Thursday, September 30, 2010


Headington into the twilight zone

If 1898 was a successful year for Headington, as they won their first silverware just five years after formation, then the 1898-99 season was both successful and controversial.

It started with a friendly away to the Oxford City A team on 1 October that Headington won 5-1 thanks to a hat-trick from Ashmore. The following week the club celebrated its move to a new ground, on the Headington Manor field down Sandy Lane (as Osler Road was called at that time); this lay on almost exactly the same site that the Manor Ground would later occupy, although the exact boundaries are unclear. The opening game was a friendly against Clarendon Press, the holders of the County Shield, and Headington made light work of them:
It's a shame that games these days aren't followed by social evenings and a sing-song around the piano (current legislation thankfully precludes the option of a smoking concert, whatever one of those might have been). The above report was published in the Oxford Chronicle, while according to Jackson's Oxford Journal the evening concluded with a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne", as indeed was entirely appropriate.

The season started, as it was to end, with claims concerning ineligible players. In the second round of the County Shield, Headington beat St Barnabas 1-0 but the Saints complained that P Gough had already played for St Catherine's College in the Inter-Collegiate Cup, which was a Senior competition and it was therefore against the rules for him to play in a Junior competition. However, the claim was dismissed, as was St Barnabas's subsequent appeal to the English Football Council, because they provided no evidence to support it. In the City Junior League, Cowley also complained about Headington fielding Gough and, with both sides submitting contradictory evidence to the OFA, the game was ordered to be replayed.

Headington started their City Junior League season in fine form and they also progressed in the County Shield, where they went on to meet Bicester in the second round. After a draw in Bicester the sides replayed in Headington, but the first game had to be abandoned because of heavy snowfall:

In the replay, in mid-February, Headington beat Bicester 1-0:

Progress thus far was reported in the March edition of the St Andrews Church Parish Magazine. This contains the interesting note that, because of the poor weather, some games were played on the Manor House Close, owned by the Manor House occupier Colonel James Hoole, who was the last Lord of the Manor until his death in 1917. This is probably the same location as the Paddock, where Headington played between 1922 and 1925.

In the semi-finals, Headington met Henley II at Sandy Lane, beating them 2-0:

This game was followed by the rearranged match with Cowley, and what a fun time was had by all. One report called the match "a very unpleasant affair", as Cowley started with ten men and after going a goal down to a penalty called upon an ineligible player (Arthur), much to our boys' disgruntlement. The game saw lots of fouls and even the spectators got involved, causing the referee to intervene. Headington apparently just gave up and Cowley ran out 3-1 winners. After a protest, however, the game was awarded to Headington, who thereby kept their 100 per cent record intact, although this was ended in the next game, when they drew with Victoria:

This led Headington neatly into their second successive City Junior Cup final, played at the City ground in Whitehouse Road, where for the second season running their opponents were St. Mary Magdalene. As in the previous season, the first game was a draw (this time 0-0), but this time the replay was a much more one-sided affair, Headington running out 3-0 winners, with goals from H Fletcher, H Knowles, and a Couling own goal.

Here is the winners' medal that was awarded to Frank Taylor:

This triumph was followed, on 18 March 1899, by Headington's first appearance in the Oxfordshire Junior Shield final, where they met Chipping Norton Swifts, again at the Whitehouse ground. A large crowd saw the sides draw 0-0 and although "The teams were willing to go on for another half hour ... the arrangements beforehand were a replay in case of a draw."

The replay took place in Witney, where "A large number of persons journeyed ... both by road and rail" and the occasion witnessed the first known football special train for a game featuring our lads, the train being "full to inconvenience". The report from the Jackson's Oxford Journal says that "Chipping Norton had a good following, though nothing like the extent of that of the Headingtonians", although apparently the Witneyites present were cheering for Chippy. Unfortunately, Headington were disappointing, and Chipping Norton won 2-1, although that wasn't the end of the drama:

There are hints of the problem in the season round-up in the Oxford Chronicle in April, which reveals that Webb and Juffs of Chipping Norton might not have been eligible to play in the game:

This is further expounded upon in the June 1899 Parish Magazine, which explains that the two men were from Gloucestershire, which was strictly against the rules of the competition. Chipping Norton admitted their guilt, but the OFA merely declared the tournament incomplete rather than granting the Shield to Headington, although they did permit Headington to mint their own medals.

