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© Chris Byrne 2010

The Edwardian Era (1): The First Amateur Cup Final Appearance

The 1902/03 season was to keep the excitement of the previous season going, and, in the case of the Amateur Cup competition, push the Club to new heights.
A 6-0 trouncing by Southern League Northampton Town in the season’s first match was not an auspicious beginning, but victories over Aylesbury, Shepherd’s Bush and the War Office soon reaffirmed the XI’s potential.
Their performance the previous year brought them exemption until the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup and a home draw in early November against Brentford (then in the Southern League), when a lively crowd of over 4000 watched a see-saw battle at the White House end in a 2-2 draw. A trip to London the following Wednesday saw City ease into a 3-1 lead, but the home side pulled the game around in the second half to take the game 5-4.
Through the rest of 1902 results were mediocre, with defeats by the University, as the Town v Gown clash grew into a twice-yearly contest, and by Marlow in their effort to retain the Eastbourne Charity Cup.
The Amateur Cup trail didn’t begin, thanks to exemption, until the First Round, at the end of January, and a match against Woodford. The customary payment was offered to persuade Woodford to switch the tie to the White House Ground, and this was accepted.
Oxford City’s team was: Percy Selby (goal); Charles Kingerlee and Herbert Smith (backs); Fred Craddock, William Smith and George Blackall (half backs); Frank Draper, Guy Dickinson, Revd. William Blackburn, Arthur Foster and Mark Arnett (forwards). Blackburn was already a deacon, and would be ordained priest the following June. City won the game 3-0 in front of 1,500 spectators, adding to a solid record of success at their own ground.
The draw for the Second Round gave City a chance to even the record at Ilford, where they had lost at the very same stage in a hard battle the previous season, in the aftermath of the Lincoln replay. A close match ensued and with no goals after ninety minutes the game went into extra time where a late goal from Guy Dickinson put City into new territory: the 3rd Round, which, in those days, was the last eight.
Also in the draw were Bishop Auckland, Crook Town, Stockton and West Hartlepool, in the ‘Northern Division’, and Civil Service, Ealing and Lowestoft Town, in the ‘Southern Division’. This regional division would continue until the Semi-Final stage until the rules were changed in 1907. Travel costs were lessened, but the southern sides rarely got the chance to study their northern counterparts’ style, which helped them exert a stranglehold on the Cup for several years.
In the Third Round, another away draw sent City to play Civil Service, who refused to switch grounds. City secured a 1-1 draw in this encounter, and Civil Service had to come to Oxford anyway for the replay. City won this 3-1 after extra time, to give them a first Semi-Final appearance, against Lowestoft Town.
Semi-Finals were always played on neutral territory: the first team out of the hat would have a choice of venue. When Kings Lynn faced Ealing in 1901 they had chose Norwich: hardly equidistant!
On this occasion Lowestoft were first-drawn and plumped for Ipswich, a long awkward trek for the City contingent. Lowestoft were a good side, having reached the 1900 Final, only to be beaten by Bishop Auckland, and during the current campaign they had dispatched Poole, Cheshunt and Ealing in the competition proper after working their way through the qualifying rounds.
Blackburn was unable to play for City as he was committed to turn out for the Old Reptonians against the Old Carthusians in the Arthur Dunn Cup. William Smith was City’s captain, and Walter Turrill came in for Arnett on the left wing. Herbert Smith, although suffering the aftermath of an injury, was able to ply his unique skills in defence. The City team for this vital match, in front of 5,000 fans, was Percy Selby (goal); Gwynne Witherington and Herbert Smith (backs); Fred Craddock, Sam Ashworth and William Smith (half backs); Frank Draper, W. C. Gardiner, Guy Dickinson, Arthur Foster and Walter Turrill (forwards).
A goalless first half was testament to some ultra-strong defensive tactics by a rough Lowestoft side, endeavouring to put their mark on their opponents if not on the game. Early in the second half the Suffolk team took the lead, but Foster equalised to make it 1-1 at full time. The Oxford Chronicle report does not mention Lowestoft’s appeal for extra time, which under existing rules was optional and had to be jointly agreed. City preferred to take their chances in a replay, which was to be played at the Dolphin Ground, Slough.
3,500 spectators attended the replay on 21 March, many coming from Oxford by train. City were forced to make some changes, but still fielded a strong side: Percy Selby (goal); E.G.Egby (a Reading amateur) and Herbert Smith (backs); Fred Craddock, William Smith and F. Symons (half backs); Frank Draper, Guy Dickinson, Revd. William Blackburn, Arthur Foster and Mark Arnett (forwards).
