Wheldon Fred Image 5 Aston Villa 1897

Wheldon Fred Image 5 Aston Villa 1897


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Langley Green, Worcestershire born inside left Fred Wheldon, nicknamed “Diamond”, began his football career with Rood End White Star in 1888 and played for Langley Green Victoria in 1889. After an unsuccessful trial with West Bromwich Albion he joined Small Heath, then playing in the Football Alliance, in February 1890. In the following six seasons he missed only one League game. In 1892-93, the inaugural season of the Football League Second Division, he scored Small Heath’s first ever Football League goal, scoring twice in their opening match, a 5-1 victory over Burslem Port Vale at Muntz Street, and his 25 goals in 22 appearances that season, including successive hat-tricks against Lincoln City and Northwich Victoria in January 1893, did much to help the club to win the Second Division Championship. However they failed to win promotion via the Test Match system then in operation, losing over two legs to Newton Heath (now Manchester United).

He scored 24 goals the next season, including 4 goals as they thrashed Northwich Victoria 8-0, Small Heath finishing as Second Division runners up, and this time the club were promoted, Wheldon scoring in a 3-1 Test Match win over Darwen. He then had two seasons playing in the top flight, however on Small Heath’s relegation in 1895-96, Wheldon joined reigning First Division Champions Aston Villa in June 1896 for a fee of £350.

In his first season at Villa Park he was an ever present and scored 22 goals as Aston Villa did the League and Cup double. Wheldon was their top scorer in the League with 18 goals, including a hat-trick at Blackburn Rovers in November 1896, as they led the League from November and were never bettered thereafter. He also scored in the 1897 FA Cup Final, a 3-2 victory over Everton at The Crystal Palace.

He won his first England cap against Ireland at Trent Bridge, Nottingham on 20th February 1897 and scored a hat-trick as England romped to a 6-0 victory. He then played in three further internationals, scoring three more goals, his last cap coming in a 3-1 win over Scotland at Celtic Park, when he again scored. He also represented The Football League four times between 1897 and 1900.

In 1897-98 he opened the League season with successive hat-tricks against Sheffield Wednesday and West Bromwich Albion, finishing once again as Aston Villa’s leading goalscorer with 24 goals. He then missed one game in the next two seasons as Aston Villa won back to back League Championships in 1898-99 and 1899-1900, before being sold to West Bromwich Albion in August 1900 for £100 after 74 goals in 139 appearances. He had a single season at West Brom, scoring 3 times in 29 appearances and he was part of their 1901 FA Cup semi final team well beaten by eventual winners Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park.

He joined Southern League Queen’s Park Rangers in the summer of 1901 and moved to Portsmouth a year later, where he scored 15 goals in 37 Southern League and FA Cup appearances over the next two seasons before joining non league Worcester City in 1904. He briefly returned to Southern League football with Coventry City in 1906, having a season at Coventry before returning to Worcester City in 1907 before his eventual retirement.

In addition to being a very successful footballer, Wheldon was also a decent first class cricketer. Wheldon made his debut in Worcestershire’s maiden first class game, against Yorkshire in May 1899. He made a useful 49 not out in the first innings, and held two catches in Yorkshire’s second. Wheldon played in 14 matches in total that season, scoring 541 runs at an average of 33.81 including three half-centuries.

The following season Wheldon had a rather thinner year, averaging under 20 despite making exactly 100 against Hampshire and in the process sharing in a sixth-wicket stand of 186 with William Lowe. 1901 was worse still, as he did not pass 51 in 26 innings, and 1902 was little better, but he returned to form at last in 1903 with 969 runs, the most of his career, including 112 against Somerset. He also collected his only first-class stumping that year, against Yorkshire: Thomas Straw had been due to keep wicket, but was delayed in arriving at the ground, so Wheldon replaced him both in the team and behind the stumps.

Wheldon passed 900 runs again in 1904, also collecting 40 catches, by far the most in a season in his career, and made 103 against Leicestershire, but thereafter his form fell away rapidly and in 1905 he recorded a disastrous aggregate of 237 runs in 18 innings, dropping out of the team in late July. He did return for 1906, but again his form was poor and though he made an unbeaten 89 batting at number nine against Warwickshire (out of 633; again Wheldon kept wicket) his next highest score was 31 and he played no more after the end of the season.

Wheldon’s grandson John Spilsbury played a single first-class match for Worcestershire in 1952.


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