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Burton Thistle FC History

The first known record of football being played in this area was in Holme village circa 1909 though it is very likely players were drawn from both Holme and Burton villages. In the post war years of the 1940's a team known as Burton and Holme played played organized football in the North Lancashire and Westmorland leagues. When Burton Thistle itself became established is not really clear. However even in the early part of the last century the Westmorland league was in existence. Clubs which fell within its county boundaries had to be affiliated to it and enter its county cup competitions. That situation still exists today even though the county of Westmorland disappeared with the border alterations of the early 1970's. The senior cup being for first XL players, the junior cup was introduced for reserve teams sometime later. 

So, by the mid 1920's Burton had a team in its own right and the captain at that time was a man called Eric Stockdale. Eric was a diligent chap and kept detailed records of the matches the club played in. The originals of these survive to this day and are kept in the Kendal Records Office. Those records cover games against Kendal, Windermere, Sedbergh and Milnthorpe Corinthians amongst others. From that we can deduce that the club was then actually playing in the Westmorland league. In later years the club, whilst remaining affiliated to the W.F.A. played in the North Lancashire league. This was purely based on geographics, to reduce the travelling time, distance, and ultimately, cost. For a match against Mealbank, Eric records that the ground was "very hard" and "heavy charging would not be permitted." He does not, however, say if this was a home or away game which is a pity. A match away against Levens in September is described by Eric as a fiasco, with the final score being 25-0, a record for Westmorland league football. Again Eric leaves out some tantalising information from his record of the match, i.e. which team was actually beaten by such a score. Names appearing frequently on the goals for chart included (no Christian names) Bleasdale, Bryan, Crayston and Townson. There was no regular pitch to play on in those days and the club would use any field where the farmer would allow it. There are several sites recorded as being utilised, one in regular use was the field at the south end of the village opposite Green Dragon farm. 

After the 2nd World War when organized football started up again the club reformed first as Burton and Holme and then as Burton Thistle. Holme later formed their own football club called Holme Athletic. It's sometimes stated, (wrongly) that the Thistle part of the name came about as a member of the club at that time was from Partick. More probably it was due to the amount of thistles on the pitch, which had to be removed before play could commence. In those days there were several German players playing for the club. This might sound unusual given it was so soon after the war but they were prisoners at the nearby Bela River POW camp. The prisoners worked on the local farms and many preferred to stay here after the war, marrying local girls, than return to what became East Germany. As a result of this influx of top players Burton became one of the top teams in the North Lancashire league which by now it had joined. The most famous of the German ex-pats was Bert Trautman. He also turned out for Milnthorpe Corinthians on occasions before enjoying a very successful professional career with Manchester City. He was involved in a very famous incident playing for Man City in the 1956 FA cup final against Birmingham City. After colliding with a post he had, unbeknown to him and the sponge man, broke his neck. As no subs were allowed in those days he bravely finished the match between the sticks with Man City running out 3-1 winners. It wasn't until three days later that his broken neck was eventually diagnosed. One wonders how many of today's professionals would play on even with a broken fingernail! Bert continued to play top flight football until 1964 and a local villager, Chris Kirkman, remembers seeing him in his testimonial at Maine Road, Manchester. 

Old Burtonian Arthur Metcalfe remembers watching Trautman playing for Burton Thistle. As a young lad Arthur used to help marking out the pitch for home games. Having "got down" first, one of his jobs was to grab the shovel and sawdust and cleanse the pitch. Being a farmer's field, cow pats and sheep droppings had to be removed, dependent on the time of year presumably. The players used the Kings Arms for all their meetings, with the changing rooms at the back above some garages. The only access to these "rooms" was via a rickety old staircase and trap door in the ceiling. It was one of the few places in the village that had hot water, and an old tin bath in the corner was filled by the Crayston family's grandmother for the players (all of them, both teams) to wash in after the game. Not many people had a car in those days and players would regularly walk or cycle to games both home and away. 

