The Victoria Ground, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, is located just north of the town centre and is the current home of Bromsgrove Sporting Football Club, who were founded in 2009.

Three successive promotions between 2017 and 2019 mean that Sporting currently play in the Southern League Premier Division Central, the seventh tier of English football. Prior to the abandonment of the 2019/20 season, the club looked well placed to finish at least in the playoff positions and consequently the club averaged just under 1,000 spectators per match, making it one of the best supported clubs at this level in England. Part of the reason for the club’s popularity and the quality of the Victoria Ground owes much to the prominence of the grounds previous tenants; Bromsgrove Rovers, who played there between 1909 and 2010, after which the club were dissolved, owing to financial problems. At their height in the 1990s, Rovers played in what today is known as the National League and once reached the third round of the FA Cup in 1994. This article looks much further back into the history of Bromsgrove Rovers and their initial move to the Victoria Ground in 1909 and the impact of finances upon this decision with a desire to give an insight into Edwardian amateur football.

2019 Playoff trophy
Image courtesy of David Kettle/Bromsgrove Sporting FC

Rovers were founded in 1885, and played at several locations in Bromsgrove, most notably at Well Lane from 1891, until their move to the Victoria Ground. After playing in local leagues, Rovers joined the Birmingham Junior League in 1897, (which was renamed the Birmingham Combination in 1908), a prominent amateur league in the West Midlands. Rovers acceptance was part of an expansion of the League into Worcestershire, as Evesham Wanderers and Kings Norton Metal Works were also admitted. These clubs joined existing member Redditch Excelsior to make four clubs from Worcestershire in the 12-team competition, the majority of whom were based in Birmingham. Rovers initial forays in the Junior League were mediocre, until the 1904/05 season when they finished in second place, with 33 points (with two points for a win) from 26 matches.

Main Stand
Image courtesy of Tom Fuszard/Bromsgrove Sporting FC

The improved performance during the 1904/05 season was instrumental in helping the Rovers off the field fortunes, as it allowed the club to come out of debt for the first time since they had joined the Birmingham Junior League, due to increased subscriptions and larger attendances at matches (the only significant income streams the club had). Debt had been a constant problem for the club, as despite an adherence to amateurism, the club incurred significant expense costs to ensure that its teams took part in its league matches over an ever-expanding area. In 1905, the Birmingham Junior League included teams not just from Worcestershire and Birmingham, but also from Staffordshire, Shropshire and rural Warwickshire. At the 1905 AGM, Club Secretary James Powell remarked ‘since he had been connected with the Club the financial position had never been so favourable’, and it now boasted a balance ‘of about £20’.

Shed End
Image courtesy of Andrew Maguire/Bromsgrove Sporting FC

The success enjoyed on the field during 1904/05 did not to continue. Over the next three seasons the club endured a significant turnover in players, partially owing to the financial incentives offered by other clubs, including ‘professional clubs’ (as stated in 1907). The consequence was that Rovers finished in tenth, sixth and twelfth position during the next three seasons, resulting in decreased attendances and memberships. This combined with the increased expense caused by the further expansion of the Birmingham Junior League from 14 to 16 clubs prior to the 1907/08 season, ensured that there were clubs financial health was poor.  Prior to the 1908/09 season the club reported it had a balance of just £1 1s 3 ½, and doubts about the ability of the club to continue were expressed.

At the 1908 AGM, Financial Secretary James Powell explained that the previous season was ‘the most disastrous the club had experienced as far as accidents and injuries were concerned’. The consequence of this had been a lack of interest from the public, resulting in a poor financial return. Powell dismissed the concerns about the continuance of the club, explaining he ‘thought there would be no difficulty in obtaining the funds needed to carry on the club’, although he explained this largely ‘depended on the gate’ and the size of the clubs membership. These were factors intrinsically linked to on-field performance.

Town End
Image by Luke Harris

The 1908/09 season proved to be another difficult one for Bromsgrove Rovers. They finished in 11th position, with 24 points from 30 matches, a long way behind league winners: Willenhall Pickwick, who achieved 46 points. Bromsgrove’s position owed partially to the employment of professionals by many other clubs in the League, particularly from the Black Country cohort, four of whom had joined for the 1907/08 season, and had according to the 1907 Rovers AGM ‘embodied for the most part professional players.’ In 1910, it was stated by comparison all Bromsgrove could offer was a ‘railway fare and a drink.’ It appeared that the club was not playing on a level playing field with its rivals.

