Tickets are on sale for the Toolstation Western League’s 125th anniversary dinner at the Marriott City Centre Hotel in Bristol on Saturday, October 14.
Sponsored by Toolstation, the Western League is the third oldest at ‘Step Five’ on football’s pyramid behind the English Football League itself, and the Northern League from England’s north east.
The birthday function is expected to attract guests from across the footballing spectrum, among them Geoff Twentyman, the former Bristol Rovers player and now local radio presenter, who will be sharing some of his own football memories.
The Western Football League was formed in 1892, and was then a Bristol-based competition. Indeed, the League badge is still based on the coat of arms of the City of Bristol.
In the first half of the 20th Century the League enjoyed mixed fortunes, but for the past 60 or more years it has been recognised as the strongest of the South Western-based leagues. The establishment of a clearly-defined pyramid system of promotion for clubs gave all member clubs a clear and achievable route to the ‘holy grail’ of the Football League and many clubs who have moved on have established themselves well in the higher leagues.
Clubs in membership over the years have included the Reserve teams of all of the Football League clubs in the area – although a change of FA rules has since ended that possibility because Reserve teams are now restricted to ‘Step Seven’ competitions.
The Western League has also led the way in attracting sponsorship and when Rothmans became involved in non-League
football as sponsors it was the Western League that they chose to support in the South. Since that groundbreaking deal the League officers have been successful in gaining financial backing from South West- based businesses.
Great Mills Warehouse, then a well- known DIY retail chain, became main sponsors in the early 1980s only to step away when the company was taken over. Screwfix Direct Ltd were in the early years of trading when they stepped in with the offer of a three year deal, which actually lasted for 11 years, and again was only brought to an end because the company was taken over.
Current sponsors, Toolstation Ltd, broke the previous record for Western League sponsorship, and probably for any League at the same level, and have been supporting the league since 2005. Their sponsorship has enabled member clubs to enjoy the benefits of increased prizemoney, free matchballs and reduced membership fees.
Sunday Independent correspondent Bryan Moore, who has been covering the Western League for more than 30 years, attended the centenary dinner 25 years ago and recalled: “It was a great evening, featuring some excellent speakers. I had the pleasure of meeting friends from the printed press and radio, and many former colleagues from the game.
‘I’m sure the 125th anniversary dinner will be just as enjoyable!’
A sub-committee of Western League directors is currently putting the finishing touches to arrangements for the night and League secretary Andy Radford has tickets, costing £45, available on (07872) 818 868, or by e-mail at: andy.radford@ toolstationleague.com