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© Chris Byrne 2010

World War I (2)

That it might be ‘all over by Christmas’ was a long-forgotten hope as the War entered its second year and the FA had decided by August that neither the FA Cup nor the Amateur Cup would take place until hostilities ceased: they also announced that there would be no professional football. The Football League decided that all players would now be ‘amateurs’ although the professional clubs could ‘retain’ their players if they wished and pay them not more than £1 per game. The Isthmian League decreed that none of its teams could take part in competitive matches except those raising funds for charity (though they strangely deferred cancelling the League). The OFA and the OESFA suspended all competitions; and, as far as Oxford City were concerned, Mr Benson wrote to the Oxford Times announcing that there would be no more regular football at the White House.
That the armed forces still enjoyed their football was clear from several letters in the Oxford Times, like that from Private Ayres of the 14th Cyclist Corps, appealing for footballs to be sent to France. Mr Ray, a local referee, obliged on this occasion and a few weeks later another letter from Pte Ayres reported the safe arrival of the ball in France and a match after Church Parade against “...some French gunners whom we soundly beat.”
There was almost no football in Oxford through September and October, though two matches in which the 2/4 OBLI took part against sides discreetly described as “somewhere in Essex” were reported in some detail.
At the beginning of November a short item appeared in the Oxford Times stating that some matches were to be arranged soon at the White House. These were not to be Oxford City matches as such, but involving teams picked by Mr Benson. A small charge of 3d (rather than the usual 6d) would be levied for ‘ordinary individuals’; 2d for men in uniform; 1d for children and no charge for the wounded. And so the first match for the 'Oxford City Casuals', as they were to be known, took place on the White House in mid-November against the 135th Battery Royal Garrison Artillery with several City players on both sides: the Casuals lost 1-4.

Matches, all against services sides, were now arranged quite regularly and Teddy Tobin, now Sgt Tobin of the Army Flying Corps, returned for one at the end of the month, though the fog was so thick the Oxford Times reporter apparently had to take the word of the players that the Casuals had won 4-0.
The Oxford Times pressed for a competition for inter-battalion matches and the O.F.A. were eventually persuaded to provide a cup (The Oxford Charity Cup) for the winning team, while local businessmen donated sufficient for the provision of medals for the players. Eight teams entered and the three rounds were played over successive Saturdays in January. The Final, between the 3/4th O.B.L.I. and 346th A.S.C., was played at the White House in front of a crowd of close to 3000, the largest since the war began, and the Light Infantry side were presented with the Cup and their medals by the Lord Mayor of Oxford after winning by the odd goal in five.
Teams came from further afield to play the Casuals as the year progressed, and a particularly strong side from the 30th Royal Fusiliers (Sportsman’s Battalion) included players from Brentford, Huddersfield, West Ham and Swansea, as well as the England cricketer Patsy Hendren.
As more and more men went overseas it is perhaps not surprising that organised football continued to dwindle, and the White House was now clearly closed for the duration. Inter-services games in the county usually got only a brief mention in the local paper, though at the start of October 1916 a match between the 2/4th O.B.L.I and an Australian Tunnelling Corps played three miles behind the front line merited several paragraphs: the Australians were beaten 3-0! Just before Christmas a Military League was instituted involving the O.B.L.I., the Worcester Regiment, the 5th & 7th Warwicks, the Glosters, and the A.S.C.. Though not all matches were played the Light Infantry won all their matches.
Apart from brief items on, mainly, junior matches, football appears to have disappeared from the County, or at least its newspapers, until late in 1918 when, just after the Armistice had been signed, a small item appeared in the local paper between regular items “Things that Interest Women” and the “Corn Averages” where Mr Benson said that he thought that there was every likelihood that Oxford City FC would be revived in the very near future.

Wartime poster Feb 26 1916

Perhaps a little later than he might have hoped, and with very little advertisement, around 600 saw Oxford City take to the field against R.A.O.C. (Didcot) on February 8th 1919. Ansell, Draper, and the two Buckinghams (Guy and Alan) were City faces the crowd would recognise, otherwise the team was made up of local players, with guest appearances from Lieutenant Blair (Everton) at full-back and Captain Crabtree, who had played in goal for the North v South at the White House in 1913, at centre-half. The ground was in a shocking state, with the terraces overgrown, large amounts of timber stolen from the stands, and most windows broken. It was bitterly cold, the pitch was frozen, and snow lay all around, but the game went ahead and City won 3-1.
The thaw came and the White House promptly flooded so supporters had to wait almost a month for their next game when a team from the Royal Canadian Air Force (Upper Heyford) were swamped 8-0. In fact high scores seemed to be the order of the day now as City beat the University 9-2 and RAOC (Didcot) 11-0 (Guy Buckingham netting seven) before March was out.
A Public Meeting was extremely well attended and pledges of money for the Reconstruction Fund came pouring in. Much needed doing, the stands were in need of repair and extension, and there was no proper accommodation for the players. There was, in fact, considerable pressure from several quarters to move away from the White House altogether: perhaps to Iffley Road. Mr Benson pleaded in the paper for “...good soil to raise the level of the pitch and any builders’ rubbish for the banks.” He also arranged a hugely successful concert in the Town Hall by the Oxford Finches Music Club which raised over £50 for the Club.
In an attempt to get things ‘back to normal’ clubs everywhere were coming out of enforced hibernation as quickly as they could, and it wasn’t long before Leytonstone, Dulwich Hamlet and London Caledonians were playing again at the White House. Only one game was lost, to the 27th Battalion Canadian Infantry (the Overseas Forces Champions), and Guy Buckingham netted 25 goals in the thirteen matches that were played in this much-curtailed season.
There was much rebuilding of ground and squads to be done, but, as far as was possible – remembering that ten City players* had lost their lives in the War – it would be ‘business as usual’ when September came around as the Isthmian League, the FA Cup and the Amateur Cup all started up again.

[*They were: Cyril Benson (JR Benson's son); Guy Dickinson; Bertram Honeysett; Charles Lakin; Bertram Frith Packer; Heber Slatter; H.G. Smith; H.W. Stevens; Harold Tabernacle and Walter Wicks.]

Casuals 1916

A rare picture of football at The White House during WW1 on Saturday, February 5th 1916

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