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© Chris Byrne 2010

World War I (1)

As the close-season of 1914 passed it became clear that it was but a matter of time before full-scale war would break out in Europe, and it is interesting that opinions were very much divided on how this would affect the new football season. Mr Benson, speaking on behalf of the Oxford City FC committee in early August said that it was felt that “ good purpose would be served by abandoning or curtailing the programme.” The committee had only recently finished arranging a football tour to Russia and the party were to have left later that month, though Mr Benson went on to say, “...of course that has had to be cancelled and it seems quite probable that some time will elapse before foreign tours will be possible again.”
There was much disagreement, both locally and nationally, about the way forward: some clubs decided to close down almost immediately. Henley, for instance, holders of the Senior and Charity Cups shut up shop at the end of August, and the OFA announced that, “the Earl of Jersey would not be offering his Challenge Cup for competition during the forthcoming season.”
The Isthmian League waited a little longer but bowed to the inevitable and abandoned the League in the light of “...more than 150 of our players having already enlisted.” They hoped, however, that clubs might try to arrange friendly matches to raise the spirits of those at home.
So City’s first game of the Autumn of 1914 took place on September 19th when Leytonstone visited the White House. Perhaps surprisingly many familiar faces were in the team that day (Harley, Cadwell, Ansell, Radnage, Millin, Slatter, Draper, Hill, Seymour, Jakeman and Tobin) though the crowd of under 200 ("...composed mostly of men of middle age: quiet and even decorous") was a great disappointment to the committee, and Mr Benson admitted that, “unless crowds are larger the Club will have to put up the shutters.” To very muted applause City won 3-1.
It must be said, though, that not all crowds were as well behaved. During the match against Luton (Clarence) in October, Mr Cooper the referee was heckled by a group of spectators to the point where he went over to the most vociferous heckler and asked him to leave the ground. The spectator refused and so Mr Cooper refused to continue and marched off the pitch! The ubiquitous Mr Benson took over as referee as the onlooker was quietened by his friends!
At the end of September the FA announced that they would delay the draw for the Amateur Cup until the end of October as almost fifty clubs, from an original entry of 208, had withdrawn already and they were unsure of the viability of the competition. The County FA scrapped all senior competitions, though they hoped that the Charity Competitions might run later in the year. All clubs were by now reporting difficulties and, at the OFA meeting, a Thame official reported that ten of their eleven had already signed up, “...and the other fellow wanted to, but his mother would not let him!
Matches at the White House became more regular and the crowds slowly drifted back. More than 1000 turned out for the match against the 4th O.B.L.I. in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Fund: City won 6-1 and a large donation was made to the Fund. In the last couple of months of the year matches were played most Saturdays: the opposition drawn from services teams as well as well-known amateur teams of the day such as Nunhead and Dulwich Hamlet.
As they had had a successful run in 1913 City passed straight through to the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup – still known to most as the English Cup – and mid-November saw them travel up to Town to play Tufnell Park, the Athenian League champions, on the ground they shared with both the Casuals and the London Caledonians. The team apparently produced a “...first-rate” performance and won 2-0 to leave them two games away from the possibility of playing a ‘big name’. They were drawn at home to Luton Town from the Southern League (still six years away from being a League side) and the biggest crowd of the season at the White House saw the professionals go through by a single goal.
The playing of football continued to be divisive and the appearance of the Rev. Kenneth Hunt for his first match of the season (“...more broadminded than many of his confreres in seeing nothing wrong with a friendly match”) was welcomed by many supporters, though a letter in the local newspaper stating, “...everyone who watches a football match at this tragic time in our history is a traitor to his country and a coward”, reflected the feelings of many others.
The Amateur Cup did continue despite the eventual withdrawal of 89 of the original entrants, and City were exempted until the First Round and drawn to play at Slough. As often happened at the time Slough were enticed to switch the match to Oxford by the likelihood of a much larger gate. With the White House flooded the game was transferred to the Iffley Road ground and a crowd of over 2000, mostly in khaki or the blue of Kitchener’s Army, were excited at the prospect of a really competitive match. Unfortunately Slough arrived late, and with only nine men, and were soundly beaten 10-0 with Bertram Packer scoring six.
A visit to the strong Nottinghamshire side Netherfield Rangers was next out of the hat, but again City’s opponents opted to give up home advantage in the hope of playing in front of a large crowd (and a fee of £10). Their hopes were justified and there was a good attendance at the White House, from which the floods had retreated just in time, to see City win a close match 3-2.
There was mounting excitement locally now that the team was through to the quarter-finals of the competition and a Five Shilling Excursion leaving Oxford at 9.12 was arranged so that those who were able could get up to London in good time to see City take on London Caledonians at Tufnell Park. City put out a strong side, including Kenneth Hunt and Frank Draper, but went down 2-0 in a physical game. (Indeed the Oxford Times correspondent wrote the following week that, “...Slatter has been suspended by the Club for two weeks for striking one of the Caledonians. I hope this will be a severe lesson to him!”).
It wasn’t just the players that were affected by the current situation. The match at the end of February against Reading was a much quieter than normal affair as the usual brass band had lost ten of its members to the services since the last home game and had subsequently ceased operations.
The final match came at the end of April with a defeat by the 7th O.B.L.I.: the Club’s twenty-fourth game of a season that had seen them win sixteen; lose six; and draw two.

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