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Yesteryear: Former Dunlevy soccer star 'Billy the Kid' lives in England

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

We stand corrected.

Bryan Griffiths is not deceased.

“He lives in a small village near Chester, England, called Little Budworth,” said Griffiths' cousin, Jean Stockton Balla of Monroeville. “He has lived there for many years.”

Balla's clarification came in response to a recent recollection in this corner about Griffiths being a standout soccer player for the Dunlevy Redbirds from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s.

Known as “Billy the Kid” by soccer fans in this area during those years, Griffiths was only 22 when he came to the United States on Aug. 22, 1949.

He settled in Long Branch with Frank and Alice Stockton and their family and worked at his uncle's business, Stockton's Market in Fayette City. In addition to Balla, his cousins in the Mon Valley included Bill “T” Stockton, Frances Stockton Alberta, Margaret Brewer, Mary Brewer, Ethel Yates, Ruth McDonald, Jack Stockton, Bob Stockton and Esther Claire Stockton Finley. Another uncle, Fred Stockton, who lived near the Beagle Club off Rathway Road outside of Fayette City, also worked at the family-named grocery store.

Griffiths brought strong football – that's what they call soccer in Great Britain – credentials to America.

He was introduced to the game as a teenager in his native town of Chester, a city in the Cheshire district located near the border with Wales. At age 15, he was captain of the Chester High School team that won the Junior Cup championship. A year later, he helped the Chesterleton Soccer Club cop the Senior Amateur League title.

He joined the British Army at age 18 during World War II and served three years in the military. During that time he played for the Torres team in the Scottish-Irish League that won the Scottish Cup. He also was named to the All-British Army amateur team. Following his honorable discharge from the Army, Griffiths resumed his soccer career with Buckley and Chester in the British Amateur League before deciding to pursue opportunities in the United States.

Griffiths asked his Uncle Frank if he knew of any soccer football teams in the area. Stockton drove him to Dunlevy to meet veteran player/manager Ralph “Beef” Rossi, who signed Griffiths to a contract with the Redbirds after watching him display his skills in a tryout at Garibaldi Field.

“My dad always appreciated Bryan's skills,” said Ralph “Butch” Rossi, Beef's son, who lives in Greensboro, N.C. “And he admired him as an individual, a likeable young man who always had a smile on his face. My dad called him ‘Laddie' because he remembered the British using that name for him and the other Americans who served in England during World War II.”

Griffiths played for Dunlevy through early 1957 before returning to England and eventually settling in Little Budworth, a quiet town much like Dunlevy and in sharp contrast to the hectic metropolitan atmosphere of Chester, which has a population of more than 122,000. He visited the Mon Valley in the 1980s.

“The Dunlevy guys would get a kick as to why Bryan moved to Little Budworth,” Balla said with a knowing smile. “He always said it was because he could walk to the local pub.”

When Griffiths went back to England, he became a carpenter and homebuilder and owned his own company. He has a son, Bill, from his first marriage, and another son, John, from his second marriage.

“My family and I have visited Bryan three times in Little Budworth,” Balla said. “It's a lovely village and he was very active in his church and in other activities in the town.”

There is a sad side to the clarification regarding Griffiths, who is now 87.

Balla said that when her husband, Alexander J. Balla Jr., longtime administrator in the Gateway School District, died on June 29, 2013, she sent a letter to Bryan informing him of that news.

“I received a reply from Bryan's wife telling me that he has developed Alzheimer's,” Balla said. “She said he doesn't remember ever being in the United States and can't recall any of the relatives over here.

“Bryan was like a brother to me, as he lived with our family while he was in the United States. And I remember well going to soccer games every Sunday when he played for the Redbirds. It's such a sad story but it is comforting to know that so many people still remember him. I'm sure he would appreciate that.”

Columbus Days

The former Columbus Hotel in Charleroi, which was demolished recently, was the setting for numerous social events during its prime years of operation. The hotel also sponsored athletic teams.

Among the myriad references to the hotel in those capacities chronicled by The Charleroi Mail over the years are these:

Oct. 11, 1946 – The Columbus Hotel baseball team, which competed in the Intermediate League last summer, was honored last night at a banquet in the hotel's dining room. Bill Hurdelsh, who pitched a no-hitter for the Hotelers during the course of the season, was selected by his teammates as the Most Popular Player and will represent the team at the Lions Club's annual banquet Oct. 17 at the Elks Club. Loren Tope was toastmaster and entertainment was provided by accordianist Ted Apanasewicz, Charleroi High School drum major, and pianist Joe Centani.

July 28, 1947 – Columbus Hotel is one of seven teams competing in the Charleroi Junior Baseball League. The others are Lock Four, Stockdale, Eagles, AFL, Robins and Vic's.

Sept. 7, 1947 – Front page classified ads touted these specials:

Eat with your fingers, Golden brown Southern fried chicken with french fries, served in a basket, every Wednesday evening in our dining room.

Fried fish and chips, delicious and different, every Friday.

French-fried onion rings, Our treat for you on Friday.

Dec. 19, 1947 – Giuseppina Verdi Lodge 1056 held its annual Christmas party at the Columbus Hotel. Clara Bassi, president, led a brief business meeting. Invocation was offered by Josephine Riva; Margaret Treater was toastmistress, and holiday readings were offered by Catherine Celaschi and Caterina Sciacca. Josephine Butera was the Treasure Hunt winner, while special prizes were awarded to Nellie Nenrotin, J. Duronio, Clara Castellana and Enos Celaschi.

Dec. 22, 1947 – A front page classified ad called attention to dancing every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with music by M.G.M.

Dec. 16, 1948 – Unbeaten in four straight matches, the Columbus Hotel shuffleboard team today issued a challenge to any and all teams in Charleroi and vicinity. Call Charleroi 9509. Members of the team are Manager Mike Petros, captain Darwin Sullivan, assistant captain Bobby Oates, Ed Holod, Chuck Muckle, Porter Lowstutter, Jim Underwood, Carl Pasquale, Frank Machakas, Walt Carney, Mort Anthony, Ed Gregovich, Vern Reed, Neil Connor, Tino Johnson and Joe Guth.

Aug. 4, 1954 – Mary Pupelli hosted her card club at the Columbus Hotel. Two tables were in play and prizes were won by Pupelli, Sophie Rizzuto, Margaret Bercini and Lillian Costantino. Millie Baron and Helen Mihalega were special guests.

Sept. 10, 1954 – A large ad on page 3 read as follows: Charleroi's own dance teacher, Zoise Baer, announced the opening of her own dance studio at the Columbus Hotel (side entrance). Registration will be held Sept. 2, 6 to 9:30 p.m., and Sept. 3, 2 to 5 p.m. All types of dancing will be taught to all ages.

March 21, 1955 – Columbus Hotel will face the Allenport Seniors in the first of four Charleroi City Basketball League games tonight at the Junior High Gym. Other games as the league heads into the final week of the season will pit Bel-Tel against Tenth Street AC, Shore's vs. Frank's and Lock Four Merchants against Krusey Brothers.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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