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home - chapter one p1 - p2 - p3 - p4 - EPILOGUE - buy the book!

Chapter one:
Down by the Riverside (page 1)

Plot 246, Section I, Western Cemetery, Ely, on the outskirts of Cardiff. That's where you'll find him.

Go in through the Cowbridge Road entrance, walk right down the middle of the cemetery for about a quarter of a mile and there, tucked away on the left, you'll come across Bart Wilson's grave. For nearly forty-five years, he rested in peace because very few people knew he was buried there. Bart Wilson lay in an unmarked grave - no headstone, no flowers, no memorial at all to the disabled lithographic artist who created the blueprint for the Welsh capital's football team. A fluffy club mascot, a bluebird, but not a tombstone, bore his name.

But in June 1999, a century after almost single-handedly founding what became a unique football club, the contribution of the 'Grand Old Man' of Cardiff City was officially recognised. When Walter Bartley Wilson died on November 19th 1954, everything was in place. His wife, Sarah Ellen, mother of John Bartley, Alma May and Donald Bartley - also known as Jim - had passed away in August 1951 and Bart bought plot 246 from Cardiff City Council for £2.10s. In December 1952, he arranged for a local monumental mason to provide and inscribe a headstone for their grave.


Nearly two years later, after a short illness, Bart died, aged eighty-four. After his funeral at a packed St. John's Church in Canton - attended by many of the Cardiff City players - the burial was due to take place at midday at Western Cemetery, gentlemen only, as was the custom. But it rained so much on Tuesday November 23rd 1954 that when the mourners arrived at plot 246, they found the grave flooded and the burial had to be postponed.

The headstone was put aside under a nearby tree, and when Bart was laid to rest the next day it wasn't returned to the local monumental mason for inscription. After the discovery of his unmarked grave in December 1998, a new memorial to Bart Wilson was commissioned by Cardiff City to commemorate his pivotal role in the club's formation. Work on the replacement headstone was about to begin when the original was discovered by chance just yards from his final resting place.

For nearly half a century, it had lain in a line of trees bordering Section I - face down, unnoticed and therefore undisturbed. In May 1999, Cardiff City won promotion for the ninth time in their history. A month later, close family and club representatives attended the rededication of the updated headstone in Western Cemetery as part of the centenary celebrations of the club to which Bart Wilson devoted his life.


From the day he resolved to set up a football section of Riverside Cricket Club, Bart laboured tirelessly for the good of Cardiff City as inspirational founder, enthusiastic first secretary and even, for a disastrous six months in the Thirties, as manager. Indeed, when he died at his home in Llanfair Road, Canton, he had only recently retired as assistant secretary at Ninian Park, the club's home since 1910.

As the last year of the nineteenth century, 1899 was always going to be pretty momentous. Huge changes were taking place in what had become Bart's adopted home since he had arrived from Bristol to work in the burgeoning former market town two years earlier. Coal, 'Black Gold' from the Valleys, had firmly established Cardiff as the jewel in the Welsh crown. Despite the growing competition from the new Barry Docks, it had developed into the biggest coal-exporting port in the world with a population of nearly 160,000 - an increase of more than 120,000 in just thirty years.


King Coal had enabled Cardiff to become, in 1885, the first borough in Wales to provide a public electricity supply, councillors were considering introducing trams into the town and, having just bought Cathays Park, they were about to design and build Britain's first planned civic centre. They were also looking to extend the borough boundaries by swallowing up Llandaff and Llanishen and were eyeing up Penarth, Cogan, Llandough and Whitchurch.

The exact date of the formation of Riverside A.F.C. is not known but, over the years, the story has been handed down - folklore-like from generation to generation - that Bart Wilson set the ball rolling sometime during the late summer of 1899. In the absence of conclusive documentary evidence, let us suppose that it began something like this...

It was growing dark as Bart stepped onto Canton Bridge to cross Westbourne Crescent - the last part of Cowbridge Road as it was later to become - which overlooked the River Taff, opposite Cardiff Castle. He was returning home to 1 Coldstream Terrace, after watching members of Riverside Cricket Club play in nearby Sophia Gardens, the first of an eventual 2,000 acres of parks and recreation grounds to which the people of Cardiff were given free access by the Bute family.


Nearly a decade later when they helped create Ninian Park, Bart was to have good reason to thank the borough councillors for their generosity. That night, as he prepared to cross the road, he was pleased to have heard that, at last, the corporation were going to illuminate Canton Bridge - possibly before the end of that year. It would make his journey home easier because, as Cardiff's population grew, Westbourne Crescent was becoming busier all the time.

In the last five years, the number of grand late-Victorian houses in nearby Cathedral Road had risen from sixteen to over two hundred as the green fields of Canton started to disappear under bricks-and-mortar. You had to have your wits about you in late nineteenth-century Cardiff. Those horse-cabs, trams and buses could be pretty dangerous as they clattered across Canton Bridge - especially if, like Bart, you were on crutches.

As he made his way towards his end-of-terrace house about a hundred yards from the bridge, the solution to the problem which had been preoccupying him all summer suddenly became clear. Not quite as dramatic as the incident on the road to Damascus but life-changing in its own way for both Bart and professional football in Cardiff. Riverside's officials, worried that their cricket team might disband once the season ended, had been wondering how to keep the players together during the winter. Bart thought he had the answer: why not start a Riverside football team? Association football was still rugby's poor relation but it was gaining in popularity all the time. Bart had witnessed at first-hand the growth of the round-ball game in his native Bristol where City and Rovers had both become professional clubs in 1897.


The next day, Bart put up a poster in the Riverside pavilion to let everyone know about his idea. Two meetings were held in the front room of 1 Coldstream Terrace during that time of year when the cricket and football seasons overlap. The first was so badly attended - only five members turned up - that Bart nearly gave up there and then. If nobody else could bother, then why should he?

Shortly afterwards, he tried again. This time, he received a much better response - about a dozen members attended - and Riverside A.F.C. was formed. Precisely when this historic meeting took place isn't clear. What is known is that Bart Wilson was elected as secretary and the committee was made up of A.J. Stone, George Pearce, Jimmy Redfern, Stanley Barrett, Andrew Sheen, E.W. Holder, Billy Canter and Frank Burfitt - some of whom were to feature in early team line-ups.

After agreeing to levy an annual membership fee of half a crown - 2s 6d - and selecting a strip of chocolate and amber quartered shirts, all they needed now were some opponents and somewhere to play.

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