An unusual photograph of the all-conquering 1956 squad with the four trophies won that year - the Stafford Amateur League Championship Trophy, Stafford Pageant Cup, Uttoxeter Challenge Cup and the Stafford Borough Cup.

 

The History of Rocester Football Club

Part 3 - Record Breakers (1946-1957)

 

Following the Second World War, a General Meeting was held on 22nd October 1946 to reform the club. Mr. John Dawson was elected as the club president and membership of the Cheadle & District League was successfully attained.

 

A gathering of 76 spectators paid total gate receipts of £1.17.6d (one pound, 17 shillings and sixpence - £1.87½p) - admission to the ground cost 6d (2½ p in today’s money) to watch the first post-war match, which was against Tean on 2nd November 1946. A new football for the game cost £2.5.0d (£2.25p) and the referee’s expenses amounted to 7/3d (38p). The club's annual membership fee was 3/- (three shillings) and in the first seasons a profit of £69.5.6½d was recorded.

 

For the 1947-48 and 1948-49 seasons Rocester competed in the newly reformed Uttoxeter League, and another league change followed for the 1949-50 campaign when the Committee voted to rejoin the Leek & Moorland League.

 

Noel Hooper was appointed as Club Captain, however a lack of success coupled with longer travelling resulted in the decision being reversed after just one season, and once again the club found itself competing in the Uttoxeter League.

 

Preparations for the 1951-52 season appeared to be going well. It was agreed by the committee that Charlie Swanwick would supply the club with several cricket nets which would be fitted and arranged into football nets for the coming season - saving a great deal of expense. A whist drive was also organised to raise funds with eight prizes to be given, and a vote of thanks was passed to the club's President, Mr. Holgate, for his "kind act of presenting the club with a marrow to be raffled", which raised the sum of one pound and two shillings (£1.10p). Herbert Tickhill was also thanked after agreeing to provide a pack of 20 cigarettes at each home game to be raffled off at half time.

 

Weekly committee meetings were held to select the eleven players for the next game but on match days there were regular problems raising a team, and after just seven matches of the 1951-52 campaign a public meeting was called at the Ashbourne Road School on 3rd December, when a vote to withdraw the team from the Uttoxeter League was carried due to a “loss of interest”.

 

The club’s future was clearly under serious threat, but surprisingly this break in activity served as a springboard for what was arguably the most successful era in Rocester football history.

 

A General Meeting held at the Queens Arms Hotel on 16th June 1952 led to a new Committee being formed, with W. Carpenter appointed Chairman. The Queens Arms Hotel became the club’s headquarters, and at a further meeting on 30th June it was agreed that Mr. Fox be appointed Club President and that an application to rejoin the Uttoxeter & District League should be submitted.

  

Having been accepted back into the Uttoxeter League, the revitalised club began the season in fine style by scoring 40 goals in its first five league games, which included a 14-2 away win v R.A.F. Cheadle and 8-0 wins against both Stramshall and Elkes Athletic. Later in the season 10-0 victories were recorded against R.A.F. Cheadle and Bamfords Sports Club, and Stramshall were trounced 12-0.

  

Despite these huge scores, Boltons Sports Club squeezed Rocester into the runners-up spot in the table. In a key match played on 7th March, Boltons comfortably beat Rocester 3-0, but a protest was made to the Uttoxeter League and they ordered the result to be declared “null and void”, and the game was to be replayed at Oakamoor on 11th April.

 

The replayed match saw Boltons secure a 3-1 win over their nearest rivals thanks to two goals in the last ten minutes from their full-back Harry Boardman. The strongly-built Boardman actually knocked himself out scoring the third goal with a header from a corner, but having crashed to the ground unconscious he recovered sufficiently enough to return to his position to play out the final moments.

 

Two buses had been booked to transport supporters to the game, and the newspaper report of the match concluded that “Despite the shouts of the excitable Rocester supporters the match was played in a refreshingly sporting way”.

