Bristol Downs Association Football League

Bristol Downs Association Football League


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When St. Vincents chose their colour and St. Gabriels won their seventh successive first division title

Season 1974-75 started badly after the evening matches scheduled for 5th September were cancelled by heavy rain, and the complete programme for the first Saturday of the season was wiped out two days later. 

September 1974 also saw one tradition start to die. Clifton St. Vincents had always played in the League in black shirts, with purple sleeves, and white shorts, with purple socks. Gradually over a space of 12 months St. Vincents’ teams changed their shirt colours to all purple. 

Clubs wearing black shirts had not been uncommon in the past, but were now becoming rarer in order to avoid confusion with the referee, who had by now disposed of his traditional black blazer that many wore in the early years of the game. However, one of the League’s referees, Colin Peacock, who was shortly to become the League’s Secretary, was often seen refereeing in a black blazer even in the early 1980s.  

The Inter League competition was also not played in this season, partly through the effects of the weather, and partly because the goodwill which existed between Leagues prior to the formation of the Gloucestershire County League no longer seemed to be in existence to the same extent. 

In the All Saints Cup first round there was one big surprise when the holders, Manor Park, were defeated 5-1 by St. Vincents “B”. Meanwhile, Ted Mursell, a referee who had been associated with the League for 46 years, announced his well-deserved retirement, an occasion marked by the presentation of a tankard to him by the League. 

One Saturday was lost in November 1974 through bad weather, but the Officers of the League were still concerned by the state of the pitches, particularly those damaged by the 600 Exhibition, which had shown very little improvement, despite remedial work by the Corporation. 

Cotswool United was represented in the All Saints Cup final for the third successive occasion, when the Reserves team beat St. Andrews 2-0 in the semi final, In the other tie at that stage of the competition Durdham Down Adult School Reserves beat Silcocks Athletic 5-1. 

Both Cotswool Reserves and Durdham Down Reserves went out in the first round of the Norman Hardy Cup, where St. Gabriels recorded an 8-0 win over Conham Rangers. 

Christmas 1974 saw the first hints of trouble when the complete fixture programme for the Saturday after Christmas was lost. Just before the Christmas break Portland Old Boys resigned from the League, but only a fortnight later was reinstated after the club reformed with the same players. The weather then completely dominated the rest of the season. 

The last two Saturdays of January 1975, then six of the next seven were all lost as the pitches became saturated. Since the 600 Exhibition the ground appeared to have lost its ability to drain away the surplus water from the surface. 

In mid-March 1975 a League meeting spent a considerable time discussing how the fixtures were to be completed. A brief discussion took place on the question of Introducing a “pools panel” to forecast the results of matches that could not be completed in the season. However, this idea was rejected, and it was decided to play as many as possible of the 300 or so League matches still outstanding, particularly those affecting promotion and relegation issues. 

Even then postponements still continued when the complete programme for the last Saturday of March was wiped out – the twelfth Saturday lost in the season. The Norman Hardy Cup semi-finals saw a repeat of the previous season’s final when St. Gabriels was drawn against Durdham Down, which the former won 2-0. In the other tie, Saints from the Second Division played Greyfriars Athletic and recorded a 3-1 win to reach the club’s first of many finals. During mid-April work started on the new referees’ dressing rooms, which were built between the existing dressing rooms and the gentleman’s toilets. Previously referees had used corners in most clubs’ rooms. The dressing rooms were finished by the start of season 1975-76. In addition, Clifton St. Vincents provided six ball boys for the FA Vase final at Wembley. 

In the AIl Saints Cup final Cotswool Reserves was beaten for the second successive year, this time 3-1 by Durdham Down Reserves. Whilst in the Norman Hardy final St. Gabriels recorded a resounding 6-0 win over Saints, but the latter’s time was still to come. St. Gabriels win was their fourth in succession in the competition, equalling the record of St. Andrews set in the late 1930s. 

