A History Of Football In Retford

Today, just two miles separate The Rail and Cannon Park, home of Northern Counties Eastern League Retford, and Central Midlands League Retford United, respectively.

The beautiful game in this North Nottinghamshire market town however can be traced back, at least, some 150-plus years, with local clashes, against nearby Worksop Town, being recorded as far back as the 1870s.

Numerous gentlemen have been seen to ply their trade within Retford’s boundaries, several having been born there and gone on to play professional football for clubs like Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, Grimsby Town and Sheffield Wednesday, to name a few – there was even Colin Walker who, having played for Retford Town in the late seventies, would go on to play international football for the All Whites of New Zealand, scoring ten goals in fifteen games during the mid-eighties.

Prior to the Nottinghamshire town’s current, footballing residents, Retford having been formed in 2015, whilst Retford United were as recent as 1987, there was that of Retford Town, they themselves can be traced back to the 1920s.

A history punctuated by the presence of the Second World War (1939-45), Town, who used the nickname of ‘The Rovers’ when out on the road, would, between that of the forties and eighties, ply their trade in the Yorkshire, Midlands, and Northern Counties Eastern leagues respectively.

Being Yorkshire League champions in 1959, by two points from Farsley Celtic, the Town side would enjoy a number of FA Cup ‘runs’ during the sixties, reaching the fourth qualifying round on each occasion and with the latter, in 1969, seeing them knocked out by Macclesfield Town, at home (0-2); and yes, there were several clashes with local rivals Worksop Town along the way- an FA Trophy success in 1970 (5-1 home replay win) a particular highlight.

A name at Retford Town, a former pit miner from ‘up north’ in County Durham, from Bearpark to be precise, would appear briefly as manager in 1949, his name, Samuel ‘Sammy’ Crooks; born in early 1908, Crooks would be seen to play local football prior to his being signed by then Division Three North side, Durham City.

Crooks would make his Football League debut against Accrington Stanley in September 1926, and would go on to make sixteen league, and twenty-one North-Eastern League, appearances for the Citizens before going on to star for Derby County and England.

Prior to his appearance at Retford Town in the late forties, Crooks would be seen to turn out for both Nottingham Forest, and Notts County, during those wartime footballing endeavours.

Another Retford star of the particular period was that of Bobby Forrest, someone who, in late 1952, join Leeds United, before returning to Nottingham five years later when signing for County; during that decade-long, two-club spell, Forrest would make near 250 Football League appearances, whilst also captaining County, to the Third Division title, in 1960.

Before Crooks however, there was, in the 1920’s, wing-half Billy Powell, he being born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, and who’d begin his career with Town, in 1922, going on to have spells with The Wednesday (Sheffield Wednesday), where he’d win the old, Second Division title in 1926, and at Grimsby Town, who were Second Division runners-up in 1928 as well as being a two-time Lincolnshire League Cup winner, in 1929 and 1930; he’d finish his career with hometown club, Sutton Town (his second spell there), they became Ashfield United before disbanding in the late nineties.

In going back further though, and pre-First World War (1914-18), and looking at the late 18, early 1900s, and around the time the beautiful game was first being recorded, there was also a rivalry brewing between Retford Rovers, and nearby Worksop.

Local historian, John Stocks, who has researched and written much on that other Nottinghamshire club, Worksop, discussed much about that time, recalling in his Worksop book..

“They (Worksop and Retford) played each other five times in 1885, with Retford winning four of them.

“Retford would score eighteen goals to Worksop’s five and they (Worksop) had to borrow two players from Gainsborough to beat them in their only, successful encounter.

“By the 1890s though, the tide had very much turned and Worksop were back on top, they embracing a new-era of hard-nosed professionalism.”

It was during this period that two of Retford’s star players would be snapped up by Worksop, Jimmy Hatton and Arthur Moorhouse moving clubs and signing professional contracts.

Stocks would also say of those formative years, amidst the inter-connecting history of the two, Nottinghamshire clubs, that –

“Worksop and Retford have been tearing into each other since at least 1877, which means the game is much older than the Sheffield, Manchester, and Liverpool derby series. The contest also pre-dates the first Nottingham derby (which you can read about here). It is probably even older as there is no suggestion that the first, reported game was the first time the clubs had met. It is certainly one of the oldest ‘derby’ games in the world.

“During the early period, Retford played on the West Retford Cricket Ground. Initially, Worksop held the ascendency, drawing 1-1 and winning 3-0 in the first recorded – but in the 1880s Retford handed some serious retribution. Worksop also lost star player JG Pearson to Gainsborough, and their best ‘keeper, Hett, moved to Retford.”

Other names to come from, or have connections to the market town over the last, 150 years of footballing history, includes Horace Biggin (born Shirebrook, late 1800s, played for Retford and Mansfield in the 1920s), Tom Richardson (born Worksop, late 1800s, played for Retford, and two spells with Worksop, in the 1910s), Billy Tremelling (born Newhall, early 1900s, had early spells with Mansfield, Worksop and Retford prior to successful spells, in the Football League, with Blackpool, and Preston North End).

There was also the much-travelled Yorskhireman, Billy Whitehurst, who’s senior career began at Retford Town in the seventies before turning out for, among others, in the eighties and nineties, Hull City, Newcastle United, Oxford United, Reading, Sunderland, Sheffield United, Doncaster Rovers, St George-Budapest (Australia), Glentoran (Northern Ireland), South China (Hong Kong), and Voice Link (Hong Kong).

So you see, Retford certainly has a long, varied, and illustrious history, many connections, across the globe, and dating back as far as the 1870s (at least), and a time-line that sees the following – Retford Rovers (1870s – 1920s), Retford Town (1920s – 1985), and Retford United (1987-present).

Specific thanks to Sheffield’s John Stocks for his thoughts, words, and guidance with this feature; next up, we look at a very early, pugilistic rivalry this county has had to offer….

*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).

*Main image @THE66POW Retford Town’s derelict River Road ground left abandoned since the 1980’s.

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