 

On The Wing

During the early post-war period one of Rocester's regular supporters Mrs. Henshaw used to bring two pigeons to all the matches.

 

At half time she would tie a note to the leg of one pigeon and send it home to the male members of her family who were unable to attend the game, and she would go through the same routine with the other pigeon at full time. The notes, of course, contained the half time and full time scores!

 

The same system was employed several years later by the Morley family on occasions when one of them was unable to attend.

The League Cup, however, came back to the village following a 3-2 win over Freehay Rovers in the Final. Brian Walker, Gerald Burtonwood and Bernard ‘Ranje’ Bullock netted the goals in front of a 600 plus crowd at the Bamfords Sports Ground in Uttoxeter on 29th April 1953.

 

Left - The team are pictured with the trophy after their victory over Freehay Rovers. (Click image to enlarge)

 

Standing: Monty Fox (President); ; Eric Harrison; Bernard 'Ranje' Bullock; ; R. Hirst (Secretary). Sitting: ; Noel Hooper; George Large; ; Brian Walker. Kneeling: ; :.

J. Whitehouse, H. Tickhill, G. Burtonwood, R. Hill, K. Harrison, P. Walker, H. Large

 

With a talented group of players at the club’s disposal things were very much on the up, and that prompted another attempt to seek a fresh challenge away from the Uttoxeter League. Club Secretary R. Hirst was instructed to write to the Cheadle & District Minor league, the Ashbourne & District League and the Stafford & District Amateur League to enquire about possible vacancies.

 

Moves were eventually made to enter the first team into the Stafford Amateur League, whilst the introduction of a new Reserve team would retain the club’s links with the Uttoxeter & District League. This seemed a relatively straight-forward and easy step to make, but incredibly this simple progression resulted in a four-cornered argument between the club, the Uttoxeter League, the Stafford Amateur League and the Staffordshire F.A. as to which leagues the two teams should play in.

 

The Uttoxeter League believed their competition was of a higher standard than Division Three of the Stafford Amateur League, and therefore Rocester’s first team should remain in membership with them. After several bouts of negotiation the eventual outcome was that the first team would compete in the Stafford League as planned, whilst the Reserves would join the Uttoxeter League. Yet even after this decision there was still more disagreement because the Uttoxeter League’s hierarchy steadfastly refused to recognise their Rocester team as “Reserves” - so it could be argued that Rocester fielded two first teams throughout the 1953-54 season!

 

Reg GroombridgeJudging by results, the Uttoxeter League appeared to have a valid argument that their competition was at least on a par with Rocester’s new Stafford League section. Rocester took their new league by storm, and raced to the Division Three title with some ease, setting record after record along the way.

 

The opening five league games saw the 'Black & Amber' set the pace with some huge victories: 11-1 v Universal ‘A’; 14-0 v Bamfords Sports Club ‘A’; 9-0 v Stafford North End; 8-0 v British Road Services and 12-0 v Eccleshall Old Boys ‘A’.

 

Reg Groombridge (pictured left) netted eight of the 14 goals against Bamfords, while Brian Walker scored five against Universal, plus another four against Eccleshall.

 

Other individual scoring records were set during the season with George Smith leading the way. He scored a hat-trick in five consecutive matches, and he also found the net in fourteen successive games between 5th December and 13th March. George finished the season as top scorer with 39 goals – a fine haul considering that he didn’t join the club until November and played in less than thirty games.

 

A club record was also set when a total of 127 league goals were rattled in – an average of almost six per match.

 

Division Three included several ‘A’ or reserve teams of Division One clubs, but Rocester were allowed to enter both the Stafford Borough Cup and the Stafford Pageant Cup competitions along with all the Division One sides. This threw up an odd situation in January 1954 when Stone St. Dominics ‘A’ were beaten 5-1 in a league game, and then the following Saturday Rocester thrashed the Dominics’ first team 9-0 in the Third Round of the Borough Cup!

