One Saturday afternoon back in October 1958 after finishing playing their game for Co-op Football Club two friends were chatting amongst themselves about how difficult it was to field a side on Saturday due to the work commitments of some of their team mates. Those two friends were Derek Payton and Arthur Walker. They decided it would be a good idea to have a friendly game on a Sunday morning when no-one would be working. They invited a club called George Street Villa from the newly formed Birmingham Festival League to play the very first Wolverhampton Sunday morning Friendly League game. The match took place at the Co-ops ground in Compton a number of guest players took part in the game and it was refereed by that great friend of the Wolverhampton Sunday League, Wolves and england star Jimmy Mullen. So impressed were the visitors that after the game they invited the Wolverhampton side to apply for membership of the Festival League but travelling in those days was unrealistic so Derek And Arthur decided if they could not join them then they would form their own League and so it was that on March 20th 1959 an ad was placed in the Wolverhampton Chronicle asking interested parties to contact Derek or Arthur with a view to forming their own Sunday morning league. Within weeks of that ad appearing ten clubs became involved in friendly games on Sundays but there were problems for those taking part because without Football Association approval the consequences could be
grave, including fines and suspensions, added to this there was the lack of pitches. The new league could have floundered in its infancy but a close friend of Derek Payton Councillor Vic Law J.P., stepped forward and campaigned for the Parks Department to make pitches available the fact that he succeeded enabled the League to continue and in the summer of 1959 the first ever League meeting was held at the Co-op Social Club in Stafford Street. Vic Law went on to become Mayor of Wolverhampton and was also the Sunday Leagues first ever President. Amongst those present at that first ever League meeting was a young sixteen year old representing his club Penn Old Boys his name was John Slyde, he recalls being somewhat overawed at being the youngest player there, more about John Slyde later in this article.
Fred Reynolds became the first ever League Secretary whilst Norman Belcher was elected the Leagues first Chairman and together they formed the first Sunday League committee. The first rule book was formulated and clubs paid a membership fee of £2 per club, players registrations cost one shilling (5p) and clubs could transfer players for two shillings and six pence(12 and a half pence). It was with optimism the inaugural season got under way but it soon became obvious that teams were hopelessly mismatched and Penn Old Boys finished
bottom of that first ever Sunday League table with Scotthorn Rovers winning that first league in the 1959-1960 season, by which time the League had grown from the original ten to sixteen clubs.
Scotthorn Rovers also won the first ever Sunday League cup final the Charles Levett Cup.
Charles Levett was also a member of that first league management council.
A month after that first historic League and Cup double came the news that at last the
Football Association had sanctioned Sunday football and the gates opened for Clubs to join
the league. At the start of the 1960-61 season the Sunday League had grown to three
divisions, ambitions were high so much so that a Wolverhampton Sunday League representative side inflicted the first ever defeat in ten years on the Birmingham Coronation
League side. Could continue, In the same week the League held its first Celebration dance
at the Woolpack Restaurant in Salop Street.
However in July 1962 the problem of available pitches reared again the Parks Department
saw their chance to cash in on the ever growing popularity of Sunday football and announced an increase in pitch fees by fifty percent to £1 ten shillings (£1.50). There was uproar amongst the clubs and the Management committee, the league steadfastly refused to bow to pressure and cancelled all games on Parks pitches during the first two weeks of the season, but with only a handful of private grounds available it was difficult to see how the league could continue, but fortunately the Parks department and the League Management Council came to a compromise and agreed a rise to just £1 two shillings (£1 twelve and a half pence).
As the high standards of Clubs and players continued to grow it was decided to introduce a
Premier Division and in 1965 Wedges Mills F.C. became the first ever Premier Division
winners, going on to repeat their triumph a year later. Other clubs to win those early Premier tables were Eastfield Old Boys in 1966-67, Bradmore Workingmens Club 1967-68, Volford Olympic 1968-69 and by 1970 the league reached its maximum capacity of 10 divisions with 120 clubs taking part and at the end of this period an astonishing number of forty two clubs were left disappointed in not being able to join the already full league. Also during this period Wolverhamptons most famous referee Mr. Jack Taylor was elected as President of the league.
No-one associated with the league could believe the news that hit the streets of
Wolverhampton in April 1972 that the league was bankrupt with debts totalling almost £1000.
A shock audit had revealed only paper money and the leagues credit had run out.
Following resignations from the Management committee the end of the Wolverhampton
Sunday League looked inevitable but once again a champion or to be precise a number of
champions stepped forward in the shape of that youngster of sixteen who attended the first
ever league meeting in 1959, John Slyde along with friend Alan Hall, Brian Roberts, Sid
Skedgel, Reg Butler and other remaining committee members in a determined mood to save the league. These were dark days and desperate measures were needed if the league was to be saved. A levy of 50p was imposed on all clubs until the end of the season. Reg Butler recalled he had to stand in front of 120 clubs and convince them that this was the only way forward “I`ve never been so nervous in my life but thankfully the clubs took it on board” he recalls. Also around this time two other great management council members were unveiled in the names of Brian Smith and Harold Bunch. Brian became league secretary and Harold treasurer.
