I’d not been to Bilston town football club for several years. In fact the last time I came they were a completely different club. These days they are known as BilstonTown (2007) FC after the club were forced to quit the league in 2007 due to financial problems. Thankfully the club was re-formed. Prior to that the club where known simply as Bilston Town FC, that was the team I remembered and I was unsure what I’d find at their Queen street ground on am unsettled day in May 2013. It was the 11th to be exact and not just the final home game of the season but the final game of the 2012-13 campaign. Bilston would achieve promotion to the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division with a victory against Haughmond. Haughmond were a hard playing opposition and adversaries who’d beaten them only a fortnight earlier 2-0.
The place looked exactly as it had looked for the last 20 years but it was very tidy indeed. The main stand hadn’t got the plastic seats that it used to have, they’d been replaced with padding to sit on but it was well painted and clean. The pitch looked amazing considering the time of year and the time of the season. The weather in the run up to the game had been very changeable but the coldest spring in fifty years hadn’t reduced the pitch to a quagmire, instead it looked as close to a bowling green that any surface that has football studs trodden into it could look.
I was there not just to see Bilstons final game of the season but also to meet with the club Chairman Graham Hodson. A week earlier I’d phoned him up to explain who I was and that I was interested in writing a book about the history of my home town club. I was nervous as hell before calling him; I mean who the hell am I? It’s not like I go to the games or I have any association with the club, but Graham was very interested and encouraging and told me he thought it was a great idea. That was a relief; it was nice to have the club on side with this project and makes the book the official history of Bilston Town Football club (I guess!)
The idea for the book came from chats at work with a colleague. I enjoy writing and I enjoy football and after looking around for a book on the history of the football club the idea to actually write it myself was soon born, after several chats, a lot of considered thought and a lot of arm twisting by said colleague (I wasn’t sure I could do it at first, but then I often have ideas and quit before I see them through, especially when it comes to writing projects). Why not, books aren’t born out of thin air, someone has to write them, so why not me?
So I decided to contact the football club. I think I first tweeted at the club and was told to contact the chairman Graham Hodson. I checked out their website and decided to give him a call. I sat in the morning making notes on a sheet of paper ready to ask questions and also answer them. My first question was simply, has the club ever had a book written about it because I still felt that it must have and I was just raking over old ground with this whole thing. We had a superb chat about the club, its history and its achievements. I even remember, and have had no luck in finding out about, the day Wolves came and played Bilston as part of the opening of the grounds flood lights. Now that alone would make a super chapter in a history book and no mistake. Especially for a club like Bilston to have floodlights at a time that not many if any semi-professional football clubs had them. We decided to meet up so I could have a look around the place and a chat to the characters that still knock about round the club.
On the day of the final league game of 2012-13 I held my promise, if a little nervous, again who am I, why am I here, what must they think of me wanting to compile a book about the club? I almost didn’t go out of fear of overstepping myself, after all I’m not a writer or a sports journalist, but I’d made too many promises at this time to my earlier mentioned colleague and my girlfriend and I’d be damned to let them down at the last minute, and what the hell anyway, at worst I get to see a game of football and hopefully a trophy to boot. I met Graham, who was a very friendly guy from the off. He chatted to me showed me around and took me into the bar and told me to look around at the history of the club which was catalogued in framed newspaper cuttings all over the walls. Their certainly was a lot of history to take in. Some of it I’d heard of and knew about, some I didn’t. I was ill-prepared and made no notes but I was introduced to a Mr Draisey who I chatted to for a while, he talked to me about the FA Cup Proper Games that he’d seen at Queen Street and the years of supporting the club through thick and thin. After a while he turned to me and said, “So what are you here for?” and I told him I was going to write a book about the history of the football club. He told me that he knew just the guy to speak too, Mr Calloway. He asked for my phone and he rang him up and said “I have a guy here who wants to chat to you, he’ll explain.” And he gave the phone back to me. I introduced myself and I said that I wanted to write a book about the history of Bilston Town Football Club. Mr Calloway, with a few sentences destroyed my plans and I haven’t really mentioned to too many people that. He told me that the book was already written and I said I couldn’t find it anywhere and he told me that I wouldn’t be able to, and so I asked why would a book exist that no one knew about and why can’t I get a copy, after all that was all I wanted. I want to sit down and read the History of Bilston Town Football Club. He simply said that it had been done and ended the conversation dead. That was that. I knew then that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to write the book and despite going on to speak to people in local press and local radio and requesting any memories about the club, I knew in my heart that I’d been told very passively to back away from the project. I knew then that Mr Calloway was already writing the book, maybe he’d already written it. Who knows?
But hey, we had a game of football to watch and promotion at stake, so I took my seat in the stand and waited for kick off, even if I did feel a bit winded by my chat. When I hung up on Mr Calloway, Mr Draisey asked me “What did he say?” and I told him, “He said the book has already been written.” And Mr Draisey, very straight faced said, “Really? I didn’t know that.” I guess he’d have known that, as an old Bilston fan. My enthusiasm for the project melted faster than a tip-top in a microwave. So I was here for one reason but I stayed for another, to see promotion.
Bilston were on the attack from the moment the whistle blew, they were clearly more up for the game than Haughmond who looked tired after a season of mediocrity. After about five minutes Bilston went 1-0 up, John Griffiths cross was headed in by Dan Westwood with great skill. After this Bilston dominated the next few minutes with attack after attack after attack! It was nice to see after a season watching Wolves go down into League One with the firepower of the Hawaiian Navy (does that thing exist?) Bilston got what they deserved when Matt Curley headed in a second after ten minutes. Bilston continued to control the game and I started to wonder why they hadn’t finished top of this league as they clearly had total control of the game. The opposition never looked like they were going to break out of their own half, let alone score, come back or win. Another five minutes after the second goal and Danny Mason scored directly from a corner, something I’d never seen happen live before. Thanks Danny! The next thirty minutes until the half time whistle was blown was very expectant non –league football with few chances, lots of tussling and unnecessary free-kicks and shouts of off-side and corner when it was clearly a goal kick!
Half Time: BilstonTown 3-0 Haughmond.
The second half started very much like the first and I was hoping to see another three goals for Bilston. Early on Mugisha put in a cross that was met by Griffiths but his shot was well saved by an already over-worked goalkeeper. The game was equal and steady for a short while before a Griffiths cross was put away nicely by Nick Turton to make it 4-0. Later in the half Haughmond got a consolation when Ben Astley failed to clear the ball, but it was only a consolation as Bilston continued to press hard for the rest of the game and could easily have added two or three goals to their tally. In the end we had to settle for a scoreline of: Bilston Town 4-1 Haughmond.
Promotion was sealed (which was put into doubt until an appeal at Wembley on 26th July approved Bilston Towns promotion to the West Midlands Premier League.)
All in all it had been a great day and has me as hooked on non-league footie as I’d ever been. I know I’ll be back many times next season and as the new season is so close all I can say is, Good Luck Bilston Town, you can win that fucking league!!!
As for my writing, I’ll write something else, that’s what we do.
PS I never even mentioned meeting the superb character that is Frank Heseltine. What a fucking star! A mental one, but a star nonetheless.