 

A crippling fixture list in April meant that nine games had to be crammed into just 25 days, and hopes of carrying off one or two cups were severely dashed.

 

Eccleshall Old Boys (first team) ended Rocester's interest in the Borough Cup at the semi-final stage, but the finals of both the Pageant Cup and the Uttoxeter Cup were reached. Unfortunately both games ended in defeat with the Pageant Cup going to Brocton under controversial circumstances and the Uttoxeter Challenge Cup going to Cheadle Town, who won the final 2-0.

 

The game against Brocton, which was played on the Stafford Rangers ground, was ended some eight minutes early by the referee with Brocton leading 1-0. After both teams had left the pitch the arguments raged on before eventually the referee was persuaded to play the unlapsed time. Sadly for Rocester, Brocton held on to their slender advantage.

 

Having made their mark in Division Three, the Stafford League management committee felt that Rocester would provide better competition in Division One, and so the club were duly promoted two divisions straight into the top flight prior to the 1954-55 season.

 

The question of how Rocester would fare in the top section was answered on the opening day of the season when Derrington, who had finished fourth the previous season, were crushed 10-0 – Brian Walker, Reg Groombridge and Frank Hitchen each scored a hat-trick whilst Herbert Tickhill added the other with what turned out to be his only goal of the entire season.

 

Stafford Amateur League Division Three Table 1953-54

 

Team

P

W

D

L

F

A

Pts

Rocester

22

18

1

3

127

26

37

Bagnall’s

22

16

1

5

98

47

33

Stone Lotus

22

15

1

6

105

46

31

Stone St. Dominics ‘A’

22

12

2

8

82

52

26

British Road Services

22

12

2

8

69

54

26

Wheaton Aston ‘A’

22

11

4

7

68

70

26

Quickfit & Quartz

22

8

5

9

65

66

21

Eccleshall Old Boys ‘A’

22

7

6

9

63

70

20

Stafford Lotus ‘A’

22

7

1

14

59

89

15

Bamfords S.C. ‘A’

22

6

2

14

49

94

14

Babcock & Wilcox

22

4

1

17

47

103

9

Universal S.C. ‘A’

22

2

2

18

32

147

6

By now Rocester had built up something of a reputation in Stafford League circles, and their second and third matches of the season – which were both against reigning champions Penkridge - were now very eagerly anticipated.

 

The first meeting between the two teams, who were widely expected to fight it out for the title, was played in Rocester, and resulted in a closely fought 1-1 draw.

 

Clearly Penkridge were a strong team, and the return fixture a week later appeared to be a very daunting task indeed even for Rocester – particularly as Penkridge had won their Division One title without losing a single league game all season, and even more impressively they had not lost a home match in three years.

 

However, the Rocester lads travelled in a confident mood and a superb performance earned them a stunning 5-0 victory with Brian Walker (2), Frank Bailey (2), and Frank Hitchen netting the goals.

 

The result made big headlines in the Stafford Advertiser sports pages, and as more big wins followed it soon became apparent that Rocester were the team to beat.

 

The successful 1954-55 team display their three trophies.

Back: Fred Long; Bert Slaney; Bernard 'Ranjee' Bullock; Maurice Jones; Derek Bowd; Brian Walker; George Large; Peter Walker; Ken Harrison; Monty Fox. Front: Jack Madden; Harry Metzner; Noel Hooper; Frank Hitchen; Jack Harrison. (Click image to enlarge)

Old rivals Bamfords Sports Club were demolished 9-3; Universal 8-2 and Stafford Lotus 11-3; but things didn’t go entirely to plan when bottom of the table Bamfords caused quite a stir by winning 3-1 at Rocester in December. That, however, proved to be no more than a temporary setback and the championship was clinched with two games to spare on 23rd April following a 1-0 win at Wheaton Aston, where Maurice Jones claimed the all-important goal.

