Here is the final part of this series.

Stoke City

Stoke-on-Trent FC 1893, Stoke FC 1872. Stoke City 1925.
Ground: Victoria Ground.

Stoke City owes its origin directly to a Public School for in 1863, some Old Carthusians in the North Staffordshire Railway Works decided to form a football club. They played on Sweeting Field, the kind of game to which they had been accustomed to at Charterhouse. In this, they were helped by the sympathetic and practical committeemen of the men of the Stoke Victoria Athletic Club, a contact which was later of great value.

When the Staffordshire FA was formed in 1877, it inaugurated its Cup competition, and Stoke FC, inspired by Tom Slaney, won this in both 1878 and 1879. When this became the Senior Cup competition, clubs like Aston Villa and Wolves, as well as West Bromwich Albion, took an active part, but Stoke was in the final eight times between 1883 and 1904, when it shared the holding of the trophy with Wolverhampton. Later this Cup was won at least six times.

In 1883 the club began playing at the Victoria ground and is still there. First employing professionals in 1885, it was one of the twelve original members of the Football League in 1888. Signs of players unrest were shown soon afterwards, for they grumbled at getting 2s/6p per week when other clubs were paying 5s/-.

Being bottom of the League table in both 1889 and 1890, Stoke failed to gain re-election in that latter year, so they joined the Alliance, which they duly won and got back into Division 1 in 1891 when it was enlarged. Here they stayed until 1907, but were never higher than sixth, a position they occupied twice. 

Relegated to Division 2 for season 1907-08, they resigned their Football League membership the following year, owing to lack of support, playing in the Birmingham League and Southern League. They were re-elected to the Football League (Division 2) in 1919, and in 1922 they gained promotion, but for one season only.

After three more Division 2 seasons, they fell to Division 3 North but were back at once. In 1933, Stoke City regained Division 1 status and remained there until 1953, during which time they reached fourth place twice, but from 1953 they have been back again in Division 2.

Although the club (known as 'The Potters') generally did well in local cup contests, it holds the record with a 26-0 win over Mow Cop, it only once got into the semi-final of the FA Cup, and that was in 1889. Its first record in the Cup competition proper is for 1883, but its most consistently good spell was from 1899-90 to 1895-96 when it was in the last eight on four occasions. This has been repeated several since, but it has not got very far since 1933-4 when it beat Bradford, Blackpool and Chelsea before losing to Manchester City, apart from 1946, when it was last in the quarter-finals.

Victoria Ground is one of the larger type, it was selected for semi-final ties, the last being in 1935, when 49,110 spectators saw Bolton play West Bromwich. Its first stand was erected for the 1897 semi-final. The largest crowd was at the Stoke v Arsenal match in 1937, 51,380 people being admitted.

In its early days, the club boasted some fine players such as Wm. Rowley, T Clare. and J Underwood, later that goalkeeper of renown L R Roose played for it, but if for nothing else, Stoke City will ever be remembered because it produced Stanley Matthews, the 'wizard of dribble', as well as Fred Steele, and Frankie Soo.

West Bromwich Albion

West Bromwich Strollers 1879, West Bromwich Albion 1880.
Ground: The Hawthorns.

In 1884 West Bromwich Albion adopted as its crest, a thrush perched on a crossbar and so it got its name of "The Throstles", the local name for this bird. Calling themselves West Bromwich Strollers, some working lads of a cricket team decided to play association football during the winter of 1879. Paying 6d entry, and a small weekly subscription, their pitch was on Dartmouth Park until they moved to an enclosed ground at Four Acres, having changed their name to Albion in 1880.

Here they entered Cup competitions, both county and national, and by 1883 had won the Staffordshire Cup, a feat they later repeated many times. Here too, was their first real progress in the FA Cup for, in 1895, they reached the last eight, having beaten their great rivals, Aston Villa, at the third attempt and the famous Druids before losing to Blackburn Rovers.

Moving to Stoney Lane, they won the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1886 and, for the first time, became Cup Finalists having disposed of Wolves, Old Carthusians and Old Westminsters, as well as Small Heath before meeting Blackburn Rovers at the Oval. A replay was necessary, and it was played away from London, a novelty Indeed. Derby was the venue and the Rovers won. Finalists again in 1887, they lost to Aston Villa, but in 1888 defying the prophets, They beat the all-too-sure Prestonians at the Oval, with a team of Englishmen, mostly born near West Bromwich.

It was therefore natural that The Throstles were chosen as one of the twelve founder clubs in 1888, They stayed in Division 1 until 1901, when they had their initial experience of Division 2 football, something they had to taste subsequently, being relegated in 1904, 1927 and 1938, but they gained promotion in 1902, 1911, 1931 and 1949.