Around this time a game against Milnthorpe Corinthians attracted a crowd of around 300, a record for a local game even against close rivals, as this one was. The reason, it emerged at half time, was not the talents of the players on view, but a small terrier dog who ran onto the pitch balancing the ball on the end of its nose. It then had quite a long session of "keepie uppie" before dribbling the ball with its nose up and down the pitch to roars of approval from the crowd. Who actually won the match is not recorded but the terrier stole the honours that day. Wonder what it was called? Anyone know? 

Unfortunately the club's fortunes fell into decline in the late 1950's and it was eventually disbanded before the end of the decade. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the club re-emerged following a meeting at Egremont House between Bill Elgin, Arthur Metcalfe and Gordon Crayston. Arthur, who had just returned to the village after doing his national service, got together with Bill and Gordon, and was keen to get the local football club started up again. There were still funds available from the old football team's days and these were turned over to the new one on the proviso the name of "Burton Thistle" was retained. And so in 1961 the club re-emerged and has played continuously ever since. 

Some personalities from those early teams are brothers Gordon, David and John Crayston, Bill Elgin, Henry Fawcett, David Holt, brothers Arthur and Ron Metcalfe, Peter Moreland, Barry Peate and Geoff Wyatt. Geoff's younger brother Phil also both played for, and managed, the club a few years later and his association continues to this day. 

Finding a suitable local pitch has always been a long standing problem and many farmers in the area were approached. Eventually it was Mr Harold Wright, a farmer from Clawthorpe, who offered a field on the A6070 adjacent to Curwen Woods at a cost of £10 per year, a princely sum in 1961. The only time since when the club hasn't played on that site was during the foot and mouth outbreak of 1967. This was overcome when Mr Bob Mason offered one of his fields down Station Lane. This wasn't used too often as it had a prominent slope at one end. A visiting team once complained about the slope - only after they had lost, it should be pointed out - and demanded a replay. Whether they got one or not is not recorded. The club still uses the same Curwen Woods pitch to this day and are indebted to the current owner Mr Richard Boddy, for his continued support. I fear the club would have folded again were it not for Mr Boddy's help over many years. The pitch at Curwen Woods used to run from east to west, but a natural spring rose in the eastern goalmouth leading to flooding. Arthur Metcalfe recalls a game in 1963 in which, in his position as goalie, he had to stand in 18 inches of water. But also recalls only one match being postponed due to flooding. In the early 1970's it was decided to switch the playing area around running north/south and parallel to the road. This cured the flooding problem but not the cow pats, sheep droppings and thistles which still had to be removed before each home game. Thankfully the land is not used for grazing animals today, so no need for Arthur to "get down" with his shovel and sawdust, our biggest wildlife problem these days is rabbits digging holes and nibbling the bottoms off the nets. 

Fortunes again improved in the 1960's as they had in the 1940's and many new young players joined the club. These included Trevor Mattison, Geoff Haley, Phil Wyatt as previously mentioned, Trevor Birbeck and Martin Stafford amongst many others. Matty and Phil have been with the club in some capacity on and off ever since. Matty until as recently as season 2006/7 was first team manager, whilst Phil has served as player, coach, manager and committee member. His son Mark was also a player and manager at the club. Martin is the all time club record scorer for a season, whilst pinning down the exact number of goals is difficult he's confident it was more than 40 but less than 50. In a season of perhaps only 26 league games this is an incredible achievement unlikely ever to be bettered. Staff also continued at the club for many years culminating in a stint as the reserve team manager in the early 1980's. In one evening kick-off he became so frustrated with a particular player he dragged him off, not literally, but took his shirt and boots and played himself, still in his long trousers. Quite what the official substitute, a young coal-man named John Looker, made of it one can only speculate but I digress. Back in the 1960's the team progressed steadily throughout that heady decade the high point being winning the Westmorland Junior Cup in 1968. Two North Lancashire league titles were also achieved soon after and overall it was a successful period in the clubs history. Arguably THE most successful period. 

