A few months ago I heard from Jonathan Miller from Whitley Bay in Northumberland. His good friend Billy Fenwick, who is now in his 90s played for Blyth Spartans for many years but told him that his father, Alfred (Alf) Fenwick, played for Coventry City in the early 1920s.
I was able to send Jonathan a team photo from 1920 containing Billy's father and promised to write about Alfred & son Billy in this column. I wrote about Alf a few years ago but more information has come to light.
Alfred Randolph Fenwick was born in the mining village of Medomsley, near Consett in County Durham on 26 March 1891. He was the son of a mining engineer and grew up close to the Hamsterley Colliery where his father worked.
It is known that he played for local team Craghead United before joining Hull City in 1910. In 1914 just as war was about to break out he signed for West Ham. There is no record of his war-time activities but after the war he briefly played for West Ham again before signing for City in December 1919. When he arrived the Bantams were six points adrift at the foot of Division Two without a win in 18 games in their inaugural Football League season. He made his debut in a 0-0 home draw with Clapton Orient but five days later, on Christmas Day he helped the team to their momentous first victory in the league. In front of 19,000 at Highfield Road, Stoke City were defeated 3-2. The Potters got their revenge on Boxing Day, winning 6-1 in the return but the Bantams were on the rise. Alf's steadying influence at left half, where he was an ever present for the remainder of the season, helped the club pull out of the relegation places, although the club needed the help of bribes in their final game against Bury to finally slink out of trouble.
He made 53 appearances for City over two seasons and scored one goal. According to excellent Blyth Spartans historical website, Alf gave up full-time professional football on leaving City in 1921 and returned to County Durham to work in the thriving local mines playing amateur football for Leadgate Park in the North Eastern League. In 1922 Billy’s father was encouraged to join Blyth Spartans and he took up at job at the Isabella Pit near Blyth. The Fenwick family moved to Blyth after they were given help by the club to find a new house in Tenth Avenue, Blyth.
In 1924 he played briefly for Ashington Town, then in Division Three North & the following season joined Halifax Town briefly. The last record of him playing was with Bedlington United in1926-27, coincidentally another-ex-City man, Hugh Richmond finished his playing career with the same club. Alf worked as an overman at the pit until he retired and during World War II he continued at the mine, as well as being in the Home Guard. He died in Northumberland in 1975 aged 83.
Alf recommended his nephew Austen Campbell to Coventry in 1921 but he was released after one game and later joined Blackburn Rovers and became an England international.
Alf's son William Randolph Fenwick (known as Billy) was born on 13th August 1920 at Shotley Bridge near Consett in County Durham. He was a plasterer by trade but inherited his father's football skills. He played for Blyth Spartans from 1937-1955 but had a spell at Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager (1938-39). During World War II he served in the RAF in India for four years. In 1946 he had trials at Blackburn Rovers and was offered a professional contract but chose to remain in Blyth where his wife Lily was expecting their only child, Jacqueline.
He later played for Ashington, North Shields and Cramlington Welfare during a boom time for North Eastern Amateur football. After he hung his boots up he returned to Blyth Spartans to become trainer in 1957 and occupied various roles at the club over the next 40 years including a brief spell as manager. Billy was 95 this week & until he went into a care home recently, still attended Spartans home games.
Billy had an elder brother, Alfred Leslie Fenwick (known as Les), who spent time at Sheffield Wednesday before World War II & was transferred to Reading in the summer of 1939. Les made his Reading debut the week before war was declared and after the war was too old to play. He also gave good service to Blyth Spartans,.
Unusually there were at least nine other players, apart from Alf Fenwick, who played for both Blyth Spartans and Coventry City's first team. The full list along with the year they signed for Coventry is:
- George Davison (1913)
- Lance Swindale (1921)
- Norman Findlay (1921)
- Arthur Ormston (1922)
- Hugh Richmond (1922)
- Andrew Yorke (1923)
- George Reay (1930)
- John Watson (1934)
- Brian Joicey (1969)