Bristol Downs Association Football League

Bristol Downs Association Football League


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When Steve Stacey played on the Downs

                                Sneyd Park (1960)

As League champions, Norman Hardy Cup winners and GFA Senior Amateur Cup holders, Clifton St. Vincents were expected to be the team to beat. In the First Round of the Hardy Cup, St. Vincents beat newly promoted Avonport United 7-0, but in the same round fellow Division 1 title contenders Southmead Old Boys beat Colston Sports from the Fourth Division 15-0.

Wins in the next two rounds of the Hardy Cup saw St. Vincents drawn to play Sneyd Park in the Quarter Final on the first Saturday of December 1959. A closely contended match was eventually won 3-2 by Sneyd, and the following week St. Vincents went down 1-0 at home to Hambrook in an early round of the Senior Amateur Cup. Thus St. Vincents was left with only the League championship to challenge for during the remainder of the season.

Playing for Sneyd Park was 16 year-old Steve Stacey, who the following season became the first African American to play professional football in the UK.

During the season Steve was spotted by Bristol City scouts while playing on the Downs and was soon after signed by them (despite Steve being a Bristol Rovers fan).

              Bristol City squad (1964) – Steve Stacey is second row, second from left

Stacey’s father Clarence Sims came to England with the US Army in World War II and was based in The Muller Orphanage at Ashley Down. He met a local woman, Evelyn Stacey and Steve was born in 1944.

The US army forbade marriage between their black soldiers and British white women and Clarence was repatriated after the war and the couple led separate lives.

Steve grew up with his mother and Gran on Oak Road in Horfield and went on to win a scholarship at Fairfield Grammar School, where he was the only African-American among white pupils. He excelled at sport, learning to play football on Horfield Common and played for Sneyd Park from the age of 15.

Although he had limited opportunities at Bristol City, Steve went on to have successful spells at Wrexham and Exeter City, with shorter stints at other clubs. In 2019, he also published a biography called ‘The Colour of Football’.

You can read more about Steve here.

                       Exeter City squad (1971)

Back on the Downs, Fellow First Division side Clifton Villa had to play its Reserve XI in the Norman Hardy Cup and only scraped through 5-4, whilst Southmead Old Boys, another favourite for the League championship, lost 5-4 to Hotwells in the Quarter Final.

The Semi Finals were played in late January and saw Durdham Down Adult School drawn against Sneyd, whilst Hotwells played Phildown Rovers. Sneyd won the first match 10-4, Tony Brown scoring four of the goals, and Phildown beat Hotwells 3-1.

In the Final Sneyd beat Phildown, who had also been runner up the previous season, by 3-0. Sneyd’s win in the Hardy Cup was the club’s second, the previous win had been back in 1929 when the competition was run on a league basis. The referee of the Hardy Cup Final was Alan Morgan, a Southern League official. Alan had started refereeing in the League in the early 1950s and was still performing on the Downs as a referee in the 1990s.

Following its successive defeats in the Final, Phildown gained some consolation when it was awarded the Merit Cup for season 1959-60.

In the Inter League competition the League fell at the quarter final stage in a match played against the Wednesday League at Iron Acton. The Wednesday League played the first half with only nine men, but the Downs League lost two players through injury in the second half when all six goals in the match were scored.

St. Vincents might have failed to retain either of the Norman Hardy or GFA Senior Amateur Cups, but other awards came the way of its players. Colin Mitchell, the club’s long serving forward, became the first recipient of the Harry Bamford Trophy, which was awarded to the best amateur footballer in the Bristol area. Indeed, Colin was nominated for the award by no fewer than five clubs. Other St. Vincents players gained county honours during the season – Roger Kirby played for the Senior Xl, whilst Gibbons and Garthwaite played for the Youth Xl.

         Colin Mitchell receiving the Harry Bamford trophy (1960)

Some League matches were played on Boxing Morning, which turned out to be a benefit, since over 100 games were postponed in January and February 1960, mainly due to snow. Despite this the Corporation rejected an approach to extend the season by one week.

St. Vincents walked away with the League championship for the fourth successive season, and sixth time in seven seasons. Until 12th April the side was undefeated, having already won the championship, losing only a single point to Sneyd early in the season. However, in April a 2-1 defeat by Durdham Down was followed four days later by a 3-1 win against the same club.

St. Vincents also lost an end of season match against Southmead Old Boys, who eventually pipped Sneyd by one point for the runners up position. Southmead was involved in one remarkable game against Old Cothamians, when Old Cots scored seven, but Les Britton of Southmead netted seven of his side’s nine goals – final score 9-7 to Southmead!

