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Remembering Joe Russell

Jonathan Blakeman 01.05.2016

On Saturday 15th April 1978 Broomfield made their debut in the Warwick & Worcester League in a home fixture against West Midlands Gas. The team that day included Malcolm Spencer, Peter Gwilt, Billy Adams, Wilf Robins, Chris Mullis, Arthur Woodward and Sid Overfield amongst others. The captain that day aged 52 leading the team to a 29 shot victory – John Joseph Russell.

The death was announced in April of former Club Captain and Life Member Joe Russell, just six days shy of what would have been his 90th birthday.

A Smethwick man until his early 40’s, Joe lived on Sydenham Road before moving to Oldbury. He served in the Royal Marines during World War II and worked in the industrial heartland of Smethwick for companies such as W. & T. Avery Ltd, Tangyes Ltd  and Mansill Booth & Co. Ltd. Before retiring he was a CNC machine operator for Belliss in Ladywood.

From the records available it is likely that Joe joined Broomfield in 1973 at a time when the club only fielded two competitive league teams. Ray Fletcher was leading the Oldbury team to Division 1 and as a novice bowler Joe would have turned out for Billy Adams in the Harborne League on a Wednesday afternoon.

In 1975 he made his first appearance in a club competition final where he was beaten by Ernie Dent in the Ken Wharton Club Handicap. Joe’s first outing as a Broomfield captain came in 1977 in the Smethwick & District Sunday Morning Bowling League. Having finished mid table in the league’s inaugural season of 1976 Joe led Broomfield to its first Sunday league honours with a runners up spot in Division 1.

Broomfield broke new ground in 1978 by joining the Warwick & Worcester. For the first time in the clubs 80 year history competitive league bowls would now take place on a Saturday afternoon.

Joe spent six seasons as captain of the W&W Premier team and led the club from Division 11 to Division 6 in that time. Championship honours were gained in 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983. He attracted several experienced bowlers to the team, a feat in itself taking into account that Broomfield were starting out in Division 11. This included Harold Hooper, George Garbett, Ray Fletcher and Alan Braznell. He also gave Broomfield W&W debuts to the likes of Chris Price, Peter Darby, Gary Clewer, Keith Lawlor, Peter Nichols and Nigel Francis.

In 1988 Joe took the W&W Alliance team under his wing and committed to the role for a full six seasons. A different challenge to the W&W Premier years of 78-83, Joe blended younger less experienced players with a few old faces. Warley RFC members such as Nigel Bellmore, Paul Gaynham and Des Tarte started the game. Smethwick cricketers Neil Penton and Dave Westwood also featured. Players from the first 1978 season provided the experience: Chris Mullis, Arthur Woodward, Sid Overfield, Sid Francis, Billy Adams and Frank Taylor to name a few. League honours were gained in 1988 (Division 4 Champions) and 1990 (Division 3 Runners Up).

As a player he won the W&W club averages in the inaugural season of 1978 and the Smethwick ‘A’ averages in 1980. In later years he won several ‘B’ team averages which included the W&W Alliance on four occasions (1988, 1989, 1992, 1993), West Bromwich ‘A’ twice (1989, 1991) and the Smethwick ‘B’ in 1992.

As previously mentioned a runner up in 1975 to Ernie Dent in the Ken Wharton Club Handicap, Joe would go on to feature in a further three club competition finals. In 1979 he won the Billy Purcell Pairs with Peter Gwilt, beating Malcolm Spencer and Sid Overfield in the final. In 1980 Joe won the Chairman’s Shield defeating Peter Darby in the final. Perhaps most surprisingly in 1990 at the age of 64 he reached the final of the Alfred Neale Club Championship losing out to Peter Nichols – a player he awarded a W&W debut to in 1983.

A heart attack in 1995 slowed him down somewhat but he continued to play his part in Dave Jones’ W&W Alliance team. Joe was part of the team that were promoted to Division 2 and won the cup in 1996. Division 2 championship honours followed in 1997. In what would turn out to be his final season in 1998 the Alliance team finished runners up in Division 1 and won the Alliance Cup for the second time in three seasons.

His legacy to Broomfield will forever be linked to his Saturday captaincy in which he led Broomfield in 104 W&W Premier matches (1978-83) and 101 W&W Alliance matches (1988-93). In 2007 and 2008 he contributed to this website by letter and loaned the club his records, the scorecard was recorded in full for every game in which he was captain. We thank Joe for his 43 year association with Broomfield Bowling Club as a player, captain and life member.

Chris Price, Broomfield President & Chairman: “When I first played for Joe I was a novice player and he had a big influence on me. There was no Alliance team back then but he encouraged me to practice with the first team and I travelled with them as a 13th man.
He was an old school captain who instilled discipline in the team with no drinking before a match. A very fair captain, he would select players on merit and attracted luminaries such as Harold Hooper to the club. All in all he was an inspirational figure to me and played the game in the right way.”

Billy Adams, Broomfield Chairman 1976-1984 and now aged 86: “We played together in the Harborne League of a Wednesday afternoon when the shops and factories would shut. It was a league for novices really but Joe had some experience playing with his father on the Carriage Works green (Middlemore Road, West Bromwich). He wrote every score down and had a marvellous memory. He was a good captain and a good competitor, he never took a scrap of notice.”