West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History



In issue 17 of the Pontefract Digest, July 2006, you published my letter appealing for people with knowledge of the history of the town's football clubs to come forward. At that time I was particularly interested in tracing the history and lineage of what is now the town's major club, Pontefract Collieries. This has proved to be a major task and it is clear that the history of the Collieries Club is complex and intertwined with its predecessor clubs, particularly Pontefract United and others. Further complications arise as there was a previous Pontefract Collieries Club which appears to have disappeared, for reasons yet to be rediscovered, in 1960.

Following my appeal last year I am very pleased to say that several people came forward and contacted me. Some were former players, and some were relatives of players from long ago. I would like to thank them all again through these pages.

First, I met Brian Firth who was goalkeeper with the Collieries side in the late 50's and early 60's. A recent photograph published in issue 25 of the Pontefract Digest, of the Collieries side that played at Raith Rover's ground at Kirkcaldy in 1958 includes Brian, referred to as 'Timmo' Firth. I recently visited this ground and took the photo with me to show to some of Raith's older supporters. Although they could not recall the game between Frances' and Pontefract's respective collieries sides, they were able to identify the part of the ground where this picture was taken, as it is now vastly changed from those days. I would be very pleased to hear from Robert 'Jock' McPhee who sent in that photograph if he is able to contact me, as I am sure he has a tale or two to tell which will help in my research.

Pontefract Colleries AFC 1959

Pontefract Colleries AFC 1959 - Submitted by Rod Naylor (click to enlarge)

Brian also provided some valuable photographs of the side he played in. I enclose one for publication in your pages. Most of the players were able to be named by Brian and his wife, Jean, but there are a few gaps, so if anyone can help with this, it would be much appreciated. Whilst I am painstakingly collating the statistical history as best I can, it is always a real bonus to be able to put a face to a name.

Another former player I met was Alfie Winterburn, who played in the early 50's. Together with his wife Maureen and son, Ian, who also later starred for Collieries, provided some interesting tales and invaluable photographs ranging from Willow Park FC 1931-32 to the successful collieries sides of the 1980's.

I also met John Littlewood who was able to identify himself in a team photograph of Orchard Head Youth Club FC, who merged with the old United side in 1962 to form the current Collieries club. He informs me, confirmed by another older fan I have met - Martin Coleman, that Collieries played for a period at Atkinson Lane after the war. Martin indeed claims he was at one of the first ever fixtures of this club, against Willow Park.

Going back further, I was contacted by David Carr, the son of Walter Carr, who played for United in the 1930's. He showed me Walter's medals, including Pontefract League and Infirmary Cup winners medals from 1937-38. He also has pictures of a team outside an old railway carriage which at some stage was being used as the 'changing rooms' in Pontefract Park. Fascinatingly, David still has a copy of Walter's diary from 1935, in which he has meticulously entered the results of the games he played in, and when he scored.

Pontefract football team early 1900s

Early 1900s Pontefract Football Team - submitted by Brenda Grace (click to enlarge)

Even further back, I met a delightful lady by the name of Brenda Grace who produced the oldest team photograph I have come across so far! This is from somewhere between 1903-13, although what team it is and where it was taken is still a bit of a mystery. One member of the side, however, was her grandfather, John William Malpass (aka Colley) who worked at the Prince of Wales after moving to the area from Staffordshire, and played football in the area, probably for the Colliery team. John worked as a 'trapper' at the pit from the age of 14. This involved working in almost total darkness, and his main job would have been to open the doors or 'traps' as the trams of coal passed through. Later in life he suffered a near fatal injury at the pit, breaking his pelvis.

She also showed me the many medals her father, Charles Grace, had won whilst playing for Fryston C.W. during the twenties and thirties, including winning medals for the Castleford and District FA Cup, Embleton and Infirmary Cups, and Castleford Senior League.

I am grateful for the help and interest shown by all these people and in time I am hopeful of being able to put together all the pieces from one of Pontefract's biggest jigsaws, in order to produce a comprehensive chronological history of football in the town. I am still keen to meet anyone else who can help with this task, whilst I continue to delve deeper into the archives (where they exist) and collate information from all the old newspapers. Incidentally, I note that one of the Digest Magazine's regular contributor's is called Norman Blackburn. Could this be the same as the 'Blackburn, N' who was a regular United goalkeeper in the late 50's and early 60's?

Please, if you think you can help, do not hesitate to get in touch and help me ensure that the history of the local clubs and their players can be preserved for past, present and future generations.

Rod Naylor,
Email: ponterod (AT) hotmail.co.uk 


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