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© Chris Byrne 2010

World War II (1)

As had happened twenty-five years previously the Summer of 1939 passed with an increasing expectation of a war on the continent. Though there was a certain inevitability that there would be few games, the Isthmian League kicked off optimistically on August 26th and the City team of Jefferies, Lovegrove, Smith, Hayward, Longford, Eyles, Halsey, Carr, Saw, Martin and Timbrell paid a visit to Kingston to play Corinthian-Casuals in their first ever league match following the amalgamation of the Casuals and the Corinthians clubs. The newcomers won a close fought match 1-0, but would have to wait for another six years for their second Isthmian League game!
The following Saturday, September 2nd, City were to have met Headington United for the first ever time in the FA Cup, and interest was high locally to see how the side ‘up the hill’ might fare.
Matters in Europe came to a head over the week and the eagerly awaited contest was cancelled, though Bicester beat Newbury (2-1) and Pressed Steel beat Osberton Radiators (5-3) in the only games in the competition to go ahead locally. War was declared on the Sunday.
After the initial worries following the outbreak of the War had subsided there was a push, as had been the case in September 1914, to get football started again. The draw was made for the first two qualifying rounds of the Amateur Cup (though City were exempt until later in the competition); the O.F.A. announced that the Senior League would continue as usual; and the draw for the Oxfordshire Senior Cup pitted City Reserves against Henley in Round 1.
But the Isthmian League had decided to scratch the competition and so City had to look for friendly matches a little nearer home. The home season started with a 3-1 defeat of Banbury Spencer on September 23rd, and the following week Headington made the short trip into town, only to lose 0-4. Results continued to be good and, all things considered, the side was remarkably stable, with Jefferies, Guilfoyle, James and Martin all turning out regularly, and there were only two defeats before the end of the year, against the University and, on Boxing Day, against the County XI.
The Reserves were performing well in the Senior League, and though they lost heavily to Banbury Spencer in the second round of the Charity Cup, they took their revenge in the Senior Cup and then disposed of Osberton Radiators in the quarter-finals of the competition.
Though conditions were difficult, clubs were still undoubtedly taking their football seriously: Littlemore appealed to the O.F.A. that Cumnor had fielded an ineligible player in their Senior League (Division 2) match, and, after much discussion, the game was awarded to Littlemore and Cumnor were fined two shillings (10p).
Football was clearly popular with the troops as well and George Arlett, home on leave, appealed for “...any football kit, as we have a great field but no boots, shorts or jumpers, and have to play in our field kit.”
February saw the Reserves beat Headington United 2-1 in the Senior Cup semi-final and the 1st XI take on an FA XI in aid of the Red Cross: the latter drawing the biggest crowd of the season, well over 3000, to the White House. Several professionals, including Chelsea’s international goalkeeper Vic Woodley, turned out for the visitors; the Lord Mayor kicked-off; Morris Motors Brass Band provided the half-time entertainment and an exciting game ended in a 1-1 draw.
The Senior Cup Final took place, as was normally the case, on Easter Monday and almost 3000 saw City Reserves lose by the odd goal in three to Pressed Steel. The Cup was awarded, but it was decided not to award the usual replicas to the players in line with the Government’s drive to save metal.
The 1st XI continued to score plenty of goals and win most of their games: Swindon Victoria were beaten 8-2; Bourneville Athletic 6-0; Redford Sports 7-4 and Maidenhead 5-1. Despite all this, attendances were very poor and the committee were agreed that the Club might very well close down in September if matters did not improve.
The Reserves slipped slightly in May allowing Banbury Spencer to win the Senior League; and an otherwise successful Colts team lost to Pressed Steel Colts (2-5) in the Final of the Minor Shield, before an extended season finished on May 25th with the 1st XI drawing 4-4 with a strong Woking side.
At the OFA annual meeting Herbert Smith was concerned that local associations were not being given any lead at all by the FA, and admitted that he was very unsure about what the coming season held for local football, though he commended Frank Packenham (the future Lord Longford) for his sterling efforts in reviving the Cowley F.C.
Oxford City were still hugely concerned about income, with the Annual Meeting reporting that the twenty friendlies played in the 39/40 season had brought in only £295 compared with £523 taken at the thirteen Isthmian League games in 38/39. To make matters worse the Treasurer, H.T Thornton, was summoned for non-payment of 21 pounds 7 shillings rates. He admitted the failure, blaming the poor gate receipts, but also pointed out that the City Corporation owed the Club £24 rent for the recreation ground next to the club. The case was adjourned until the end of the year.
At this low point City were invited to play in the Great Western Football Combination – a small league covering Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire that had been set up the previous season – and it was the return of some form of competitive football that brought the crowds back to the White House, settled the monetary concerns, and allowed the Club to pay off the rate arrears.
A strong side was picked for the first match and a crowd of well over 1000, including George Arlett, not long returned from Dunkirk, saw them off to a fine start with a 6-0 win over Uxbridge. Wycombe Wanderers were beaten 3-1 the following week, but the bubble burst in the third match when Chesham ran in nine goals without reply. Luckily this was a minor blip in a good run of results that took them to the top of the league in December after an 11-0 routing of Maidenhead (which might have been 12-0 if goalkeeper Alf Jefferies, determined to have some entertainment on this rather one-sided afternoon, had not decided to take a penalty for City and shot weakly at his opposite number!)
The Reserves were occupying a comfortable mid-table position in the Senior League which was being won at a canter by an I.T.C. team which went on to win a very well attended Senior Cup Final 4-1 against the Brize Norton team that had played City earlier in the competition in a game that had seen Ray Hagar score five for City... and still end up on the losing side as Brize won 7-5.
Reading ‘A’ were pushing City hard in the G.W.F.C. and the City committee were very unhappy about the ‘...unsporting behaviour’ of Windsor & Eton when they asked for their home match in February against the City to be replayed. City had arrived late at Stag Meadow and only 30 minutes each way had been possible before dark: City winning 2-1. Though City argued that travelling was not easy under the prevailing conditions, the League agreed with Windsor and ordered the match to be played again. City won 3-2 on the second occasion.
Though results stayed strong the league title wasn’t guaranteed until the final match when City showed no sign of nerves and ran out comfortable victors over Wycombe (Redfords) 5-0, and the club finally brought a highly entertaining season to a close at the start of June when they did very well to defeat a Windsor & Eton side that “...contained five professionals and several six-foot guardsmen.” Out of 36 matches, in which they scored 127 goals, the 1st XI won 30 and only lost 2 in a very positive campaign, and to try to keep the players together the Secretary, Donald Tyler, arranged cricket matches throughout the summer.

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