Beginnings and First Success

The club were formed as early as 1894, then known simply as South Kirkby. Until the coming of coal mining to the area South Kirkby was a small, farming Yorkshire backwater, situated between Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster, Wakefield and Pontefract. The establishment of heavy industry transformed the village into a bustling hub of activity with a population drawn from far and wide, and the football club was one of many that grew out of the needs of this ever growing population. As with many football clubs in England the football club was linked to a cricket club, South Kirkby Cricket Club. The first known record of the football club is a postponed match away to Pontefract in January 1894, as reported in the Sheffield Evening Telegraph on the 6th of January. It is not clear which competition this match was part of, or if this was a friendly. Pontefract Association Football Club (to give them their proper title) were formed sometime prior to 1893, as an association football offshoot of the long established and successful rugby football club, Pontefract Football Club.

The first known competition competed in by South Kirkby was the Minor Cup Division Two, of the Barnsley Association Football Union, in the 1894/95 season. The first fixture was a home tie versus Swinton Town, on the 1st of September 1894, which South Kirkby won emphatically 9 – 1. Despite only finishing mid-table, the following season the club were elected for promotion to Division One of the same competition. The Barnsley Football Association Union was formed in 1893, having previously been known as the Barnsley Charity Association. Due to a lack of proper records the first known South Kirkby goal scorer was not recorded until the 1895/96 season, when on the 21st of September 1895 N. Barstow (also reported as Baistow in some regional newspapers) scored three goals in a 3 – 2 victory over Kingstone United. Incidentally, also due to a lack of proper records, this is the first recorded hat-trick by a South Kirkby player.

Image showing athletics at the Victoria Grounds, from Leeds Mercury, 23 July 1907.

The club’s first silverware was won in the 1896/97 season, when South Kirkby were competing in the Barnsley Football Association Union League Division A. In an attempt to provide lots of fixtures the association devised a frankly baffling plan, where they would start the season with three divisions, run in a league format until Christmas. In the new year the top four teams from those three divisions then entered into the Challenge Cup, with the initial phase of that being made up of two leagues. The winners of these two leagues would then play off for the cup in a final fixture, held at Barnsley’s Oakwell Stadium. The remaining teams from the initial three divisions also entered a new phase, made up of two divisions and the winners of those two new leagues played off for the Minor Cup, also at Oakwell Stadium. Just to make matters that bit more confusing the runners up of the Challenge Cup were awarded the Harvey Cup! In the regular season South Kirkby failed to make an impact in Division A and finished in the lower half of the table, resulting in being drawn in the Minor Cup, in Division Two. The club promptly went on to win their league in this second phase, and met with Hoyle Mill, winners of Division One, at Oakwell. Despite high winds disrupting play South Kirkby went on to win the final 2 – 1 and were presented with the Minor Cup.

Continuing with the ridiculously complicated competition formats, the Barnsley Association Football Union decided to again alter their competition the next season and selected South Kirkby as one of ten clubs to compete in the Challenge Cup, essentially the club were promoted! The Challenge Cup became a league format, with the league’s top two clubs playing off to become Challenge Cup champions at the end of the season. To bolster the number of fixtures played by each club the association also allowed the Challenge Cup teams to compete for the Harvey Cup, with the clubs from the Challenge Cup league being divided into two small leagues, South Kirkby were drawn in Division One. The Minor Cup, which South Kirkby had won the previous season, essentially became a second division to the Challenge Cup, meaning the club could not even attempt to defend their trophy. Keeping up?

The season turned out to be disastrous for the club, finishing second from bottom of the Challenge Cup and losing every game of the Harvey Cup, leaving them relegated back to the Minor Cup league for the 1898/99 season. One bright moment from an awful season came in February 1898, when Southall was given a trial for neighbouring Barnsley.

Postcard showing the Victoria Club, circa 1910.

