Bristol Downs Association Football League

Bristol Downs Association Football League


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The League Begins to Grow

                                                                          Baker Baker & Co (1908) – Photo by Protheroe Bristol

Whilst this was only the Downs League’s third season, just eighteen of the thirty-three teams competing had been in the League in each of the three seasons. Nevertheless, the standard of play in the League was improving; many of Bristol’s leading amateur footballers were joining clubs in the League. This increased the League’s status and was reflected in an invitation from the Birmingham & District Old Boys Association to play a representative match in 1907-08 season.


On the one hand the Downs League had performed creditably in its two representative fixtures against Bristol City and Rovers Reserves in 1906-07. On the other hand, neither the District nor Suburban Leagues had performed very well. As an experiment, on Boxing Day 1907, a combined Downs League/Suburban League side lost 3-0 to Bristol Rovers Reserves at Eastville. The match was played before a very small attendance and the combined side included six Downs League players.


Saturday, 18th January 1908 was a day of very thick fog; it marked the first occasion when the League’s complete programme had been wiped out by bad weather – in this instance a total of fifteen matches were lost.


The League’s first full representative match of the season was played on 14th March 1908 at Ashton Gate. In a close game, Bristol City Reserves scored twice in the second half to scrape home 2-0. The second representative game was played on Good Friday, 17th April, when the League XI took on Bristol Rovers Reserves at Eastville. The match resulted in a 1-1 draw after the Downs League had taken an early lead. The third and final match was played on 25th April when the League beat the visiting Birmingham & District Old Boys Association 8-2.


The season ended with a joint petition being sent to the Corporation in May 1908 by various sporting bodies using the Downs. The petition, which was similar to that of 1905, requested changing and washing accommodation, either on, or near the Downs.


The early leader in Division 1 was Dominicans, which held the top position until the Saturday before Christmas, when Winchester House Old Boys acquired the leadership of a very tight contest between five clubs.


After several changes in leadership, Clifton Athletic established itself at the top on 21st March 1908, a position it retained until the end of the season. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Sneyd Park looked relegation prospects at the end of January, but six wins in its remaining six matches pushed the club into the top half of the table at the season’s end.


The early leaders in the Second Division were two new clubs, Avonside United and Whitehall Ironworks; the latter club lost its first match, at home to Avonside United, but either won or drew its remaining nineteen fixtures to finish as champions, with Avonside United as runners up.


Elsewhere in Division 2, Rangers, a side drawn from employees of Baker Baker & Company, had a remarkable climb up the table. At the beginning of 1908 the club had taken just four points from ten games, but then it won five matches on the trot.


Once again Downs League clubs had a poor record in the GFA cups. However, another new club, Bristol Corporation, performed well in defeating several fancied teams to reach the semi­finals of the Junior Cup. In particular, the Downs side beat Warmley, the former Southern League club, in the quarterfinal. In the semi-final Bristol Corporation played its home match against Hanham Central at Meriton Street, the St. Phillips ground. Unfortunately, Hanham Central won 2-0.


The League had persistent difficulties with the registration of players. Temple, a Suburban League club, which played its home matches on the Downs, was reported to the GFA for poaching a player from Canynge. Nevertheless, the thirty-three teams in the League had around 600 players registered, a healthy position, but few were members of the League’s Mutual Accident Benevolent Fund. This was highlighted in November 1907 when a player from Bristol Deaf & Dumb Mission broke his leg.


Division 3 was totally dominated by Christ Church (City) who won all but one of the League matches that it played. The Division was depleted by the withdrawal in February of St. Matthias, a club new to the League. However, by the next League meeting a new club had been elected to take over St. Matthias’ record and remaining fixtures; this club was Redcliff Mission Bible Class.


Near the end of the season, on 4th April, Christ Church (City) set a new League scoring record when it beat GWR 15-0.


At the AGM at the Crown & Dove, a healthy profit was announced, and the League was increased to thirty-five sides, including a new club in Division 1, United Banks, whilst B Company Rifles was renamed the 4th Gloucestershire Regiment.