Every now and again I receive an email through this website from someone offering more information about an old player. It’s what makes running the site worthwhile.The following story comes from one such email from the nephew (Neil Stretton) of a player who played for the club in the 1919/1920 season.
Updated February 2014.
Born 30/06/1896, Waterford, Ireland; Died 30/12/1967, Leicester
Married: Gertrude Stretton 30/12/1923 (Birmingham) – 2 children
Apprentice Railwayman (Engine Cleaner), Cheshire Lines Committee (Lord Street Railway Depot, Southport) – 1910. His father, Joseph, was a CLC Signalman, at Woodvale.
Trainee Locomotive Fireman – 1914; Trainee Locomotive Driver – 1918 (both CLC, Lord Street Depot, Southport)
Engine Driver: Midland Railway (Saltley Shed, Birmingham) – May 1921
Engine Driver: London, Midland & Scottish Railway (Leicester Shed) – 1924
Player (Amateur): Marine FC (1915 – 19 & 1920 – 21)
Player (Semi-professional): Southport FC (1919 – 20)
Player (Rugby League): Salford (1921 – 22)
Player: Nuneaton Town (1925-1928)
Billy began to keep a diary in January 1919 at which time he was a first team regular for Marine. He made a note of 20 appearances for Marine in the latter half of the 1918/19 season (all as Left Half) in the League (a Wartime competition) and the Liverpool Junior Cup.
His performances for Marine must have come to the attention of Southport – because on 31 July, he records, “Mr Clayton, Southport Secretary came to Depot to ask if I wanted to play for them. I said yes of course but I work some Saturdays. He said that is all right. I signed a Pro form. He said the match fee is 30s for 1st XI and 10s for Reserves and the first game is Sat 30th Aug away against Oldham”.
In fact, Billy did only play for Southport Reserves for a few weeks before progressing to the first team. Throughout his football career, he continued to work as an Engine Driver and railway duties would often interfere with playing. He records his first game in a bit of detail – at Haig Avenue against Hindley Green on 30 Aug – “we won 6-1. I got 2 goals. I thought it was too easy. Fred Thornley who was Inside Right and got a hat-trick said this is not a good standard – we played in a higher league before the War”. He goes on to (briefly) list 3 further Reserve games he played:
Newton-le-Willows 13 Sep Away (W 4-0)
Skelmersdale Mission 11 Oct Away (W 3-0) – “I scored a penalty”.
Burtonwood 1 Nov Home (W 3-1) – “I scored another penalty”.
4 games (it seems that’s all he could play because of work), 4 goals for the Reserves, set him up nicely for the First Team!
Billy takes up the next bit of the story in his Diary entry on 16 Nov – “The 1st’s beat South Liverpool in the 4th Qual round of the FA Cup 1-0 yesterday but the Scousers complained after that Charlie Littlejohn had played for another club in an earlier game and so the result is not valid. We will have to play again. Charlie will be out now so there might be a chance for me to get a start but for bad reasons”.
That was the case, because on 22 Nov he says, “I got a start for the 1st XI against S Liverpool in the FA Cup now played at their ground. We drew 2-2 so a replay. I scored a late penalty to get the draw”. And on 26 Nov, “played at Anfield in the replay against South Liverpool!! Had to ask Tommy Jackson to swap my Night Shunting rota but he’s a good Liverpool boy and let me. We lost and out of the FA Cup but great night”.
Those 2 FA Cup games were the start of a run in the First Team. His Diary entries are a bit ‘lax’ now, but he does record the games he played and the scores:-
Prescot (Liverpool Junior Cup Round 2) 29 Nov Home (W 4-1) – “Scored a goal – easy tap-in”.
Preston (League) 6 Dec Home (D 4-4) – “My first Central League game. What a match!!”.
Nelson (LJC 3) 13 Dec Home (W 4-0) – “Scored a penalty”.
Manchester United (League) 20 Dec Home (W 6-2) – “Scored a penalty. Played 6 1st team games in a row – must be a regular now?. Rota just for Sat mornings and easy to get to Home games”.
Liverpool (League) 3 Jan Away (L 1-5) – “First Central League away game. Stuffed by the Scousers but great being at Anfield again. 2000 watching!!“.
Chorley (LJC Semi-final) 17 Jan Away (D 1-1) – “Someone said 7000 there!!”.
Billy did have a Diary entry for 21 Jan which said, “Chorley replay at Haig Av yesterday but I was working. Shame – I have not missed a LJC match. We won 2-0 so in Final against Lancaster. Jack Marshall said it will be at their ground – that’s not fair”
Lancaster (LJC Final) 7 Feb Lancaster (W 1-0) – Diary entry on 8th Feb: “Had to get to Lancaster quick when morning shift finished. Should have been working in afternoon but Tommy swapped me because it was Final!! We won with a Bill Hooper penalty in 80th minute after Billy Little had been tripped. I was a bit miffed because I had taken all the penalties since starting in 1st XI. Great night after – I had hangover today but still had to come in at 5!!“.
