The Beginning of The Swindon & District Football League

Richard Bird first secretary of the Swindon & District Football League

The First Meeting

On Wednesday 9 September 1891 a meeting was held at the Eagle Tavern in Regent Street Swindon.

The object of the meeting was to form a football Challenge Cup Competition, the name of which was to be “The Swindon and District Football Cup Competition”.

It would be for players aged 20 years on 1st January of each season and all players were to live within five miles of their Club Headquarters and each competing club would be a Swindon Club or within a twelve-mile radius of Swindon.

The Clubs represented at this first meeting were:

  • Swindon Town
  • Swindon Town Reserves
  • Mark’s Young Men’s Friendly Society ‘A’
  • Mark’s Young Men’s Friendly Society ‘B’
  • Swindon Wanderers
  • Swindon Baptists
  • Stratton Rovers
  • Swindon Spartans

Mr. W. R. Bird of St. Mark’s Y. M. F. S. was elected chairman of the meeting (later Mr. Bird was well known as a referee and for his Scouting activities).

A Committee was formed of Officers of Swindon Town Football Club and two representatives from each competing club. Mr. Bird was also elected as Secretary of the competition.

The First Round of Games

The first round games were played on 31 October 1891 and on Saturday 9 April 1892, the final of the first Swindon and District Challenge Cup was played when Swindon Town Reserves beat Stratton Rovers by 7 goals to 1.

The cup for this competition was given by Swindon Town Football Club.

The First Finals Day

15 October 1892 was the final day for the Swindon and District Cup Competition entries for the 1892-93 season.

By 1894, it had been decided to change the competition and the Swindon Advertiser of 8 September reported that the Committee of the Swindon and District Challenge Cup had made an important decision for the coming season.

The competition would now be conducted on a League basis and would be called “The Swindon and District Football League”, with Mr. George Major as the Secretary.

Ten teams applied for membership of the League:

  • Swindon Town Reserves
  • Cricklade
  • Purton
  • Swindon Victoria
  • Swindon Young Men’s Club
  • Swindon Rovers
  • Stratton Young Men’s Friendly Society
  • ]ohn’s
  • Even Swindon United
  • West Swindon Club

Purton resigned in October of that year but Highworth took over their fixtures.

By early December 1894 Stratton Y. M. F. S. had resigned and Highworth was thrown out of the League’s tables for not fulfilling their fixtures.

Cricklade was the winner in this first season of the League with Even Swindon United as runners up.

The League Committee voted that winner’s medals at 5/ – (25p) each would be presented to Cricklade and runners up medals at 4 / – (20p) would go to Even Swindon United.

The first Swindon and District Football League Representative Team was chosen to play Swindon Town at Gorse Hill on Christmas Eve 1894.

Admission to the match was 3d (11/2p). The Swindon and District Representative Team won by 5 goals to 3. By 1895-96 season it was possible to form a Second Division of the League. One of the teams in this division boasted the name of Swindon Dribblers. In this season it was reported that a team was fined 5 / – (25p) for not playing a match.

This modest fine included the fee of the referee, Mr Johnson! In January 1897 the Midland and South West Railway team made their initial appearance in the Second Division of the League and after defeat by Lydiard lodged a complaint against the referee a Mr. Telling of Cricklade.

In August 1897 a decision was made to dissolve the Swindon and District League, thought to have been brought about by weak management and poor committee and to revert to a Swindon and District Cup Competition for the coming season. A meeting was arranged at the Eagle Tavern calling for entries for a Cup Competition by the 2nd of September 1897. Mr. George Major acted as Secretary. Among the entries for this competition were Swindon Victoria, Swindon Town Reserves and Wantage.

Swindon Victoria Winners: Swindon & District Cup 1898 – 1899

At the same time the winners of the League for the previous season, Even Swindon United were voicing their disgust at not having received their medals although there was League money available. Doubtless the change from League to Cup Competition and the weak management caused several incidents of this type.

By the season 1898-99 Swindon Football Clubs wanted more competition that this Swindon and District Knockout Cup Competition offered.

Four Swindon teams were playing in the Wantage and District Football League and clubs like Purton, Highworth and Stratton Reform were playing in the Vale of White Horse League. In early June 1899 George Major, the Secretary of the Swindon and District Cup Competition called a meeting with two prominent football referees, J. Beanland and F. Howard, together with Messrs R. L. Jones, Horace Smith and Harold Gardener, to discuss the possibility of changing the Cup Competition back to the Swindon and District Football League.

This meeting formulated a possible set of new rules and called another meeting of interested clubs at the Eagle Tavern on 23 June 1899. Some twelve clubs sent representatives to this meeting chaired by Horace Smith.

