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© Chris Byrne 2010

1922-1924: Lean Years

There now followed several seasons in which City went through one of the leanest spells in their history. Between 1922 and 1926 City finished bottom but one in every season, and were beginning to try the patience of the Isthmian League who had a number of clubs looking to be taken into the league as it became more and more recognised as the premier amateur league in the south-east.
The lack of success was slightly surprising as the 1st XI had a settled side with a nucleus of strong players such as Guy Buckingham, Frank Hartley, Fred Spiller and Fred Ansell. In fact the Club continued to expand and had fielded a ‘Casuals’ XI for the first time.
There were only two league wins before the end of November. One was against struggling West Norwood, who only scored 25 goals all season and resigned from the league at the end of the season, and the other was on Armistice Day against Civil Service who were also beginning to fade and would leave the League a few years later.
City failed to get past their first game in the FA Cup as they collapsed badly at Chesham United and lost 2-5, but did manage their best win of the season against Gorleston in the First Round of the Amateur Cup, with a brace from Frank Hartley putting them on the way to a 5-2 success. A Hartley goal also earned them a replay at Newbury Park against Ilford in the next round, but the Essex side went through by the single goal of the match the following week in Oxford.
League results continued to be poor, both the season’s friendlies against the University were lost, and there were no wins in the New Year until mid-March when a Reading Reserves was beaten.
The Easter Tour was a little less far-reaching than in some years, but at least the results in the Channel Islands against representative sides were positive, and they returned home to pick up two cup victories when they squeezed past Slough and then Windsor & Eton to reach the final of the Oxford Hospital Cup.
Frank Hartley finally won a richly-deserved Amateur Cap for England against Ireland at Preston in November, and celebrated in fine style with a hat-trick in England’s 4-0 victory. Fred Spiller also a member of the team.
As a result of his performance Hartley played in a full international trial for the South against the England team at Millwall in front of a crowd of 25000, and the following week was picked for the full England team in a trial against the North at Leeds. Hartley and Lieutenant Kenneth Hegan were the only amateurs included in the line-ups. Hegan was a professional soldier who was a regular for the Corinthians and went on to play four full internationals scoring four goals. Hartley gained his only full England cap in a friendly against France in May 1923.
Fred Ansell also gained international recognition as he played for the English Civil Service against their Danish counterparts in Copenhagen towards the end of the season.
With their poor league record, City, for the first time ever, had to apply for re-election to the Isthmian League. Their poor results also brought a note from the FA informing them that they would no longer be exempt until the later Qualifying Rounds of the FA Cup.

University Game 1924

The '23-'24 season started well as Woking were beaten 5-2 in the final of the previous season’s Oxford Hospital Cup, but, after that the season became even more disappointing than the previous campaign. The team became more unsettled, although there were sufficient of members of the Club for the local press to note that November 10th was he first occasion on which it had put out four sides on the same day. The Oxford Chronicle also supported the Club in not starting its league fixtures until the end of September, complaining that football was eroding the cricket season and hoping that the City’s move was “…setting a good example to others locally.”
So the 1st XI’s second match of the season was their FA Cup Preliminary Round match against Botwell Mission (who would change their name to Hayes five years later), but starting earlier in the competition brought no more success as the Middlesex side won 2-1 at the White House.
There were few positive results before Christmas, although the University were comfortably beaten in November, but the year did finish on a surprisingly high note as Wycombe Wanderers were defeated 6-1.
The New Year began depressingly, however, as the 1st XI were shot out of the Amateur Cup by Northampton Nomads on the Town’s ground, while the reserves, back at the White House, were losing 1-7 to Banbury GWR in the Oxfordshire Senior Cup.
Casuals and Ilford were beaten in the League, and the University were defeated again (photos above courtesy of the Oxford Journal Illustrated), before City surprised everyone in the middle of March by producing their record Isthmian win in defeating Woking 11-2, with Geoff Bowley netting five times.
‘Normal service’ was resumed after that, however, as they lost their final seven Isthmian fixtures to finish with the worst defensive record in the League and needing to apply for re-election again.
There had not even been the usual Easter Tour to lift spirits. Mr Benson had arranged a visit to Denmark, but the players were unimpressed by the itinerary and the tour had to be cancelled through a lack of interest.
The continued lack of success brought forth a considerable amount of criticism in the local press, and, to add to the Club’s woes, Hon. Sec. Mr Benson and Asst. Hon. Sec. Mr Kingerlee both resigned.

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