It is now 42 years since our gallant fore father’s ceased playing professional football in Guildford, and the gates at the Joseph’s Road ground were closed for the last time. If you are new to the area, or you are under 50 years of age then please do not stop reading. If either of these options apply then it is possible that you aren’t aware that once upon a time the town of Guildford possessed a very good professional football club.
Formed in 1921, Guildford City Football Club had considerable success playing in the Southern League, the equivalent of which today would be the Vanarama National Conference. Attendances were numbered in their thousands and for an FA Cup replay against Aldershot at Joseph’s Road in1938 a record 9,932 crammed into our cosy ground. Cup football was not forgotten and over the years famous FA Cup victories were achieved over established Football League clubs like Queens Park Rangers, Reading and Brentford; matches that saw Guildford City in the limelight and making national headlines.
Our club history, of which we are very proud, was brought into sharp focus recently when we were contacted by James Brown who was seeking further information on his grandfather who had once played for Guildford City. Over the years Guildford City has had a number of premier goal scorers; players like Jock Thom, Eddie Passmore, Rick Pearson, Dave Barrett, John Stevens, Tony Burge and of course in recent years Dan Moody; players who thrilled the crowds and will be long remembered by those who watched them. But James Brown’s grandfather Jim Brown must be up there with all of them as quite possibly Guildford City’s best of the very best. Grandson James had already done some considerable research on his grandfather and it is true to say that it makes quite a story.
Jim Brown played for Guildford City in the two seasons immediately prior to World War 2. Whether by coincidence or not these two seasons were City’s most successful, with 1937-38 being the year that City won the Southern League Championship for the first time. Jim Brown was born in Kilmarnock but as an 18 year old he left Scotland for the USA in search of his errant father. He first played competitive football in the US, eventually playing for the USA in the 1930 World Cup during which he scored against Argentina. After the collapse of professional football in the USA he decided to return to Scotland in 1932. His career in the USA had however attracted some interest in the UK and whilst his ship awaited a pilot to berth, Scott Duncan the then Manchester United manager stole a march on rivals by taking a tugboat out to the liner to sign Brown up. At Old Trafford in 1934 Jim Brown scored 17 goals in 40 appearances before departing under a cloud because he was an outspoken player’s union proponent, something that hierarchies of clubs were not at all in favour of. After brief spells at Brentford and Tottenham Hotspur he signed for Guildford City who were assembling what proved to be possibly their strongest side in history. Jim Brown was ever present in City’s championship season, scoring a hugely impressive 38 goals in 34 appearances! During the following season, the last before the War, City came close to retaining their title, but eventually finished runner-up by one point to Colchester United. Jim Brown had an even more impressive season, scoring 42 goals in 41 appearances. There was a significant body of opinion at the time that had the War not intervened, this Guildford City side might well have gained election (as happened in those days) to the Football League. If that had happened you have to wonder whether the club’s history might have taken a very different course. As it was the War came in 1939 and the team was broken up. After Guildford, Jim Brown went to Scotland and played twice for Clyde where his brother was playing. After that he retired and worked as a riveter in the Troon shipyards. In 1948 he moved back to the USA where he started a football club, and also a league in Connecticut. During the 1950’s he coached football and later in his life he taught varsity soccer and rifle shooting at Brunswick School. Jim Brown died in New Jersey in 1994, aged 85.
It would be nice to think that players like Jim Brown will act as fine examples to our current group of players. The red and white stripes they have in common, and who knows in the not too distant future our club might rise up the non-league ladder in honour of those legends that went before us.
James Brown and Barry Underwood