In March 1898 the club promoted an athletics competition, with the preliminary rounds held on The Woodside Grounds, and the final to be held at The Victoria Grounds, in April. Alongside cricket, sports of all varieties were an integral part of the club in the early decades, with athletics always a big draw in South Kirkby. Also in April the club continued to seek to raise their profile (and much needed funds) by holding their first annual music concert in the local school room. The 1898/99 season was a complete disaster, with the club finishing rock solid bottom of the Barnsley Association Football Union Minor Cup league, losing all but one game, which they only drew. As a result the club were relegated out of the entire Barnsley Association Football Union league pyramid, with nearby rival colliery Hemsworth infuriatingly not only fielding a team in the Challenge Cup league, but also a reserve team in the Minor Cup league, at South Kirkby’s expense.

The Barnsley Association praised the club’s sportsmanship for never missing an engagement in that terrible year but it wasn’t until the 1901/02 season that the club recovered and re-joined the Barnsley Association, with the first team in the Minor Cup league, and reserves in the Barnsley Junior Cup league. The season was a vast improvement on the last time the club entered the competition, with Hemsworth pushing them all the way. The last known table, published in the Barnsley Chronicle on the 22 April 1902, shows that South Kirkby had all but secured the league title, and it can only be assumed that with three games left to play the club did just that.

The following season the Barnsley Association Football Union decided to again alter the format of their competitions, making the Minor Cup the top division and the Junior Cup the second division, meaning that South Kirkby were promoted into the top division for the 1902/03 season. The 1902/03 season proved to be largely uneventful as the club finished in the lower half of the table, though they did have a fine run in the Barnsley Beckett Hospital Cup, where the club reached the semi-final stage. In a game played at Oakwell the club were relying on stand-in ‘keeper Hancock and the replacement custodian performed mightily for South Kirkby, keeping out swathes of attacks by Wombwell Rising Star and even converting a penalty for South Kirkby! Sadly his heroics were not enough and the Wombwell club overcame the colliery men to reach the final. By 1905 the club had been given the nickname ‘The Kirkbyites’ in the regional press and were on the brink of substantial but short lived success.

Postcard showing the South Kirkby Ground under construction, circa 1904.

A New Century and Professionalism

The turn of the century saw the club propelled into a new era of professionalism, highlighted by regular runs through the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup, in many seasons. For the 1903/04 season the club had joined the Sheffield Association League, keeping their place in the Barnsley Association Football Union Minor Cup league for their reserves. The club were by now operating on what was undeniably a fully professional level, and snapped up the troubled James “Soldier” Aston, an inside forward who had played for the mighty Arsenal, Small Heath (Birmingham City), Doncaster and Walsall. Aston, who was blighted by money woes, had been one of Arsenal’s most expensive players, in 1900. He signed for South Kirkby on professional terms, remaining for a short spell before returning to Walsall.

In 1904 South Kirkby raided Sheffield United to sign Edward Layton, brother of Sheffield Wednesday’s William Layton. Layton went on to became club captain before going on to play for giants Aston Villa, and Middlesbrough. Layton’s English football career was bizarrely interrupted by a two year excursion to play in Australia with brother William, where he was ‘capped’ in a match between New South Wales and Queensland. Although Edward was a full back he played the entire game as a centre forward and scored the only goal! In 1907 the club sold Albert Milton to local neighbours Barnsley for a then large sum of £50. Within twelve months he had been sold again, this time to Sunderland, for a then maximum allowed fee of £350. Sadly Milton was killed at Passchendaele in 1917 and the world never got to see him reach his undoubted potential.

Another well known player to make the move to South Kirkby in this era was Sheffield Wednesday regular Jimmy Massey. By now a casual reader would question how a village non-league club could afford these dealings, in truth the club was particularly well off in the early 1900’s, with each worker at the colliery happy to contribute a small stoppage from their wages to support the club. The 1904/05 season saw the club defeated in the final of the Montagu Charity Cup, losing 1 – 0 to holders Mexborough Town, at Bolton-upon-Dearne. The Kirkbyites were also defeated in the final of the Barnsley Challenge Cup, losing in a replay at Oakwell, 1 – 0, to Wombwell Main. South Kirkby played the second half with just ten men, following a nasty leg injury to Burgin.

