THE ORIGINS OF NORTH MIDLANDS
In the period before the First World War two county unions, the Midland Counties and East Midlands, both of which played in the South Eastern Division of the County Championship, represented the Midlands.
In 1913/14 the Midland Counties reached the county final for the first time in 16 years and beat Durham 22-5, at Leicester, to win the County Championship for the first and only time. Ironically, this triumph rather than leading to renewed enthusiasm for the Midland Counties led to his division.
The main problem was that Leicester dominated the Midland Counties sides; ten Tigers had played in the final against Durham. Several clubs including Coventry, who had beaten Leicester in the Midland Counties Challenge Cup in 1911 and 1914, thought that they merited greater representation. Moseley had only one player, H.W. Hill, in the final XV and the local press thought that club colleague Austin Woodward should also be in the side, he had after all only missed out on an England trial because of injury. Other claimants included the Old Edwardian halfbacks H.R. Somerville and H.L. Higgins who while good enough to play for the Barbarians were never selected by the Midland Counties.
Such was the discontent that, in 1914, Warwickshire formed its own union and it was proposed that they together with Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire should form a new County Championship group from 1915.
There were several problems with this suggestion, foremost of which was that the East Midlands union did not want to dissolve itself to form Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire unions. This would have resulted in a Midland Division of only three counties.
The above proposal would also have left Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire out in the ‘wilderness.’ It was out of the question that these three counties could form their own unions, as they would struggle to even raise a competitive combined side. As a solution to this problem it was suggested that the areas of Worcestershire and Staffordshire, namely King’s Norton, Yardley and Handsworth, that had only been incorporated into Birmingham in 1911 could remain part of their former counties for rugby purposes. This idea, in turn, raised the problem of players from the same Birmingham club playing for different county sides, which was felt to be undesirable.
The Great War cut the debate short and in 1919 a new Midland Division was created. This new group comprised four counties, Leicestershire (including Nottinghamshire and Rutland), Warwickshire (excluding Birmingham), North Midlands (Birmingham, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire) and East Midlands (Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire).
The new division ensured that the smaller counties were represented in the County Championship as part of North Midlands and also that Birmingham players would play for the same county side. It also prevented Warwickshire from being too strong as it undoubtedly would have been if it had been able to call on players from both Moseley and Coventry.
Twenty-six clubs were invited to a meeting at the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce on 14th January 1920 to form the North Midlands Football Union. Representatives of twelve clubs attended the meeting and a provisional committee, including Moseley legend Fred Byrne, was appointed to draft the union’s rules.
The first general meeting was held a few weeks later on 18th February when fifteen clubs sent delegates. The rules and by-laws were adopted and it was decided that the county side should play in red shirts and blues shorts. The union’s first president was former Burton international, Frank Evershed with Fred Byrne as one of two vice-presidents.
No list of the original member clubs of North Midlands has survived but the following sides were definitely members-Moseley, Old Edwardians, Handsworth, Aston Old Edwardians, Five Ways Old Edwardians, Camp Hill Old Edwardians, Birmingham University, Birmingham, Old Dixonians, Old Centrals, Burton and Wolverhampton. As can be seen from this list North Midlands was firmly centred in Birmingham.
There were few clubs in Staffordshire apart from Wolverhampton and Burton, the North Staffs. (later Stoke) club was not re-formed until 1920/21, Walsall was not formed until 1922 and the Stafford club did not make an appearance until 1925.
In Worcestershire there was little rugby outside Bromsgrove where the school and various town sides had played the game. The forerunner of Dudley was founded in 1920 while Kidderminster came into being in 1921. Clubs in Worcester and Stourbridge were started in 1922 although there had been earlier teams in both places.
Rugby in Derbyshire was even sparser, the only major club being Blackwell, a colliery side near Chesterfield, which had been founded in 1919.