In 1920, they were League Champions,  and they nearly brought off the elusive double in 1954, they won the Cup at Wembley by repeating the victory over Preston North End gained 66 years earlier but, handicapped by injuries towards the end of the League programme, they had to be satisfied with being in second place with 53 points, to the 57 obtained by Wolves.

Between these two Cup victories, they had won the coveted trophy twice, by beating Aston Villa in 1892, and Birmingham at Wembley in 1931. In addition, they contested the final on three more occasions, in 1895, 1912 and 1935. They also added to their list of honours by winning the Lord Mayor of Birmingham's Charity Cup five times between 1900 and 1925. 

Albion went to the Hawthorns in 1901, it is a fine ground which has held 64,612 spectators for the match against Villa, and 64,815 for the visit of Arsenal in 1937; it has housed international matches against Wales, Ireland, and Belgium.

Connected with Albion have been players of great renown: Billy Bassett, Jessie Pennington, James Reynolds, Tom Magee, Billy Richardson, Joe Carter, J M Bayliss, Tommy Glidden, and more recently, John Mahon, Stan Rickaby, Ray Barlow, Ronnie Allen, Don Howe, and Derek Kevan to name but a few.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Formed as St Luke's 1877, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1880.
Ground: Molineux Grounds, Waterloo Road.

The Wolves are now famous internationally, and their displays against the best teams of Hungary, Russia, and elsewhere are 'news' but like so many other clubs, their beginnings were small. In 1887, the boys connected with St Luke's at Blakenhall, a suburb of Wolverhampton, formed themselves into a football club playing near Sir Alfred Hickman's house. After a season or two, they combined with another local side, the Wanderers, and the name was changed to Wolverhampton Wanderers. In 1883 they met and defeated the strongest team in the district, Stafford Road, and so established themselves as the accepted champions of Wolverhampton.

By 1884 the club had a new ground near Dudley Road, won its first trophy, the Wrekin Cup, and had entered the FA Cup competition. In two more years, strengthened by such players as Harry Allen and Tom Hunter, Wolves were considered as good as the then great Aston Villa. By 1887, one of their players, Chas Mason, had gained an international cap, and the club had won the Birmingham Charity Cup.

Chosen as one of the twelve original clubs to form the Football League in 1888, they reached third place and played the 'Invincibles' of Preston North End in the FA Cup. In 1889, the Wanderers left Dudley Road and settled at the Molineux ground, the headquarters of professional cycle racing.

Cup success followed and for three successive seasons, they reached or passed the quarter-final stage, until in 1893 the coveted Cup was gained by beating Everton 1-0 at Fallowfield before a record crowd. A row of houses built on the Dudley Road ground, adorned with the Cup in stone, called Fallowfield Terrace, is a tribute to this victory.

In 1908, the Cup was won again by beating Newcastle 3-1 at Crystal Palace in a game where the only four men whose names started with "H" scored the goals, Hunt, Hedley, and Harrison for Wolves, Howie for Newcastle. it was an unexpected victory, for Wolverhampton had dropped into Division 2 in 1906. Nor did it improve their status; on the contrary, the team struggled on and after the war, did so poorly that in 1923 it had to spend one season in Division 3.

The lesson was taught, and it was learned the hard way, back again in Division 2 and very near the bottom of the table more than once, they gradually improved between 1928 and 1930 from seventeenth to ninth, then fourth and at long last first, promotion to Division 1 being achieved in 1932, with a much better financial status than ever before.

After an inauspicious start in the ten seasons from 1936, they twice occupied fifth place, twice third, and three times second place, to gain their first League Championship in 1954. This was followed by two successive Championships in 1958 and 1959 and with second, third, and sixth positions in the three previous seasons.

In the Cup, they reached the final at Wembley in 1939, to lose against Portsmouth, but in 1949, gained their third victory by beating Leicester City. Seven times have Wolverhampton been in the final, so things have indeed changed from the days of their inferiority complex, "We never to win anything".

Molineux is finely equipped and the attendance records are related to Cup-ties, 61,315 v Liverpool in 1939, and since the war 55,191 v West Bromwich Albion in 1949, and 55,504 against the same Midland club in 1956.

Of its players, chapters might be written, a dozen must here suffice: H Allen, W Beats, S Cullis, Rev Kenneth Hunt, C Mason. W C Rose, and H Wood for the days gone by, and Billy Wright, Bert Williams, Johnny Hancocks, Jimmy Mullen, and D Wilshaw for more recent years. Billy Wright played his 100th game for England on 11 April 1959, against Scotland at Wembley, an international record which may never be surpassed.