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© Chris Byrne 2010


The news at the start of the new season was better as Morrell’s Brewery came up with a sponsorship deal worth £5000. Worries about the White House ground rumbled on and locally other well-known clubs were having similar problems. Morris Motors played Fairford in their last match on the famous Barracks ground in September: 40 spectators watched a 0-0 draw. (Motors would share Pressed Steel’s Roman Way ground for a while). And Osberton Radiators folded as their Frenchay Road site was snapped up by developers.
In August City put forward an ambitious plan for the area between Dean’s Ham and the Old Gasworks site. It included a new 5000-spectator stadium with an all-weather pitch; parking for 400 and a business park. The City Council were suitably “horrified”.
Although they lost to Maidenhead, the outcome of the other friendlies was positive and there were a few new faces in the line-up including 22-year old Guy Whittingham, a Combined Services player at the time, who would go on to greater things with Portsmouth, Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday among others.
The league programme got off to a solid start with seven points from the first four games, but at the cost of a broken ankle for Steve Aries and a broken leg for Dale Thorne.
The Reserves made their usual strong start in the Wallspan Combination and they were particularly pleased with an early-season 4-1 defeat of Witney Town the previous season’s champions. Elation at the result was short lived, however, as news reached the players that Club President Jim Tompkins had collapsed at the match and died later.
City were drawn at Hellenic neighbours Abingdon United in the F.A. Cup for a first-ever competitive clash and were pushed hard to record a 1-1 draw. The replay was a more comfortable affair for City, though, as two Whittingham goals put them on the way to a 3-0 win.


