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© Chris Byrne 2010

1905/06: The Amateur Cup Is Won

FAAC Ticket

Building on the previous season’s successes, the 1905/06 team were quickly into winning ways, and it wasn’t until the very end of November, soon after netting a record 16 goals in the match against the Coldstream Guards, that they tasted defeat for the first time – Reading, as so often seemed to be the case, being their downfall.
Exempt until the Fourth Qualifying Round of the English Cup in December they hosted Burslem Port Vale – “…a professional club from the neighbourhood of Birmingham” according to the Oxford Times(!) – but were unable to find their usual fluency and lost 0-1.
Subsequent friendlies saw a return of goal-scoring form (8 against Wanstead, 6 against Reading Amateurs and 9 against Aylesbury United) in the run-up to the Amateur Cup matches. And for the very first time, the full Oxford University side was beaten.
As was now usual City entered the Amateur Cup at the First Round Proper stage, and were paired at home with Dulwich Hamlet, a team which was to gain in reputation over the next few years; this was their first foray in the latter stages of the Cup. City eased through 4-0, scoring in the first half through Tabernacle and Hodges, and via Davis and Hodges in the second. This comfortable start earned them a Second Round tie away at Uxbridge, who ten years previously had been City’s first ever FA Cup opponents. They were inconsistent in the Amateur Cup, although they had reached the 1898 Final against Middlesborough.
Scothern was unable to play and was replaced by H.H. Sutton from the Reserves. In the event City could only draw 1-1 at Uxbridge, but their clear superiority showed in the replay as they won 5-1 on the same day, incidentally, that Herbert Smith, the former city full back, was playing for the full England side against Ireland.
Into the Third Round, the Quarter Finals, for the third time in four years, and City were given a home game against Cheshunt, and therefore a chance to reverse the 1904 defeat and thus preserve their record of never having been beaten in the Amateur Cup at the White House Ground. 3,041 fans came to witness a convincing 4-0 victory, the grand total of £96 was taken in gate money and Oxford City were through to their second Semi-Final in four years.
The Semi-Final draw handed City an intriguing tie against New Crusaders, a team which was based at Sidcup and consisted mainly of the six Farnfield brothers. Their father was the Headmaster of Sidcup College, where the team played, and all six were graduates of Queens' College, Cambridge and had 11 Blues between them. Some of them had already appeared against City in the Clapton tie in the 1904/05 season.
For City, Gilbert Vassall was playing instead of Frank Draper, the regular right winger. “Cheese” Vassall was a Dragon School housemaster, who was one of the main figures in Varsity sport, being Treasurer of the OU Rugby club, and a prominent long-jumper in his earlier years. His brother Harry had led what was regarded as one of the best Oxford Rugby sides back in the 1880s. Gilbert taught John Betjeman, and was the great-uncle of the notorious spy John Vassall.
As the match was to be played at Elm Park, Reading on 10 March 1906, many City fans travelled by train. Two special excursion trains were laid on for the City fans, who crowded in like sardines, 18 to a compartment, according to the press report. On a wet day, about 5,000 spectators turned out to watch the game.
The first half of this important encounter did not go City’s way, and by the break they found themselves 2-1 down, and so had it all to do in the second half. Gradually they wore down the opposition and triumphed 4-2. In the other Semi-Final, Bishop Auckland needed a replay against Stockton to earn their place in the Final.
The Final, on 24 March 1906, was to be played at the Victoria Ground, home of Stockton FC, and 315 intrepid City fans made the journey by a special excursion train, organised by the club. The train, ten large saloons decorated in blue and white favours and flags for the occasion, was to set off from Oxford Station at 7.10 am on the day of the match.
One can only imagine the atmosphere on that train! The distance from Oxford to Stockton is 230 miles, so plenty of food and drink was in evidence. On a cold spring day there was snow on the ground and in the air as the train rumbled northwards, an indication of the conditions they might find at Stockton. The route took them on the Great Central line through Leicester, Nottingham and York, arriving at Stockton at 1.15 pm, approximately two hours before kick-off. An hour later three long trains filled with Bishop Auckland supporters arrived at the end of a much shorter journey. The town was now full of fans, but no trouble was evident, although an impromptu percussion band of pots and pans accompanied them as they made their way to the Victoria ground on the outskirts of town.
City’s team for this most important game of their short history was: Walter Keates (goal); Albert Scothern and the Revd William Blackburn (backs); Tom Organ, William Smith and Thomas Bumpus (half backs); Frank Draper, Guy Dickinson, Harold Tabernacle, Herbert Hodges and Edgar Davis (forwards). Frank ‘Dapper’ Draper was fit again and able to step in as Vassall was unable to play, having instead to officiate at the Inter-Varsity Sports in London. (Draper played for City until the age of 40, and after his death in 1962 was honoured with a minute’s silence before an Isthmian League match.)
From the first sound of Referee Hale’s whistle, the players were assailed by a stormy blast, soon followed by driving snow. Bishops won the toss, forcing City to face the elements. The City defence found it hard to get the ball downfield to the forwards, and Bishop Auckland put on a lot of pressure, but the City defence coped admirably well with their onslaught, which included several corners. The snow, when it began, only made matters worse for City. Bishops, trying to take advantage, hit their opponents woodwork twice, but this was the most they could achieve, as the weather blew most of their efforts off target.
City’s sterling defence was making a great impression on the neutrals. Snow fell ever more thickly, which allowed both teams to set up chances, Keates in particular being called upon to make some fine saves. Some time around the half hour mark, the referee was forced to take both sides off the field because of the ferocity of the blizzard: would it be abandoned? Ten minutes later when the blizzard subsided the teams reappeared, and after a few minutes of even play Dickinson outpaced the Northerners’ defence and sent in a great centre which was met by Hodges, who after a short tricky run scored City’s first goal.
Soon after the goal, the Bishops’ left half Parker developed a bad knee, and this meant an enforced departure for treatment, though he came back on later for a while. The Northerners also had a penalty appeal turned down, and wasted some goal chances just before half time. There was now some respite for the teams, if not the frozen spectators!
And so to the second half of this all-important Amateur Cup Final, which began in much the same conditions as the first half. A few minutes into this period of play, Blackburn cleared downfield, and Tabernacle, the 24 year old centre forward from Kent, dispossessed his opponent, made for goal, and put in a great shot which Proud initially caught, but then fumbled, and, in a despairing attempt to hand it away, could only help it into the net.
Now City relaxed and put on a good footballing display, despite the Arctic conditions, and a move which involved several passes resulted in a superb long range volley from Tabernacle which completely deceived the goalie, to make it 3-0. Even this did not totally demoralise the Bishops, and the City goal came under attack several times more before the final whistle went.
The Cup was presented to the jubilant City team and their captain, William Smith, by the Mayor of Stockton, Mr F Brown, in front of a large crowd grouped round the covered stand. He acknowledged that Northern clubs had won the trophy 9 out of 12 times since the Cup had been in existence, so he did not begrudge City the victory, particularly in view of the 1903 result which had favoured his team. William Smith, on behalf of the victors, said that the crowd had been very sporting, and complimented the Bishop Auckland team on their efforts, hoping that both the sides might win the Cup again – a hope that would be proved half right.

