Festival of Britain

John Russell looks back at a long-forgotten end of season.

1951, and bread and meat were still on the ration. More significantly as far as I was concerned, so too were Mars Bars and Mint Chunks. Every Friday my mother used to send me to Tarran’s butchers on Marsh Hill for “Four books of beef, lamb or whatever”. Only, “Be sure you come back with some change.”

So to cheer up the nation Clement Atlee and his gang had thought Prince Albert had a big exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851, so why don’t we do the same again in 1951?

I never did get taken to the exhibition on the former bombsite on the south bank of the Thames to see the Skylon and the resulting boost to the nation, though in recent years I have made numerous visits there and the one remaining legacy, the Royal Festival Hall. The exhibition lasted all summer whereas Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham had to be content with the “world’s biggest transportable covered exhibition”. It visited Birmingham from 4th-25th August and was housed amazingly not at the British Industries Fair site in Castle Bromwich but at Bingley Hall. I did not get taken there either, so have no idea how they managed to squeeze the vast displays into such a restricted space. Doubtless the other three cities had a similar problem.

Meanwhile you want to read about football and the Villa. Except that first I must start with rugby. On Thursday 12th April 1951 nets and pitch markings were altered, goalposts removed and ‘H’-shaped rugby posts installed for KES, Birmingham v Other City Grammar Schools as a prelude to RI Scorers XV v North Midlands. The Bristol Road youths succumbed to The Rest by three points to nil ahead of the big game.

It was a groundsman’s nightmare because back then the pitch was devoid of grass down the middle from October onwards so under rain that was little short of a deluge it was turned into a sea of more mud than Weston-super-Mare beach. The internationals, or however many Mr Scorer had persuaded to turn out at a proper stadium, won by 10-6 against an augmented Moseley team, since otherwise Moseley comprised the whole of the North Midlands in rugby parlance. It speaks volumes for our ground staff that the pitch was fit the game v Portsmouth only forty-eight hours later(3-3).

Meanwhile after losing one-two at Middlesbrough on Easter Saturday the Villa were having their usual dice with relegation and the table read:-
19th Huddersfield Town P34 Pts25
20th Chelsea P33 Pts23
21st VILLA P33 Pts22
22nd Sheffield Wed P34 Pts22

It is part of Villa folklore that on the train home (no posh coach travel back then) Harry Parkes, Dick Dorsett or whoever read the riot act and declared “We must do better than that.” And better they did because we went onto field an unchanged team for the remaining nine games of the campaign, including an amazing Easter double against the Wolves. Safety came in game number 40 with a 2-1 success at Goodison Park where Everton were going through their own belated slide towards oblivion.

Once again Villa Park was to be the venue for an FA Cup Final replay but this was denied when Newcastle United defeated Blackpool 2-0, without which we would not have had all the fuss about the outcome in 1953.

The last league game of the campaign at Villa Park saw us annihilate Stoke City 6-2 creating a sudden rush for season tickets for next season. Other last day results merit a mention. Needing a big win Sheffield Wednesday 6 thrashed Everton 0 but all it did was make sure they were relegated together because goal average ruled and Chelsea 4 Bolton Wanderers 0 saved the day for the Pensioners. Goal difference, as today, would not have changed things.
20th Chelsea P42 Pts32
21st Sheffield Wed P42 Pts32
22nd Everton P42 Pts32

Our WWWWDDWDW saw us finish after what had gone before, a flattering fifteenth.

Villa Park was now given over to the usual flurry of schools and local cup matches. In one Aston Commercial School defeated Tinkers Farm. I wonder whether my father was in attendance because he was an old boy of Aston Commercial from forty years earlier. Hence there was a delay in our joining the rest of the nation in Festival mode and arranging such celebratory matches as they could devise. Blues managed to lose at home to Airdrieonians and Dynamo Yugoslavia.

With all the continent to choose from the best we could persuade to visit the ground of the still ‘Greatest Football Club in the World’ was Frem. Then as now you will struggle to find Frem in the football lexicon but it transpires that they were Danish, from the suburbs of Copenhagen. The local press tried to whip up support by suggesting that Frem included several internationals in their ranks and two weeks after the last league match of the season a surprising 30,000 gave up a Saturday afternoon to see continental opposition at Villa Park against a team who had achieved a goalless draw at Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the week.

Frem, it seems, have since twice undergone financial turmoil and have just been promoted from the Danish third division
In the tenth minute Brerregaard gave the copy taker at the Sports Argus something to muse over when he gave the visitors the lead. Villa should have gone on to win by the proverbial cricket score but it took an own goal from Petersen after seventy minutes to ensure a share of the spoils. Thus ended the nearest we came to an end of season continental jaunt. We could now turn our attention to Edgbaston where Warwickshire were on route to winning the County Championship. Proper cricket, when it used to mean something.