CRADLEY Heath St Lukes were one of the most successful semi-professional sides in the country during the 1920s and 30s.
Situated at the former Cradley Heathens speedway track in Dudley Wood, the Lukes were one of the top dogs in the powerful Birmingham and District League, which they won three times in the space of six years.
The league stretched to include Cardiff City’s reserve side and Wrexham, while top Midland clubs such as Wolves, Villa and Walsall all featured their reserve teams in the league as well.
But the Lukes became a victim of their own success and the famous old club finally perished completely in 1961 after being reduced to playing on a parks pitch in Old Hill that didn’t even provide changing rooms!
The Lukes’ rise and fall is now chronicled in a book written by retired Stourbridge chartered engineer Trevor Sidaway.
It charts the heady days when the Lukes played in front of crowds of around 6,000 but then finally bowed out in front of just a handful of spectators.
Trevor, who lives in Norton and has family links to the Lukes, said: “They were formed as a church side in 1896 and by 1910 had become a limited company funded by local businessmen.
“They moved to Dudley Wood Stadium in 1917 which catered for crowds of about 6,000, but eventually they got into financial trouble because of all the travelling they were doing. As a result, they established a greyhound track around the pitch, which also led to speedway taking place.”
They created a company known as Cradley Sports Enterprise, which slowly but surely started edging the football out.
Trevor added: “In 1959 the Lukes were forced to leave Dudley Wood altogether and moved to a parks pitch in Old Hill. By 1961 they were penniless and in debt, unable to pay the rent to Rowley Regis Council. They finally sold the goal posts, corner flags and the one ball they owned for £7 to a local club.”
In their heyday, players such as former Manchester United star Jack Rowley, Albion’s Joe Smith and Villa’s Joe Tate appeared for the Lukes. It’s even rumoured that Wolves and England centre-half Billy Wright turned out for them as a 14-year-old.
The book, which was self-funded by Trevor, sold out on its first print run, the proceeds of which were donated to Mary Stevens Hospice.
Trevor is undecided as to whether there will be a second print run but said: “If there’s enough interest, I might do one.” He can be contacted on 01384 371191.