Charles Samuel Craven commemoration service

A football pioneer buried in St John’s churchyard was remembered at a thanksgiving service and wreath laying on March 21.

Charles Samuel Craven was the visionary behind the formation of the Northern League, the world’s second oldest, in 1889. Six years later, when just 19, he had helped form Darlington FC.

Anticipating its 125th anniversary, the Northern League determined to discover more about its founder – no longer quite a needle-in-a-haystack job thanks to the wonders of the Internet.

An amateur genealogist in Co Durham tracked Craven’s grave to Felbridge. After a visit last September by Northern League chairman Mike Amos, the genealogical gauntlet was picked up by local resident John Sisley who determined to find out more.

After months of meticulous research, John discovered that Craven – who married again after his first wife’s death – had granddaughters in Berkshire and in Somerset. They, in turn, led the league to Bob Rogers, a grandson in Hong Kong.

Bob flew to England for five days of Northern League celebration. He was joined in Felbridge by his sister, Liz Husbands, and by her husband and daughter.

The 15-minute service, just four days from the exact anniversary of the Northern League’s formation, was led by league chaplain the Rev Canon Leo Osborn, chair of the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist district.

Mike Amos laid a wreath on a grave that had been tidied and beautified by Mary Sisley and colleagues from the Felbridge horticultural society.  The service was attended by senior officials from the Football Association, Surrey FA and the Northern League and by several villagers.It was followed by lunch in the Star.

“The Felbridge community has been wonderfully hospitable and John and Mary Sisley magnificent,,” said Mike Amos. “We wanted Charles Craven not just to be acknowledged in the North-East but remembered in the village where he lies. The only disappointment was that the vicar wouldn’t let us put up a simple information sheet in the church porch.”

|Bob Rogers and his family had known nothing of their grandfather’s sporting connections. After a later career in the Colonial Service, principally as water works engineer on the Gold Coat, he retired to the |Isle of Wight and, in 1927, moved to Kingates, Felbridge, because of better educational opportunities for his daughter.

Craven had been a church council treasurer on the Isle of Wight, bought communion wafers from a convent in East Grinstead where the sisters also ran a school. It was to the convent school that his daughter was sent. He died at Kingates in 1940, aged 77, his wife Ella moving to Oxfordshire shortly afterwards.

Bob Rogers said that the Felbridge service had been greatly moving. “It was amazing to be able to do this for my grandfather. Everyone made us very welcome. I hope he will continue to be acknowledged in some way.”