The main engineering works of The Cambrian Railway Company – today a grade two listed building – once employed many of the people who lived in the Welsh Marches town of Oswestry, and provided the local football team with several players. One such person, who also represented Everton, was John Roach.
Born April 1863, he was the third child of Martin, a labourer, and his wife Bridget, who together had moved to Shropshire from their birthplace in the County Mayo across the Irish Sea. John had begun to work as a blacksmiths striker, in the foundry of the Cambrian Company, when he started playing football for the Oswestry White Stars, who shared a ground with the local cricket club. On 29 December 1883, the little Shropshire club found themselves in the limelight, having received a home FA Cup draw with the famous Queens Park club from Glasgow, who were renowned for playing quality football with a strong emphasis based on teamwork. Their visit created a great deal of interest and special trains were laid-on from all areas of the Welsh Marches, which produced a record crowd for the Victoria Road ground, reported to be over 3,000 people. John Roach took his place on the left side of the Oswestry forward line, where he was accompanied by a certain George Farmer. The Salopians held their own during the first half – and trailed 2-1 at the break, but the Scots overwhelmed them in the second half to win the tie by 7 goals to 1.
Later that season, both Farmer and Roach were together in the White Star side that reached the final of the Welsh and Borders FA knockout, where they faced the Druids on the Racecourse Ground at Wrexham. The Shropshire side won the trophy for the first time, scoring the only goal of the game.
Roach was in the Oswestry side the following season, when they travelled to play Crewe Alexandra in the FA Cup. The Cheshire town was the headquarters of the London and North Western Railway Company, so the game was billed as being ‘The Railwayman’s Derby’.
The match took place on the L & NW Railway Company’s ground on Nantwich Road, where the home side won 2-1. John Roach and his teammates again reached the final of the Welsh and Borders FA Cup where they again faced The Druids at Wrexham. The Shropshire side, who produced a poor performance, were beaten 3-0. Nonetheless, the Oswestry players were on better form when they beat Wellington St George to lift the Shropshire Senior Cup at Shrewsbury to end the season on a high note.
The form of Roach was now catching the eye of the Welsh selectors and on 11 April 1885, he won his only international cap when he travelled to meet Ireland at Ballynafeigh Sports Ground in Belfast. He scored twice as the visitors won 8-2. Nevertheless, his club partnership was now starting to fracture, because George Farmer was spending most weekends playing football for Everton for whom he signed at the end of the season. On 3 October 1886, John Roach faced his old teammate when Everton paid a visit to Oswestry and won the game 2-1. On 11 April 1887, the two Shropshire lads were re-united when Roach was granted a trial with Everton as they faced Burnley at Anfield. The visitors won the game 3-0.
The following 1887-88 season, Everton imported players from Scotland, and were promptly found guilty of ‘Professionalism’, receiving a one month ban from the game’s governing body. The sentence left the club short of seasoned players, so they asked John Roach to return and assist them. On the 2 February 1888, he played in a 5-2 defeat at Darwen, and made another three appearances before returning to his duties with Oswestry. His dealings with Everton, however, were not quite over.
During his career, John Roach had represented the Shropshire FA on several occasions and was in their side when the Anfield club arrived in Shrewsbury on 2 April 1891, to take part in a charity match. The occasion, sadly, was spoilt by the dreadful weather, and only a small crowd was present to watch the Football League Champions win 3-0 on a pitch that was marked out behind the grandstand at Monksmoor Racecourse. Later that year, John Roach married Margaret Evans at Oswestry while still working for the Cambrian Railway Company. He worked for them until his death, at Oswestry, in January 1929.