By the 1970's, facilities off the pitch had improved even more for the players. An extension was especially built on the south end of the Memorial Hall with proper changing rooms and showers with hot running water, luxury. This did involve a mile-long journey down to the pitch and back, but a blanket on the car seats kept them free of mud. And it was infinitely preferable to one tin bath full of hot "watter" between 22 hairy arsed and muddy footballers. Martin recalls he regularly took himself off 15 minutes from time in those days so he had first use of the tin bath full of hot water. So to have showers was a luxury. There was even hot tea provided in the hall after matches and Arthur's mother, and wife Margaret took on the thankless task of washing the strips. Later on after Clawthorpe Hall was converted to a hotel, changing rooms and showers were built alongside the two new squash courts. It is not widely known that permission for these courts was initially refused, and it was only when a delegation from the football club attended a planning appeal hearing that permission was eventually granted. You could imagine, therefore, how wounded the club was sometime later when they were asked to leave by the management. The rooms wouldn't even be there if it weren't for Burton Thistle. At the time though it was brilliant. No trips in the car down to the pitch, no muddy footprints on your carpets. As Martin Stafford remembers, you just had to climb down the stile in the wall and walk to the pitch and back to the rooms for a hot shower. An odd pint or two was often imbibed after the game as well and these were the days when pubs used to shut at three on a Saturday afternoon, re-opening at 6.00pm. This arrangement worked out fine until the village copper began playing for us, but the less said about that the better. Nudge nudge, wink wink; know what I mean. Another advantage of Clawthorpe Hall becoming our base was that we were able to run an electricity cable down from the changing rooms to the training area. Some telegraph poles were acquired, Trevor worked for BT at the time, and at last we were able to have floodlights for training in the winter. Now and then some of the players even came to training, and as long as the wind and rain didn't blow water into the lights and blow the bulbs sometimes they worked. I'm sure there will be plenty of ex-players out there reading this who will recall standing in pitch darkness when the lights went off in the middle of a session. Cries of "as any yan gitten 50p fert meter" could often be heard as well. 

The 70's wore on through the artiness of bands like "Yes" through "Dark Side of the Moon," "Tubular Bells", the whole glam rock debacle, taking in punk and culminating in the sca/two tone explosion at the end of the decade. There were a few changes down at the Thistle as well. Some of the senior lads decided to hang up their boots, though some familiar faces remained for a while yet. Phil, Martin and Trevor amongst others turned out regularly each week and were soon joined by the next generation of players. These would include people like Alan Shipperd, Dave Irvine, "Buddy" McGuigan, Neil "nocker" O'Connor and Howard Jackson to name but a few. We didn't trouble the trophy engravers on too many occasions though. The first XI remained in the top division of the North Lancashire League for much of that time and also reached a few finals. 

The 1980's were a particularly barren spell in terms of trophies. The first team had eventually been relegated from the N.L.F.A. premier division at the end of season 1985/86, the manager then being Howard Jackson, Jake to his friends. There were a few away games in the Westmorland cup to lighten the spirits. Some of these will go down in the annals of history, more for their notoriety after the match, rather than prowess of the players on the sports field. Sedbergh away was one in particular that springs to mind and is still recalled with, let's say, fondness by all those who took part. New players continually joined the club, these included Steve and David Ashburn, Gerald Hobbs, Geoff Shuttleworth, Ashley Wilson, Mark and Darren Taylor, Graham "camel" Pickup and keeping the Crayston family's long connection with the club, Clive and Neil Crayston. 

It would be correct to say the club has a long tradition of being what you might say was a family club. On one very famous day around this time the first team fielded no less than four sets of brothers. These were, Neil and Dennis O'Connor, Mark and Darren Taylor, the Ashburn lads and also Brian and Bob Woof from Carnforth. Sadly no picture was taken that day, though it must have been an extremely rare event. On another occasion all four Taylor brothers, Mark, Darren, and the twins Paul and Andrew, turned out for the club. We've even had a father and son combination: Martin and John Looker playing in the team, and how often does that happen? 

