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© Chris Byrne 2010


The midyears of the first decade of the 20th-Century were years of rapid evolution for local and national football. Oxford City were quickly establishing themselves as the ‘senior’ team in the area and the Amateur Cup Final appearances of 1903 and 1906, along with the FA Cup tie against Bury in early 1907, had significantly raised the club’s profile both locally and nationally. Many now felt that the time had come for the club to move beyond the playing of friendlies and join a league: but which league?
This debate coincided with the so-called ‘Split’ when the Amateur Football Defence Foundation, which soon changed its name to the Amateur Football Association, was formed as a direct result of the FA requiring all county associations to admit professional clubs. Its aim was, as the decline of amateurism at the highest levels of football set in, to protect and preserve the original amateur spirit.
The first hint of a problem for Oxford City was when, in March 1907, the organisers of what would become the Southern Amateur League invited City to join the new movement. Other clubs invited were Ealing, New Crusaders, Civil Service, Townley Park, Casuals and London Caledonians. This threatened the Isthmian League.
The response of the City Committee was that they would “...join the proposed Amateur League provided that the clubs [named above]…be included and provided also that the necessary consent of the FA be obtained”. This was basically a ‘wait and see’ approach. Oxford University were in the same position as Cambridge - waiting to see who would go into the new Association first.
The Oxford City Committee deputed Harry Kingerlee (the Treasurer) and Gwynne Witherington (a senior player) to attend a meeting of the ‘Amateur Defence Council’, as it was termed in the Minute Book, pending further details becoming available.
In May 1907 came the AGM of the Football Association, and Oxford City maintained their allegiance to the FA, thus coming off the fence to reject the new Association. However, Ealing, Civil Service and the Casuals did plan to leave the Isthmian League to join the new set-up, which would leave the League three clubs short. So this was the primary reason for the invitation to Oxford City to join the Isthmian League, which the Committee discussed and accepted on 1 July 1907. Both the invitation and the acceptance were on the proviso that the three clubs were leaving, and they left it until late in the day to make their decisions.
This was not quite the end of the matter. In late July came an invitation from the Spartan League, also likely to lose clubs to the new Association, and a Special General Meeting of Oxford City FC was called for 24 July to obtain a consensus from the membership. The Spartan League invitation was turned down, and the members agreed to a motion expressing loyalty to the FA. Oxford City were on their way to beginning a new career in the Isthmian League, to be joined there by two other new recruits, Dulwich Hamlet and West Norwood.
Since the original AFA split in 1907, the press, the clubs and the public had begun to settle down again. Oxford City FC had re-grouped after losing a handful of players, and things were getting back to normal. Nevertheless by March 1910 it seems that Gilbert Vassall the former City player, who was Vice-President of the AFA, was working behind the scenes to stir matters and foster AFA development in the Oxford area.
Some weeks after an AFA International Trial match had been played in Oxford, and the new International set-up had beaten their French counterparts 20-0, Oxford City were approached by Vassall with an invitation to join the AFA. This was declined, but an editorial in the Oxford Times of 8 April 1910 seemed in favour of City joining the breakaway association, the article also reporting that Joe Jennings was prominent in a movement to start up an Oxfordshire AFA organisation.
Strangely, given the main aims of the AFA were to preserve the best features of amateur soccer, and shun the professionals, the Earl of Jersey, President of the OFA, appeared to be in favour of the new movement. Several other notables in County football were also broadly in favour of the alternative set-up, including the Revd EH Alington, Hon Treasurer of the OFA, Mr JH Morrell, Revd CHS Gmelin of Summertown, and a handful of players with Oxford City connections, not the least being Gwynne Witherington and WG Edwards.
Having declined the AFA invitation, the City club was trying to get the various parties to meet around a conference table, but without much success: the AFA were not listening, and were actively canvassing prospective players for a new Oxford team. One other local AFA team is known at this time, Oxford Banks AFC: the banks were staunch supporters of the movement nationally. Edgar Davis decided to join, having been offered the captaincy of the side, and in mid-May, barely a fortnight after his debut for Tottenham Hotspur, Arthur Kerry created a shock by announcing that he too had signed up for the AFA. It seems that he had not had a happy experience with Spurs. They would be sorely missed by City, and had probably forfeited their future as England Amateur Internationals, FA-style.
The new side was accepted into the Southern Amateur League, and friendly fixtures were set up with Oxford University and Reading Amateurs. Meanwhile, Vassall and his AFA colleague, Mr Hughes-Onslow, were trying to persuade other Oxford clubs to secede, by claiming that the OFA was ‘dictatorial’. The latter body had to decide where it stood, and at a meeting in early June 1910, finally resolved to stay with the FA.
Notwithstanding, Vassall pressed on with his campaign for the AFA in the county, and at a meeting in Charlbury received some support. Around this time, too, the British Olympic Council decided to allow an AFA delegate as an official representative: one would like to know how that went down with the FA, but it was supported by the Hockey Association and the Rugby Football Union!
At this later meeting, there was ‘regret’ that the decision of Oxford City should have made it necessary[sic] to start a new club, and there were hopes that the two clubs would eventually unite (presumably under AFA colours). Among the members’ names printed in the report were the following Oxford City players, past and present: EG Davis, FW Hadland, J Jennings, AE Roberts, GJ Reeve, GRW Dickinson, EF Hall, AHG Kerry, VW Miley, and WJL Wallace.