At one stage newly promoted Avonport held second place, but mainly since it had played four or five games more than clubs below it had. Sneyd, who remained undefeated until losing to St. Gabriels the week after the club’s win against St. Vincents in the Hardy Cup also held second place for some time.

Durdham Down, for whom Jack Bailey scored a lot of goals, reached the final of the GFA Junior Cup after beating Eastville Old Boys 2-0 in the semi final. Its opponent in the final at Ashton Gate was Yate YMCA, later to become Southern League club Yate Town. Unfortunately, Yate won the game by the odd goal in five.

Bedminster United, who did not win a game until early February finished bottom of the First Division, whilst its Reserve XI finished bottom of Division 3.

The Second Division table was led by Trinity Athletic from October right through to the end of the season. Trinity, who had been promoted in successive seasons from Division 4, was undefeated until beaten by St. Vincents Reserves in December. However, this defeat initially only spurred the side to greater deeds, as existing Second Division champions, Clifton Villa Reserves, found out in a 10-2 defeat. Nevertheless, Trinity beat fellow promotion candidates, St. Michaels & All Angels 6-1 on the first Saturday of 1960, then promptly lost 4-0 to the same club the following week!

At the other end of the table Morley Street Methodist had a bad season. Losing 11-1 to Southmead United Reserves (Ron Kift scored 7), then the next week Morley Street was beaten 10-1 by Trinity. Morley Street also lost 14-0 to Trinity in the return game. The club’s only win came in January against Broad Plain.

Besides Trinity, the other clubs in the promotion race were Avon St. Phillips Athletic, St. Vincents Reserves and St. Michaels & All Angels. The latter remained in contention until three successive defeats against St. Vincents Reserves, Avon St. Phillips and Healey Athletic during March and April killed off a top two position for the club.

The position of runner up in the Division was decided in the last seven days of the season when the two contenders had to meet. Prior to this game both St. Vincents Reserves and Avon St. Phillips had two matches still to play, but the former had a point more than the latter. St. Vincents Reserves won the match 1-0 and so took the runner up position; both clubs managed to lose their final games against sides in the lower half of the table! However, Avon St. Phillips gained promotion because St. Vincents Reserves could not be promoted to the Division in which the club’s First XI competed.

The Third Division was very competitive. By early October 1959 every side had lost one of its first seven matches. Nevertheless, the table by then had three leaders, Hotwells Reserves, Westbury Park Reserves and St. Vincents “A”, all of whom were to remain in those positions until nearly the end of the season.

In the event St. Vincents “A” managed to stay on top of the Third Division until the end of the season, with Hotwells Reserves retaining second place some way ahead of the next side in the table. During the period from January to March 1960 Westbury Park Reserves had a very poor spell gaining just seven points from eleven games, and consequently All Saints finished third and won promotion in place of St. Vincents “A”.

High scores dominated the bottom Division all season; ten or more goals being scored on nine different occasions by one side. Durdham Down Adult School Reserves, although being very inconsistent, beat Wilmot Sports Reserves 15-0, then won 17-0 against Knowle United Reserves the following Saturday; the latter creating a new Fourth Division scoring record. Durdham Down Reserves also beat Sneyd’s “B” XI 13-1.

By end October 1959 Trinity Athletic Reserves, Passage Road Old Boys and Colston Sports were all undefeated, but Passage Road then beat Colston 5-2. Passage Road did not drop a point until mid-November when Trinity Athletic Reserves also lost for the first time.

At the end of the year Passage Road was top, with Trinity Reserves a point behind having played a game more, and Colston Sports a further six points adrift, seemingly dropping out of a promotion position.

Following the promotion of Phildown Reserves to Division 3 in January to fill a vacancy in that Division, St. Gabriels Reserves was elected to takeover Phildown’s fixtures.

In February, Passage Road lost consecutive games, the last being 6-0 to Colston, whilst Trinity Reserves also lost heavily to Old Cothamians Reserves. This left Passage Road still on top, three points ahead of Trinity and four points in front of Colston, who had a game in hand.

The form of the top three sides was becoming very inconsistent. Trinity gained only four points in five games, whilst Passage Road obtained the same number of points from four games. Despite one defeat, Colston Sports took advantage of this and closed the gap on Passage Road, moving above Trinity Reserves.

Trinity’s form went completely, just eight points came from the last eleven games, whilst Passage Road and Colston pulled away and won promotion by eight and seven points respectively, with Durdham Down Reserves finishing third and Trinity fourth, twelve points behind Passage Road.