The following season over 5,000 fans crammed into the ground at Mexborough to see South Kirkby fall at the final hurdle again in the Montagu Charity Cup, losing 2 – 1 to Wombwell Main in the final. Also in the 1905/06 season the club were the torment of Rotherham clubs, beating Rotherham Main, Rotherham County and Rotherham Town on the way to a prized fourth qualifying round tie against Bishop Aukland. The match was a huge draw for the locals of South Kirkby, so much so that a special train was chartered by the club for up to 500 fans, from Moorthorpe Railway Station. Despite the FA Cup defeat and the Montagu Cup final loss the 1905/06 season saw the club’s first team and reserves win the Sheffield Association League, the South Yorkshire League, the Hemsworth and District League and the Hemsworth and District Challenge Cup. Investment in famous talent had brought success.

The profile of the club had been raised so high in the early years of the new century that Sheffield United favourite (and Derbyshire cricketer) Robert Carlin signed for the club. A great all round sportsman Carlin began his football career as a goalkeeper at Heanor Town before moving to Sheffield United, prior to moving to South Kirkby. In 1905 Christopher Crapper headed the other way, but joined United’s bitter rivals Sheffield Wednesday. The 1911 census shows that Crapper returned to South Kirkby, lodging with a Boulton family at 90 King Street and he later moved to Hemsworth, and went on to become a prominent local councillor.

The 1906/07 season ended with the club retaining the Sheffield Association League title. In the 1908/09 season the club’s investment in young players began to turn into success for the junior side, who won the Yorkshire Pit Boys League championship. The early part of the century saw the club excel in the FA Cup, reaching the Fourth Qualifying Round in their first attempt on the famous old trophy, eventually losing to Bishop Aukland 1 – 0. In the 1909/10 season the club advanced to the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, where Huddersfield Town used home advantage to roundly win, 5 – 2. The game was a heated one, with tempers boiling over and South Kirkby man McGuire being hospitalised with a fractured leg! Remarkably the following season the two sides met again at the same stage of the competition and despite being drawn at home South Kirkby again came off worse, losing 5 – 1. The game was attended by a record crowd of 2,500 spectators.

1909 saw inside-right Fred Martin depart the club for Barnsley. After three years at Oakwell without much first team success he made the move to Sunderland, where once again regular first team football evaded him. Then in 1913 Raith Rovers took him north and within months he had helped the club to achieve their only visit to the Scottish Cup final. Despite losing the final Martin continued to grow in stature, and in the following season his exploits in scoring two goals in the Scottish Cup against the much fancied Hearts saw him lose a tooth but earn the attention of Hearts, Celtic and, ironically, his old club Sunderland. In 1910 Sheffield United signed goalkeeper W. Edmund Livingstone from South Kirkby, who impressed the Blades initially on trial. The Sheffield club beat Huddersfield Town to his services.

In 1908 Barnsley took outside right Francis Joseph Biggins to Oakwell, the 1911 census shows that he boarded with a Jane Kenworthy at 7 Cemetery Road in Barnsley. The 1911/12 season saw the club reach the final of the Wharncliffe Charity Cup, where they were beaten by Sheffield United. The defeat was the second in as many weeks at the hands of the Blades, who had knocked South Kirkby out of the Sheffield Challenge Cup (Sheffield and Hallamshire Senior Cup) at the semi-final stage. The final of the Wharncliffe Charity Cup saw South Kirkby outside left ‘Jock’ Malloch return to Owlerton Stadium, home of Sheffield Wednesday, who he had won the Football League with twice prior to joining South Kirkby, in 1908. In 1913 Brentford signed full-back Tommy Wells from the club, the 1913/14 season saw the club win a third Sheffield Association League title.

