Football in ‘Two Trees’

Football in both England and Europe was well established by 1914. In the novel West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Arsenal are all featured. The Albion play a significant role in the story; English clubs would have been well known to many German soldiers.

West Bromwich Albion

West Bromwich Albion was founded in 1878 as West Bromwich Strollers, their first recorded match being on 23rdNovember 1878. Several of the original players were from the George Salter Spring Balances Works in West Bromwich, UK who also played cricket in the summer months. In March 1880 the name of the club was changed to West Bromwich Albion and it has remained the same ever since.

A contemporary advertisement for the George Salter Spring Balances Company

The George Salter Spring Works was founded in Bilston in the late 1760’s and moved to West Bromwich in 1825; the company still manufactures Salter scales amongst other items. Dartmouth Cricket Club was founded in 1834 and is still in existence, just down the Birmingham Road from the Hawthorns, the home ground of West Bromwich Albion

In 1882 the Albion moved from their basic ground in Walsall Street to Four Acres, the home of West Bromwich Dartmouth Cricket Club. The agreement with the cricket club only allowed the Albion to play on two days a week, a Saturday and a Monday.

West Bromwich Albion first entered the F.A.Cup in the 1883-84 season and started the 1885-86 season at Stoney Lane, moving from Four Acres. The club was administered from the Plough and Harrow pub and then from offices in the High Street, West Bromwich.

Psalm 23 -‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ – is often sung at West Bromwich Albion home games; the Hawthorns is sometimes referred to as ‘the Shrine’

The club moved to The Hawthorns in 1900 and the first match was played on 3rd September. The ground appears to have been so named because hawthorn bushes had once grown in abundance on what was marshy ground on the Handsworth/Smethwick/West Bromwich border. 

The original ground capacity of The Hawthorns was 35,500 and increased to 65,000 in 1937; the current capacity is 26,287. The first match day programme was sold on Saturday September 2nd 1905 priced one penny; the Albion purchased the freehold of The Hawthorns in 1913 for £5,350. Floodlights were installed in 1957 and The Hawthorns became an all seater stadium in 1995.

Both West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal are featured in ‘Two Trees’

Along with eleven other clubs, West Bromwich Albion was a founder member of the Football League in 1888.

The Hawthorns is the highest League ground in England above sea level.

West Bromwich Albion were Football League Champions in 1920; F.A.Cup winners in 1888,1892,1931,1954 and 1968 & Football League Cup winners in 1966. In the post-Premier League era, the Albion were Division Two Play-Off Winners in 1993 and Football League Champions in 2008.

In the 2021-2022 season the club is a member of the Football League Championship  

Steve Bridges and Geoff Greenhough with the F.A.Cup in 1968 following West Bromwich Albion’s victory over Everton in the Final at Wembley – we have not been able to have another photograph taken as the Albion have not won the Cup since! (photo: GJG)

               West Bromwich Albion in the First World War

When war broke out in August 1914 the Football League authorities decided to continue with the fixtures for the current season. The League programme was then abandoned in May 1915 and did not recommence until August 1919.  In this period the Albion played only 19 fixtures.

A number of players connected to the Albion were killed in the war: Frank Costello in December 1914; E.J.Hickman in the Dardanelles in 1915; Harold Bache in Flanders in February 1916 aged 26; Billy Vale November 1916; William H.Jackson in May 1917 and George Bell in 1918.

The Baggies

There appears to be no definitive explanation as to why the Albion are affectionally known as ‘The Baggies’.  In ‘Two Trees’ Fred the cabbie gives some clues when he points out in Chapter 24 that ‘some say that it’s because of the baggy shorts them wear, but others think it’s cos the original team and supporters went in their working togs after their shift finished on the Saturday.” Men who worked in the foundries and iron works often wore ‘baggy’ trousers.

West Bromwich Albion Football Club,The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, West Midlands B71 4LF, UK             


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