01/01/1881 – 09/07/1939
Where do you start with George Latham? He was a successful footballer, a hugely successful trainer, he was decorated for bravery on the battlefield in two wars, he was awarded a medal in recognition of services to the British swimming team in the 1924 Olympics and he has a football ground named after him. I could probably fill every page in this programme with stories about George.
The stats speak for themselves:
1897-1902: Aged 16 he joined his local club Newtown F.C., soon establishing himself in the first team. Between 1900 and 1902 George spent several months in South Africa having joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and volunteering to fight in the Boer War. He was awarded both a Length of Service Medal and the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four bars – each bar representing an act of bravery.
1902-1909: He spent seven years at Liverpool making nineteen appearances in all competitions.
1909-1910: On leaving Liverpool he spent one season at Southport in the Lancashire Combination and became the first Southport player to be capped by his country when selected to play for Wales against England
1910-1911: He had one season at Stoke in the Southern Football League Division Two
Between March 1905 and January 1913 George played ten times for Wales. His last cap, away in Ireland, was quite unexpected. Having retired from playing almost two years earlier he was travelling with the Welsh team as their trainer when one of the team took ill on the crossing. With no reserves available George played and helped the Welsh team to a 1-0 win.
Player / Trainer
1911-1914: – George joined Cardiff in the Southern Football League Division Two working alongside new manager Fred Stewart. Before the outbreak of World War One the pair had overseen promotion to Southern League Division One and a Welsh Cup triumph.
1914-1918: He re-joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and for acts of bravery on the battlefield was awarded the Military Cross. A bar was later added to the medal for more acts of bravery.
With the war over George returned to Cardiff, now purely as a trainer, working alongside manager Fred Stewart once more. In 1919, on his return from the war, Cardiff held a benefit match for George against rivals Swansea and over three and a half thousand fans turned out giving George £200 in gate money. He was also given a cheque by the Directors and a clock from the players.
The 1920’s were to be a golden era for Cardiff. A fourth-place finish in Southern League Division One was followed by a successful application to join Division Two of the Football League. Promotion to Division One quickly followed as did an F.A. Cup semi-final where Cardiff were defeated by Wolves in a replay.
In 1923/24 Cardiff finished as runners-up to Huddersfield in Division One, the two teams being separated by a goal average of just 0.024 (goal average being worked out by dividing goals scored by goals conceded). At the end of the season George headed off to Paris, not for footballing reasons but to the Summer Olympics as the masseuse to the British swimming team and such was his popularity that he received the prestigious Olympiad Bronze Medal as a thank you. Incidentally, these were the Games that an American swimmer named Johnny Weismuller won three Gold medals and older supporters (myself included) will remember him playing Tarzan in several films.
In 1924/25 Cardiff become the first Welsh club to reach the final of the F.A. Cup, losing 1-0 to Sheffield United but in 1926/27 history was made when they became the first club outside of England to win the F.A. Cup, beating Arsenal 1-0. A two day stay in Southport leading up to the final where the players enjoyed “living well, sleeping well, brine baths, massage treatment and country walks” obviously helping. By winning the Welsh Cup in the same season a unique double was achieved as they became the first team to win two national cup competitions from different countries in the same season
In 1927/28 Cardiff retained the Welsh Cup. It was the fifth time the club had won the competition in nine seasons but storm clouds were gathering as an economic downturn in the area brought reports that the club was struggling financially. George was in demand however and from April 1929 to July 1929 he travelled to Canada as trainer to the Welsh football team on their very first foreign tour. It was a successful tour with 15 wins from 15 games, one of those wins coming in a game where they were reduced to 10 men after a player had been assaulted by spectators!
But back home, with financial worries mounting, Cardiff suffered relegation to Division Two and this was swiftly followed by relegation to the Third Division South. In April 1932 the unthinkable happened, the club were forced to dispense with the services of George. There was no bitterness however, in fact just the opposite, there was an outpouring of goodwill with many tributes made.
Three months after leaving Cardiff, George joined Chester City in Division Three North, helping them to a Welsh Cup win but after two seasons he was on the move again … back to Cardiff. It was to be only a short stay though as failing health brought his stay to an end after just two years.
I read a lot of articles about George and what struck me was how incredibly popular he was. There were several examples of his kindness, for example during his time at both Cardiff and Chester, at the end of each season he would take the first team to play his former team Newtown to raise funds for the County Infirmary. Even the cup winning team went. On many occasions he would pay the travel expenses of his players out of his own pocket and all proceeds went to the Infirmary. In 1926 he was presented with a gold watch and chain by the Mayor of Newtown in appreciation of his generosity. It’s not surprising that a 1927 cup final souvenir described George as “probably the most popular and best loved man in football”.
It was at this hospital that George passed away on the 9th July 1939 but he wouldn’t be forgotten. Twelve years after his death Newtown F.C. moved to a new football ground, a ground they named Latham Park in honour of the truly remarkable George Latham.