Bristol Downs Association Football League

Bristol Downs Association Football League


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When Retainers turned 25 and won the Norman Hardy Cup

Retainers winning Norman Hardy Cup side (1978)

   Back: Pete Bodsell, Ian McNeil, John Pitt, Chris Honeyfield, Keith Hemmings, Steve Jones, Dave Cockerton.

   Front: Steve Snell, John Ponting, Keith Balston, Dick Rogers, Richard Eastham, Colin Caie.


For season 1977-78 the League had several new sides that meant that it reverted to its maximum number of clubs, i.e. 62. One of those clubs, Retainers, turned 25 during the season, celebrating with a dinner and dance at Clifton Rugby Club pavilion on October 6th.

In the Inter League competition the abysmal form of the previous season continued. In the first match the Insurance League beat the Downs 2-1 at the County Ground, which was followed by a 5-2 defeat against the Wednesday League at the end of the season. However, some prestige was regained by the Under 18 side that drew 3-3 with the Federation of Boys Clubs.

The two clubs from the lower Divisions to qualify for the Norman Hardy Cup were Sneyd Park “A” and Clifton Rockets. Whilst the former was soundly beaten in the First Round of the Hardy competition, the Rockets from Division 3 surprised First Division Southmead United by winning 5-3. This was not the highest score of the Round as Saints beat Old Cothamians Reserves 10-0.

The Second Round produced more in the way of shocks. Firstly, the holders, Platform One was beaten 1-0 by Clifton St. Vincents Reserves, then Rockets beat the previous season’s runner up, Saints, 7-6 on penalties after a drawn game. Rockets went out in the Quarter Final to Cotswool United.

In the Semi Finals St. Vincents Reserves lost 2-1 to Retainers, whilst Norton Wanderers beat Cotswool 4-2. Thus, the Final was between two clubs who had never won the Hardy Cup, although Norton had lost to Durdham Down Adult School in the Final two years beforehand.

The first half of the Final had no fewer than five goals; John Pitt, son of the former Bristol Rovers player and groundsman for many years, scored for Retainers, as did the diminutive John Ponting, who notched two goals. For Norton, Kevin Williams and Gary Fordham scored one a piece. The match was tied up for Retainers when in the second half Colin Caie netted from the penalty spot to give Retainers a 4-2 win, a fitting climax to a club celebrating 25 years in the League.

The All Saints Final was played two days beforehand and resulted in a 0-0 draw between Sneyd “A” and Clifton Rockets: the first ever scoreless draw in either the Hardy or All Saints Finals. As it was not possible to arrange a replay the trophy was held jointly by the clubs.

The First Division was expected to be a closely fought contest between the top five of the previous season – Durdham Down (champions), Retainers (runner up), Platform One, Saints and Sneyd.

By coincidence, Retainers played Durdham Down on the first Saturday of the season but lost 2-1. The next Saturday Durdham Down lost 4-2 to Platform One, then seven days later beat Saints by 4-3, before losing its fourth game 2-0 to Sneyd. Thus, the season had already started to sort out possible end of season positions.

On the first Saturday of October Saints was beaten 2-1 by Platform One, who in turn was still unbeaten. On the other hand, Saints had already lost twice, and as it was to turn out, Saints was not to lose another League fixture this season.

In the New Year the gulf between the bottom and top clubs in Division 1 was amply illustrated when firstly Old Cothamians lost 10-4 to Durdham Down, and then Platform One beat Oakfield All Saints 14-0.

However, a major surprise occurred in the first week of March 1978 when Platform One, who was previously unbeaten, lost 1-0 to lowly Southmead United. This threw the championship wide open and Saints, sensing a first title followed this up by beating Broad Plain 11-2.

Saints had gained maximum points from its matches played since the early season defeat by Platform One, whilst Platform One had lost one game and drawn others. Thus, when the two clubs met in mid-March something was likely to go. In fact, the match ended in a 2-2 draw, after which Platform One dropped two further points in drawing 2-2 with Norton twice in successive weeks.

Thus, Saints won their first championship, four points clear of Platform One, despite the latter only losing once all season. Sneyd Park finished third.

At the bottom of Division 1 Oakfield managed to obtain just two points – an early season draw against St. Vincents Reserves and a late season draw with Inter City. In the meantime, Oakfield’s defence conceded 151 League goals.

Two Second Division sides met in the first round of the GFA Intermediate Cup. As both clubs were near the bottom of the Division, it was a bit of a surprise that St. Andrews beat West Town United 11-0.

In the League Cotswool United lost just one match all season – against Platform One Reserves in late February 1978 by the odd goal in five – and thus finished as Division 2 champions. Ambleside United finished as runner up, losing just two games against Athletico Sports and Hillsborough, the latter right at the end of the season; Ambleside’s defeat against Hillsborough decided the Divisional championship. Hillsborough completed the season in third place, and again lost just twice, once each against the top two.

In the Third Division Southmead United Reserves created an unwanted new League record when going down at home to The Mill by 18-0 in a GFA Minor Cup tie. Five months later Southmead scored 12 goals itself in a League match against Old Cothamians “A”.

Portland Old Boys finished as Division 3 champions, losing one game all season, and finishing seven points clear of second placed Norton Reserves, who were four points above Clifton Rockets.

Besides winning the First Division championship, Saints also won the Division Four title which the Reserves team completed six points in front of Fratton Sports, who was three points ahead of three clubs – Greystoke Athletic, Fisons Sports and Torpedo Reserves. The bottom club, Armourweld United Reserves managed only two wins and a draw in its thirty League games.

The good news was that no clubs folded during the season, and no First Division sides resigned at the end of the season. Furthermore, Clifton St. Vincents had left the Gloucestershire County League and was now going to field its First XI in the Downs League once more. In addition, the Divisions were renamed for season 1978-79 as follows –

  • Division 1 became Premier Division
  • Division 2 became Division 1
  • Division 3 became Division 2
  • Division 4 became Division 3