Several generations of Gloucester Rugby fans had their craving for news about their beloved team well satisfied by the writings of Bill Bailey, or “W.B.” as his many readers knew him. He spent a lifetime reporting on the Club, critically when he saw the need, but his love of Gloucester and the game of rugby always shone through.
William Bailey was born just before the Gloucester Football Club was founded in 1873. Soon thereafter, in 1876, The Citizen was launched as the daily newspaper of Gloucester. As a boy, Bill watched the one and read the other, and was soon to devote his life to both. The Citizen hired him to start work on 10 December 1883.
He developed a very close relationship with the Club, from which both benefitted – there was little that went on in Gloucester Rugby which Bill wasn’t one of the first to know about, but he gave the Club the oxygen of publicity with reams of column inches. He regularly found cause to campaign on the Club’s behalf, and he was quick to use the power of The Citizen to perform good deeds for the Club, for example inviting the Club’s supporters to donate to worthy causes. He launched many successful appeals, including trust funds for the dependents of Sid Brown and Stan Bayliss, who tragically died of injuries sustained whilst playing for Gloucester at Kingsholm in the 1920s. He believed in commemorating fine wins, not only by lauding them in his paper, but also in more concrete form – for example, he garnered public subscriptions to buy a silver cigarette case for each member of the team which ended Newport’s long unbeaten run in 1921.
Dr Arnold Alcock, President of the Club for the latter half of WB’s career, was a fan – he reckoned “WB’s knowledge of the game is more extensive than anyone in the country.” And Dai Gent, who knew both rugby and journalism better than most, both as player for Gloucester and England and as rugby correspondent of the Sunday Times, referred to WB as “a walking encyclopaedia” who was the Club’s “admirable chronicler.”
On 10 December 1943, the following article appeared in The Citizen:
“LONG NEWSPAPER ASSOCIATION – GLO’STER JOURNALIST’S RECORD
Today Mr W Bailey (“W.B.” to his many Rugby football friends in the city and county) completes sixty years’ association with “The Citizen” – 53 years in continuous service, and seven on the retired list.
Mr Bailey started his newspaper career in December 1883, in the publishing department of “The Citizen,” and after succeeding in turn to the posts of publisher and proof reader, joined the Editorial staff as sports writer and assistant sub-editor in 1892, positions he held until his retirement from the office in 1936. He, however, continued football reporting and contributed his special weekly article, “From W.B.’s Notebook,” in the Football “Citizen,” until the outbreak of war in 1939.
During his long career (47 years) as football commentator, Mr Bailey has covered exclusively for “The Citizen” something like 1,800 games – Gloucester Club and County, International and other fixtures – and visited practically every first-class Rugby ground in London, the Midlands, South West and South Wales.
He has witnessed Gloucestershire in every semi-final and final in which they have been engaged in the County Championship, which included journeys to Carlisle, Bradford, Waterloo (Lancashire), Blaydon-on-Tyne (Durham), Southampton, Bournemouth and other places. “W.B.” also claims to have seen every Dominion touring side, dating back to the visit of the Maoris in 1888-9.
One of “W.B.’s” prized possessions is a complete record of results of Gloucester Club matches, with the addition, since 1892, of the names of the teams and individual scorers – a reference which has proved invaluable in deciding arguments raised by keen Rugbyites.
Recalling memorable Club games at Kingsholm, “W.B.” regards the smashing of the unbeaten records held by Llanelly, Swansea and Newport as, perhaps, the highlights, although numerous other notable performances have been recorded over the leading clubs in the country.
Mr Bailey was primarily concerned in organising in the Football “Citizen” a number of testimonials for players on retiring – (this was before the Rugby Union passed a law strictly limiting the value of presents) – and other deserving objects. Two special cases were the highly successful appeals made on behalf of the widows and dependents of two players (Stan Bayliss and Sid Brown), who died from injuries received during games at Kingsholm in successive seasons.
