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A brief history of St Helens Town
Club History 1 of 24

1. A brief history of St Helens Town

The original St. Helens Town club was formed in 1901 and played at Park Road, behind the Primrose Vaults public house. Although it was known as the Primrose Ground, the players changed further down Park Road at the Black Horse pub. Playing in the Lancashire League and Lancashire Combination, the team enjoyed some early success, but struggled after the Great War and appears to have folded midway through the 1928/29 season.

The club was re-formed by George Fryer and a group of local businessmen in 1946. They took out a lease of the former cricket ground at Hoghton Road, Sutton, adjacent to the St. Helens Junction railway station and, although it entered in the FA Cup in the 1946/47 season, a team could not be raised in time to fulfil its tie with Prescot Cables. Friendly games were played, then local team Derbyshire Hill Rovers were taken over in April 1947, those players forming the nucleus of the team which entered the Liverpool County Combination at the start of the 1947/48 season.

St. Helens Town soon began to prosper and early results included a sensational 10-4 win over Everton “A” on 6th December 1947. Former German prisoner-of-war Bert Trautmann joined the club in the Summer of 1948, the strapping goalkeeper helping the team to win its first trophy, the George Mahon Cup, which was secured with a 2-1 win over Runcorn at Prescot on 7th May 1949. Crowds averaged over 2000 that season, peaking with a league record attendance of 3012 against Burscough in October 1948.

The following season, 1949/50, Town entered the Lancashire Combination and, despite losing Trautmann to Manchester City in October 1949, they won the Second Division title in some style the following season, three players, Albert Leadbetter (36), Harry McCann (32) and Terry Garner (31) all netting over 30 goals apiece. An all-time club record attendance of “between 8000 and 9000” witnessed a friendly game against Manchester City, arranged as part of the Trautmann transfer deal, in April 1950 and another 4000 witnessed a second match with City the following season. Although relegated by a slender margin from the First Division in 1951/52, the club continued to look forward, even contemplating Football League status and, in order to further its ambitions, moved to the former St. Helens Recs. rugby league ground at City Road. Initial crowds were encouraging but, despite success, the club decided to move back to Hoghton Road in October 1953, where they remained until April 2000.

Town produced a number of fine players who joined Football League clubs, including Bill Foulkes (Manchester United), John Quinn (Sheffield Wednesday) and John Connelly who joined Burnley, later transferring to Manchester United and who played in the England 1966 World Cup winning squad. More recently, Dave Bamber scored goals in all four divisions of the league with a host of different clubs, starting and ending his league career at Blackpool and in the last few years, Karl Ledsham, who had a productive career at conference level with Southport, Lincoln City, Barrow and Stockport County before moving to the USA.

Following a second relegation in 1956, St. Helens Town continued to play in the Lancashire Combination, winning the Championship in 1971/72, by nine points ahead of Accrington Stanley. However, the formation of the Northern Premier League in 1968 led to a gradual drain of stronger clubs from the Combination and St. Helens joined the Cheshire League in 1975, becoming founder members of the North West Counties League seven years later. They held the proud record of being the only club to play in the NW Counties’ top flight every season until they were relegated in April 2015, conceding an injury-time equaliser to Silsden in the last game of the season, a match they had to win to stay up.

Town enjoyed a golden era in the late 1980s, just missing out on an appearance in the First Round proper of the FA Cup in 1985/86, losing to Morecambe in a Fourth Qualifying Round Replay, but they obtained ample compensation by winning the FA Vase at Wembley in 1987, beating near neighbours Warrington Town 3-2, with two goals from Phil Layhe and one from Brian Rigby. They were regular promotion candidates for many years, largely due to the scoring exploits of Steve “Pellet” Pennington, who grabbed 216 goals in 351 games, his season’s best hauls of 45 in 1993/94 and 46 in 1997/98 just failing to beat the club record of 47 scored by Phil Stainton in 1963/64. Current club captain Andy Gillespie won the NW Counties’ golden boot with 34 goals in the 2015/16 season and netted another 24 times last season.

This season sees Town in their third season in the Hallmark Securities League First Division, aiming to put behind themselves two seasons of inconsistent performances which have seen them finish some way short of the promotion places, despite some excellent results. Manager Alan Gillespie now has a settled first team squad and, having endured seven years of a nomadic existence, ground-sharing at Ashton Town, Ashton Athletic and Prescot Cables, the excellent 3G facilities at Ruskin Drive are now up and running and backed up by a strong development system, featuring Under-18s, Under-21s and Reserves managed by a top-class coaching team, the club is looking forward once again to a great future.

Glyn Jones