Playing a Forehand Gas

Jul 9, 2022 | News

Playing a Forehand Gas

By Stephen Byrne

With Wimbledon upon us, you would be forgiven that the perhaps quaint and genteel world of suburban London, polite tennis crowds and that heady concoction of strawberries and cream might be a million miles from the stench of half time Bovril, the waft of gas drifting across the Eastville terraces or the raucous scenes which greet a seven goal final day salvo.

And yet, of course, elite sportsmen can fairly much turn their hand to most sports. Rovers’ history is littered with players who were also decent at tennis and one or two who were a bit more. Trevor Rhodes (two League games in 1968-69) played in junior Wimbledon, whilst Ashley Griffiths (seven League games between May 1980 and the summer of 1981) won the Swansea U-15 tournament and was even named after a top Australian player of his day.

However, no Rovers player can really match the achievements of Charles Lacy-Sweet. For he is the former Rovers player who reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon. What do you mean, you haven’t heard of him? Well, it was a different era and one which perhaps offers us a story worth telling.

Charles Lacy-Sweet (1861-92), the Rovers player who reached a Wimbledon semi-final

Back in February 1889 Rovers faced a selection problem ahead of the match against Swindon Town. It wasn’t the modern issue of which three out of six midfielders to play, but rather that four of the side had gone down ill and numbers were simply too tight. Rovers appealed to local rivals, Clifton Association, who were without a game that afternoon and borrowed four men to make up the numbers. One of these was Charles Lacy-Sweet, a noted local tennis player at the Clifton club and a man who had played for Clifton against Rovers on a number of occasions down the years.

Incredibly, having put together a makeshift side, Rovers won the match 6-1. Regular inside right Charlie Taylor helped himself to a hat trick, Bill Perrin scored twice and stand in inside left Harry Francis scored once. Rovers lined up: Edward Tucker; Bill Somerton, Claude Hodgson; Gilbert Innes-Pocock, Bill Howe, Charlie Newnham; Charles Lacy-Sweet, Charlie Taylor, Bill Higgins, Harry Francis, Bill Perrin.


Harry Francis, Rovers goalscorer and                            Claude Hodgson played at left-back

South African Test cricketer


Versatile sportsman Gilbert Innes-Pocock               Rovers’ right-back Bill Somerton

Of the four incomers, Harry Francis (1868-1936) perhaps became the best known; a Gloucestershire cricketer, he emigrated to South Africa and played in two Tests against England in the spring of 1899, scoring 29 in the Johannesburg match. Gilbert Innes-Pocock (1864-1924) made 16 appearances for Gloucestershire at football and, of his four elder brothers, one was Edward who played rugby for Scotland. Born in India, Charlie Newnham (1863-1935) also played against Rovers with Clevedon and Chippenham. Indeed, seven players called Newnham appeared for Clifton around this time, one being an elder brother, Arthur, who was a Gloucestershire cricketer and another Percy, who partnered Charlie at full-back against Rovers in December 1889, being killed at Spion Kop in 1900 during the Boer War.

Back in 1887, Robert Cecil, the third Marquess of Salisbury was the new Prime Minister and, in Paris, construction work began on a controversial new building, the Eiffel Tower. Charles Lacy-Sweet was one of 15 men who entered the men’s singles championships at Wimbledon, defeating William Taylor 6-2 6-2 4-6 6-1 in the first round. In the quarter-finals he comfortably beat Wilf Milne 6-3 6-1 6-3 to set up a semi-final with Ernest Renshaw, whose brother was the reigning champion. However, on the eve of the match, Lacy-Sweet pulled out injured, leaving Renshaw a safe passage to the final where he lost in five sets to Herbert Lawford. Lacy-Sweet competed at Wimbledon again in 1888 and 1890 but with little success.

Herbert Fortescue Lawford (1851-1925), back right, won Wimbledon in 1887 and is said to have been the player to introduce topspin to the game of tennis

Charles Lacy-Sweet was a tennis player of some repute. The contemporary commentator Herbert Chipp noted that: “his style was a commanding one, and his game was marked by all round excellence. Possessed of a powerful and accurate overhand service, a severe ground-stroke, formidable volleying and smashing powers, and great activity, he ought to have reached the very top of the tree.”

If you have heard the name Lacy-Sweet before, perhaps it is because he was the man who came up with the idea of launching a Gloucestershire Cup. A solicitor from 1883, like his father before him, he set up the competition in October 1887 at a meeting at the Montpelier Hotel, Rovers being one of eight clubs represented. The tournament ran for over a century, Lacy-Sweet himself being a linesman for the 1892 final, which Rovers won. Born in Clifton on 24th January 1861, Charles Lacy-Sweet was the youngest of five children to William Sweet and his wife Louisa Isabella Hillier (a brother, William Montague Sweet, 1857-1942, played rugby for Clifton). Baptised at St John the Evangelist in Clifton on 20th February 1861, he was brought up at Cambridge House, 82 Westbury Hill, Westbury-on-Trym.

Even allowing for erratic press coverage, he is known to have played in 31 football matches for Clifton Association, scoring on his début on Christmas Day 1886 and retiring around 1891. He even managed a game in goal, when Clifton reserves defeated St Agnes 3-0 in January 1887, played four times for his county, represented Bristol Town Clubs against Rest of the County on Easter Monday 1890 and scored a hat trick, after thirty, sixty and 75 minutes, as St Peter’s, Weston-super-Mare were defeated 5-2 in November 1889. A respected local sporting figure, he also umpired the 1888 game between Gloucestershire and The Corinthians and the fixture between Gloucestershire and Wiltshire the following year.

This tale does not have a happy ending, though. In October 1892, Lacy-Sweet caught pneumonia whilst refereeing the Warmley v Windsor and Eton FA Cup tie and died, unmarried and aged just 31, on 2nd November 1892 at his father’s home, Stanton House, 82 Pembroke Road, Clifton. His death was recorded as of ‘typhoid fever and pneumonia’. Leaving £359 in his will, he was buried at Arno’s Vale, the Rev Arthur Campbell Clements Anstey (1843-1900) of St John’s, Redland taking the service; Fred Yates and Gilbert Innes-Pocock, amongst former Rovers players, were amongst the mourners. Five years after reaching the semi-finals of the men’s singles at Wimbledon, the great local sportsman Charles Lacy-Sweet was dead.