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© Chris Byrne 2010

World War II (3)

After the relative disappointments of the 42/43 season, supporters were glad to see the return to the club in September ’43 of Alf Jefferies, Peter Castell, Percy James, Ray Hagar, and ‘Nipper’ Jones, and the league programme started encouragingly with a 6-2 defeat of the previous season’s cup-winners, Marlow. The following week, however, was less of a success as the players drove around High Wycombe for over an hour searching for Wycombe Services’ ground and then eventually played the match with only nine men: they lost 3-4. It was discovered a little later, however, that a certain Sgt Mogford who had scored three of the Services’ goals that day was a professional footballer, and the league ordered the match to be replayed at the White House later in the season.
Travelling clearly did present problems in those difficult times and the City players found the train no better than road transport when, in mid-November, they set off to Windsor & Eton for a league match only to find their connecting train at Reading had been cancelled, and, after pacing the platforms fruitlessly for an hour, came home again. The opposition were more sympathetic to the problem this time and the match was played later.
So despite the various alarms, City reached the New Year unbeaten. RAF Milton and RAF Abingdon were beaten in the Senior Cup and there were two more league victories. Windsor Works won at the White House at the start of February, and City slipped from the top spot the following Saturday when they lost at Marlow. They were now one point behind the leaders with both sides having four games remaining. Both sides stuttered in the run-in, and though City went top again when they won their final game on a day when the Works’ match was rained-off, the Windsor side won their final game to take the championship on goal average.
City overcame RAF Upper Heyford 4-1 in the Senior Cup semi-final to set up an Easter Monday clash with RAF Bicester at the White House where City edged a 1-0 win though faced by Percy James, now stationed at Bicester, and Group Captain Warfield, a centre-forward with Corinthians before the war.
City had tough draws in the GWFC Supplementary Cup. They started with a win at Wycombe Wanderers, and then had the misfortune to be matched against newly-crowned champions Windsor Works in the two-legged semi-final. However a 1-1 draw at Windsor in the first game gave them encouragement and a massed defence held on to a 2-1 lead in the return match.
Their opponents in the final were to be Windsor & Eton, the third side to have inflicted a defeat on them during the league campaign. Things looked fairly bleak after Windsor & Eton made the most of home advantage, and some inept City play, in the first leg to build up a 3-0 lead, but, with Percy James back in the side and Gp Capt Warfield making a guest appearance, City astounded everyone with a comfortable 5-0 victory with Warfield scoring all five goals.
So the Club had recovered extremely well from the low of the previous season winning 24 games all told, with Hagar (16), Lewington (14) and Bevan (10) heading the scoring.
The Great Western Combination expanded its ranks to 12 teams for the 44/45 season, with Reading Reserves returning and Yiewsley joining for the first time. Pressed Steel also applied but their application was rejected as they were felt to be “...insufficiently senior.”
The Oxfordshire Senior League continued to expand as well with 22 teams divided into two Sections: the large services base at Arncott supplying two teams.
Long, Castell and Martin were all based locally and the side looked strong again, although the season did not start auspiciously when the 1st XI went down 0-1 at home to Uxbridge and the Reserves lost 2-4 against the Royal Signals in The Parks.
The 1st XI recovered quickly though and didn’t lose another game until the end of October, but the Reserves struggled in the Senior League where Headington United and RAF Bicester were the early leaders of the Sections. In mid-November, however, the Reserves stunned Headington 6-1 on the day that the 1st XI won at Wycombe Services to take them to second in the league.
January and February saw a break from league action as the Senior Cup and the GW Cup became the centre of attention. City, as cup-holders, had been given a bye to Round 2 of the GW Cup and won a see-saw contest against Wycombe Services 7-4 at the White House and were winning the second leg 7-1 in Wycombe when rain and snow caused the abandonment of the game after an hour. The League committee decided, very reasonably, that the result should stand.
In the Senior Cup City beat RAF Benson and RAF Kidlington to reach the semi-final, before returning to league action, and were in fine form as they beat Windsor & Eton 8-2 and High Duty Alloys 9-1 in successive weeks. City then completed a hat-trick of wins over services sides in the Senior Cup when they accounted for RAF Abingdon 3-0 in their semi-final at The Manor.
Cup matches came thick and fast as March moved into April. Firstly Slough United were beaten 4-1 in the first leg of their GW semi-final, and though losing 1-2 in the return City went through to the final. And then they completely outclassed RAF Bicester 8-0 in the Senior Cup final at the White House before a crowd of just below 5000.
Four City players who would all go on after the end of the War to become Football League professionals - Ernie Wilcox (captain), Tom Berry, John Varney and Rex Adams - were involved in another well-attended game at the White House in April as Oxfordshire lost a close game to Wiltshire in the FA Minor Cup. The month ended with City among the goals again when Alec Wanless scored a hat-trick in what would prove to be their last GWCL match as they beat Reading 7-2 at Elms Park to ensure fourth place.
The two legs of the final of the GWC Cup occupied the first two weekends in May as City took on High Duty Alloys, the league’s bottom club for four of the past five seasons, and comfortably won the home leg 8-3 before continuing their VE Day celebrations and taking their aggregate into double figures with a 7-0 win the following week in Slough.
The team had performed well again throughout the season winning 21 of its 34 games, with Ray Hagar top-scoring with 25 goals followed by Alec Wanless (22) and Nipper Jones (14).
The last match at the White House of the wartime years did not involve Oxford City, but a big crowd – a sign of things to come as the public went football crazy in Austerity Britain – turned out to see the Oxfordshire Senior League play-off between the winners of the two Sections and would have done well to keep count as RAF Bicester brushed Pressed Steel aside 13-2!
So after a slow start in 1939 the crowds had returned to the White House, as at many other grounds around the country, and witnessed some exciting football to take their minds off problems elsewhere.
The Great Western Combination had done a tremendous job in keeping local competitive football going despite numerous problems and, at their Annual Meeting in July, hoped that they might continue the following season. They accepted that most clubs would probably return to the leagues that they were playing in before the outbreak of War, but hoped that they might enter ‘A’ sides in the GWC. In fact only two clubs expressed any interest and so the league was wound up ...with a bank balance of eight pounds seven shillings and three pence (£8.36).
The City Club celebrated the end of the War and their successes on the field with a dinner at The Angel and looked forward to a return to the Isthmian League and renewing acquaintances with the clubs from the London area that they had not played for six long years. They didn’t know it at that point, but, over the previous two seasons, they had put together the bulk of the side that would do so well and attract enormous support in the first few years of peace.

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