Bristol Downs Association Football League

Bristol Downs Association Football League


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When Clifton St. Vincents joined the league

Following a successful first season, the Downs League commenced its second season with optimism. However, the League’s first major crisis was only a few months away.

The first matches were played on Saturday, 8th September, but as in the first season a full fixture list did not start until the first Saturday in October.

One of the matters which the League considered in the latter part of 1906, was the possible creation of a Downs League Benevolent Fund. In October a steering committee was set up and by December the GFA had considered and approved the League’s proposals. The fund was established based on membership being a shilling (5p) a year per player.

A trial match was again held on the Downs on Christmas Day to select the League XI to play Bristol City Reserves and Bristol Rovers Reserves early in 1907; Boxing Day saw a match between a Secretaries XI and a Referees XI.

Christmas and the New Year were traditionally a time when clubs made annual tours. Sneyd Park, for example, went to Shepton Mallett on 27th December, drawing 2-2, and the club played a second fixture a few days later at Chippenham.

On 2nd February 1907 the Downs League XI played its second ever match against Bristol City Reserves at Ashton Gate. Bearing in mind the heavy defeat of the previous season, and the easy way that the City Reserves had already beaten the representative sides from the District and Suburban Leagues in 1906-07, a further large defeat was expected. However, a final score of 3-2 in favour of City Reserves was a result reflecting the high standard of player now to be found on the Downs.

Three weeks later the League fielded the same team at Eastville against the Rovers Reserves. The local press was very enthusiastic about the League’s performance, especially since the Downs League side went into the lead after 10 minutes. However. Rovers Reserves equalised before half time and scored a second half winner.

The League tried unsuccessfully to arrange a third representative game on Good Friday 1907, but neither of the proposed opponents – Newport (not County) and Treharris (from the Barry & District League) – could eventually be accommodated.

Despite the success of the League representative XI, none of the League’s clubs had much success in the GFA cups. Clifton St. Vincents just managed to survive into the New Year in the Minor Cup, but most other Downs League clubs were knocked out in either the first or second rounds.

One of the principal problems concerning the League in the early part of 1907 was the amount of money owed to the League by its member clubs. This mainly arose because the League booked and paid for the hire of pitches on behalf of the clubs. It was resolved that unless payment was forthcoming from the home club by the Thursday preceding a match, then the pitch would not be hired by the League.

In March 1907 the League set about finding new ways of financing its activities. One means was monthly whist drives held at the Crown & Dove, which during season 1906-07 replaced the Kingsdown Guild as the League’s headquarters. The Chairman, Mr. Stevens gave a brass plate to the Crown & Dove, in March 1907. The plate, which was hung outside the Crown & Dove, was inscribed to the effect that the Inn was the League’s headquarters.

In Division 1 the early leader was Clifton Athletic, closely pursued by Sneyd Park. By the end of 1906 Clifton Athletic was the clear leader, not having dropped a single point. The first Saturday of the New Year saw Cotham Amateurs beat Clifton Athletic 2-1. Cotham Amateurs had for several seasons around the turn of the century been a Western League club, at a time when the Western League included the first teams of Tottenham Hotspur, Millwall, Portsmouth and several other clubs now competing in the Football League.

Throughout January 1907 Clifton Athletic struggled and the lead dropped to a single point. On 9th February 1907 Clifton Athletic’s failing fortunes changed, when it beat Clifton United by a new record Division 1 score, 12-0, but the losers were only able to field eight men. Nevertheless, the League championship had become a very close affair and on 23rd March Clifton Athletic played Dominicans in the final match of the season. The whole championship rested on the result of this match and, for the first time ever, the League appointed neutral sidesmen (linesmen/assistant referees) to a game. The top of Division 1 before the match was –

                                 P    W    D     L     F    A    Pts.

Clifton Athletic    17    12     3     2    57    8    27

Dominicans         17    12     3     2    50   17    27

In the event, Clifton Athletic won the match 2-1 and thereby justified its leadership of the Division throughout the season. Meanwhile, the previous champions, Hotwells Athletic (formerly Hotwells YMCA), finished bottom.