The match also marked the end of St. Gabriels association with the League as the club left to join the Suburban League for the next season. In Division 1 Durdham Down got away to an encouraging start with an 11-0 early season win over Ambleside United. The score reflected the fact that Durdham Down was to be a contender for the championship all season, whilst Ambleside was to lose every League match apart from two drawn games. 

St. Gabriels not unnaturally started the season as though it was going to retain the League championship for a record equalling seventh successive season. However, on Saturday 16th November 1974 there was a major surprise when Gabriels lost 4-1 to Sneyd Park, only two weeks after defeating Sneyd 4-1. 

Thus an undefeated League and Norman Hardy up record stretching back to 8th April 1972 had come to an end. During this time St. Gabriels had played 73 Downs league games without defeat, scoring 286 and conceding only 55. 

Furthermore, Gabriels lost another League match later in the season, but nevertheless still remained on course for the Championship. 116 With the season curtailed by the volume of matches lost by bad weather, no clubs were able to complete their fixtures, thus the Divisional championships, runner up, promotion and relegation issues were decided almost by default.” In the First Division clubs had started the season by expecting to play 26 League in the event they only played between 21 and 23 matches. 

St. Gabriels ended as champions for the seventh successive season, equalling the record set by Union Jack in the 1920s. However, Gabriels record is probably better in as much as the club completed a League and Cup double by winning the Norman Hardy Cup on the last four of these seasons. 

St. Gabriels joined the Downs League in 1956-57 and their remarkable records in the League and Cup are likely to stand for a very long time, these include performing the League and Hardy Cup double on seven occasions in eleven seasons and the club’s two sides met in the 1972-73 final. 

In the period between 1968 and 1975 St. Gabriels won 91% of its League games and gained 94% of the points obtainable by the club in this period, losing just five games, and completing four unbeaten seasons out of seven. 

Indeed, during this eleven-year period the club was champions on nine occasions, including seven of which it also won the Hardy Cup, and was unbeaten in five seasons in either the League or Hardy Cup. Obviously the club’s forwards take a lot of credit for consistently scoring goals, but in two successive seasons the club conceded just 10 League goals – not a record, but the best performance in modern times. 

Yet despite the League record, the GFA Senior Amateur Cup eluded St. Gabriels. Bearing in mind the impressive form of various other dominant sides in the League including the Union Jack side in the 1920s, Dockland Settlement in the 1930s, St. Andrews and the Horfield sides after the War, St. Vincents in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as well as the Saints side that was to head the League in the 1980s, St. Gabriels was probably the most dominant side over a period of years to play in the Downs League. 

Thus in the Summer of 1975 it was with great sadness that St. Gabriels, along with other First Division sides Greyfriars Athletic, Westbury Park and Brookland Church, left the Downs, and the League was left to fill a large number of spaces with clubs from Division 2. The Second Division title was won by the new Hardy Cup runner up and Division 3 title holders of the previous season, Saints, who finished four points clear of Southmead United. 

Southmead had finished in penultimate position in the Second Division the previous season, but had not been relegated following the withdrawal of Manor Farm Boys Club. Third was St. Vincents “A”, closely followed by Stoneco, Norton Wanderers and Torpedo. Because of the vacancies in Division 1 the latter three were promoted to the top Division for 1975-76. Bottom in Second Division was Portland Old Boys with two wins and a draw from 26 matches. 

The top six sides in Division 3 were promoted at the end of the season – Old Cothamians Reserves (champions), St. Andrews (runner up), Durdham Down Reserves, Redcliffe Sports, Knowle United and Manor Park. Whilst in the Fourth Division even the ninth placed side, Bondage United, was promoted in a Division won by Miles Druce by a point from Silcocks Athletic. 

At the AGM in the summer of 1975 nine new sides were elected to the League; Armourweld United, Clifton Rockets, Bristol Erickson, Bristol Composite Materials Engineering and Brandon Sports, together with reserves sides for Manor Park, Southmead United, Inter City and Norton Wanderers. 

Joining the top table as Referee’s Secretary was Courtney Hayes, an extrovert match official, who brought lot of colour to the new referee’s dressing rooms with his monologues.