It was during this season that the decision was made to move from Well Lane to the Victoria Ground. Financial considerations were a significant reason for the move, as the new ground was located more centrally in the town. The hope of better facilities for players and spectators were also important, as Well Lane had according to the Bromsgrove Messenger a ‘complete lack of facilities.’ This including the players changing at the Roe Buck pub in the High Street, although following the move to the Victoria Ground this practice would continue for many years.

At the 1909 AGM, James Powell (who was now Club Chairman), explained that ‘the approach to the old ground was bad, especially in the winter months, and he thought they might anticipate a larger attendance of spectators now they had an approach from the main street.’ By contrast, the Club Committee believed the Victoria Ground ‘would add to the comfort of the supporters of the Club.’ The positives of the new ground were reinforced in the Bromsgrove Messenger, which believed that ‘the new enclosure offers advantages as to positions and access which are likely to prove an aid to the club’. The club believed it had made a ‘good bargain’ for the new ground, having secured it for an annual fee of £25 from Joseph Tilt.

Bromsgrove Rovers first football match at the Victoria Ground, took place on 28 August 1909.This was a trial match between A and B Teams, selected from players from the previous season and trialists who were hopeful of representing the club. The combination of the performance of the previous season and the financial incentives on offer at other clubs ensured that just five of the squad from the 1908/09 season took part, while a sixth was unable to play, owing to an ‘accident’. Despite all of the previous seasons’ players playing in the ‘A’ team, it was defeated 5-1. The Bromsgrove Messenger felt the Victoria Ground was ‘still a little rough in places, but rolling, mowing, and other improvements are to be carried out, and it is hoped that everything will be ship-shape form before the end of the month’.

On Saturday 4 September 1909, the Victoria Ground hosted its first League game when Rovers entertained Willenhall Swifts. Despite ‘wretched weather’ a ‘good crowd’, including the Bromsgrove Town Band witnessed the game, which the takings were up by £2 compared to the first match of the previous season. The match finished in a ‘highly satisfactory’ 3-3 draw, which ‘the pleasure of which was contributed to by the presence of an exceedingly good referee’. The only criticism of the ground was that the pitch was thought to be too narrow, this was amended for a friendly fixture the following Saturday.

Sporting Action
Image by Luke Harris

The new ground appeared to have success in bringing in spectators to watch the club, with a reported 2,000 in attendance for the 4-3 victory in the local derby versus Redditch on 2 October 1909. At the conclusion of the season, the team had made no progress in terms of League position having still finished 11th, but subscriptions were up by £14 and gate receipts by £22 compared to the previous season. Despite facing ‘the heaviest balance sheet the club ever faced’, the clubs’ deficit now stood at just £3 8s. 7 1/2 d. By August 1911, this had turned into a balance of £1 1s 8 ½ d. Although this was not a healthy position, there was no further speculation about a threat to the clubs’ future.

In 1911, Bromsgrove Rovers won the Worcestershire Junior Cup, its first major honours and it remained a member of the Birmingham Combination until the League was absorbed into the Birmingham & District League in 1954. In 1972, Rovers joined the Southern League and reached the Conference-the top of the Non-League Pyramid in 1992, and remained there until 1997, after which it began a constant demise until its collapse in 2010.

Ownership of the Victoria Ground was brought in 1934 by a local syndicate consisting of Charles Crane, Reginald S. Broadly, William C.E. Weston and Joseph E. Matherson, at the cost of £1760. This syndicates ownership of the ground continued until 1948, when the syndicate gifted the site to the people of Bromsgrove, with Bromsgrove Council responsible for its management. Charles Crane stated this was done ‘in consideration of his affection for the town of Bromsgrove’ and ‘in memory of his late wife’. The terms stated that Bromsgrove Rovers were to be the tenants and, in the instance, that the club’s activities were suspended that a bona fide successor could receive a new lease. Following the disbandment of Bromsgrove Rovers in 2010, this lease was passed to Bromsgrove Sporting.

Article © Luke Harris

Many thanks to Mike Gardiner and Max Banner of Bromsgrove Sporting FC for their help in providing the images for this article and to Bromsgrove Library and for the pages of the Bromsgrove Messenger.