The following rules were put forward:

  1. The League would consist of not more than fourteen clubs.”
  2. All clubs to be within a radius of 20 miles from Swindon Town Centre.
  3. All club players to live within a 5 mile radius of -their club Headquarters.
  4. The entrance fee to be 3/6 (171/2p) with an annual fee of 5 / – (25p).

Matches to be on a home and away basis, with points for the team that scored the most goals. At the end of the season, the team with the most points would be the League winners. If two or more teams had equal points a playoff would be necessary.

No match to be played unless under supervision of a referee appointed by the League.

These were adopted and Mr. Butterworth, a well-known footballer was elected President and Mr. Beanland as Chairman.

Mr. Horace Smith was elected Secretary. He was also Secretary of Swindon Victoria, a prominent referee and a member of the Wilts F. A. Emergency Committee.

Mr. Rose became Assistant Secretary with Mr. W. Thomas as Treasurer. The rest of the Committee were Messrs F. Howard, W. Slatter, S. Major, E. Plaister and E. Thomas, together with representatives from each competing club. The Swindon and District League was back in business.

Clubs joining this reformed League were:

  • Even Swindon United
  • Gorse Hill Albion
  • Stratton Reading Room
  • Congregational Football Club
  • Gorse Hill Swifts
  • St. Mark’s Young Men’s Friendly Society
  • Swindon Victoria
  • Swindon Athletic
  • Highworth
  • Wroughton
  • Gorse Hill Workmen’s Club
  • Swindon Thistle
  • Wootton Bassett
  • Swindon Victoria Athletic

Fixture lists were regularly printed in the weekly edition of the Swindon

Advertiser which gave full reports of the matches. Highworth soon made headlines whilst playing in the 2nd Division. They were reported for playing two players from Swindon who were thus outside the five mile limit. Highworth were considered to show a lack of sportsmanship when they moved their headquarters three quarters of a mile nearer to Swindon to solve their problem. In January 1900, with the League halfway through its fixtures, Even Swindon United were in the top position having played eleven games and won them all. In second place was Swindon Thistle who had won eight, drawn two and lost only one. Even Swindon dropped their first point of the season when they drew on 7 April 1900. A representative team from the League played a friendly match against Swindon Town Reserves, losing three goals to one. Suddenly newspaper coverage of local football almost ceased, the Swindon Advertiser had allocated all its spare space to reporting the Boer War.

The League Winners for 1899-1900 was Even Swindon United who had played fifteen games, of which they had won fourteen and drawn one. A very satisfactory annual meeting was held on 29 May 1900 when Mr. J. Beanland the Chairman presided. The Treasurer reported a balance of £9.9.9, and it was decided to present the League winners with suitable medals. An important rule passed, was that all players must sign a League form before registering for the new season. Clubs would now be fined two points if they failed to play a fixture on the date set by the Management Committee. It was decided that once more a Second Division would be formed. Mr. J.

Beanland stood down as Chairman, but stayed on the Committee. Mr. F.Howard became Chairman in his stead, and the Secretary Mr. Smith was given an honorarium of one guinea.

The Swindon Advertiser decided to give a Cup “The Advertiser Cup” for a knockout competition. The Second Division Clubs would enter a qualifying competition and the winner would join the First Division Clubs in the competition proper.

The League with its two divisions continued through the season 1900-1901 with Clubs showing a keen interest in the new Advertiser Cup Competition. On Saturday 17 February 1901 the semi-finals were played. The successful Even Swindon United beat Gorse Hill Albion five goals to one, and Stratton

Reform beat Swindon Thistle three goals to one, thus setting the scene for an exciting final. This was played on 23 March 1901 at the Duke of Edinburgh Public House ground at Gorse Hill. A crowd of over 2000 spectators gathered with S. Major as referee and with J. Beanland and W. Thomas as linesmen. Even Swindon United scored first through Goddard and added a second by Walman.

In the second half they added a third goal and were winners by three goals to nil. Mr. S. Morris presented the Advertiser Cup to the captain, R. Bown. The cup was carried from Gorse Hill to Rodbourne in a triumphant procession, led by the Even Swindon Band.

The League continued to make good progress in season 1901-1902, but again it was the cup competitions which made the news. Even Swindon beat an up and coming young team, Swindon Casuals three-nil. This was the fifth time Even Swindon had won this cup. In April 1902 it was the young Swindon Casuals who took the cup from Even Swindon United by three goals to one.

At the Annual Meeting held on 29 May 1901 Mr. F. Howard was in the chair. The Treasurer reported a League balance of £9.10.8 and a Cup balance of £11.4.3., on the strength of which Mr. W. Smith the secretary had his honorarium increased to two guineas. It was decided that if Wootton Bassett applied to join the League for the coming season they would not be accepted due to their bad behaviour and reputation in the past season.

For the season 1902-1903 the League was still running two divisions, the Swindon and District Cup Competition and the Advertiser Cup. It was reported that in the match in November 1902 between Swindon Athletic and Cirencester M & S W I Railway, a player named Wrigley was sent off, after giving away a penalty he had used insulting language to the referee!

