Local football matches tend not to attract the big crowds they once did.

School football matches? You might get a few parents there, and an odd scout if you’ve got a few outstanding players.

But in 1974 in Oswestry, hundreds upon hundreds of local football fans turned out at the town’s old Victoria Road ground, on a midweek afternoon, to see the local schoolboy side, which was the best in the country, play in a cup match, writes freelance sports reporter Jonny Drury for The Sport Report.

The 1973/74 season at the Oswestry Boys High School saw a highly talented group of players come together and take on all comers from across the UK, in what is known as the ESFA Cup.

In that side was Carleton Leonard, who went on to play over 300 times for Shrewsbury Town, while also turning out for Hereford and Cardiff in the Football League.

Leonard looked back at how he started off in football, and fondly remembers it was the time in his super talented school team that helped him, and others, onto the footballing ladder.

In that season the side won 23, drew five and lost none, on their way to the final of the English Schools Cup, before they had to share the trophy following a 0-0 draw at Scunthorpe United’s old ground.

“There were no sort of academies back then so you played for either the school and the county, and it was mainly down to the success we had at Oswestry Boys High School that I got spotted,” said Leonard.

“We went all the way to the final and had to share it, and for a school the size of Oswestry it was an amazing achievement.

“I remember we even got invited to a civic dinner with the council, it was that big of a deal.

“We went all over, Manchester, Bister, Oxford. We drew down there and brought them back to the town ground one midweek afternoon and the place was absolutely rammed full.

“We took a load of buses when we went away somewhere, it was brilliant really.

“I can’t remember a lot of that game at the town ground, I think we won that day in a reply and then moved on to the next game.”

Recalling some of the players in the side, Leonard admitted he was surprised some of them never went on to play at professional level.

And he also recalls playing alongside his brother, Sheldon, who he believes would have gone on to play hundreds of Football League games had he not tragically died at a young age.

“We had some good players. Richard Evans who everyone knows locally, and just scored goals for fun, I was always surprised he never went on,” added Leonard.

“Andy Lloyd the England cricketer, had he not chosen to play cricket he’d have gone on probably. Everton Williams was at Wrexham, and I think Keith Hampson had trials at Liverpool at one time.

“And my brother Sheldon, who was a fantastic player. I played 300 odd games in the league, and he’d have gone on to make well over that I think, he was a great player.”

The side progressed all the way to the final and enjoyed a civic dinner and a thanks from the town council before heading up to play at Scunthorpe in the final.

“I remember we went to that dinner and the lads signed a programme, we had a nice meal, and the council just said thanks for putting the town on the map, because it was a great achievement for the size of the town,” added Leonard.

“Then we were sent off the final. In those days we didn’t have a lot of coaching, it felt like we were a bit like the Harlem Globetrotters, just give us the ball and we’ll go and play.

“I remember the final, the pitch was rock hard and we all had blisters on our feed because of the surface.

“I ended 0-0 and we shared the trophy, but it was such a great thing to have done.”

The achievement has never been eclipsed at the school. But despite their unrivalled success, there was always a friendly rivalry between the side that reached the final and that of the year above.

That side was made up of players such as Mike Robinson, a well known local journalist and former chairman of Oswestry Cricket Club, who sadly died in 2017.

Prior to Mike’s death, Leonard revealed they were planning on settling the debate once and for all, by running a piece in the local press to gather local opinion on which side was the best school team to come out of Oswestry.

Leonard added: “We always had a bit of banter with Robbo and the likes of Terry Stedman, who always claimed their side was better.

“We’d reply and say no we had the better side, and we were going to open it up to a debate one day, I know Mike was going to do a piece in the paper a few years ago.

“Put both sides out there and see which one was the best. So it was a good friendly rivalry.”

Oswestry Boys High School ESFA joint winners 1974 – John Townend, Steven Parry, Carleton Leonard, Dennis Horton, Keith Hampson, Guy Weatherly, Ian James, Sheldon Leonard, Everton Williams, Andy Lloyd, Richard Evans. Subs: Kevin Meredith, Russell Ellis, Nigel Pugh.