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OXFORD CITY FC - HISTORY & STATISTICS

© Chris Byrne 2010

In The Beginning (3)

What happened in the 1901/02 season has long been forgotten, partly because of the lapse of time and also because of the later Amateur Cup successes. Yet it was the 1901/02 season which firmly established Oxford City as a major force in the amateur football world. It was a very busy and at times quite bizarre season.
It all began back in August 1901 when the draw for the 1st Qualifying Round of the English Cup was announced. City were given a bye. This was repeated a little later when the 2nd Qualifying Round draw was made. Instant exemption to the 3rd Qualifying, which was as far as they had ever gone!
In the 1st Qualifying Round of the Amateur Cup on 19th October, City played Stantonbury St James, a Buckinghamshire team, and won 3-0. A few days later the draws for the 2nd Qualifying Round of the Amateur Cup and the 3rd Qualifying Round of the English Cup were announced by the Southern Divisional Committee of the FA. City were due to play Reading Amateurs away in the Amateur Cup and Aylesbury United away in the FA Cup: apparently both were supposed to be played on the same day, 2nd November! After some rearrangements, the Reading Amateurs tie was postponed until the following Saturday, 9th November.
City duly travelled to Aylesbury and won 4-0, then followed that up with a 2-1 victory at Reading Amateurs. The draw for the 3rd Qualifying Round of the Amateur Cup paired City away yet again to either Apsley or - Aylesbury United! What a coincidence, particularly as it was to Aylesbury that City would eventually travel. City were also drawn (on the same day again) in the English Cup 4th Qualifying Round away (yet again!) to Wycombe Wanderers. The English Cup tie once more took precedence, so on 16th November City travelled to Wycombe, and in winning 5-2 recorded their first victory against the team which would become great friends and rivals in future years.
Another Saturday, another Cup game! On 23rd November, a second visit to Aylesbury for the delayed 3rd Qualifying Round Amateur Cup game, and a convincing 4-1 success. By now they knew that they might well have to play Wycombe again in the Amateur Cup (provided that Wycombe beat Chesham Town (which they did!)).
The draw for the 5th Qualifying Round of the English Cup had given City a home tie, against Shepherd’s Bush, who had beaten Brentford in the previous round. On 30th November, having accepted a cash sum to switch the tie, they travelled to West London, their fifth successive away Cup tie in as many weeks. City made club history by beating Shepherd’s Bush 3-1 and making it through to the draw for the Intermediate Round. This was the round where the ‘tidying up’ was done, so that the correct number of clubs could be in the hat for the 1st Round Proper: the last 32 in the English Cup (equivalent to today’s 4th Round of the FA Cup).
20 clubs went into the draw, including not only Oxford City but also two Second Division professional clubs, Lincoln City and Newton Heath, who were to change their name to start the next season off as Manchester United. One other club in the ‘hat’ was not actually there at all. New Brighton Tower, after three reasonably good seasons in the Second Division, had gone into liquidation before the start of the season. Under FA rules the club drawn against them would progress to the 1st Round. Out of all these clubs, City were given the lucky draw, and elsewhere Lincoln City were paired with Newton Heath.
On 7th December, just a week after the Shepherd’s Bush game, City were back in Amateur Cup action at home to Wycombe Wanderers in the 4th Qualifying Round, their first game at the White House Ground since the Stantonbury tie six weeks before. City won 2-1, thus recording a double victory not to be emulated until the Isthmian League fixtures of 1934/35.
They were now able to take a well deserved break, friendly matches permitting, before the two 1st Round ties, which were to be played on the 18th and 25th January. The Times noted that City were the only amateur team left in both competitions. In the period before the FA Cup rule changes of 1925 this was a very rare occurrence, and the more so for City, who had been obliged to play several Qualifying Round ties. The only other clubs to have achieved this distinction had been Middlesborough, Reading, Tottenham Hotspur and Stockton - august company indeed.
The draws were both announced in December: City were to play Lincoln City at home in the English Cup, and old friends Marlow at home in the Amateur Cup. Lincoln City had beaten Newton Heath 2-1 away, so City had only been 90 minutes away from playing the future Premiership giants! The Marlow game was to come first.
City had certainly done well - they were the only southern amateur club remaining in the competition. National papers begin to mention the Club, and the Daily Mail pondered on why they had done so well, and came to the interesting conclusion that their 'staying power' might be because there were '...no fewer than eight tea-totallers in the eleven'.
Oxford City could reflect over the Christmas holidays that they had come a long way since October when the Cup trails began. They had proved themselves worthy of the new level of success they had attained. Very few clubs could have survived the gruelling double series of ties, and who could have guessed that they would meet two clubs twice, and all within a few short weeks?
