster Rovers, Northern Ireland and Bristol City. All this and he still smoked a pipe.
As Len Shackleton said:

“the genius among geniuses… the most baffling body swerve in football… all the tricks with the ball… a shot like the kick of a mule… enough football skill to stroll through a game smoking his pipe…”

We’ll look at the programme next time…



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Derby County, Football, History, Personal

21 responses to “The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (1)

  1. Gresley Rovers v Guisely Vase – try saying that when you’ve had a few

    • The secret, Derrick, is practice, lots and lots of practice. Football’s classic tongue twister is a Scottish result which actually happened in the 1960s. Forfar 4 East Fife 5. And if you can’t manage it, have another G & T to oil that larynx…and it’s all medicinal, of course!

  2. A great history that might through time be lost. I don’t know much about the game, but can relate to the accomplishments of Raich Carter by comparing him to Ted Williams of Red Sox baseball, both before and after the war. Your posts are always so rich in historical facts and especially those that include your family directly.

    • Thank you for those kind words ! I was actually hoping that somebody might be able to supply an American example of what I was talking about. As you can imagine, with six years of war and a year of recovery without very much sport, a lot of top class sportsmen more or less lost their entire careers. In addition, I know of one cricketer who was killed in battle in Italy, a bowler called Hedley Verity who was one of the best in the cricketing world in 1938.

  3. There is something about the name “Rovers” that takes you back to the ‘good old days’. It has a certain ring of sentiment to it whether you watch football or not.

  4. I doubt there will ever be a Premier League footballer who will also play first class cricket. You have reminded me of Graham Cross of Leicester City and Leicestershire CC. He was always one of my favourites. After retiring he became a postman and had a bit of trouble with the law for theft. A sad end to a great career.

    • I remember Graham Cross, a very decent man, or at least, he played as if he was. The career of Derby’s greatest ever player, Kevin Hector, was very similar. Hector retired after a superbly skilled career and he too finished up as a postman. I’ll give you one guess which football ground was on his round. Jeff Astle became a window cleaner and he used to clean my Dad;s windows. As for Derby’s cricketers, Cloughie soon put a stop to that. Apparently, in pre-season training in his first season of 1967-1968 he asked where Ian Buxton was. The reply came up “He’s away playing cricket for Derbyshire, Boss”. Clough told Mr Buxton to make his choice and Buxton left Derby more or less immediately.

      • I seem to remember that the football and cricket seasons were well defined and didn’t overlap so it was quite possible to do both. I think I can confidently say that there will never be another Dennis Compton. Apparently Graham Cross (known affectionately as the Tank at Leicester) robbed the Post Office to pay off gambling debts and went to prison for his crime.

  5. In rural Australia many small towns disappeared as small farms became consumed by huge farms and the farmers moved into big towns. So football and cricket teams merged with a neighbour or just disappeared. And I can’t think of one thing good to say about that.

    • There isn’t anything good about it. Gresley Rovers were founded in 1882 by a group of miners. For well over a century these poorly educated men managed to organise everything for themselves…fixtures, grounds, teams, mowing the grass, a cup of tea for the referee, everything. On one occasion they played in a final at Wembley. Those 100 years were a real achievement for such men, and their hard working wives. And then a rich businessman comes along, takes the club over with, no doubt, promises of quick progress to better things. Alas, neither his ego nor his gold were enough, and the team folded. It was so sad.

  6. Why did Gresley hold no appeal following?

  7. I’m sorry Lloyd, I don’t understand your question. Is “appeal following” an Australian expression I am not familiar with?

  8. I have used the “plus a penny” system several times with success. Whether I have ever used the “very large sum of money I have never told my wife about” part of the system will have to remain a mystery as she sometimes reads my posts.

    A single sheet programme from 1945 that has outlasted salvage schemes, neglect, age, ignorance and recycling is more precious than rubies and, with all the memories involved, truly priceless.

    • There are at least two other copies than mine. One 9is on the internet after being sold in an auction for just under £100, It is in a lot better condition than mine, but it has no autographs. A reader contacted me recently and said that she had one which had an apparent score of 4-4 written on it, but it had no autographs. You are absolutely right about the incredible process by which a single sheet of paper may survive any number of fatal events. It is amazing that something as fragile as that should stay with us when we are capable of finding so many ways of destroying things.

      • I once bought a 1946 FA Cup programme in auction – it came with all manner of other paperwork – all smelling of damp, with rusty staples and edges nibbled by mice. I imagine that in another scenario they might all have been binned.

  9. In better condition, that programme is around £150-£200 nowadays. I spoke to football historian a few years ago and he told me the story of how he had gone to Tottenham Hotspur’s ground to research for a book. He found a caretaker down in the basement, busy throwing old programmes in large quantities, into the furnace. He salvaged the last few and they were all pre-First World War. I dread to think how much money must have literally gone up in smoke!

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