Reginald Garnet Williamson, nicknamed Tim on account of his small stature for a goalkeeper, was 16 years old when his Redcar Crusaders side reached the Cleveland Junior Cup final in 1900. Crusaders had won the competition back in 1885, and the 1900 final pitched them against perennial finalists South Bank, who would not only go on to win the FA Amateur Cup in 1913, but would also produce some of the best players in the region for years to come. South Bank had a junior team that could rival any in the country. And when they met Redcar Crusaders in a replayed Junior Cup tie in April 1900, they won it again.
Although South Bank convincingly won the game 4-0, Williamson was spoken of very highly in the press. “A specially [sic] hard man to pass was the goalkeeper, Williamson,” said The Northern Echo. “The first goal, he had no chance to save, and in at least two of the three goals scored in the second period it was the fault of the full back, and not of Williamson.”
Williamson’s first foray into the world of football came at Coatham Grammar School, where he actually started out as a forward. At some point during this time he tried his hand at goalkeeping and quickly earned himself a reputation. As the Sheffield Daily Telegraph put it in a piece entitled ‘Middlesbro’s Custodian’, he:
“first played football with Redcar Grammar School, where he gained such an excellent reputation for his custodianship that he was persuaded to do duty for Redcar Crusaders. His play in the Cleveland Association’s Junior Cup competition brought his splendid abilities under the notice of the Middlesbrough Club”
Just 17 years of age, he had already done enough to catch the eye of a Football League team. He famously played for Redcar Crusaders in the morning and then appeared for Middlesbrough in a friendly against Cliftonville in the afternoon. But it wasn’t all plain sailing from there. The teenager had to compete with Scottish international Rab Mcfarlane for a place in the squad. His first season was mostly spent with their “A” team, who competed in the Northern Football Alliance, but it didn’t take long to get a Football League debut. His first game for the full squad came in April 1902 and it went pretty well. “He made his debut in higher-class football”, wrote the Sheffield Daily Telegraph the following year, “and with such credit, that the Middlesbrough club had no hesitation in retaining his services for the present season.”
By the 1903/04 season, at just 19, he was a first team regular with Middlesbrough and earning national plaudits. Athletic News in November 1905 said: “The position seemed hopeless, but “Tim” at once gave evidence of his powers of divination and anticipating the movement of Liverpool’s inside right brought off a wonderful save. Again and again did the Redcar youth cover himself with glory by his heroic defence.”
When the 1912/13 FA Cup campaign began, The Green ‘un ran profile snapshots on key players. On the right hand side of the page were Chelsea players – including someone called S. Downing, which is a bit confusing – and on the left were Boro players. The very top space was reserved for the two clubs’ superstars. Chelsea’s was Jock Cameron, their captain and a Scotland international. Boro’s was Williamson. They end their profile by saying simply “no better goalkeeper in Great Britain”. The international select committee agreed, earning seven full England caps.
As the 1913/14 season drew to a close, the looming war couldn’t be ignored any longer. Williamson’s job as a draughtsman meant that he was exempt, ironically, from being drafted but upon his return to football in 1919 he was briefly dropped from the Middlesbrough squad. His replacement? Harry Harrison, who had won the Cleveland Junior Cup with Coatham United in 1909, going on to play for Redcar Wednesday and Redcar Crusaders. By 1922, Williamson came down with a nasty case of influenza which kept him out for the season, and once again Harrison stepped up. By this season, both of Middlesbrough’s goalkeepers had come from Redcar, and their star striker George Elliott was also an ex-Crusaders man.
A local legend
Despite the breaks for a world war and severe illness, Williamson managed 130 consecutive appearances on the way to playing for Middlesbrough 602 times, even managing two goals. The only person to get slightly close was Gordon Jones half a century later, who notched up 527 appearances. It is unlikely that Tim’s record will ever be broken.
Williamson eventually retired in 1923 just shy of 40 years old. “Local sportsmen made him a public presentation,” wrote The Newcastle Journal upon his retirement. “For he was the idol of the crowd during some of the club’s most anxious years.” He stayed away from football in the subsequent years, taking up golf as his main pastime. He had given so much to the game that no-one could blame him for taking a step back. On 1st August 1943, Williamson died at the age of 59 following an operation. In his obituary, the Hartlepool Mail called him the “greatest of all Middlesbrough goalkeepers” and not many people would argue.