The most famous sportsman to emerge from the streets of Oulton and Woodlesford was footballer Bryan Edwards. He played in the first team for Bolton Wanderers for fifteen years from 1950 to 1965 and went on to become the manager at Bradford City. He was also a keen cricketer and regularly travelled back home to play for the Water Haigh colliery side.
Born in October 1930, Bryan started his footballing career at Woodlesford school graduating to become centre half and captain of the Oulton youth club under-16 side. His parents were Jack and Edith (nee Chew). The family lived in council houses on Green Lea and then North Lane in Oulton after moving from Applegarth when Bryan was a child.
After five years away in the army during the Second World War Bryan’s father worked for the Rothwell Urban District Council maintaining roads. His grandfather, Henry George John Edwards, came from Wiltshire and for many years ran a grocery and newsagent’s shop on Highfield Lane opposite the school. His aunt and two of his uncles worked at Bentley’s brewery. His mother’s father, Henry Chew, was born at Lothersdale near Skipton and moved to become a farm horseman at Far Headingley.
It was at the start of 1947 that Bryan’s career began to take shape when, along with team mate Richard Kirby, he was selected to play for a Leeds and district minor league side. They beat a Harrogate and district eleven in a West Riding cup competition on Saturday 4 January. The Wakefield Express reported: “Both players show great promise and after reports that Huddersfield Town were interested in them, it is now stated that Bolton Wanderers are watching them.”
The interest seems to have come from George Priestley who lived at John o’ Gaunt’s in Rothwell. He acted as a part-time scout for Bolton reporting to George Taylor, the scouts’ manager at the club. Taylor had himself played at right half for Bolton and no doubt could spot a good half back when he saw one.
There were no further reports of what happened to Richard Kirby but a few weeks later it was confirmed that Bryan Edwards had been offered a trial at Bolton.
Meanwhile he continued to play for the Oulton side which on Saturday 19 January took on Leeds Leander Seniors in the second round of the Leeds and district junior cup. After a bad start, conceding a goal in the first half and through a player named Collinson scoring an own goal at the start of the second half, Oulton fought back and eventually won 4 – 2.
“Twenty minutes before the end Edwards headed home; Horner, a real opportunist, notched two more goals; and Collinson atoned for his earlier lapse with a terrific scoring shot,” declared the match report in the Express.
A week later Edwards was selected to play in the under-17 team of the Leeds Combination League against a Bradford and district side. It’s not clear if that match actually took place as, starting on 21 January 1947, there were heavy snowfalls and the country began to experience one of the worst winters on record.
In mid-March a thaw set in and on Saturday 22 March Bryan was picked to play for a West Riding side against Durham in the F.A. National Youth Championship. Floods had threatened to stop the game at Bishop Auckland but the Yorkshire Evening Post reported that conditions had improved and the tie was set to go ahead as arranged. No result or match report appears to have been published so it’s not clear who won. Also in the team was Brian Close from Rawdon who was already playing in Leeds United’s junior team, although a couple of years later he would transfer his allegiance to Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Bryan left school at the age of 14 and when he wasn’t playing football or cricket he was an engineering apprentice at George Porteus & Sons which made electrically powered equipment for the brewing and malting industry. Their works were close to Leeds Bridge and he went there on weekdays by bus.
Its possible the firm gave him time off because in the spring of 1947 he had three successful trials with Bolton and at the beginning of May went with his mother, father and scout George Priestley to meet a club representative at the Queens Hotel in Leeds. There he signed up for the Lancashire side. His father was so excited at the news he went to the meeting wearing odd socks!
A friend, Dennis Watson, remembered: “He didn’t tell his mates when he met them next day,” but the cat was clearly out of the bag when, on Saturday 7 May, under the headline “A Promising Footballer,” the Express reported he was being “retained” for the following season. “George Taylor considers that Edwards has the making of a clever half back and hopes to see him coming more into the limelight next season by the proper coaching he will receive,” said the paper.
Whilst he was waiting to join Bolton, in August, Bryan again played for the West Riding county minor side which went on a ten day tour of Holland at Whitsuntide.
As he was still only 16, under F.A. rules, Bryan’s first games for Bolton were played as an amateur. Initially he was in the “A” team in the West Lancashire League but was quickly promoted to a reserves side which played in the Central League. He was picked for home and away games against West Bromwich and then scored his first goal in a match against Bury on Saturday 13 September.
The news found its away across the Pennines and in the following Saturday’s Wakefield Express the unnamed local reporter gave a glowing account of Bryan’s progress saying he was “making history” at Bolton which may mean he was the youngest player in a Bolton Central League side.
“Edwards has played great football in this class. Good reports have been reaching the Bolton representative, George Priestley speaking highly of Edwards’s progress. Given ordinary luck, he looks like making a great player. Walter Rowley, the Bolton manager, and George Taylor the old Bolton half-back, who is Edwards’s coach, speak highly of his play.”
Apparently Walter Rowley was already keen on Bryan joining his senior players and as soon as he turned 17 in October he signed as a professional. The following week a cheque “for a substantial sum” was sent by the Bolton directors as a thank you to the officials of the Oulton youth club.
Unlike the modern day game playing as a professional in post-war football, even for a club as famous as Bolton Wanderers, was never lucrative. On the other hand the training regime was not full time and Bryan had to practise on only two nights a week. He moved into lodgings at Bolton and to fill in the time he was allowed to work outside football. In his first couple of years he had a number of jobs including a spell down one of the pits at nearby Farnworth for a few months. However his football suffered there so he went to work for coach tour operators Mills and Seddon.