In the 1986/87 season the team was bolstered by the arrival of three Milnthorpe Corinthians who defected up the B6384 and A6070 to join the mighty Thistle. These were Chris Mason, a Corinthians stalwart of many years, Brian Bellamy and Steven Hoare. Chris became player manager and it was the club's best season for many years. Games were being won by double figure margins and by Christmas the team was 8 points clear at the top of division one and unbeaten. There were only two points for a win in those days too, which makes it all the more remarkable. Sadly though it fell away and we blew it, losing the last seven league games on the trot and finishing out of the promotion places. Chris and Steve decided to return to Milnthorpe the following season, though Brian stayed on for a few more years. 

By 1989 the club had a distinctly Nordic feel to it with the arrival of two Scandinavian players. These were, Jakob Le Ferve Harsland from Sweden and Peri Malmin from Norway. They were studying at the Borwick Hall learning centre and were introduced by the proprietor's son, Andy Thomas who also played for the club. Jakob was a very strong midfielder, and had a good first touch. Though he found some of the English tackling a bit rough he settled in well and was a constant all season. He was selected to represent the Westmorland junior side as well, playing twice for them at Parkside Road, Kendal. Whilst he was here we also got him a provisional driving license and organized some lessons, which were a lot cheaper than in his native Sweden. He passed his test in this country and probably still drives around on a British license to this day. Peri was just one of those naturally gifted footballers who you come across every once in a while. He could play with either foot and always seemed to get a cross in no matter how acute the angle. "Nocker" describes him as the best striking partner he ever had. He went on to play professionally in his homeland at quite a high standard. A young Mark Smith, bomber to his mates, also joined the club this year and was top scorer of the year on many occasions including one sequence where he won it three times on the trot. 

During the 1980's our reserves became the Everton or Coventry City of their division, always in there without ever actually winning anything. They remained in div two throughout the decade though never challenging for promotion, or being in a relegation struggle either. Some names from those sides would include Graham Barnes, Kevin Towers, Trevor Metcalfe (son of Ron), Brian Ingersent, David Dixon, Keith Denby and veteran stalwart Trevor Matt, still turning out regularly in his 50's. In one particular incident the team were fined and deducted 3 points for fielding an ineligible player. This ineligible player turned out to be a "G Camel." He was of course properly registered under his correct name of Graham Pickup, as mentioned earlier. It's just that the manager filling out the team sheet had only known him as camel, which was his nickname, and filled out the team sheet accordingly. 

The 80's became the 90's and the improvement in the club's fortunes which had began the season before continued into the new decade. The first XI had at last regained promotion to the premier division from division one, though sadly not the league title, which was missed by a solitary point. Even if the points tally with Marsh Utd, the eventual winners that year, had been the same, Burton's goal difference in 1990 was far superior and would have been enough to secure the title. The goals for column read 72 and Neil O'Connor got 33 of those. The club also had the misfortune to come up against Netherfield first team in the Westmorland Cup two years running, and would surely have won at least once had they "played the game" and fielded their reserves. However the start of the decade did see us win our first trophy for many a long year, securing the div one Gibson cup in a one sided 3-0 victory over Galgate. We also defeated local rivals Milnthorpe Corinthians three times that season which is always pleasing, and were the division's top scorers as well. The club acquitted itself well in the premier division the following season 90/91, and despite a poor start finished the season on 34 points. Mark Smith won the first of many top scorers awards that year with 23 goals, nocker was second with 18. 

All good things though... and the team were relegated back into division one a few years later. In 1998 the team again reached the final of the Gibson cup at Giant Axe, Lancaster, though sadly with a different result. Morecambe Royals were the form team of the division that year and had beaten Burton in both league encounters earlier in the season. Despite this Thistle scored first and should have made it two-nil when Darren Taylor skied a penalty into the night sky. You knew watching, that Royals felt let off the hook and their whole game was lifted. They equalised only 10 minutes from the end of the 90 and got their winner in the first period of extra time, so it was runners up this time. 