Mr Morrell was to be the President of the club, and Vassall was made Hon Secretary, with Jennings as Assistant Secretary in charge of fixtures. Douglas Jones (Oxford Banks FC) was to be Treasurer. Miley was appointed team Captain, and Hadland Vice-Captain.
There was some talk of a possible amalgamation with Oxfordshire Nomads (an RFU club which later became Oxford Rugby Club). Vassall said that although he was generally in favour of multi-sport clubs, no steps had been taken to pursue this.
It was admitted that despite the AFA publicity campaign, few county clubs were prepared to take the plunge. Evidently the stance taken by both Oxford City and the OFA had been sufficient to prevent a mass breakaway. It may be argued that had City gone over to the AFA, they would probably have taken the county with them. Their decision to remain loyal to the FA and persevere, despite the departure of Kerry, Miley and the others, was in the longer term absolutely crucial to the survival of the club and the OFA.
Anyway, the new ‘Oxford’ club finally had its constitution properly drawn up at a meeting at the Golden Cross Hotel on June 28th, an application was made for membership of the Southern Amateur League and the side was duly placed in the B Division for the 1910/11 season. (To avoid confusion the club was always referred to as ‘Oxford (AFA)’ in local papers of the time.)
It had been agreed that home games would be played at the Oxford Banks FC ground in Binsey Lane (“...on the right hand side of the lane about 150 yards beyond the bridge. The entrance to the playing arena from the Lane is not direct from the Lane, there being a small field and farmyard to go through”). The pitch was roped off, seating was provided for the Enclosure, and ‘foot-racks’ for the Enclosure and all around the ground. Season tickets were on offer at 5/- for the Enclosure (2/6 for Ladies and Boys); 2/6 for the Ground (Boys 1/-) and Ladies and Soldiers and Sailors in uniform admitted free. The sports editor of the Oxford Chronicle was impressed by his complimentary season ticket “...with the club badge in red and blue”. It would appear that the Club generally played in white, although there are certainly a number of occasions on which red and white halved shirts were reported as being worn.
Initially there was no covered accommodation, but development of the ground proceeded rapidly and a covered stand (“...which could readily hold 200 or more”) had been erected by mid-October.
A reserve or ‘A’ team was also being formed, and fixtures were contemplated with Oxford High School, Radley College and Magdalen College School as well as a number of the College XIs: an ‘impressive’ 4-1 win was recorded over Keble College in October.
With the SAL season almost upon them, the first trial match was held on 10 September, and 15 players were listed in the Oxford Times: VW Miley, FW Hadland, EG Davis, GRW Dickinson, IG Witherington, PE Lewis, GJ Reeve, WJL Wallace, EF Hall and CHS Gmelin had all been members of OCFC in the past. Only AH Jarvis, LA Vidal, Elmer Cotton, HA Lowe and JW Pritchard were from elsewhere. Witherington had recently been playing for Reading Amateurs.
Two friendlies then followed against Merton Park (home) and New Crusaders (away), before the league season began on October 1st with a home match against Richmond Association. The match was played, as were several others during the season, on the ‘New’ University football ground in Iffley Road and the Oxford side ran out comfortable 7-0 winners, admittedly against nine opponents, in front of a crowd of around 50.
The new covered stand at the Binsey Lane ground was opened for the next home league game against Bowes Park, and a crowd of around 150 saw another resounding victory for the home side (6-1). The crowds remained generally small and, according to reports on several different matches, remarkably quiet. So much so that the reporter at one match was moved to write: “…I don’t know whether it may be considered infra-dig to raise a cheer at these games, but at all events the encounter passed off so quietly that it would appear that no one seemed to have the slightest interest in the result!” While at another it was recorded that: “…it is the prevailing and continued quietness at the Oxford Club’s games that makes them appear such dull affairs…though the football, in all fairness, is attractive enough.”
Their first venture into the AFA Senior Cup was shortlived as they fell at the first hurdle, losing 0-1 at Reading Amateurs. They were to have more luck though in the Eastbourne Charity Cup, which they had been invited to enter, making it all the way through to the Final against Cheshunt at Eastbourne in April where they lost by a solitary goal.
With many of the sides being London-based, much of the travelling to away fixtures was done by train and disagreements on matters of principle were presumably set aside for a while when the side travelled up to south-east London to play Alleyn Old Boys sharing compartments with the Oxford City players who were on their way to play Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill.
The league season progressed steadily, interspersed with friendlies and cup matches, and the side were lying third in the league at the turn of the year, which finished on a high note as the visiting Racing Club of France were demolished 9-2 in the last match of 1910, the club’s second best score during its brief existence. This followed hot on the heels of another notable occurrence as Elmer Cotton had recently been picked to represent the English AFA against Bohemia.
League results continued positively into 1911 and the team eventually claimed promotion to the A Division for the following season behind unbeaten champions Alleyn.
Interestingly the local Oxford newspapers that had initially not seemed unsympathetic towards the formation of the new Club now appeared to have changed their stance, and, as various reconciliations between the FA and AFA were attempted, the Sports Editor of the Oxford Chronicle wrote: “…if a reunion of football interests comes about it will be welcomed in Oxfordshire, and the sooner the better, as it would prevent the edge of the AFA wedge being driven any deeper into local football and causing any further extension of the ‘Split’ in the County.”

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