1913 also saw South Kirkby sign goalkeeper John William Sutcliffe, who had previously played for a host of clubs, including Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United. Sutcliffe was no stranger to controversy, in his quest to be a professional sportsman. In his early career he had been capped by England in rugby football union, and his club suspended under allegations of professionalism. The solution? Sutcliffe simply switched codes to association football, joined Bolton Wanderers and went on to earn England caps in soccer, at the time being the only professional to do so. His time with South Kirkby got off to an unfortunate start, when he dislocated his shoulder playing cricket in the off-season. Sutcliffe went on to manage Vitesse Arnham, in the Netherlands.

Ordnance Survey map showing the location of the new football ground, 1904.

A Short-lived Special Home

Prior to the era of professionalism not much is recorded about where the club played their home games, though as early as March 1898 the club made use of The Woodside Grounds to promote athletics meetings. Very little is known about The Woodside Grounds other than that it was used for athletics by the club and was also used for rabbit coursing, as early as November 1896. There are hints that The Victoria Grounds was actually used as the home ground by the club, being another ground that was used for athletics meetings as early as April 1898. The fact that the club chose the Victoria Grounds over The Woodside Grounds for the semi-finals and final of their athletics meetings makes it seem logical that they held The Victoria Grounds in higher esteem, and it is logical to draw a conclusion that The Victoria Grounds was the football club’s main home stadium in those early years.

Like The Woodside Grounds the Victoria Grounds appear to have been used by many other local sporting clubs and societies. In December 1896 dog coursing was promoted at the ground and in May 1898 South Kirkby Cricket Club promoted an athletics meeting at the ground. The exact locations of these early grounds is not known, though logic dictates that The Woodside Ground was located near to a wooded area, perhaps Howell Wood. The Victoria Grounds were located near Carr Lane, close to the Victoria Working Men’s Club (as proven by the 1911 England Census records). However, in 1902 the club secured five acres of land near to the colliery to build a top quality, purpose built stadium, with provisions for cricket, football and other sports.

In November 1902 work began on the new stadium and by October 1903 the football pitch and the cricket square had been laid out, though the football ground was not expected to be ready to use until January 1904. Though the stadium does not appear to have had a formal name, it was referred to in the press of the time as The Colliery Athletic Ground. Facilities at the stadium included a dedicated groundsman’s house, pavilion and scoring box and it was said that the facilities “compare favourably with any club ground in Yorkshire”. By September 1904 the club had settled into the new stadium and plans were underway to build more facilities including a plunge bath and a new grandstand.

An unknown former Barnsley player was employed by the club as the first groundsman (the 1911 England Census shows that Dennis Bailey was the likely groundsman). It was noted of the stadium that “its points of excellence… …excels those of many and English [Football] League club.” The architect of this move into professional football and of the building of the new stadium was Secretary Harry Normington. Normington was influential in the development of both the football club and of South Kirkby Cricket Club, where he took over as honorary secretary of sometime between 1892 and 1904, and remained in the position until between 1923 and 1927. It was in this era that the club became better known as South Kirkby Colliery Football Club, the first known use of the name being in the 1904/05 season.

In March 1926 South Kirkby Colliery Company, by now firmly in control of the football and cricket clubs, bought land on which they made plans to build a new sports ground, for use by all of the teams who came under the banner of the collieries athletics club. The new pavilion at this new facility was opened in May 1926, by cricketer Herbert Sutcliffe, and the much envied professional stadium was demolished to make way for spoil tipping by the colliery. As the stadium was rented from the colliery and the club had tied itself to the colliery funds and wages in the days of professionalism they had no choice but to leave their beloved home, and move to the new sports ground in time for the 1926/27 season. It would be a bitter blow for the club’s fortunes.