It seemed that with every match in this gripping 1901/02 season Oxford City were re-writing the history books. They were certainly in new territory as far as the national Cup competitions were concerned. On 18th January 1902 the team faced Marlow to do battle in the 1st Round Proper of the Amateur Cup.
As recently as 1899/1900 Marlow had reached the Cup Semi-Final, going out to Lowestoft, and back in 1896/97 they had taken Old Carthusians to a replay at the same stage of the competition. So they had their tradition to back them up.
City were now at that crucial stage where they knew they were going places and were not afraid of any opposition. This new-found confidence enabled City to win 4-3 in what must have been a closely fought battle, going into extra time.
This gave City encouragement to face Lincoln City on the following Saturday, 25th January. Lincoln had been in Division 2 for several years, but this was the first time since 1890/91 that they had reached the 1st Round.
The White House Ground was prepared for the occasion. It was by far the most important game to date for City. An enclosure was erected, and there were some numbered and reserved seats. The standard admission charge was 6d (2.5p), with an extra 6d for the enclosure and 1s (5p) for the seats. Although accounts give wildly conflicting estimates of the gate (between 800 and 5,463), the true attendance figure was certainly around the 4,500 mark: definitely a ground record at the time.
The City team was: James Benson (goal); Charles Kingerlee and Herbert Smith (backs); Fred Craddock, William Smith (capt.) and George Blackall, replacing William Turrill (half backs); Frank Draper, George Axtell, Arthur Foster, Mark Arnett and Guy Dickinson (forwards).
City won the toss, and made Lincoln face the sun and wind. Both teams had early chances, and the home defence was outstanding, breaking down each Lincoln attack as it came in. At the other end, City had one attempt on goal which hit the crossbar, and another failed when Draper committed a foul.
The crowd was giving some very vocal support and the game was being played at a furious pace, and both teams welcomed the half time break. It had been a very even contest, and City had perhaps surprised their professional opponents.
In the second half there was much more pressure from Lincoln, who enjoyed about 75% possession, but were unable to break the stout City defence. Towards the end, City found themselves with more of the ball, and were playing a very pretty passing game. They forced a corner, but to no avail, before Lincoln came back, trying to get a result. The final whistle blew, and Oxford City had held the professionals to a scoreless draw, a fantastic achievement made possible by an excellent defensive team in which Benson was apparently outstanding.
The replay was to be held on the following Wednesday, 29th January. It was Early Closing Day in Lincoln, but the crowd at Sincil Bank, about 2,000, was less than expected. City’s team was as before, except that Dickinson moved to centre forward, Foster to inside left and Horace Venables came in for Arnett. The ‘Cits’, as they were known at this time (Red Imps belong to a later generation), won the toss, and made Oxford City face the elements. City put on some early pressure, forcing a corner, and then coming close via a long range shot from Herbert Smith. Lincoln had their turn, making Benson very busy and after 15 minutes got the breakthrough after a scrimmage near the Oxford goal.
Herbert Smith was outstanding in a defence under continual onslaught by the professionals, but a second and probably decisive goal was scored by Lincoln just before the interval. A third was added soon after the resumption, but City held on gamely, not making it easy for Lincoln: there would be no goal avalanche in this game.
City enjoyed some possession, but could not find a way through to goal themselves, and at the other end, Benson continued his heroics, though Lincoln did score a fourth goal. Snow fell in the last period of the game, and Lincoln had two goals disallowed for offside, while at the other end, Dickinson went close not long before full time.
So Lincoln had won 4-0, but City were not totally outclassed, and would have taken several positives from the double encounter.
City barely had time to draw breath before setting off for Ilford in the 2nd Round of the Amateur Cup on the Saturday after the replay. It had been an exhausting season for City, and their last Cup tie of the season was as hard as any. Ilford were a top-drawer team and a gritty contest saw City edged out 1-0.
In one week both their magnificent Cup runs had been halted, but nothing would be allowed to spoil the great achievements of the past few months. They had inched their way through from the qualifying rounds of both competitions, and had proved themselves worthy of their new reputation. A spectacular season was over - Oxford City FC was on the map and there was every prospect of further success in the future. The season of 1901/02 was indeed the great turning point in their early development.

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