Finally, you'll be pleased to read, for this eventful season, there's a report in the Jackson's Oxford Journal of Headington's close-season dinner, with MP G Herbert Morrell among those present.
Apologies for the length of this post, and all the ancillary reading, but it was an eventful season in the early life of our football club.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Silver flashing metal (cont.)

In yesterday's post I said that I would take us up to when Headington won their first silverware, but unfortunately I neglected to do so. Today's post will therefore take us up to that point from where we left off at the end of the 1895-96 season.

The following season was a fairly uneventful one for the club, which finished in a relatively lowly position in Division B of the City Junior League:

Note that College Servants 2nd scratched all their games for the second time in three seasons.

The report on the season's AGM didn't appear in the St Andrew's Parish Magazine until November, which allowed for an update on the first couple of months of the historic 1897-98 season. This included a report on a friendly against Cygnets A which Headington won 11-0, an appeal to supporters to attend the away game at Clarendon Press in the first round of the County Shield, and a note that goal nets were used for the first time.
The successful start was maintained, with the club eventually winning their section undefeated, to set up a final against Division A winners, St Mary Magdalene:
On their way to the title, Headington beat Oxford Institute 10-0 both home and away. The match against St Mary Magdalene, who represented the famous 1000-year-old church on Magdalen Street, was played at Grandpont on the City Club Ground, almost certainly at the White House Road ground that was home to Oxford City from roughly 1898 until their eviction by Brasenose College in 1988. The clubs drew the game 1-1, with G Fletcher scoring Headington's equaliser shortly before half-time. The full report from the Oxford Chronicle appears below (apologies for both its length and its poor readability - click on the images to enlarge them):
The replay took place at the same venue a fortnight later. In the second game our boys were able to make their dominance count as they beat the church side 1-0 with a goal from the captain, HRE Knowles, 15 minutes from the end.
In our next history update we'll look at how Headington retained the cup the following season, leading to a rule change for the City Junior League, and how that season ended in controversy for the villagers after they reached the final of Oxfordshire Shield, where they met Chipping Norton.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Silver flashing metal

Apologies for the lack of blog updates recently; school holidays plus general crapness were to blame. To make up for it, possibly, here's a continuation of the early years history of Headington FC, from where we left off last time (midway through the club's first competitive season in 1894-95) until the club's first silverware in 1898, less than five years after Headington was formed.

Headington's first season in the Oxford City Junior League proved to be something of a damp squib, almost literally as that winter's poor weather led to such a backlog of fixtures that the league format was abandoned at the end of February, with the table looking like this (reproduced from the Oxford Chronicle):
The remainder of the season was determined in a cup format, with Headington drawn to play at Division B leaders Victoria, with a predictable outcome:
Victoria went on to win the competition.

At the end of the season the club held its third Annual General Meeting (the first, presumably, being the one at which the club was founded). It was reported in the Parish Magazine of St Andrews Church; the most significant item, from our distant point of view, is where it states: "the colours of the Club should be Orange and Dark Blue." The Mrs Wootten-Wootten mentioned was the then resident of Headington House, and her field was to the east of Osler Road (called Sandy Lane at the time) on land that is now covered by Stephen Road.

The following season was another one of struggle for our fledgling club, although they opened the campaign with a draw at their first ever opponents, Cowley Barracks:

This was followed by a 3-1 home defeat to St Paul's:
It wasn't until their fifth game that Headington tasted victory, beating YMCA 2-0 in Headington:
The final published table for the season saw Headington finish third in Division A:

At the club's 4th Annual Meeting that summer there was little to excite the historian, with the exception of the first published balance sheet (courtesy of the St Andrews' Parish magazine). This shows outgoings on such items as rent (£1 10 shillings), two new balls (at 10/6 each), team kit (caps and shirts: total £3 9s 3d), and printing of fixture cards (16s) which would be a wonderful item of memorabilia if any are still extant.
To be continued...

