The player who went from catching footballs to catching criminals

The story of Christopher Charles Charsley, Chief Constable Coventry City Police!

In the late Victorian era Chris Charsley was well known in West Midlands football circles as the goalkeeper of Small Heath F C, then an amateur club which developed into Birmingham City. He was born in Leicester in 1864 and his family moved to Stafford in c.1867, and in his spare time joined Stafford Rangers F.C. as an amateur half back. As time progressed, he became the club’s regular goalkeeper and captain, guested for Aston Villa, represented Walsall Football Association, played one first team game for West Bromwich Albion and won an England cap - all as an amateur.

He earned his living as a shoemaker until he decided to transfer his skills from making footwear to wearing out footwear, by becoming a bobby on the beat. He joined Birmingham City Police in November 1885 and his rise up the ladder was remarkable, as from an ordinary copper on his beat he became Chief Constable of Coventry Police after just 13 years of service! Even in retirement at the seaside he didn’t relax and became active in local politics in Weston-Super-Mare! He was clearly no stick in the mud and was a remarkable man on the football field and off it too.


Once settled in Birmingham in September 1886 he joined Small Heath Alliance, again in an amateur capacity, for the first of three spells with the club which finally ended in May 1894. His brother Walter played for the club during the 1890-1891 season. A cartoon which appeared in a publication, probably The Sports Argus, stated Small Heath Alliance were so desperate to sign him that Alf ‘Inky’ Jones, the club secretary, and Charlie Simms the half back, visited him at Ladywood Police Station, where he was in bed in his living quarters! When told that P.C. Charsley was - under a vest- they persisted, and the cartoon shows the trio talking to him at his bedside.

His reputation grew and he was watched by scouts from other clubs. How strange it must have been for a policeman to suddenly become a wanted man! He, however, always proudly stuck to his principles and refused attempts by other clubs to entice him to turn professional. Reports suggest that an un-named club tried to tempt him to sign for them by offering him a bag containing £50 in gold. He told the man responsible that he was happy with his life and would be remaining an amateur. In desperation he was told if he signed for the club he could still be classed as amateur and could keep the gold! Exactly what Charsley said wasn’t reported in the press, he was quoted only as saying: ‘I told him very plainly what I thought of him and his methods, but the only result was that he smiled, and called me a romantic fool.’

He remained an amateur and between 1886 and 1894 he made 80 appearances in the Football League, the Football Alliance and F. A. Cup for Small Heath, playing and leaving them on three separate occasions.

He was once described as ‘a finely built fellow, and a model of agility, a wonderfully active man for his build.’ On 25 February 1893, he became the first Small Heath player to play for England when he was capped for the first, and only time, against Ireland. At least he didn’t have far to travel because the game was played at Wellington Road, Perry Barr! Walter Gilliat scored a hat-trick in the game which England won 6-1. Charsley didn’t have much to do but a series of four saves in quick succession ‘demonstrated his ability between the sticks to everyone's satisfaction’, and he became probably the first ever cop with a cap!

After retiring from the game in 1893 he went from goal to gaol, concentrating on his police career. He was, however, recalled to play in another famous football test match (play-off), when on 28 April 1894 Small Heath beat Darwen 3-1 at Stoke, which took the battling Brummies into the First Division for the first time in