In July 1931 the workers at the colliery were balloted on what to do with funds at their disposal and voted overwhelmingly against granting money to fund improvements of the new sports grounds. In August 1932 the Miner’s Welfare Committee finally granted £1,000 for the improvement of the ground, but in truth the loss of the old stadium’s professional facilities was never going to be addressed. In frustration, in May 1934 the collieries athletics club applied for a grant to purchase the ground from the colliery.

Postcard of the 1910-11 South Kirkby squad.

A Hotbed of Talent

In the 1924/25 season the club narrowly missed out on silverware, losing in the final of the Hemsworth Hospital Cup. In the same season goalkeeper William Capstick left the club, in a move which saw him take in stints at Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday whilst returning to the club various times when these moves did not work out well. Other players to emerge from the club at this time were full-back Jack Cartright, who became a Doncaster Rovers player, and half-back Albert Coleman, who went on to play for Rotherham United. 1932 saw the transfer of one of the true greats of South Kirkby, with goalkeeper Frank Wildman leaving for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wildman was an all-round sportsman for the club, also representing South Kirkby at cricket. He went on to also play for Reading.

However, Wildman was not the first South Kirkby player to join Wolves within that period of time. In May 1931 Tom Smalley left for Wolves, where he would excel for a number of years and earn an England cap, becoming the third South Kirkby player to earn an international cap, and second South Kirkby player to be capped by England in their careers. Whilst at South Kirkby Smalley was a prolific scorer of goals and was on the radar of Barnsley, who used him occasionally in reserve team matches. He also represented Yorkshire as a schoolboy. In 1933 Doncaster Rovers made the short trip to South Kirkby to sign Robert Caldwell, who later went on to play for Bristol City, and also in 1933 Sheffield Wednesday snapped up centre half Stephen Ford.

Ford began as a junior at South Kirkby Common Road before joining the club, then moving on to the Owls. His time in Sheffield was brief, within two months Rotherham United had secured his registration. After four seasons at Rotherham, and now playing as a full back, Ford moved to West Ham United for a then astonishing record £3,000 fee. During World War Two he worked in a colliery whilst making guest appearances for the Hammers, notably in the League Cup, but missed the final which was won by West Ham.

In 1934 Doncaster Rovers returned to the club to sign goalkeeper James Picken. In 1935 Halifax Town swooped to take inside right Clement Smith. Smith, born at 12 Long Fold, West Melton, eventually went on to play for Stoke City but the outbreak of World War Two also cut short his professional footballing career. Also in 1935 Huddersfield Town snapped up Jack Bradley, who went on to play for Chelsea and Southampton. Bradley was the son of another South Kirkby player (also called Jack), who went on to played for Sheffield Wednesday. In 1936 Walter Coulston left the club for Manchester City, he went on to play for Barnsley and Notts County.

In 1937 Dennis Grainger was snapped up by Southport, but the outbreak of war also put a halt to his football life. He eventually went on to play for Leeds United. However, not all the transfers in the period were players being sold to bigger clubs, showing that the club still held some power in attracting professional players. In September 1938 the club brought in Frank Green, formerly of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Barnsley, as player-coach. Green was no stranger to the area, having played previously for local rivals Frickley Colliery. Frickley sold Green to Wolves, for a then record fee of £500, after scoring eight goals in just two Midland League matches, Frickley had only taken Green from Blyth Spartans three weeks prior! Not a bad return on their investment. Green’s career was somewhat nomadic and even included a spell in France with Racing Club de Calais.

Despite all the comings and goings one player in particular from this era deserves mention, club captain Charlie Glasby. In 1934 Glasby, a centre-half, was awarded a much appreciated benefit match by the club, in reward for his ten years at the club. During that decade Glasby had helped the club to reach the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup, captained the club and stayed loyal where a host of teammates had gone on to play in the Football League. For his benefit match Barnsley ‘keeper Capstick made a guest appearance in goal for his old club. It signalled the end of a glorious period for South Kirkby.