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Friday, August 27, 2010


Saviour of the Fallen, Protector of the Weak, Friend of the Tall Ones, Keeper of the Peace

An article in today's Oxford Mail gives a reasonably interesting insight into the policing of Oxford United games. There's precious little by way of revelation, so as a piece of investigative journalism or even the sensationalist tabloid writing that the Mail seems to encourage these days, it's somewhat lacking.

The interesting factual snippet was that "Eleven Oxford United fans are banned from games for causing trouble, and 13 others are on bail for other football-related offences." Whether or not that constitutes a low or high number for a club of United's stature is sadly not revealed, nor is the nature of the alleged offences for which these people have been banned or bailed. In fact, the article seems to go out of its way to avoid any such analysis, which is a shame as it makes an interesting premise into nothing more than a policeman's bland diary.

This lack of depth is illustrated perfectly in the following paragraph: "Problems include racist chanting, throwing objects on the pitch, swearing and abusing stewards, and in extreme occasions, fights and pitch invasions." The implication is that these are problems faced by police officers at United fixtures, although as a season-ticket holder of many years and a reasonably regular attender of away games I've not heard any racist chanting for probably 15 years or more (although I have heard a lot of chanting that is offensive, and a lot of individual racist remarks). It's true that at Oxford there has long been a problem with throwing objects on the pitch, usually coins and almost always (but not exclusively) at away games. However, this statement by the reporter (Emily Allen isn't even quoting one of her interviewees at this juncture) is completely devoid of analysis: how prevalent are these problems, how many people have been arrested, charged, bailed, or banned for these offences, and is the trend towards these issues increasing or decreasing?

The two quotes at the end of the piece from supporters interviewed at the Wycombe Wanderers game, including one from a self-confessed trouble maker, are a small step in the direction of redressing the balance in favour of some objectivity, but in fact they don't really add anything to the main thrust of the article; if anything, they increase its shallowness. (Is it possible to increase shallowness? Maybe decreasing depth is the correct metaphor.) All in all, I'm really not sure why I bothered blogging about this, except maybe in the hope that someone will take up the gauntlet and write something that's actually worth reading about the subject. Breath will not be held.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Secretive agents


The Football League has published how much each League club paid to agents last season (so obviously Oxford's figures aren't included, although United apparently didn't pay anything to agents in the period covered) as part of its annual reporting of such figures, ostensibly in a bid to be more transparent. The report (PDF) shows an increase of £3.9 million in the last year, up to £12.7 million.

When the figures are broken down, they show that agents received fees in 16.6 per cent (369) of the 2,392 player transactions that took place, with just 14 of the 72 clubs not paying fees to an agent, and every club in the Championship forking out at some point or another.

So, what do these figures really mean? First, they show that although the use of agents is increasing, they are not as prevalent as many people seem to believe. Second, perhaps obviously, clubs use agents more the higher in the Pyramid they are. Third, it would appear that, although not exclusively, the clubs that achieved most success spent most on agents fees.

Agents are often portrayed as evil money-grabbing middle-men who add little value in exchange for their 10 per cent. For many players, though, they are as essential to looking after their interests as estate agents are to most house-buyers. Agents are professional negotiators, and it's in their own interest to get the best deal that they can for their clients. Clubs may not like agents particularly, but that's because they help redress the balance of power towards the players. There is possibly an argument that the balance of power has swayed too far in favour of the agents, rather than their clients, but that wouldn't appear to have been proven by these most recent figures, with over 80 per cent of transfers still not requiring agents' intervention.

Agents are becoming more common in many walks of life (for example, most publishers will not now accept manuscripts from authors unless they have been submitted by an agent) but there still appears to be a lot of non-agent space in footballing transfers. Some football managers claim that they refuse to deal with agents, but one would have to ask why a player would trust such a manager; it would be a bit like a workplace manager refusing to negotiate with a union representative, when that rep is trying to help the workers. Agents may not be quite such beneficent figures, and clearly their main motivation has to be their cut of any deal, but if they help counterbalance unscrupulous managers then their presence has to be more good than bad.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010


First taste of competitive football

Before the start of the 1894-95 season, Headington played a couple of friendlies, both against teams they were due to face in the forthcoming City Junior League competition. On 6 October Headington played against St Peter-le-Bailey, a side representing the church on New Inn Hall Street and which is now the chapel of St Peter's College. According to the report, reproduced below, Headington were unable to field a full side and, unsurprisingly, lost 2-0.

