150 Years Of St Helens

A guest article from Ste Lingard which originally appeared in “Talk of the Town’, the St. Helens Town FC matchday programme on 10th February.

It is a surprise to many of us that St. Helens Borough is 150 years old this year. Judging from the antiquity of my Dad’s jokes and his frequent references to Anne Boleyn, I had always assumed it was rather older. I was wrong.

In 1868, Queen Victoria granted the townships of Eccleston, Parr, Sutton and Windle (given in strict alphabetical order – she wasn’t biased) the status of ‘Municipal Borough’, at a stroke transforming local folk from ‘villagers’ into ‘burghers’. The local government boundary changes of 1974 brought the people of Newton-le-Willows, Rainford and Billinge in on the act, though many of them would have preferred to remain village people. Who can blame them?

In our first 150 years we have faced many challenges: the loss of traditional industries, the closure of Pimblett’s, and having to pretend that Prescot and Ashton are ‘home’ – to name but the most serious. Throughout, we have remained quick witted, welcoming and stoic.

These qualities have rarely been more apparent that in the 1940s. Despite the tragedies of Second Word War, local people took German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann to their hearts during his successful spell keeping goal for St. Helens Town A.F.C.. His story is well known. He achieved the highest honour we can bestow upon one from far away: the status of ‘honorary Sintelliner’.

There is a civic parallel: in 1948, the Oberbürgermeister of Stuttgart, Herr Dr. Arnluf Klett, felt that the future peace and prosperity of Europe depended on mutual understanding and cooperation. He resolved to do something about it. He invited the then Mayor of St. Helens, Alderman Walter Marshall, to visit his city and to establish a twinning arrangement. Mayor Marshall agreed, and flew to Stuttgart. He found a city in ruins. The people’s plight and their warm welcome moved him. He promised the help of our famous glass industry in rebuilding their city, and their lives. They were grateful.

St. Helens – Stuttgart became the first post-war twinning arrangement between a British and a German town. Those friendly links have developed over the years since, through many school, cultural and business exchange visits. They help remind us that our communities have much in common, as fellow humans and citizens of nations with a common cultural heritage.

Football is part of that common heritage. It has greater power to unite people than any other sporting or cultural activity. This year is the 70th anniversary of the twinning relationship, and special commemorative events are in the pipeline. How better to mark the occasion than with a friendly football match between St. Helens Town and a club from Stuttgart, at the newly named Arcoframe Stadium (Ruskin Drive)?

I discussed the idea with John McKiernan at a recent home game, across the pie and peas. Town, he said, would welcome such a match. By something less than a coincidence, I met the Deputy Mayor of Stuttgart, Herr Dr. Martin Schairer, last Friday. He was very keen and introduced me to his Deputy Director for Arranging International Friendlies. He was also keen. Officials at St. Helens Council like the idea and have offered some helpful suggestions as to when such a match might take place. Discussions are underway.

Time will tell if we can make it work. We will do our best to be quick witted in exploring the options; if it happens, we will be welcoming; and if it doesn’t, we will be stoic.

Happy 150th birthday, fellow Burghers.

Ste Lingard / @SteLingard

This article was originally published in ‘Talk of the Town’, St. Helens Town’s matchday programme, on 10 February; some details have been amended to suit the context. You can see the original version on p.48-49, here: https://issuu.com/sthelenstownfc/docs/a5_programme_v_whitchurch_2017-18

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