The most famous sportsman to emerge from the streets of Oulton and Woodlesford was footballer Bryan Edwards. He played in the first team for Bolton Wanderers for fifteen years from 1950 to 1965 and went on to become the manager at Bradford City. He was also a keen cricketer and regularly travelled back home to play for the Water Haigh colliery side.
Born in October 1930, Bryan started his footballing career at Woodlesford school graduating to become centre half and captain of the Oulton youth club under-16 side. His parents were Jack and Edith (nee Chew). The family lived in council houses on Green Lea and then North Lane in Oulton after moving from Applegarth when Bryan was a child.
After five years away in the army during the Second World War Jack worked for the Rothwell Urban District Council maintaining roads. Bryan’s grandfather, Henry George John Edwards, came from Wiltshire and for many years ran a grocery and newsagent’s shop on Highfield Lane opposite the school. His aunt and two of his uncles worked at Bentley’s brewery. His mother's father, Henry Chew, was born at Lothersdale near Skipton and moved to become a farm horseman at Far Headingley.
It was at the start of 1947 that Bryan's career began to take shape when, along with team mate Richard Kirby, he was selected to play for a Leeds and district minor league side which beat a Harrogate and district eleven in a West Riding cup competition on Saturday 4 January. The Wakefield Express reported: "Both players show great promise and after reports that Huddersfield Town were interested in them, it is now stated that Bolton Wanderers are watching them."
The interest seems to have come from George Priestley, who lived at John o’ Gaunt’s in Rothwell, and who acted as a part-time scout for Bolton reporting to George Taylor, the scouts’ manager at the club. Taylor had himself played at right half for Bolton and no doubt could spot a good half back when he saw one.
There were no further reports of what happened to Richard Kirby but a few weeks later it was confirmed that Bryan Edwards had been offered a trial at Bolton.
Meanwhile he continued to play for the Oulton side which on Saturday 19 January took on Leeds Leander Seniors in the second round of the Leeds and district junior cup. After a bad start, conceding a goal in the first half and through a player named Collinson scoring an own goal at the start of the second half, Oulton fought back and eventually won 4 - 2.
"Twenty minutes before the end Edwards headed home; Horner, a real opportunist, notched two more goals; and Collinson atoned for his earlier lapse with a terrific scoring shot," declared the match report in the Express.
A week later Edwards was selected to play in the under-17 team of the Leeds Combination League against a Bradford and district side, although its not clear if that match took place as, starting on 21 January 1947, there were heavy snowfalls and the country began to experience one of the worst winters on record.
In mid-March a thaw set in and on Saturday 22 March Bryan was picked to play for a West Riding side against Durham in the F.A. National Youth Championship. Floods had threatened to stop the game at Bishop Auckland but the Yorkshire Evening Post reported that conditions had improved and the tie was set to take place as arranged. No result or match report appears to have been published so its not clear who won. Also in the team was Brian Close from Rawdon, who was already playing in Leeds United’s junior team, although a couple of years later he would transfer his allegiance to Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
The West Riding youth team which toured Holland in 1948. Bryan Edwards is third from the left on the back row. On his left is Brian Close. Other players in the squad that year were: H. Burton (Bradford City, P. Clarke (Harrogate Y.M.C.A.), F. Cowper (Bradford City), O. Rattigan (Ovenden O.S.), H. Moss (Hatfield Main), E. Beanland (Leeds United,; D. Brickley (Huddersfield Town), G. Lamb, captain, (Newtown), J. Cove (Sowerby Bridge G.S.), L. W. Ward (Ovenden O S.), and K. Wood (Pilkington Recs.).
Bryan left school at the age of 14 and when he wasn’t playing football or cricket he was an engineering apprentice at George Porteus & Sons Ltd. which made electrically powered equipment for the brewing and malting industry. Their works were close to Leeds Bridge and he went there on weekdays by bus.
Its possible the firm gave him time off because in the spring of 1947 he had three successful trials with Bolton and at the beginning of May went with his mother, father and scout George Priestley to meet a club representative at the Queens Hotel in Leeds where he signed up for the Lancashire side. His father was so excited at the news that went to the meeting wearing odd socks!
A friend, Dennis Watson, remembered "he didn’t tell his mates when he met them next day," but the cat was clearly out of the bag when, on Saturday 7 May, under the headline "A Promising Footballer," the Express reported he was being "retained" for the following season. "George Taylor considers that Edwards has the making of a clever half back and hopes to see him coming more into the limelight next season by the proper coaching he will receive," said the paper.
Whilst he was waiting to join Bolton in August Bryan again played for the West Riding county minor side which went on a ten day tour of Holland at Whitsuntide.
As he was still only 16, under F.A. rules, Bryan’s first games for Bolton were played as an amateur. Initially he was in the "A" team in the West Lancashire League but was quickly promoted to a reserves side which played in the Central League. He was picked for home and away games against West Bromwich and then scored his first goal in a match against Bury on Saturday 13 September.
The news found its away across the Pennines and in the following Saturday’s Wakefield Express the unnamed local reporter gave a glowing account of Bryan’s progress saying he was "making history" at Bolton which may mean he was the youngest player in a Bolton Central League side.
"Edwards has played great football in this class. Good reports have been reaching the Bolton representative, George Priestley speaking highly of Edwards's progress. Given ordinary luck, he looks like making a great player. Walter Rowley, the Bolton manager, and George Taylor the old Bolton half-back, who is Edwards's coach, speak highly of his play."
Apparently Walter Rowley was already keen on Bryan joining his senior players and as soon as he turned 17 in October he signed as a professional. The following week a cheque "for a substantial sum" was sent by the Bolton directors as a thank you to the officials of the Oulton youth club.
Unlike the modern day game playing as a professional in post-war football, even for a club as famous as Bolton Wanderers, was never lucrative. On the other hand the training regime was not full time and Bryan had to practise on only two nights a week. He moved into lodgings at Bolton and to fill in the time he was allowed to work outside football. In his first couple of years he had a number of jobs including a spell down one of the pits at nearby Farnworth for a few months. However his football suffered there so he went to work for coach tour operators Mills and Seddon.