Bristol Downs Association Football League

Bristol Downs Association Football League


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When Clifton St. Vincents Turned 60 and Won the Treble

                                                                                                   Clifton St Vincents (1959)

After having won the Inter League competition for two successive seasons, much was expected from the Downs League representative XI in season 1958-59. In the quarter final the League played the Premier Combination at the National Smelting Company ground. After twenty minutes the League’s goalkeeper, Dick Gill, sustained a hand injury and had to leave the field. Substitutes were not allowed, and Tony Brown moved from the forward line into goal. Unfortunately, the ten men were unable to match the Premier Combination’s eleven, and the League’s unbeaten run came to an end by 3-2.

John Gibbs of Clifton St. Vincents captained the GFA representative side during the season, and other Downs League players who were selected were Roger Kirby, Colin Mitchell, and John Harding, all from St. Vincents. Two other players from the same club played for the GYFA side Brooks and Gibbons – as well as Stefano from Clifton Villa.

The season was once again disrupted by postponements, and on one occasion there was uproar as the Corporation cancelled games on the Thursday when the pitches were perfectly playable on the following Saturday.

The League lost one famous old servant during the season when F. R. “Dinkie” Price, secretary of St. Andrews, passed away. “Dinkie” was a staunch and outspoken supporter of the League, who had relished in the success of the St. Andrews’ club in the 1930s and 1940s.

Another lifelong servant, Henry Newman, who had by now completed over 25 years as President of the League, was significantly responsible for the financial viability of the League throughout the 1950s; his generous annual donation to the League kept the books in the black.

On the playing field St. Vincents was trying to retain both the League championship and the Norman Hardy Cup, as well as attempting to win the GFA Senior Amateur Cup. In the Norman Hardy Cup First Round there were few surprises, and none of the very high scoring of recent years, but St. Michaels & All Angels from the First Division had to go to a replay before disposing of lowly Fourth Division WiImots Sports Reserves.

The Third Round of the Hardy Cup produced two very good games; Third Division Twyford House drew 5-5 after extra time with Phildown Rovers, before losing the replay, whilst St. Vincents beat one of its archrivals, Clifton Villa, 8-0 with hat tricks from Mitchell and Dave Harding.

When the semi finals were played in March 1959 Southmead Old Boys was drawn against St. Vincents, whilst Phildown Rovers was matched against Glenside Athletic. A collection was made at both games for the Harry Bamford Fund: Harry Bamford was a long serving full back with Bristol Rovers who had recently lost his life in a motorcycle accident near the Downs. St. Vincents won its tie 3-0, whilst Phildown went through by a 5-0 scoreline.

In the First Division St. Vincents and Sneyd Park both got off to a good start, but the last season’s runners up, Clifton Villa, lost its first two matches to Glenside and St. Vincents. Both St. Vincents and Sneyd lost their unbeaten records on the last Saturday of October 1958 – Westbury Park beat the former 4-3, whilst Hotwells won 4-2 against Sneyd. This opened up the leading positions to several other clubs for a few weeks, but despite Sneyd beating St. Vincents 3-2, this proved only temporary as both Sneyd and St. Vincents pulled away at the top of the table.

With the postponements and the backlog of fixtures caused by a GFA Senior Amateur Cup run, St. Vincents was forced into playing double fixtures as early as 31st January.

St. Vincents went temporarily to the top of the Division 1 table in the early part of February 1959 after a 4-1 win over Bedminster United. John Harding scored a second half hat trick in his first game back after trials with Bristol Rovers. The following week Sneyd lost 2-0 to Hotwells, and thus had lost both League games against that club.

Two Downs League clubs reached the quarter finals of the GFA Senior Amateur Cup. St. Vincents got there after beating Bristol St. George 3-0, then winning a replay against Bristol Mental Hospital by the same score. In the first game against the latter St. Vincents was losing 2-0 at half time but scored four second half goals to lead 4-3 in the 89th minute, but a last-minute goal sent the match into extra time where no further scoring took place.

The quarter finals saw St. Vincents paired at home with Iron Acton, whilst Clifton Villa played Imperial Athletic also on the Downs. The Villa lost 5-4, but St. Vincents won 1-0.

Mid March 1959 saw St. Vincents in the semi final of the GFA Senior Amateur Cup, the final of the Norman Hardy and still half of its 26 League games to play. If the club won its Senior Amateur semi final, and assuming no replays, St. Vincents would have to play 16 League and cup games in 41 days!

On the third Saturday of March Sneyd drew 0-0 with Westbury Park, but St. Vincents had to play a double fixture against Hotwells, who had taken four points off Sneyd. St. Vincents won both games (4-0 and 6-0), with John Harding scoring seven of the goals. Thus, Sneyd led the table by five points from St. Vincents, but the latter had four games in hand. Could St. Vincents win all three competitions? No Downs League club had ever done that before.

The following week, Easter Saturday, St. Vincents beat Avonmouth 5-0 in the Senior Amateur semi final, with goals from John Harding (2), Colin Mitchell (2) and Gary Newport. On Easter Monday, St. Vincents played two League games simultaneously, kicking off at 10.30 am. Both matches were won easily, as was the League game the following Saturday.