 

The last two league games resulted in heavy defeats as players were rested during a horrendous fixture schedule. Cup games became the priority as the team fought for honours on three more fronts, and their efforts were handsomely rewarded when Stafford Rangers Chairman Cllr. Eric Morgan presented captain Noel Hooper with the Stafford Borough Cup following a well-deserved 3-2 victory over Eccleshall Old Boys in the final played at Marston Road on 29th April. Rocester had led 3-0 at one stage but were pegged back and forced to hold on in the closing stages as the Old Boys mounted a comeback.

 

A 3-1 win at the same venue on 6th May over Universal Sports Club clinched the Stafford Pageant Cup, but sandwiched between those two successes on 2nd May at Bamfords Sports Ground in Uttoxeter, Cellarhead prevented the ‘Black & Amber’ from a clean sweep of four trophies for the season when they won a thrilling Uttoxeter Challenge Cup final 4-3 after extra time. The final, watched by an estimated 1200 crowd, was marred by Brian Walker breaking his leg, leaving only ten players to try and win the cup – there being no substitutes in those days.

 

One competition the club never seemed to do very well in was the Staffordshire Junior Cup, but by way of a change the team reached the semi-final of the Northern Zone before falling to Wereton Queens Park after a replay. The first game, played at Bamfords, ended in a 3-3 draw and was reportedly attended by over 2000 spectators.

 

A ‘treble’ was certainly a hard act to follow, but the 1955-56 season brought unprecedented success to the village club when four pieces of silverware were annexed.

 

Jack Harvey scored twice on the opening day of the season but that wasn’t enough to prevent a 4-2 defeat at the hands of expected title rivals Penkridge, but that disappointing start was quickly forgotten when the Rocester lads put together an incredible winning run that saw them win every single one of their remaining nineteen league matches.

 

The Rocester Challenge

 

On 15th October 1955 Rocester took on a Rest of League XI in a special challenge match on the Rocester ground.

 

Almost 300 spectators came to watch what was expected to be a keenly fought match.

 

Just a few minutes before half time, A. Turner of Division Three leaders Littleworth beat Hooper to the ball and pushed it under the keeper into the net.

 

But straight from the kick off Rocester equalised when Maurice Jones crossed the ball and Jack Harvey headed a superb goal.

 

Rocester then turned on the style, and in the first 15 minutes of the second half further goals by Jones, Frank Hitchen and another from Harvey put Rocester 4-1 up.

 

D. Allcock of Stone St. Dominics scored a second for the League XI, who gave Rocester a good game.

Once again Rocester’s impressive forwards proved too strong for their opponents, and a long list of huge wins included a 14-0 rampage against Eccleshall Old Boys and a 12-0 thrashing of Stone St. Dominics. Two 10-0 victories were also recorded against Stafford Lotus and Bamfords Sports Club as the dominant ‘Black and Amber’ rattled in 137 goals in their 20 league matches.

 

Jack Harvey equalled Reg Groombridge’s individual scoring record in the game against Eccleshall on 14th January 1956 when he netted eight times, which helped him also set a club record for goals scored in a season with a magnificent total of 62.

Penkridge were just one point behind Rocester when the teams met in the penultimate league match of the season, and Harvey had to miss this vital clash because he was playing for Gresley Rovers in a Birmingham League match. His goal scoring abilities were hardly missed on this occasion however as Frank Hitchen (3), Brian and Peter Walker (1 each) and Maurice Jones found the net to ensure a 6-2 win - and a third successive championship.

 

With the league title already in the bag, a big month of cup football lay ahead as Rocester went for three more pieces of silverware.

 

Universal Sports Club were relatively easily beaten in the Semi-Finals of both the Stafford Pageant Cup (5-2) and the Stafford Borough Cup (4-2), but sandwiched between those two games Rocester had to overcome a much stiffer test in the Uttoxeter Challenge Cup.