smoking concert

Various other speeches of thanks and congratulations ensued before the City celebrations could begin. After dinner at the Queen’s Hotel, the team and the excursionists made their way back to the station for the jubilant return journey, cheered by the locals. A large crowd of fans from both sides had converged on the platform, and in the crush a Bishops’ fan was accidentally bundled off the edge, though luckily not seriously hurt.
A large crowd of some 1,200 greeted the triumphant return of the City team at Oxford Station - at 2 am on Sunday morning! Several players were borne aloft by the crowd, who were supposed to be making for the Railway Hotel. Draper and Organ could not escape until later, however, the latter being carried all the way along the Cowley Road to his home.
The North Eastern Daily Gazette acknowledged the superiority of the City team, and there were many messages of congratulations printed in the Oxford press. In its leader article ‘Floreat Oxoniensis’, the Oxford Times said that this was the first Cup victory by a purely local Southern team, the previous successes being by the Old Boys of Charterhouse and Malvern College.
Three rewards, besides the silverware, awaited the winners. Firstly an Easter tour of the Channel Islands was announced, and secondly a grand Smoking Concert was arranged, to be held as an official celebration at the Town Hall. Thirdly, and most importantly, news was soon to break that Oxford City had been granted exemption through the Qualifying Rounds of the FA Cup for the 1906/07 season, and had a bye into the 1st Round Proper.
The Smoking Concert, held on 30 May 1906, was a grand occasion, bringing together representatives of many of the sports enjoyed by the people of Oxford, both Town and Gown. City’s success was in no small part attributable to the help and influence of the University.
The tour to the Channel Islands was greatly enjoyed by all. There were two wins against Guernsey teams, a loss to a Jersey XI and a 0-5 loss to Clapton (also on tour), who were clearly considered by the Oxford party to be taking the contest far too seriously as they apparently “...even trained for the match, getting up early to practise!”.

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