Bristol Downs Association Football League

Bristol Downs Association Football League


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When Changing Rooms were First Proposed and Smallpox Disrupted the League

                                                                                                   Player transport to the Downs (early 1900s)

In August 1908, Mr. Giles, the former Chairman of the League, resigned as the League’s representative on the GFA; he became secretary of a new Downs League club, Cotham Guild. Mr. H. Fisher, who was secretary of Sneyd Park, was elected GFA representative.

Mr. Giles’ resignation was followed in the next month by the withdrawal of Budgett & Company from the League; Avon Vale United was elected to take over the former’s fixtures for the season.

Plans to play a return match against the Birmingham & District Old Boys Association at Villa Park were shelved; the League’s 8-2 win the previous season giving the opponents cold feet.

On 29th September 1908, a deputation of sporting bodies using the Downs met the Corporation’s Baths Committee; Messrs. Chappelle and H. J. Jenkins represented the League. The deputation had drawn up plans for a building which would include twenty rooms, each to accommodate two teams. Four or five of the rooms were to be larger than the rest and were designated for rugby. The plans, which were not based on any particular site, included the provision of fifty-two showers, and each player would be charged 2d per game to use these facilities.

The two stumbling blocks were finance and the restriction on any building being erected on the Downs imposed by the interpretation of the Downs Act of 1861 that the space must be kept open and unenclosed.

In October 1908 a League meeting dealt with an outside complaint that players were using objectionable expressions during matches.

Mr. H. J. Jenkins, who had been the League’s Assistant Secretary since September 1905, resigned in December 1908 because of his work commitments. His elected successor was Mr. C. H. Clifford of Christ Church (City).

During the first three seasons the League matches in December and January kicked off at 3pm. However, this resulted in considerable problems, especially when teams arrived late, a not uncommon occurrence. Therefore, the kickoff time in these months was for season 1908-09 brought forward to 2.45pm.

Another innovation was a collection on Saturday, 23rd January 1909 on behalf of Bristol medical charities, which provided valuable assistance to the League. This season also saw the award of League championship medals for the very first time.

In February 1909 several matches were postponed because of the mass vaccination of players against an outbreak of smallpox in the city, whilst a combination of ice, slush, and a blizzard, wiped out the whole League programme on 6th March.

Over Easier 1909 the League played two representative matches. The first on Good Friday was against Bristol City Reserves at Ashton Gate and ended in a 5-2 defeat. On Easter Monday the annual visit to play Bristol Rovers Reserves almost met with a first-time success. After ten minutes, before a crowd of around 500, the League XI led 2-0, but Rovers led 3-2 at half time. Near the end of the game the League again led 4-3, but Rovers struck a late equaliser.

Old traditions die hard, and whenever it did not have League matches Sneyd Park played friendlies. For example, on 3rd October neither of its teams had a League match; instead the 1st XI won 2-1 at Taunton College, whilst the Reserves won by the same score at Portishead.

Elsewhere Sneyd Park was involved in a wrangle over a player called Roberts, which was finally resolved at the League meeting on 21st October. Roberts initially signed a registration form with Dominicans and played for that club at the start of the season. Later he signed another registration form for Sneyd Park and played for that club a week or so later. The League decided that Roberts was a Dominicans player, and that Sneyd Park was guilty of a breach of the League’s rules. However, Sneyd Park protested its innocence, and the original decision, that the club was fined two points, was overturned, and instead Roberts was fined 2/6d. (12p).

In the GFA Intermediate Cup (later to become known as the Senior Amateur Cup) Winchester House Old Boys reached the last sixteen clubs and was drawn to play away at Staple Hill, which had played Manchester United in the FA Cup some years previously. Staple Hill refused to play the game because Winchester House Old Boys was too junior a side. Staple Hill was reported by the GFA to the FA, and Winchester House Old Boys received a bye into the next round, but then withdrew from the competition.

In the quarterfinals of the Intermediate Cup, the second and third placed sides in the First Division of the Downs League were drawn to play one another. The result of the match was Clifton Athletic 0 Dominicans 1, the reverse score from the League game played a week earlier.

Dominicans moved forward to the semi-finals where the draw meant an away game at Warmley Amateurs. On a day of exceptionally bad weather, Dominicans held the experienced Warmley side to 1-1 at half time. In the second half Dominicans ran riot and finished very surprise winners by 6-1.

The GFA Intermediate Cup Final was played on Saturday, 17th April 1909; Dominicans drew 1-1 with Hanham Athletic. The replay was held at the Chequers ground on the following Wednesday. At half time Hanham led 2-0, and the Dominicans goalkeeper had saved a penalty. The second half appeared to be going much the same way, with Hanham dominating most of the play. However, F. Rowlands, one of four brothers in the Dominicans side, all of which had been on Bristol City’s books, scored in the 73rd minute. The same player scored again in the 75th and 76th minutes, to achieve a hat-trick in three minutes, and make Dominicans the first Downs League club to become holders of a GFA Cup.

Dominicans had won the GFA Junior Cup prior to joining the Downs League, but the winning of the Intermediate Cup had a sad postscript, because less than a year later the club had disbanded and most of its players joined other Downs League teams such as Winchester House Old Boys.

In the meantime, Westbury Park, who had led Division 1 almost all season, clinched the championship. Whilst the First Division season ended on 1st May with a play-off for the runners up position between St. Michaels and Clifton Athletic; the former won 3-2.

The Second Division championship was led for most of the season by Hotwells Adult School, who finished the season as champions, with St. Pauls United as runners up.

The championship of Division 3 was a very keenly contested race between several sides. The New Year saw the resignation from the Division of one of the League’s founder clubs, Christ Church (Clifton), and Dings Crusaders was elected to take over the fixtures.

In March 1909 another Division 3 side resigned, St. Michaels Reserves, and another club from the same Division left on 1st April, 4th Gloucestershire Regiment; the playing records of both sides were deleted.

St. Pauls (Clifton) finished as the Third Division champions after beating fellow contenders, Sneyd Park Reserves 14-0. Redcliff Mission Bible Class finished as runners up.

The problems with the dressing rooms were highlighted in the courts on Monday, 8th February 1909, when William Mills, aged 21, was jailed for one month for stealing 6s 6d (32p) from the dressing room of St. Pauls (Clifton) in the High Street, Clifton on the previous Saturday.