THE CZECHS COME TO TOWN
Although ‘officially’ peace-time, I think it’s true to say, we live in increasingly ‘troubled’ times, despite conflicts in virtually every corner of the globe, not that globes have corners mind!
Today, we have a goal scoring talisman of Czech heritage named Roman Bednar, who very much puts a smile on that faces of the Baggies faithful with his goal scoring exploits, this season and in the past. His nationality , very much brings to mind the day ‘the Czechs came to town’ way back at the beginning of the last ‘global’ hostility, the second World War.
1934-15.01-WG Richardson-Scorer 3rd Goal
When Hostilities commenced in 1939, and the world was again plunged into the ‘darkness’ of yet another global war, Association football was, as with the Great war, put ‘on hold’ as far as The football League and FA Cup was concerned. With so many young men, which of course included players from all professional clubs, as well as Albion, being sent to ‘ do their duty’ the Football Association had no alternative but to dis-continue both competitions in September 1939.,with the 39-40 season just under way. Albion, in fact, had already played three games, an away win 2-1 at Swansea, a 3-3 draw at Coventry City, and a home defeat 3-4 at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, when the league was eventually suspended.
War-time competition, in the form of Cup matches and Regional leagues, were quickly set-up to keep clubs and players ‘active’ and keep much needed revenue coming through the turnstiles. This also gave the opportunity for players, both combatants and non-combatants, to continue playing throughout the hostilities. Albion were involved in several competitions, through-out the war, including the Midland war-time regional league, the war-time Football league Cup-South and North, the Football league-War Cup, and Midland Cup which Albion won in 1944 defeating Nottingham Forest 6-5 in a two-legged final. Many other friendly matches were also arranged as ‘fillers’, to keep playing staff active, very necessary to sustain some form of normality, and keep players and spectators ‘alike’ minds off the horrors of war.
1939-00.00-William Ernest Gripton-Wilkes
During these troubled times, new rules of engagement, so to speak, for competitions were adopted, which included the novel idea of clubs’ being able to field ‘Guest’ players. This ‘rule’ was imposed, mainly to allow players to compete, with the minimum of travel hinderence…ie…If an Albion player was stationed at a military installation, say, in the north west, then it made more sense for that player to play locally, in the event that the player be needed urgently for military purposes.
Albion were to field no fewer than 42 ‘Guest’ players, including such great’s as Birmingham City’s England International goal-keeper Gil Merrick, Arsenal’s Eddie Hapgood, Middlesbrough’s England full-back George Hardwick and Villa’s Harry Parkes. It is also rather amusing to note that the football League sanctioned a ‘one-off’ match fee of….thirty shillings, across the board for all players. The modern equivalent, a very modest £1.50….. How times have changed!!
One such ‘one-off’ game, was the Baggies fixture against the touring Czechoslovak Army team. Driven from their homeland by Hitler’s Nazis, they turned up at The Hawthorns on Saturday 1st November 1941.
1941-30.08-Charlie Evans-Scorer of first goal.
Their team included several Czechoslovak Internationals, who were well admired for a ‘close-passing’ game. Albion’s team that day was, Jimmy Adams in goal, full-backs were Idris Bassett and Cecil Shaw. The half-back line was made up of Jack Sankey, Billy Gripton and Sandy McNab. Billy Elliott occupied the right wing berth with Sammy Heaselgrave on his inside. W G Richardson was at centre Forward with Charles Evans and Jack Johnson on the left. Rather unusually this day, an albion substitution…that of George Dudley (the late ‘great’ Jimmy Dudley’s elder brother) who came on for Sammy Heaselgrave, who was injured just before half-time.
The Midland Chronicle covered the match and in their edition of the 7th November, it described the Czech sides failings ‘thus’ “Though they showed cleverness and sublety in their movements, they were not very vigorous, which put them at a disadvantage against the heavier Albion side. Their reporter continued, “Had Albion gone ‘all-out’ and made good use of all the chances which came their way, they would have won by a greater margin.” The reporter also observed that the Czech ‘keeper Michna was in superb form, and made many fine saves. As it was, Albion ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. Charlie Evans scored the first after only 2 minutes, the ball being helped into his own net by Lorenc. The Baggies were then put on the back foot, when the visitors equalised after 43 minutes, through by inside forward Micha. Honours even at half time, only for Billy Elliott to restore Albion’s lead immediately after the break, on 48 minutes. W.G Richardson increased Albion’s lead on 66 minutes, to put the game out of the reach of the tourists.
Unfortunately for them, the Czech side came up against a Baggies side, in the middle of a run of 7 Football League South wins on the trot, in which they scored a very impressive total of 47 goals, conceding only 12. Two of the victories were against our black country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers. 8-2 at Molinuex on 8th November 1941 and 5-3 at the Hawthorns the following week. Two weeks later, a very unfortunate Luton Town side perished 10-1 at The Hawthorns, with WG Richardson ‘bagging’ 6 of the goals.
1943-Billy Elliott-Scorer 2nd Goal-Wilkes
Footnote: The match-day programme issued for the game, which given the official attendance of 6,280 some 3,000 below the war-time average, is a very collectable and rare issue. Valued at anything between £100-£150. So if you are lucky enough to have a copy, or come across one in either your attic or at a ‘boot sale’ …look after it!!!
Laurie Rampling - 20.02.2010