Altogether the grand sum of £3,154 was subscribed for the two bereaved families (Bayliss £1,500, and Brown £1,654) – amazing results which testified the immense pulling power of “The Citizen” in any good cause, and the splendid generosity of sportsmen generally.
In 1923-4, on the occasion of the Jubilee of the Gloucester F.C., “W.B.” compiled a 50 years’ history of the Club, which was published as a souvenir and secured a wide circulation.
On 24 January 1944, Arthur Hudson, Secretary of Gloucester Rugby Football Club wrote to W Bailey Esq as follows:
At our last meeting, the President referred to your long association with the Gloucester Citizen and your wonderful record of service in the press for Rugby Football.
It was unanimously passed that I convey the Club’s congratulations to you with grateful thanks for your great help to us and to express the hope that we may have the pleasure of your company and assistance for still many more years.
Yours very sincerely,
An article in The Citizen on Saturday 11 December 1948 recorded the following:
“In the 72 years’ long history of “The Citizen,” it is doubtful if any initials among its regular contributors have ever been better known than those of “W.B.”- initials which but faintly concealed the tall, familiar figure of Mr William Bailey, of 36, Heathville Road, and who yesterday completed 65 years’ association with the paper.
“W.B.” now in his 78th year, retired from the “active list” as sports editor in St John’s Lane in 1936, but his wonderful store of Rugby football memories has always been on tap for the delectation of the readers of the Pink football edition.
No one knows Gloucester Rugby history better than Mr Bailey and no trouble is ever too great for him when some obscure fact needs a search.
He has many memories of St John’s Lane and his training in his early years comprised not only editorial work, but the publishing and advertising sides too.”
On one never to be forgotten occasion in the eighties he acted as newsboy, and the fact arose from the receipt of the news early in the day of the fall of Khartoum and the capture of General Gordon.
The late Mr Samuel Bland gave orders for a special edition, but the regular newsboys were not available.
So young Bailey volunteered for the job and sallied forth to the Cross with a huge bundle of papers.
The rush was so great that Mr Bland himself had to go to his aid to distribute papers to the excited readers.
Looking back on his long and busy life “W.B.” is the first to admit that on the whole, he has had a pretty good time, with a host of fine sportsmen in the Rugby world as close friends.
He has made a remarkable recovery from the accident in which he was involved a couple of years ago, and we all wish him many more years to continue to enjoy his retirement.”
The last word should be left to WB himself. When the Club celebrated the 60th anniversary of Kingsholm in 1951, a special edition of The Citizen Pink ‘Un was produced to mark the occasion. WB, by then in his eighties, was invited to contribute an article, and wrote:
“Gloucester’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the establishment of Rugby headquarters at Kingsholm has a particular personal interest for myself for it marks another stage in the close and intimate association I have enjoyed with the famous City club for well over 60 years.
As a youth I was a keen follower of the team in the eighties and nineties at the Spa, and I retain happy memories and vivid recollections of memorable games played with leading English and Welsh clubs.
The players of days long past who did duty under the leadership of such famous captains as the late J. F. Brown, H. J. Boughton, T. Graves Smith and Tom Bagwell set up a standard of Rugby which captivated the local football public and placed Gloucester among the foremost clubs in the country.
This proud position has been well maintained at Kingsholm with ever increasing support – a tribute to the splendid cooperation of a loyal and enthusiastic set of officials and a succession of players who have worthily upheld the brilliant achievements of their predecessors.
From 1892 (the second season at Kingsholm) until the outbreak of war in 1939, I had the distinction of reporting Gloucester’s home and away matches for the Football “Citizen.”
And here I might mention that the popular “Pink Un,” which has now reached a circulation never contemplated in the old days, has contributed not a little to the undoubted popularity and advancement of Rugby football in the City and county, and the West of England generally.
Of my own humble efforts in the same direction I will leave to the judgement of the supporting public.”