Bolton (League) 14 Feb Away (L 2-4) – “Scored a goal – a header!!“.
Blackpool (League) 6 Mar Away (L 0-1)
The Blackpool match was to be the last game Billy was to play for Southport. His Diary entry on 1 April says a lot, “Mr Clayton came to the Depot after my morning shift to speak to me – Tommy let him use his office. I thought it was an April Fool!! He said that my work meant I was unable to play a lot of matches and they needed someone who could play more. I said I only missed 6 games out of 17 since starting for the 1st team in November but seems his mind is made up. He said they were hoping to get into the League in the summer and planning for that. He thanked me for all I had done and promised to give a good reference to any other Club I went to. I thought it might be like this when I was not given the penalties to take. A great shame – I really enjoyed playing for my HOME club and would have loved the chance to play in the League. I will probably try and get back to Marine – they are short of many players from the War – but I will miss the match fees!!”.
So, Billy played 11 games for Southport First Team – 2 in the FA Cup, 4 in the Lancashire Junior Cup and 5 in the Central League. He scored 5 goals (3 of which were penalties).
He did indeed go back to Marine FC and Amateur football. He played one season (1920/21) for them in the I Zingari League – 20 First Team games in the League (and 4 goals) and 4 Cup matches (2 goals – both penalties – he enjoyed being ‘the man’ again !).
He received Winners Medals for the I Zingari 1st Division Championship, the I Zingari League Cup and the Liverpool County Medal Competition. These 3 Medals are now proudly displayed in a cabinet in a Melbourne (Australia) home – along with his 1919/20 Liverpool Junior Cup Medal for Southport FC!
Update: February 2014
We understood (from his son Dave) that Billy moved to Birmingham with his job on the railway in 1921 and moved to Nuneaton in 1924. What we didn’t know, was what he did between finishing playing for Southport in 1920 and moving to Birmingham; or what the rest of his family (parents, siblings etc) were doing at that time. We also were never entirely sure where and when Billy was born. Billy’s Grandaughter Jane has found a little bit of information on both those counts.
She has found one letter from Billy to his sister, Mary (in Ainsdale), in 1923 and another one to his brother, Jimmy, in 1925. There were a few mentions of stuff related to Billy’s sporting history – and his background.
The letter to Mary, refers to marrying Gertie – saying that they were planning to elope and get wed without any of the family knowing (and hoping that she understood about not being there – obviously, she was the only Norton, ‘in the know’ !). It refers though, to possible difficulties because of Billy’s lack of a Birth Certificate and problems getting evidence of the date and place of his birth, saying, “records for some births in Waterford in 1896 can’t be found”. So, from that, I guess it must be assumed that he was born in Waterford, Ireland, not Ainsdale – on (as previously explained) 30 June 1896 (and he died, in Leicester, on 30 December 1967). The same letter also asks if, “Mother and Father are still well and living in Pinfold Lane?” and, “is Father still working for CLC at Woodvale?”.
Jane also has a letter from Billy to, “Brother, Jimmy”, in Ordsall, Salford, dated December 1925. In it, Billy asks Jimmy, “are you still playing regularly for Salford? I miss playing Rugby. I especially remember that last day of the 1922 season when we trumped Widnes at the Willows and the 2 tries I got. That was the first away match Pa had been to in 20 years and he was livid, wasn’t he?! You know that was the last time I spoke to him? ……… The year I had at Trafford Park Depot wasn’t so good though, they gave me some awful shifts. I enjoyed living with you and Jane but I’m glad I moved to Brum. ……… You know Gertie’s in the family way now? I’m playing footie for Nuneaton Town, I hope the baby won’t stop me!” From that, we can assume then, that after Billy’s season at Marine (1920/21), he moved to Manchester – and played a season (1921/22) of Rugby League for Salford (obviously a Left Half in football can also perform in Rugby !) – and moved to Birmingham in 1922 (not 1921 as Dave thought). We know from Dave, that he went on to play 3 seasons for Nuneaton Town – finishing his football career in 1928 (the baby obviously didn’t stop him !).
Billy became an avid follower of Leicester City (a Season Ticket holder for over 40 years) until his death in 1967. While the Foxes were his ‘love’ in later life, Southport FC was always in his thoughts and tuning in to the 5 o’clock Saturday Sports Report for their result was vital.
Neil (nephew) adds that he too follows ‘the Sandgrounders’ as his’second team’ (attending a few matches, even though it is some distance away) and looks forward to the day when we play Leicester in the League again!