Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: The old Westtown Boys’ Club’s greatest moment came in 1957
Margaret Watson writes: For, it is at these I am able to talk to local sportsmen and recall their memories of our rich sporting heritage in this district.
The other week, there was a reunion at the Rams Stadium of those players still with us who won the Rugby League Championship in 1973, and many happy memories were recalled.
There was another reunion recently in The Woodman pub in memory of the late Jack Briggs, a legend in his time at both amateur and professional level as player and coach.
Sporting reunions like these are a great way of recalling the 1950s, 60s and 70s which were boom periods for sport in Dewsbury and surrounding districts.
This was a time when many football, rugby and cricket teams were thriving and when many churches and youth groups had their own teams.
There were also many pubs, clubs, large firms and businesses which had their own sports teams, and even the police had their own cricket team.
One sporting reunion which I reported on some years ago was that of the old Westtown Boys’ Rugby League Club.
It was held in the former Whistler pub, now a supermarket, and it was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their appearance in the Yorkshire Intermediate Cup Final.
This gave me the opportunity of getting more of the history of the Westtown Boys’ Club which was made up of lads from working class backgrounds, all of whom I knew.
The club was formed in 1953 by a group of youngsters who shared a love of Rugby League, but they had no facilities whatsoever.
Their first changing room was the front room of John Wharton’s house in Huddersfield Road, opposite the Shepherd’s Boy pub, and they trained on a field which is now the site of the Dewsbury Crematorium.
In those days, baths and showers were unknown, and they were lucky if they had a bucket of cold water with which to wash down with after a game.
You can imagine what that was like on a freezing winter’s day, but these lads were a hardy lot and didn’t let the weather stop them.
But the following year, Jim Brown, the well-known local jeweller and a former Dewsbury RL player, took charge of the side, and what a difference that made.
He found them premises above the Co-op in Oastler Street, Westtown, and arranged for them to play on a field near Secker’s Pond, known as Birkinbanks.
Still, there were no washing facilities, and players, whose homes didn’t have a bathroom, which was almost all of them, had to clean up as best they could.
Fortunately, Dewsbury had always been blessed with having in its midst successful business people who shared their good fortune with the people with whom they’d grown up.
The late Jim Brown was one of these, and the Westtown Boys had good reason to be grateful to him.
That gratitude still remains no more so than in the heart of player Sam Morton, who I am glad to say is still with us.
I interviewed Sam some years ago and he remembered Jim as being like a father to them all, a true philanthropist who gave willingly of his time and money.
“He was a wonderful man who put a lot of lads on the right path, lads who could so easily have gone the wrong way,” he said.
Sam recalled how Jim drove a big Humber Hawk, and Geoff Ramsden’s dad, Reggie, had a van which they parked at the end of the field.
“When it dropped dark they would switch on their headlights so we could see to train because many road lights were still gas and they didn’t shine very far, so it was a big help.
“Afterwards, Jim would buy us all a bag of chips and, believe me, in those days they were very welcome. Jim was simply a great bloke.”
The club’s greatest moment came in 1957 when they reached the Yorkshire Intermediate Cup Final and played Hunslet at Mount Pleasant.
Unfortunately, they were beaten but afterwards it was realised that Hunslet had included a number of players who had signed professional forms which was against amateur rules, and so were not presented with the trophy.
Sometime after this, Jim Brown organised a gathering at the Temperance Hall in Halifax Road and presented his lads with the Cup, which he believed they rightly deserved.
The Westtown team included Arthur Keegan, who later signed professional for Hull and became an outstanding full-back and a Great Britain International, and Roger “Podder” Crabtree, who was later snapped up by Halifax.
Jim stayed in charge of the team until 1958 when many of the boys were too old to play and they joined Dewsbury Celtic as the club’s second team – The Shamrocks – which was based at Dewsbury Irish Nash.
Westtown folded for a season but were revived the following year, helped by Jimmy Nolan, who was a member of the committee at the Nash.
Their team at the time included Phil Doyle, who was an outstanding and skilful player for Batley and Bradford, and another player who joined Batley was Chris Kennedy.
Over 20 of the former players of the former Westtown Boys’ attended that reunion in The Whistler pub, including Roger Crabtree, who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1964, but was home on a visit to help celebrate the 70th birthday of his brother Alan.
At the Westtown Boys’ reunion, they raised a glass to Jim Brown who had passed away a few
months earlier, but his son, Stuart, continued the family tradition and provided the buffet lunch.
The picture above brings back memories for me also because I knew most of them, and what a good looking set of lads they were. Bless ‘em.