If you have images disabled, the text reads:

ST. PETER-LE-BAILEY v. HEADINGTON.- The Oxonians secured a victory on Saturday last by two goals to nil over the Headingtonians, who were not fully represented.

The following week Headington played at Cowley St John, suffering a demoralising 7-0 defeat, despite the Headington goalie receiving special plaudits for his performance. The Jackson's Oxford Journal report is fairly damning (apologies for the green highlighting):

It reads:
COWLEY ST. JOHN v. HEADINGTON.- Played at Cowley on Saturday, and ended in a win for the Saints by seven goals to nil. The Headington goal-keeper played a good game for his side, and saved them from further loss. The Saints' goal was never in jeopardy, and only one goal kick was taken.

The City Junior League was due to commence the following week, on 21 October 1894, but as the Jackson's Oxford Journal explains, Headington weren't involved:

The relevant passage reads:
To-morrow the City Junior competition commences; we find the whole of the Clubs, excepting Headington, who have a bye, owing to an odd number of Clubs having entered, are engaged...
Interestingly, the age-old problem of finding enough match officials was evident 116 years ago, much as it remains today.

In fact, Headington had to wait until 17 November before they saw their first competitive action. The opponents were Clarendon Press and the venue was supposed to have been at their ground. Clarendon Press is the former name of Oxford University Press, founded in 1672 and based in Jericho, and it remains an imprint name of the OUP. However, because the Press's ground in Osney was flooded, the game was switched to Headington's ground at Wootten's Field, which formed part of the Headington Manor estate and which has now been built over by Stephen Road. Sadly, our lads' introduction to competitive football wasn't a happy one, as they went down 4-0. Despite the visitors having most of the possession and all of the chances, the score remained 0-0 at half-time, but after the break Headington conceded a goal. They came back into the game, but conceded three more. Headington's founder, Dr Hitchings, was singled out for special mention as one of the pick of the home side.

One game in and bottom of the league!

Headington's next game was the following week, and was another dismal home defeat, this time to St Barnabas, also from Jericho. The church side won 6-0,  but it appears not to have been recorded as a league game:

This can be seen in the next league table, two weeks later, when Jackson's Oxford Journal reports Headington's first competitive victory:

The report reads:
HEADINGTON v. WANDERERS 2ND.- This League match was played at Osney on Saturday last, resulting in a win for Headington by two goals to one.

Note that the updated table doesn't include College Servants' 2nd. This is because they had scratched their opening two games and then withdrew from the competition.

In our next history post we'll complete this first season and then look further ahead.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010


The Football League rules

In our last post we looked at some new rules introduced by the FA. Well, when it comes to rule-making, the Football League are never far behind.

These new rules are, on the face of it, common sense, and nothing to get too excited about. The rules that tighten up the owners and directors tests have long been required, as have those concerning financial reporting. The prohibition on third-party ownership of players should, hopefully, eliminate the farcical situation that occurred a few seasons ago when Westam acquired the services of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, when they were effectively owned by Media Sports Investments must not happen again. And we can't really comment on the new standard player contract because we don't know anything about it.

What does concern us, though, is that for all the good intentions behind the changes, the track record of the Football League in enforcing its existing rules, certainly in respect of the owners and directors tests, is pretty poor. There remain in the game far too many owners who quite clearly don't have the best interest of their club at heart. Property developers who have their eyes on the land that their club's stadium is built on, or local businessmen whose main concern is to satisfy their ego without having the necessary funds to maintain the club. If the new rules are accompanied by a new inclination to enforce them then there can be no complaints; if, however, there is no change to the League's attitude then it will remain as so much puff.

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