 

Away wins over Cheadle Town (3-2) and Abbots Bromley (6-0) had seen the team reach the last four, and the eagerly awaited semi-final against Uttoxeter Amateurs was attended by over 1000 spectators at Oldfields on Easter Monday. They were treated to a good close game, but Peter Walker and Joe Carpenter from the penalty spot scored the goals that gave Rocester a 2-1 win, ensuring the final was reached for a third successive season.

 

The Pageant Cup was retained on 27th April after Bamfords Sports Club were beaten, and just three days later Rocester were back at Oldfields to take on Boltons Sports Club for the Uttoxeter Cup. Jack Harvey’s goal only proved good enough to earn a 1-1 draw after extra time, but Rocester secured the coveted trophy for the first time since 1931 with a 2-0 replay win – Brian Walker and Billy Harvey getting the all-important strikes.

 

Three trophies secured, could Rocester claim a fourth? Well, sort of! Bamfords Sports Club had already been beaten in the Pageant Cup Final, and once again they provided the opposition at Stafford Rangers’ Marston Road ground with the Borough Cup up for grabs.

 

It was Rocester’s fourth final in eight days, and with more than 600 spectators in attendance Bamfords held out for a goalless draw. Thirty minutes extra time failed to separate the two teams, and the trophy had to be shared.

 

Prior to the 1956-57 campaign the team was seriously weakened after three players joined the Armed Forces. There was more bad news when Jack Madden returned to his local club Penkridge, although he was to come back later in the season, and the Harvey brothers - Jack and Billy - both joined local rivals Bamfords, where they were employed.

 

Despite these departures further success looked to be on the horizon when the side made a very promising start. In the first dozen matches the team scored seven goals four times, nine twice, and eleven without reply away at Dunston.

 

One of those high scoring games was ended a few minutes early in unusual circumstances. Rocester were leading Bagnalls 9-1 when the Bagnalls goalkeeper, who had played a blinder despite his side’s heavy defeat, was knocked out by a shot from Eric Ault!

 

League form remained consistent and only two defeats were suffered all season, but surprisingly that wasn’t quite good enough to capture the title as Stone St. Michaels managed to finish on the same points total.

 

League rules required the two teams to play off for the championship and Stone, who Rocester had defeated 9-0 earlier in the season, snatched a dramatic 2-1 win with the deciding goal coming in near darkness during extra time.

 

Bamfords ended Rocester's interests in both the Pageant and Borough Cup competitions, but another good run in the Uttoxeter Cup earned the club a fourth consecutive appearance in the final. As in the previous final Boltons S.C. were the opponents, but this time they had their revenge by winning a close game 2-1.

 

The side also enjoyed a fine run in the Staffordshire Junior Cup, disposing of Stone Town 7-1 and then Cheadle Town 4-3 in a game watched, according to the report in the Uttoxeter Advertiser, by a near 3000 crowd.

 

In the Third Round Rocester were drawn away to Port Vale ‘A’ - the holders of the cup at that time. Several busloads of supporters travelled to the game on a freezing February afternoon only to find the pitch covered in snow when they arrived. Undeterred they all borrowed brooms and shovels to clear the surface, but despite their efforts the game still had to be postponed because the pitch hadn’t been marked out!

 

The game eventually took place a week later at Rocester and was watched by a large and vociferous crowd of around 800 spectators, who witnessed a memorable 2-1 win. That set up a home semi-final against Wolstanton United, but on this occasion the visitors from the Potteries proved to be too strong, running out 3-1 winners with another 800 crowd in attendance.

 

After so much success in the Stafford Amateur League a new challenge was sought. An application to join the Staffordshire County League (North) was accepted and Rocester marked the start of a 27-year association with that league in August 1957.

 

Team Captain Noel Hooper proudly displays the Stafford Borough Cup (left) and the Stafford Amateur League Championship Trophy - both won in 1954-55 and retained in 1955-56. The Borough Cup returned to Rocester in 1986 and 1988 as the Staffordshire F.A. Vase!

 

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Part Four - County Leaguers - 1957-1984 >>