Lowestoft had the better of it for the first 15 minutes, after which it was all City. Foster and Blackburn scored before half time was whistled, and the interval band concert spurred City on to a memorable 4-1 victory, Mark Arnett notching two second-half goals. Lowestoft rather spoiled things by hacking down Dickinson and William Smith, but nothing could mar the celebration as the supporters and players realised they had earned an Amateur Cup Final appearance.
If Oxford City had hoped for some respite after the Lowestoft replay, it was not to be, as the Final against Stockton was to take place at Reading on 28th March. The whole city was buzzing with anticipation, and there had been a rapid sale of tickets for the game and the excursion trains. Blue and white rosettes were everywhere, and the trains were so packed (12-15 to a compartment) that some windows were accidentally broken in the crush.
At Reading it had been raining, even so there was a crowd of about 7,000, though the Chronicle estimated 4,000. Stockton, the northern giants, had reached the Final by beating Darlington St Augustine’s, Darlington St Hilda’s, West Hartlepool and Bishop Auckland (3-1) in the Semi-Final, which had been played at Darlington. Mr Stephenson’s railway must have made a profit out of football excursions that season!
City’s team for this weather-beaten game was: Percy Selby (goal); Gwynne Witherington and Herbert Smith (backs); Fred Craddock, Sam Ashworth and Guy Dickinson (half backs); Frank Draper, Arthur Foster, Revd William Blackburn, William Smith and Mark Arnett (forwards).
The game set off at a cracking pace despite the conditions: the sleet forced the teams off at one point, according to Witherington’s memoirs, published in the Oxford Times in 1938. Plenty of action but no score in the first half, although Ashworth did hit the upright on one occasion.
The second half saw the same pattern of missed chances on both sides, City bombarding the ‘Ancients’ goal but not achieving a score, and then having to reform in defence at the other end. Arnett and Dickinson were finding things difficult, as they were both still feeling the effects of their mistreatment by Lowestoft the previous week. Full time was eventually blown by the referee with no score to show for a strenuous contest. City had proved themselves equal to the more famous Stockton outfit, and were determined to do better in the replay, it having been agreed that no extra time would be played.
The replay was to be at Darlington on the following Saturday. A difficulty arose with the railway authorities over the planning of a special excursion from Oxford as the GWR would not allow the Great Central to run over its rails. Both fans and team would have to go by scheduled services with several changes. The situation was only clarified two days before the game, so only 12 City fans, who had hired a saloon, were able to make the journey. The official party went up on the Friday, staying overnight at York. Accounts of the attendance again varied, but the official figure was 7,000. City, although short of their own supporters, had enlisted the aid of a number of Bishop Auckland fans.
Injuries again hampered team selection for City. Dickinson declared himself unfit, and Witherington was only present because he had turned down the opportunity to play in the first Arthur Dunn Cup Final with the Old Carthusians. City’s reorganised team was: Selby (goal); Witherington and Herbert Smith (backs); Craddock, Ashworth and E.G.Egby (half backs); Draper, Foster, Blackburn, William Smith, captain, and Arnett (forwards).
Stockton tried to impose their authority on the game from the beginning, having an early goal turned down for offside, and another chance lashing the side netting. Selby was having a very busy day, and the diminutive Scottish figure of Craddock seemed to be everywhere, clearing the lines. Before half-time a third Stockton effort, again into the net, was ruled offside.
135 minutes of stalemate, a tribute to City’s tenacity under pressure, was at last broken just after the resumption, when Morgan finally scored for Stockton. City tried to get back on terms, but were unable to break through and William Smith unluckily stepped on the ball and turned his ankle, which further hampered the City forwards. Nevertheless they continued in dogged fashion and were unlucky not to score the desired equaliser in the last few minutes. At the final whistle, Stockton were still just one goal up, and a tired and disappointed City team had a set of runner-up medals to go home with.
Defeat or not, this was a fantastic achievement for a club like City which had burst onto the national scene in just a couple of seasons. Their Amateur Cup Final appearances were a tribute to skill on the field, with their galaxy of stars, and a dedicated Committee and steadily growing local support behind the scenes. They may have missed out on the Trophy (for the time being!), but had now shown that they had the ability and determination to mix it with the best.

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