The infamous Topham Brothers
The Topham brothers were born at 9 Tumpley Toll Gate, Elson, Ellesmere and during their time at school they excelled at sport, captaining the school teams at football and cricket.
Robert (1878-86), known as Bertie, was born in Ellesmere on 3 November 1867. He was the fifth of six children and the eldest of two sons.
Playing at Outside Right, Bertie was said to be a speedy football player and difficult to contain. Whilst at school, he played for Oswestry FC, Runners Up in the Welsh Cup replay v Druids in 1884- 1885 after Bertie had scored in the first match at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. In the same year, Bertie was selected by the Welsh FA to play for Wales v Scotland but declined the opportunity to appear in his first international whilst still a schoolboy.
Bertie went up to Keble College, Oxford in 1886 where he was a member of the Keble Football XI from 1886-1889, captaining the team in the last year. Despite representing the university in several first-class matches, Bertie did not gain his ‘blue’, and from 1891-1896, although he remained an amateur throughout his playing career, Bertie was registered to play with the professional side Wolverhampton Wanderers, scoring 19 goals in 32 appearances. The highlight of Bertie’s Wolves career was the 1892-1893 season when Wolves met Everton in the FA Cup final, winning 1-0 in difficult conditions as the spectators crowded to the very edges of the pitch and impeded the players.
Bertie could have been said to have been a gentleman player who dabbled briefly in the world of the working class professional. In the early 1890s, he also played for the London FA teams London Casuals and Chiswick Park, winning an FA Amateur Cup Runners Up medal with Casuals in 1894. From 1894 to 1898, he was also a member of Corinthians, a club dedicated to the amateur spirit, reputed to be a team of gentlemen. Composed mainly of ex-public school amateurs, they refused to enter cup competitions believing that fair play was the most important part of football. Perhaps their most important role was as ambassadors for English football, touring widely around Europe and the world. Bertie played his part, captaining their first ever foreign tour to South Africa in 1897. Bertie played for England twice; in 1892 as a Wolves player and later in 1894. Topham’s brother Arthur was also a footballer and played for England twice although he never dallied with the professional game.
In 1891 Bertie was an assistant master living at the Grammar School in Brewood, Cannock and by 1901 an assistant schoolmaster at Belvedere School in Hove. Bertie married Mabel Young in Kingston in December 1917 and retired to be a schoolmaster after football and died in Kent in August 1931.
Arthur on 19 February 1869 and although not remarkably tall, he was well-built, sturdy and active. He played for Oswestry School team for four or five seasons, and was captain in the 1886/87 season, playing at that time as full-back.
At Oxford University he played regularly for his college, and ultimately represented the university itself. He joined the Casuals in 1889 and in 1894 represented England in an international against Wales at Wrexham. It was his only England appearance and his brother Bertie also played in that game in his second and final England appearance. In 1891 Arthur was a tutor living at The Royal Marine Hotel, Royal Parade, Eastbourne but by 1901 he was an assistant schoolmaster and lived at 5 Dalton Terrace, Eastbourne.
Arthur died on May 18, 1931. He left £4,938 8s. 6d in his will. Buried at Ocklynge Cemetery, Eastbourne. "The death occurred suddenly at Eastbourne of Mr. Arthur George Topham, the international and Corinthian footballer. Mr. Topham, who was aged 62, was a private tutor. After giving a pupil some work to do he went into the garden, mowed a lawn, returned, and after saying to the pupil, "How are you getting on?" collapsed." - Hartlepool Northern Mail, 19 May 1931.