Over the next decade the league blossomed into what many consider to be its golden era.
Alongside the names of some of those great clubs such as Penn Old Boys, Eastfield Old Boys, Three Tuns, Volford Olympic, came Marstons, Club Laffayette F.C., Cobblers F.C. The latter two started the trend of the leisure club industry. At the end of twenty years the league had risen from its humble beginnings to the largest most successful in the area. The eighties were just around the corner and the future looked assured, but again problems were looming that would this time change toe league forever.
In 1981 a very successful local Saturday amateur side Willenhall Town F.C. reached the F.A. Challenge Vase cup final at Wembley Stadium but the club began suffering injuries to key players, sustained whilst playing Sunday league football and in an attempt to minimise the problem Willenhall encouraged its players to sign professional forms, thus excluding them from playing Sunday league football. Premier division side Four Ashes who had a number of Willenhall Town players amongst its squad, suffered immediately and by the following year other senior Saturday clubs followed suit and the Sunday League was being robbed of many quality players. Although other players moved up to replace these players it had a domino effect particularly on some of the smaller Sunday sides of that time, but this problem was not only the Wolverhampton Sunday Leagues it was happening all over the country.
However throughout the eighties clubs in the league continued to be successful none more so than the great Marstons F.C. They clinched more than a dozen titles including the unique clean sweep of four major trophies, however they didn`t always have things all their own way. Penn Old Boys, Harrows, Park Rangers, W-ton Retail Market, league cup kings Park Village and a fast emerging Jim Harris`s side Hop Pole F.C. took their fair share of
silverware as well.
Into the nineties problems with the weather and gradually dwindling pitches meant clubs
were having to play an increasing amount of mid-week games in order to finish the seasons.
The Management Council reduced the amount of Divisions to nine from ten but increased the amount of clubs per division to 14, except for the Premier which stayed at twelve clubs, but the problems still remained so much so that cup competitions suffered with many clubs
having to play semi final and final games in the same week, a number of clubs didn`t
complete their fixtures.
On a brighter note the Sunday League adopted the sadly floundering Wolverhampton Charity Cup competition and its truly magnificent trophy and along with the Evans Cup the league had two of the most beautiful most valuable football trophies in its care. Both the Charity Cup and the Evans Cup are kept at Molineux in the Wolves Trophy cabinet with the Charity Cup final being played at Molineux each season.
On a sadder note the Sunday league lost one of its greatest stalwarts in Brian Roberts who
sadly passed away in 1993. Brian had been an ever present in the Sunday League as a player with W`ton Co-op in those early pioneering days of the 50`s, he had served on the
Management council from 1977, as well as being made Chairman of the League. Also
during a five year spell the League lost the services of other great stalwarts in John Slyde
through ill health and Brian Smith who had both held positions of Chairman and General
Secretary respectively. A few sceptics confidently forecast the end for the Wolverhampton
Sunday League but a new regime was emerging in the shape of Mac Webb who in 1998
would become Chairman of the League, Les Fox General Secretary, Ken Pemberton,
President, longest ever serving member of the Management council Tom Bird, Terry Shinton, Vin Boden, and Harry Round to name but a few. The late nineties also saw the demise of the Leagues oldest club Penn Old Boys who resigned from the league in 1998.
The turn of the Century into the new millennium, what would the next eight years bring for
the league? With the now booming leisure industry, not only in sport and other health
conscious outlets it would be fair to think that football could only benefit from these health
conscious outlets but along with sporting and health pursuits there was also the booming
Nightclub and Pub industry. As far back as the 80s with night clubs in the town opening up
such as the Laffayette Club Cobblers etc, by now pubs and clubs were allowed to open for
twelve or more hours a day and so over the years players in the league are becoming more
and more reluctant to leave their beds on a Sunday morning after sampling the pubs and
clubs Wolverhampton has to offer into the early hours of Sunday morning, a game of football on a cold winters day is the last thing on their minds, but undaunted by all this plus the ever shrinking availability of private and council pitches the Wolverhampton Sunday League is now still the largest Sunday League in the area. This is due to strong management being financially sound and most importantly the continued support of all the clubs in the league.
Staying with clubs I feel we should pay tribute to the Sunday Leagues oldest club to date
Connaught United and their Secretary John Hughes. At this years 50th Anniversary to be
held at the close of the 2007-08 season they will have completed an incredible 43 years with the League. I would also like to thank John Hughes for compiling the History of the Sunday League without his dedication and time this article would not have been possible.
Finally having read Johns two books on the Leagues history I feel the final quote to be made on our History to date should come from a passage in the first of Johns books `Give It Till Half Time`, it comes from a piece written by John Slyde that young sixteen year old who attended the first ever League meeting at the Co-op Club in Stafford Street and went on to become Chairman of the League in 1998. On retirement from the League due to ill health he wrote “I feel that if this League is to continue for many more years, respect towards each other is necessary. Officials, players and spectators alike must lead the way. Referees should be accepted as playing a big part in this League, for they are an endangered species.
All who love Sunday Football and in particular this League, must work harder to make sure
that the children of today will be participants of this league in the future”.