EASTER of 1910 saw what until then was lauded in many places as the biggest ever sporting event in Bridgwater, which attracted the largest crowd for a sporting event in the town, writes Kerry Miller.

Conveniently arranged for Easter, the final of the Somerset County Cup brought together Bridgwater RFC and Bridgwater Albion RFC and the scenes were chaotic.

For hours prior to the game, crowds queued down to the western end of the town to get into the Malt Shovel ground for the prestige match; space in the wooden grandstand and along the ropes on duckboards was at a premium.

Virtually everyone sported blue and white or amber and blue colours; the teams had battered themselves to a standstill the score was 3-3, so a replay was needed.

The county committee were delighted, as the first game had brought in a staggering £95 and another game, this time at the Albion ground in Taunton Road, was expected to bring as much.

In the end Albion triumphed 13-0 in what was Bob Dibble’s last game before he moved over the water to live, work and play in Blaenavon.

Dibble and his colleagues were shouldered back to the club HQ to celebrate their win, while the vanquished team licked their wounds back at the Malt Shovel pub.

Elsewhere, Bridgwater’s sporting scene had not long recovered from the Reg Fursland scandal when it was rocked once more, this time by a public figure who also succumbed to temptation and made a bid for freedom with a small fortune.

This time the funds were not from a sporting club, but by a 40-year old district relieving officer at the Poor Union who stole more than £500 which was destined for those unfortunates in the grim Bridgwater Workhouse.

Sidney Wilkins Hook was well known in the town as an all-round sportsman, having played in goal for the original Bridgwater AFC and the town cricket club, as well as winning cups and money from athletics meetings around the area.

Based in North Petherton, Hook had cycled to Bristol before boarding a train to Southampton and booking a passage to New York on a steamer, in the name of Sidney Wilkins.

Bridgwater police were already on the case, though, and despatched an officer who arrested Hook and brought him back to the Somerset and Dorset station, where a big crowd had assembled to witness the excitement.

His movements brought him 18 months in Shepton Mallet prison with hard labour.

Meanwhile, another winter season saw Bridgwater AFC still staggering on at their new ground in Chilton Street in the Highbridge & Weston League, although there was no real change in their fortunes.

The Churchill Cup tie against Highbridge went to a replay in front of “very few spectators” and, despite only being a few miles away, two players did not make it until half-time as the team lost 3-1.

There were the occasional good days, but they tended to be against teams who, like them, had difficulty in persuading men to travel away.

Bill Styles scored four against Burnham St Andrews, and a disinterested Street St Crispin were hammered 9-1 a week before Christmas, just two days after the first ever roller hockey match in Bridgwater, at St Saviours in Old Taunton Road, against a team from Weston-super-Mare.

The novelty value attracted a big crowd but what they thought of 15 minutes each way is not recorded, although it would have been a perfect way to meet a suitor, as there was public skating after the match itself which ended 2-2.

Bridgwater Mercury:

'GRACEFUL': An advertisement for roller skating in Bridgwater

The punters may well have had to wade home, as for days around that time torrential rain had rendered the area sodden and there were devastating floods all over the levels once more.

In Bridgwater itself the Parrett went over and gales wrecked the pavilion at Northfield Tennis Club, while the east of the town was underwater.

With the town and Albion rugby clubs a major force and attracting good crowds to their high-quality matches, Saturday junior football held little interest for the paying public; the Mercury rarely gave it more than a couple of paragraphs each week.

Bridgwater AFC’s line up changed almost every game and many of the surnames from those days are still prevalent today, including descendants of Harry Mogg, Bill Styles, Buller Thomas, Stan Hannaford, Albert Culverwell, Walter Walford, Bertie Shapter, Tom Brawley, Albert Oliver, Edgar Wheller, Reg Ryall and Cecil Dawe.

The club had won three and lost three in the Weston League as the new year arrived, but there was more interest in Thursday football as the early closers had the scene largely to themselves.

Bridgwater Thursday FC were forced to play their football in the Taunton & District Thursday League, and a youngster with a Birmingham accent had arrived on the scene as a gentleman’s hairdresser.

Reginald James Morris made his debut at half-back for the Thursday side’s reserves on September 16 that year at Cannington Industrial School, and a week later held his place against Weston YMCA.

Soon he was in the first team, who were challenging for honours alongside the likes of Yeovil Thursdays and Camden United.

The semi-final of the KO Cup was against Taunton YMCA at the East Reach Athletic Ground.

YMCA were 3-0 up at half-time and, despite a goal from Walker, Bridgy were well beaten 6-1.

Young Reg would have to wait another 12 months before he would have another tilt at the Thursday titles, and inadvertently set up a chain of events which would lead to his medals being linked to the town again after well over 100 years, via Chatham in Kent and Cornwall.

The summer of 1911 was to be a busy one, as Bridgwater AFC were forced off the docks ground, which was behind a terraced row called Crowpill Cottages and up against the river, and were forced back to the often unplayable Westonzoyland Road pitch at Redgate. Bridgwater RFC had an unforgettable trip to Blaenavon, and a new force entered local football - Old Morganians FC. A new junior football league was mooted, and the first skittle league was founded and was immediately popular. Should any readers have any information or queries on this series they are welcome to email kerrymiller100@hotmail.com.