Express & Star

Matt Maher: Welsh Cup wonders remembered

Ever heard about the football team from the Black Country which nearly won the Welsh Cup with a Worcestershire cricket hero in central defence?

Pic of Stourbridge FC President: Hugh Clark, getting ready for an event this weekend marking 50 years since there Welsh cup run

They certainly have at Stourbridge, where tomorrow they will mark the 50th anniversary of a season which put the club on the footballing map.

The Glassboys, then playing in Division One of the Southern League, stunned both Swansea City and Wrexham en route to a two-legged final with Cardiff City, when nearly 6,000 supporters crammed into the War Memorial Ground.

“It was just a wonderful time,” says Hugh Clark, now club president but then treasurer. “One football magazine labelled us the top giant-killers in the country that year.”

“It is ridiculous to think it was 50 years ago,” adds defender Paul Pridgeon. “It only seems like yesterday we were playing the games.”

Pridgeon’s name may be familiar to followers of cricket, the sport with which he is more commonly associated. A right-arm seam bowler, he took more than 800 wickets in a career which spanned more than two decades and included 240 first-class appearances for the Pears. More recently, he has served on the club’s board and for many years was cricket professional at Shrewsbury School.

Yet in his playing days he also briefly signed as a professional footballer for Hereford United after five seasons with Stourbridge, which included the famous 1973/74 campaign.

Neither is Pridgeon the only recognisable name in the Glassboys line-up. Forward duo Chic Bates and Ray Haywood scored 50 goals each and were sold to Shrewsbury Town at the end of the season. Bates would go on to manage the Shropshire club and was inducted to their Hall of Fame in 2013.

“It was simple, really. We just had a really good team,” says wing-back Bob Taylor.

Chic Bates

Obviously, the first question anyone under the age of 40 would ask is what an English club was doing playing in the Welsh Cup in the first place?

The answer is English clubs within a reasonable distance of the border were involved in the competition every year from its inception in 1876, until as recently as the mid-1990s when the rules were changed.

Shrewsbury, with six wins, are the cup’s most successful non-Welsh side, while Kidderminster Harriers were twice beaten finalists and Hednesford Town once, when they were beaten by Cardiff in 1992. Such achievements could never be taken lightly. Welsh clubs could qualify for Europe by winning the cup, meaning they would typically put out their strongest line-ups.

What perhaps makes Stourbridge’s story that bit more special is that they reached the final in the first season they were invited to take part. Their fourth-round tie at Fourth Division Swansea City, meanwhile, was their first ever competitive match against a Football League club. Bates scored twice in a 2-0 win.

Chambers, Graham Saint, Mick Moore, Paul Pridgeon, Bryan Booth, Front: Chic Bates, John Davies, Pat McGrath, Geoff Green, Ray Haywood, Bob Taylor.

“That was a real red letter day,” recalls Clark. “We took about five or six coachloads down to south Wales. We were all so excited just to be going there. To win really was remarkable. After that, everything just seemed to fall into place.”