The fortunes of the reserves improved dramatically toward the end of the 1990's when Burton old boy Dave "irv the swerve" Irvine returned to the club as player manager. It was around this period that the reserves lost a match against Arnside in very unusual circumstances. After dominating much of the game, Burton's goalie, Russell Dobson, came down with a severe case of the "Delhi Belly". So severe in fact he was forced to leave the field of play. He neglected to mention this to anyone though and when the Arnside players realised this, they raced up the other end to score unopposed. They eventually won the match 2-0. "Ave thi nivver 'eard o' grass," one wonders. Russell thought it was hilarious until someone informed the Westmorland Gazette and they turned up at K Shoes where he worked to take his photo complete with an arm full of bog roll. After many years of trying the team were eventually promoted from division two into division one. Sadly as with the firsts before them, not as champions but runners up again. In fact they had been denied promotion a season earlier as the 1st XI were back down a division that year and you can't have two teams from the same club in the same division. This reversal of fortunes culminated in the club winning the Whiteside Cup Final, for reserve sides, at Giant Axe Lancaster, in April 1999. Personalities from that team would include Andy Earl, Andy Mildwater, Ali Braithwaite, Paul Fernyhough, Phil Allot, Adam Holmes and not forgetting, of course, Irvo himself. 

The new millennium started off badly with the club being asked to leave its changing rooms at Clawthorpe Hall by the management. This despite the club having paid its yearly rent in full, in advance, and also purchasing and paying to have installed a new gas boiler, which they refused to do. Neither was recovered, leaving the club in desperate financial straits. What motive one can only surmise but this almost meant the end for Burton Thistle F.C. The club asked the Memorial Hall if they could resume usage of the rooms adjacent to the hall but you could sense the reluctance and so the idea fell through. After the best part of half a season changing in cars and not being able to get a shower, we eventually moved into the brand new rooms made possible by the Memorial Trust and a Lottery cash grant. This was like a blast from the past involving as it did the mile long journey down to the pitch and back by car, van, bike or foot. The blankets had to come out again! 

Into the present day then the club continues (only just some weeks) to field two teams, which is no mean feat for a small village team like ours. Post-match post-mortems are conducted in the Longlands Hotel, which has been the club's sponsor for many years and has purchased many new kits for us. Of the current crop of players Steve Mason is the longest serving, now playing in his 23rd consecutive season. Derek White has 19 years in and is currently player manager of the first team. This year's second team is run by player-manager Bryn "the butcher" Jones from the Butcher's Shop in the village. These are joined by Sam Sandham, Chris Plevy and "Chunks" Taylor to name but a few. What is pleasing to see are the sons of some of the older and ex-players coming through who are keeping up the family traditions of the football club. There is now in the ranks Daniel O'Connor son of Neil, and Simon Shipperd son of Alan. Derek White would provide half the team, if Amanda would let him, but we have Dan so far and a 14 year old not far off. 

The club is now fast approaching a 50 year unbroken playing record which is a fantastic achievement. The current secretary is Mrs Helen Jones, wife of Bryn the Butcher. The committee is well represented and meetings are often long and vocal. This isn't to say that extra pairs of hands, and feet are not welcome. If anyone reading this would like to help us out on both the playing side or the committee please contact us via the Butcher's, where all offers would be gratefully received. Finally if anyone should have any old photographs of Burton football club which you would allow us to borrow and copy, we should be eternally grateful. 

When composing this verbal claptrap we have tried to avoid it just becoming an inventory of all the many hundreds of players who have turned out for Burton Thistle F.C. over the years. Some have been included by way of illustration others for their contribution to the cause. Please don't be offended if you are not included, it's no slight on anyone. If you know of someone we have missed and whom you think deserves a mention please don't hesitate to contact us. Similarly if we have made errors of fact which you can correct, again please get in touch. We are grateful to the following for references when compiling this document: Burton-in-Kendal, Clawthorpe and Dalton Photographic Memories by Kath Hayhurst. Extracts from the Burton News and especially the recollections of Arthur Metcalfe, Martin Stafford and Phil Wyatt. 

Phil Stockdale

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