A visit to Wiltshire brought an easy 5-1 victory in the next Round at Western League Calne Town, but a 2-1 loss at Wimborne at the end of September would prove to be their last FA Cup tie for five years. And a week later an unlucky 90th minute goal at Poole Town put paid to any hopes of a Trophy run.
Injuries were having a huge effect on both team selection and morale, and though Davy Jones was pleased to welcome Steve Jenkins back to the fold from a short stay in Ireland playing for ex-Oxford United favourite Billy Hamilton at Limerick, he was highly relieved to find the match at Grays postponed in mid-October with the injury-list at its longest. The manager also voiced his concerns over the high number of services players in the teams - there were five regulars – because of the uncertainty over their availability, but he was constantly surprised at the unwillingness of local players to attempt to ‘step up’ to Isthmian level.
Steve Jenkins was back to his best form and scored eight goals in just three games in November and Jesus Polo de Bario made his regular return to the side, with his Spanish students boosting the attendance by about 50.
The year finished badly with a 3-6 home loss to Lewes, the most goals conceded at home for fifteen years, but 1988 began with two 4-1 wins and Jenkins’ tally rising to 16 since his return.
The Reserves were still unbeaten at this point and lying second in the league with two games in hand over Baldock the leaders, and were through to the Intermediate Cup semi-finals.
Snow caused postponements in the second half of January and Ray Elbro’s resignation from the committee caused the Youth team to withdraw from the Oxfordshire U18 League and the Allied Counties League.
February began in a positive fashion with a Jenkin’s hat-trick helping City to a convincing 5-1 victory over Worthing, but on the 11th of the month the Oxford Mail reported that the Club was to be taken to the High Court by Brasenose College, their landlords, claiming that the Club had not obtained their official written authorisation when they purchased the assignable lease in 1986 - City had paid Peat Marwick, the Official Receiver, £29000 when Free Newspapers had been wound up. Les Goodchild was quoted as saying, “ the time we met with the College they assured us it was acceptable to take up the remaining 14 years of the lease, and it was on the strength of their comments that we have carried out over £3000 worth of improvements to the ground.” There was great concern about the ability of the Club to fund a lengthy court case.
Results continued to be strong for both the 1st XI and the Reserves as the month continued, two new directors, Geoff Joynson and Ernie Collier, joined the Board, and Chair of the City Council, Albert Ramsey, added his support to the Club’s cause by stating that Brasenose would be unable to redevelop the £3M site unless City were found a new ground.
A 2-1 win over Morris Motors in the Senior Cup took City through to a semi-final place against Witney Town, but with Oxford United and Banbury United through from the other quarter finals there were again complaints that the seeding of the ‘big four’ every year gave the Hellenic and Senior League clubs little chance of making it through to the final stages.
By mid-March the court case had entered its third week and it was being estimated that costs had already reached £50k. The College was also now claiming that some directors had been running other enterprises from the ground in contravention of the lease, and the Oxford Mail finally reported the case’s end on March 23rd when the High Court ruled that Brasenose College could repossess the ground in two month’s time. Mr Justice Vinelott ruled that the Club had broken covenants by allowing two companies to take up the lease without written permission from the College. Costs were awarded to the College – reputed to be in the order of £100k.
The first reported comment from the Board was that “…private enterprise has done its bit. If there is no positive reaction from the City Council we will have to jack it in! Whatever the council might do there is no way we can play in the Isthmian League next season unless there is a stay of execution by the College.” Chair of the City Council, Albert Ramsey, felt the outcome had been particularly harsh on the club, “…here we have a group of people who were genuinely trying to save a football club. They may have acted unwisely, but they acted in the best interests of that club.” Dr Robert Gasser, the College Bursar stated that, plans for the ground were not final, but he could not rule out future development, and, “…we have to look at it in a professional and commercial manner.”
Meanwhile the football went on. The First XI’s results were disappointing, and, though there were two or three draws, they had to wait from the end of February until April 12th for another win. The Reserves continued to fly the flag, though, and, as well as performing well in the league, they won through to two finals – the Oxfordshire Intermediate Cup and the Wallspan Southern Combination Cup. Unfortunately they lost both finals: 0-2 against Witney Town Reserves in the Intermediate Cup; and 1-3 against St Albans Reserves in the WSC Cup.
Off the pitch support grew for the Club. Banbury United offered a ground-sharing deal, and although the idea drew considerable backing, the Spencer Stadium would not pass the Isthmian ground-grading criteria. Barbara Gatehouse, chair of the City Recreation & Amenities Committee and Betty Standingford, the Lord Mayor, said they would head an appeal to save the Club, while Labour group leader, Tom Richardson, gained unanimous agreement for a motion asking Brasenose to give City two years before closure. The talks between the City Council and the College broke down towards the end of April and the Oxford Mail reported, “…Brasenose say there will be no last-minute reprieve. The College say that they are sympathetic towards amateur clubs and school teams, but not to Oxford City. The College supported Justice Vinelott’s comments when he said that the Club had shown a “cavalier approach” to the rights of their landlords and were “...unsuitable and unacceptable tenants".”
So the curtain was coming down on the history of the White House. City played their final home league match in front of a crowd of 155 on April 23rd: a 3-0 win over Bracknell Town. Five days later they fought back gamely from a 1-4 deficit at home to Witney Town in the Senior Cup semi-final, but lost 3-4. On May 2nd they played what might have proved to have been their last ever Isthmian League match, away at Grays Athletic. Steve Jenkins took his league tally to 27, but the match was lost 2-1. And on the same day the Reserves played their final match at the White House with ‘Jasper’ Thorne, now into his fifties, playing to ensure eleven took the field. On May 9th a hastily arranged benefit match for Dale Thorne, who had broken a leg twice during the season, was played between City and a strong Oxford United side. The full-timers won 4-3, but Steve Jenkins had the satisfaction of drawing a line under the long, long list of City goalscorers at the White House with a hat-trick.
On May 12th 1988 the White House saw its final football when Banbury United overcame Witney Town 1-0 after extra-time in the Oxfordshire Senior Cup Final.
Work proceeded rapidly over the holiday weekend to dismantle the ‘furnishings’. The floodlights were put in store while Abingdon Town and United bought the turnstiles, stand and seats.
The Isthmian League tried to be as helpful to the Club as it could and gave them until the date of the AGM to try to find a solution, when they eventually set an absolute deadline of July 4th. The local press reported on July 1st that the controlling Labour group on the Council had agreed in principle to take over the lease and were in urgent discussions with Brasenose. But Dr Gasser stated that the College would not be rushed on any decision and that, “...what Mr Bennion (the new Club Chairman) is saying sounds very similar to what we were told two years ago. The July 4th deadline has nothing to do with the College.”
So on July 4th Oxford City were suspended for one year from the Isthmian League as the College was unable to accept the rescue package put forward by the Club and City Council.

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