On 11th April St. Vincents played a double fixture against its Norman Hardy Cup Final opponents, – Phildown Rovers. Both games were won (2-0 and 4-0) and thus the lead at the top was cut to three points with three games in hand.

The next Saturday St. Vincents dropped its first League point for over five months in a 2-2 draw against Southmead Old Boys. But five days later the club appeared in the GFA Senior Amateur Cup final at Eastville against Imperial Athletic. St. Vincents ran out easy winners 4-0, with goals from Colin Mitchell (2), John Harding and a penalty from Gerry Eld.

On Saturday, 25th April a further point was dropped by St. Vincents against Old Cothamians, but Sneyd lost 1-0 to Westbury Park. Thus, with a week to go Sneyd, with only one match to play, led St. Vincents by a point, but the latter had three games to play. Ironically, Sneyd’s outstanding League game was the return match against St. Vincents. However, the latter won 2-1 to retain the League championship with two games still to play.

The Norman Hardy Cup Final against Phildown Rovers was St. Vincents sixth game in seven days, and the latter even had to play its last League fixture against Clifton Villa the following night. However, St. Vincents, which was celebrating its diamond jubilee season, beat Phildown 5-0 to complete the first ever treble by a Downs League club. St. Vincents’ form throughout the season was remarkable, losing only three games.

The Second Division title race appeared for most of the season to be a three-team challenge between St. Gabriels, Clifton Villa Reserves (who could not be promoted) and Avon St. Phillips Athletic. In mid March 1959 the latter side was top of the table and odds on to win promotion. However, the club’s last seven games produced only two points and St. Phillips finished fifth, eight points behind Clifton Villa Reserves and St. Gabriels.

In the previous two seasons Clifton Villa’s reserves team had looked like it would gain either the divisional championship or runners up position, but on both occasions, it had finished the season badly. This season the side held its form until the season’s end and clinched the Second Division championship on goal average from St. Gabriels, who for the second year in a row finished as runner up, albeit a division higher this season. St. Vincents Reserves finished third, whilst the existing Division 3 champions, Avonport United, came fourth and was promoted to the First Division alongside St. Gabriels.

One point of interest was that whilst Wilmot Sports only finished in the middle of the table, the club managed to beat nearly all of the top sides in Division 2.

Division 3 was a two-horse race between Healey Athletic, existing Fourth Division champions, and Trinity Athletic, third in Division 4 in season 1957-58. Healey opened the season with a 14-0 win against Pen Park, whilst Trinity Athletic won its first nine League games prior to meeting Conham Rangers on 22nd November.

The game between Conham and Trinity was to be the catalyst for one of the most controversial events in the history of the League. Being undefeated, Trinity was expected to win the match, but at the end of the game Conham ran out 8-1 winners. Trinity complained to the League that the victors had fielded a suspended player, and this was proven. The match was ordered to be replayed and Conham also had two points deducted from its total as well as being fined.

The secretary of Conham, Mr. Higgins, wrote to the League in mitigating circumstances, claiming that the club was not aware of the real name of the suspended player. In addition, Mr. Higgins wrote accusing several of the League’s Officers of bias against his club. As a result, the League censured Mr. Higgins.

However, unfortunately, the matter did not stop there, and in February 1959 Conham’s secretary wrote a letter stating that he had no confidence in the League’s Secretary, Mr. Viv Brown. It became apparent that Mr. Higgins had written to several Officers of the League launching personal attacks on Mr. Brown of an offensive nature. The matter was finally resolved when Mr. Brown won a vote of confidence at a League meeting.

In fact, it was early in 1959 before Trinity finally dropped its first League point, and some weeks later it lost for the first time when beaten 6-0 by Old Cothamians Reserves. Despite this defeat the difference between Healey, Trinity and the rest of the Division was large. Healey beat both Brookland Church Reserves and Sneyd Park “A” 10-1, but Bedminster United Reserves was beaten by the club 12-1 and 17-1. The latter score was only just short of the Divisional record set over thirty years beforehand. Brookland Reserves and Sneyd “A” lost 10-0 to Trinity, who also beat Glenside Reserves 11-1; the following week Glenside Reserves beat Trinity 3-2!

During the season Trinity scored 159 League goals, whilst Healey knocked in 152. The question as to which side would win the Division 3 title was open to debate all through the season and not resolved until Hotwells Reserves sprung a surprise and beat Healey 3-1 in the last couple of days of April. Hotwells finished third, nine points behind Healey and a further two points adrift of Trinity.

For a long period, Passage Road Old Boys led the Fourth Division, but purely because it had played a lot more games than its fellow clubs had. At the season’s end Philblack Sports & Social Club, managed by former Wolverhampton Wanderers player Fred Pincott, won the Division by seven points over Portland Old Boys, who finished five points ahead of Avon St. Phillips Reserves.

At the end of the season the League introduced a new rule that prevented clubs from running reserve teams in the Downs League when the club’s higher XIs were members of another league. Southmead United, whose Reserve XI was already in Downs League Division 2, but whose 1 St XI was a member of the Premier Combination, was given dispensation over this rule.