The early leader in Division 2 was Eastbourne, newly promoted as Third Division champions. However. St. Pauls United had overhauled Eastbourne as leaders by the beginning of December 1906. But this lead was short lived as St. Pauls United met College Athletic, the Division’s other undefeated side and lost 4-2, the latter then became the Division’s new leaders,

The Second Division was very competitive at the top of the table. Besides College Athletic, St. Pauls United and Eastbourne, another club, Budgett & Company, was also very much in contention.

On 29th December 1906, Eastbourne, then in second position, was at home to Budgett & Company, who was fourth, just a point behind. Early in the second half of the game, Budgett & Company led 2-1, when an Eastbourne player shot at goal. Eastbourne claimed that the ball went into the goal, the referee said that it was wide (games at this time were played without nets) and awarded a goal kick to Budgett & Company. From the goal kick Budgett & Company swept the ball upfield into the Eastbourne goal to make the score 3-1. Immediately a fracas broke out on the pitch, and play was abandoned after 65 minutes.

The report in the Bristol Evening News stated –

“With regard to the 25 minutes short play. Mr. Offer having curtailed the ‘hostilities’ (the word under the circumstances bears a weight of significance) to that extent. I hear that it is to be played off on April 2nd, when the whistle will be wielded by Mr. A. C. Chappelle.”

Eastbourne played one more match on the following Saturday, losing 3-2 to St. Pauls United. After that match the club was suspended by the GFA, and the matter referred to the Football Association. Subsequently, in February 1907, Eastbourne was expelled from the Downs League and its playing record was deleted.

Several teams were struggling to field a full side each week. Kingsdown Guild was having difficulties, but whilst it agreed to complete its outstanding fixtures, one of its matches was left unplayed at the end of the season.

Money problems were not confined to just the League; College Athletic, leaders of Division 2, was in financial difficulties early in 1907, and a fund-raising evening was held on the club’s behalf.

Besides the disciplinary problems associated with Eastbourne, a Goldney Athletic player was suspended by the League for not appearing at a GFA hearing. Nevertheless, the following weekend, Goldney Athletic played well enough without him, and established a new Second Division scoring record beating Sneyd Park Reserves 14-1.

At the end of the season College Athletic finished as Second Division champions, with Budgett & Company as runners up.

Canynge, a new club in Division 3, lost its first League match 5-0 to GWR. But worse was to follow, in its second match Canynge conceded 14 goals without reply against Christ Church (City), a new League record. The third match Canynge played was lost 6-3 to Hotwells Adult School, but on 20th October 1906, in its fourth game, Canynge drew 3-3 away to Broad Plain Reserves.

Meanwhile, Clifton St. Vincents had reported to the League that one of its players had been poached by Bedminster YMCA, a club not connected with the Downs League. On the field, Clifton St. Vincents played its first match in the League on 29th September 1906, drawing 2-2 away to Christ Church (City).

The early leader in Division 3 was St. Michaels Reserves, but at the other end of the table Canynge’s season was going from bad to worse. On 1st December 1906, Canynge lost 5-1 to GWR: it was Canynge’s last League goal of the season – the club only scored in three of its eighteen matches, and it failed to score in any of its nine home games.

Clifton St. Vincents start to the season had been poor, struggling to avoid the bottom positions in the Third Division. However, on 8th December 1906, the club achieved its first League win, 3-0 away to Hotwells Adult School; this win started a marked improvement in Clifton St. Vincents’ performances, and by mid-January 1907 the club was in mid-table following a 12-0 win over Canynge.

Whilst Canynge had booked a re-election spot by mid-February, St. Michaels Reserves won the Division 3 championship well before the season’s end. The principal battle was fought out over the runners up position between St. Andrews, Christ Church (City) and Stoke Bishop Athletic; the former eventually finished second after Stoke Bishop Athletic had lost surprisingly to Broad Plain Reserves.

The AGM saw little change in the League for the forthcoming season. Several teams had left to be replaced by new sides, but the main change was an increase in the number of sides participating from 30 to 33. There were still 10 teams in Division 1, but the Second Division was increased by one to 11, and the Third Division by two to 12.