THERE was another football team that played near Huddersfield Town’s ground back in the glory days of the 1920s.
Its name was Leeds Road Villa and a former Bradley man who emigrated to South Africa more than 30 years ago is keen to find out more about the team and what happened to its players – especially as his granddad was in the team.
Brian Fleetwood, 56, married his fiancée Wendy Seward, prior to emigrating.
Today they live in Brakpan near Johannesburg, but Brian still relishes the nostalgia of his youthful days when he was living with his family of five brothers and three sisters at Stutely Grove, Bradley.
Over the past few years Brian has made frequent visits to his former homeland to keep in touch with his family and friends. What is more, he has managed to put together a record of his family’s history which includes a number of remarkable photographs.
One of his favourites is that of his grandfather, Walter Gilroy, who was born in South Shields in 1906. Walter came to Huddersfield as a young man in 1915 when his family left their hometown to escape bombardment by the German Navy during the First World War.
He gained employment as a spinner and worked at Blaymires on St Andrews Road.
In the photograph, taken in 1929, Walter is pictured as a young man in the line-up of Leeds Road Villa.
Brian has tried to find out more about the team but admits that in spite of painstaking research, he has come up with very little other than the fact that they played between 1922-1929.
This was confirmed with the use of a magnifying glass through which the name of the team and the seasons they had played appear to have been painted on their match ball.
These two dates are, coincidentally, very significant in footballing history as a whole because in the summer of 1922 another Leeds Road team – Huddersfield Town – had just received a rapturous welcome home after beating Preston NE to lift the FA Cup.
In 1929 they became the first English team to win three consecutive league titles. Needless to say, Town would have been an inspiration to Walter and his team-mates and, for that matter, every other young Huddersfield footballer of that day.
Brian has heard that the lads of Leeds Road Villa played at Thistle Street Park.
This was probably a localised name given to a large recreation ground that once existed at the northern end of St Andrews Road.
The youthful faces seen in the picture would, in our age, be likened to those of schoolboys, but in days gone by children finished their education at the age of 14 and went out to work. It’s almost certain that some, if not all of these lads, would be employed in one of the many textile mills in the area – like woollen manufacturers at Phoenix Mills which stands out as the grimy backdrop in the team photograph.
Interestingly, research carried out in recent times has identified the actual spot where the picture was taken.
It was located near to Thistle Street in what looked like an old back yard, but anyone standing in that place today would find themselves on the forecourt of Ford Motor Dealers on St Andrews Road.
What is surprising, however, is that the same buildings caught by the camera more than 80 years ago still remains to this day, save the factory in the distance and the huge smoke stack of Glendenning Brothers Ltd that once dominated the skyline.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for other surrounding features, including the team’s home pitch where Villa’s young players once battled with their opponents. The green turf disappeared long ago beneath the concrete foundations of later developments.
There is one big consolation, however. The area itself is by no means lost to football for today, on match days, scores of Town fans can be seen filing down narrow streets and avenues in the direction of Kilner Bank and the air vibrates to the roar of the crowds that pack the John Smith Stadium.
Unfortunately for Brian, the photograph of the team was discovered after his grandfather’s death in 1981 and it seems that he and the rest of the Fleetwood family know very little about Walter’s footballing exploits.
One of his surviving daughters, Carol Carrig, was surprised when she first saw the photograph.
She said: “Dad never mentioned having played football – we only knew of his interest in crown green bowling.”
Brian says that the lads in the picture are someone’s dad, granddad or great granddad and he would be interested if anyone can pick out a relative of theirs. He also offers information to readers about the ancestry of the Gilroy family should anyone be interested.
As for the footballers, he says we can only guess what became of those young men.
In a few short years Hitler would rise to power and Walter, along with the other young lads in the photo would have to answer to the call to arms.
Anyone with information should contact Richard Heath on 07974 577470.