Bryan regularly travelled home to see his mother and father and during the summer continued to play cricket for the Oulton side where he was an opening batsman. Although he hadn’t played much as a schoolboy, in 1948 he attracted the attention of several Lancashire League clubs. Also that season, “not one of his best,” he completed a maiden century for Water Haigh against an English Steel Corporation team from Sheffield. In late July, with a friend from Oulton, he stayed at his aunt’s house near Headingley when they went to watch Len Hutton play for England in the fourth test of the Ashes series against Australia.
Back in Oulton and Woodlesford there was still great interest in how his football career was developing and his progress regularly featured in the Wakefield Express. At the start of the 1948/49 season it reported he had made many friends and was being spoken of “as a player of great promise” with George Rowley saying he was “one of his best boys at the age of 17.” His coaches included “clever players of the past” – George Hunt and Bill Ridding who replaced Rowley as manager in 1950.
Also that August George Gater, another former Woodlesford schoolboy, was given a trial at Bolton and signed amateur forms. A full-back, he was a couple of years older than Bryan and had just finished his National Service in the army. However he didn’t stay for long and left to become an engineering apprentice back in Leeds, later working at Water Haigh colliery as a fitter.
With a height of 5 feet 11 and a half inches and weight of 11 stones, which hardly varied throughout his playing career, Bryan was quickly given the nickname “Slim” by his team mates. In a programme note years later centre forward Nat Lofthouse, who joined Bolton at the same time and who became captain and an England international, wrote: “No wonder they called him “Slim!” Bryan Edwards could eat like a horse and never put on an ounce of weight. But that was no surprise considering the fact he worked like a slave. If there was ever a game he didn’t put 110 per cent into, I can’t remember it.”
Bryan Edwards first visit back to Yorkshire as a player was in a reserves game at Leeds United on Saturday 17 September 1949. Many of his friends from school days went to Elland Road to watch the game. They saw him play at left-half up against what was described as the “star studded Leeds right-wing trio” of Welsh international Harold Williams, Jackie Moss and Jim Bullions, who had been transferred from Derby County’s 1946 cup winning team.
The start of the 1950/51 season saw Bryan promoted to the Bolton first team where he was selected for 25 consecutive matches. “He has held his own against the best wingers in the country, and the future for this young player is exceedingly rosy,” commented the ever enthusiastic reporter for the Wakefield Express.
In the closed season he went with the team on a tour of Switzerland. He still had to do his National Service though and only played 16 times during the next two years missing out on a medal in the 1953 Wembley Cup Final. Bolton were beaten 4 – 3 by a Blackpool side starring Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen.
Having left a girlfriend behind in Woodlesford, Bryan met Jean Hodgkiss from Daubhill in Bolton. The daughter of mill workers she had been going to games at Burnden Park since she was 14 years old and was at the ground on 9 March 1946 when 33 fans were crushed to death after barriers gave way. Bryan was still only earning £40 a week when they married in 1952. Their sons were born in 1953 and 1955.
On his return from the army he went straight back into the first team and missed only six Division One games in the next five seasons. Friends and followers from Oulton and Woodlesford would often travel to Burnden Park to watch him play. Then in 1958 they crowded round black and white television sets to watch him reach Wembley in the F.A. Cup Final against Manchester United.
It was a memorable game in more ways than one as Matt Busby’s rebuilt side had done remarkably well to reach the final only months after the Munich air disaster. Bolton won with two goals from Nat Lofthouse who remembered that Bryan had passed him the ball to set up his first: “It gave us a great start and we never looked back,” he said.
Including matches abroad Bryan Edwards went on to make 518 first team appearances, scoring 9 goals, before he retired as a player at the end of the 1964/65 season. An A to Z of football recorded he was part of the Bolton defensive line-up dubbed the “Savage Six, renowned as hard men throughout the English game.”
Nat Lofthouse commented: “He was always as fit as a fiddle and that helped in the role he played. He got into positions you wouldn’t believe – one minute clearing things up on the edge of his own penalty area – the next suddenly popping up in attack on the left wing.” A match day programme from the 1960/61 season noted he was the first player at Bolton to have the honour to receive a £1000 cheque for loyal service to one club.
After leaving Bolton Wanderers Bryan went as assistant coach to Blackpool where he stayed for three years before moving to Preston North End as chief coach in 1968. A move south to Plymouth, again as chief coach, followed in 1969.
Two years later he was back in the north at Bradford City, a club he was associated with for nearly thirty years, first as manager for three years and later as chief coach, physio, kit manager and caretaker manager until he finally retired in 2000. He was part of the squad at the game at Valley Parade in May 1985 when 56 people were killed when fire engulfed the wooden and antiquated main stand. In 1997 he had the honour of introducing the Queen to the players when she visited the “Bantams” to open the new Midland Road stand.
Between 1974 and 1976 he was at Huddersfield Town as physio and for the next two years he was the youth manager at Leeds United before returning to Bradford City in 1978.
At the opening game of the 2002/3 season Bryan Edwards was amongst a select group of the eleven longest serving Bolton Wanderers players inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame at the Reebok Stadium.
On one of his many visits back to Oulton to visit his parents he would meet old friends on a Sunday dinnertime in the New Masons’ pub. Naturally cricket and football were discussed and once he was asked: “In that post-war era it was every lad’s ambition to play cricket for Yorkshire. If you were given the choice – if the option to you was to open the batting for Yorkshire or play First Division football for Bolton Wanderers – what would you do?” “Well,” he replied, perhaps in jest. “That’s a tough call. I bet you know what the answer is. To open the batting for Yorkshire!”