The triumph and tragedy of Wilf Bartrop’s story is far better encapsulated by reading the fantastic biography of his life, Swifter Than The Arrow, published in 2009 by Peter Holland. I thoroughly recommend it. A wonderful overview of football in the first years of the twentieth century, of Barnsley’s fantastic cup runs, and of the tragedy of the First World War, overlayed in a chronicle of Bartrop’s life.
Worksop, Nottinghamshire born outside right Wilf Bartrop played for hometown Midland League club Worksop Town from where he was signed by Second Division Barnsley for £25, making his Football League debut at Glossop in Barnsley’s second match of the season in September 1909, missing only three matches before the season end. That debut season was a remarkable one, as Barnsley disposed of the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Everton over two legs in the FA Cup semi final before meeting perhaps the most powerful team of the first decade in English football, Newcastle United, in the FA Cup Final at The Crystal Palace towards the end of April 1910. After a 1-1 draw, Barnsley were beaten 2-0 in the replay at Goodison Park the following Thursday. Bartrop had scored two goals in the earlier ties including the only goal of the game in their Fourth Round tie against Southern League club Queen’s Park Rangers.
Bartrop was a regular in Barnsley’s line-up over the next four seasons, and in 1911-12 he achieved the pinnacle of his career as part of The Tykes’ victorious team that won the FA Cup for the only time in the club’s history, beating West Bromwich Albion in a replay after extra time when Harry Tufnell scored the winner with only two minutes left at Bramall Lane after a 0-0 draw at The Crystal Palace, Barnsley having played a League match against Derby County on the Monday between the Saturday Final and the Wednesday replay. Bartrop played in 12 ties in the Cup run, including the 4 matches needed to beat First Division Bradford City. Many newspapers, including the Manchester Guardian, praised his play in the Final replay.
Having scored 17 goals in 184 appearances, Bartrop was sold to First Division Liverpool for £900 in May 1914, however he had to wait until a few days before Christmas to make his top flight debut against Oldham Athletic at Anfield and only made 2 further appearances during the rest of the 1914-15 season before peacetime football was suspended at the end of the season due to the onset of the First World War.
He worked as a coal miner through much of the conflict, playing as a wartime guest for Nottingham Forest in 1915-16, and only enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery in January 1918, serving as a Gunner in a trench mortar battery. After seeing action at Bourlon Wood earlier in the year, his battery were in position to provide mortar support for attacking infantry near Warcoing in Belgium when his unit came under heavy artillery fire at the River Escaut on 7th November 1918. Bartrop was severely wounded in the legs and chest by an airburst and died of wounds shortly after, two weeks short of his 31st birthday,. He was killed on the last day of fighting on his part of the front. His death tragically took place only 4 days before the Armistice that marked the end of the War. Bartrop was subsequently buried in Warcoing Churchyard.
His 1912 FA Cup winner’s medal is on display in the National Football Museum, bought by Barnsley owner Patrick Cryne in 2008 for £14,400 – more than twice its estimate price.