Very little can be found for the season 1903-1904 but the Advertiser did report in February that Wootton Bassett Star beat Wantage Town two—one in Division 1, and in April Even Swindon United beat Haydon Street Workmen 1-0 in the Advertiser Cup Semi-Final. Haydon Street Workmen protested that Even Swindon had played a man, W. Day who had played several times for Swindon Town in the Southern League. The protest was denied because no cup rule had been broken. The final of the Advertiser Cup was played on 30 April 1904 at Wootton Bassett between Wantage Town and Even Swindon United who were beaten 3-2.,

Few details seem to exist for seasons 1904 to 1907. Two Divisions were still in existence and it was reported that Wootton Bassett Reserves were playing well. By 1907 the League, in addition to two Divisions had also a Wednesday Division. Teams in this Wednesday Division were Post Office,

Swindon Wednesday, Swindon Athletic and Marlborough Town. It would appear that this Wednesday Division was the forerunner of the Wednesday Football League. The Swindon and District League administered a Dr.Maclean Cup which was for competition by the Wednesday teams only.

The final of the Maclean Cup was played on the Swindon County Ground by permission of Swindon Town Football Club. This was the first of several matches there. The final of the Advertiser Cup was on 28 March 1907 between Haydon Street Workmen and North Swindon, a goal—less draw, followed by a replay when North Swindon won 5-1. The final of the Maclean Cup was played on the County Ground on Easter Monday, lst. April, when Swindon Rovers beat Swindon Olympics five goals to one.

The Management Committee of the Swindon and District league made every effort to assist officials and local footballers when injury or ill health occurred. In January 1907 a well-known local referee, Nelson Russell died, leaving a widow and two small children. On behalf of the League Mr. W. H. Slatter raised an appeal and a sum of £63 was collected and deposited in a Building Society account to assist the widow to bring up the children. The League positions in December 1907 showed New Century at the top of Division One with Casuals in second place; West Swindon were top of Division Two and Swindon Athletic top of the Wednesday Division with Marlborough in second place. It was in this season that the teams had to become familiar with the Football Association’s new ”off-side rule”, that a player would not be off—side if he received the ball in his own half.

The Annual General Meeting for the season 1907-1908 was held at the Eagle Tavern on 27 May 1907 and the attendance was the greatest in the history of the League. W. H. Slatter was in the chair and the two secretaries were Mr. Howard and Mr. W. V. Shaile, the latter covering the Wednesday Division. There was only £2.12.8 (£2.61) in the funds, so there was no honorarium for the Secretaries.

Mr. A. J. Parker had donated a cup for the Wednesday Division and Mr. J. J. Brown promised a cup for the Second Division. It was reported that Wantage had won both the First Division and the Advertiser Cup, Casuals had won Division Two and won through the Advertiser Cup preliminaries to reach the final when they gave Wantage a fright.

This meeting was concerned at the treatment some of the clubs had received from the Wiltshire Football Association during the past season and felt that consideration should be given to a suggestion that the League should withdraw its affiliation from the Wiltshire Football Association.

The matter was to be discussed at a later meeting but there is no record that such a discussion took place and the League continued to be affiliated with Wiltshire F. A.

The League now had Lord Fitzmaurice as its President. The end of season friendly match between Swindon Town Reserves and the pick of the Swindon and District League resulted in a 2-1 win for Swindon Town

Reserves. A grand Annual Dinner was held on 3 Iune 1908 at the G.W.R.Refreshment Rooms, with speeches from several local government councillors, members of Swindon Town Football Club, and members of the Swindon and District League Management Committee. The League was now firmly established.

The annual review by the local press appeared at the end of 1908, showed that on 12th December Baptist M. U. was leading Division One, North Swindon in second place, with Highworth in third place. Wantage had left Division One giving no reason. Division Two was led by Stratton, Chiseldon in second place, with Swindon Athletic in third place. On 2nd Ianuary 1909 the match between the top two teams, Baptist M. U. and North Swindon was stopped eight minutes from time as North Swindon supporters invaded the pitch. The League Committee decided that the score of 4-1 by Baptist M.

U. should stand. The final of the Swindon ]unior Cup on Sparkes Field,Edinburgh Street, Gorse Hill was won 5-2 by Stratton United over Temple Rovers. A Challenge Shield named the Swindon Challenge Shield was donated for a match to be played between the winners of the Saturday section, Haydon Wick and the winners of the Wednesday Section, Swindon Athletic. This resulted in a 2-2 draw on 13 April .so the two teams shared the Shield. The Football Association decided that the Advertiser Cup should be renamed the ” Swindon and District Advertiser Senior Cup” and in season

1908-1909 was won by 3 goals to one by Haydon Street Workmen over North Swindon. The Maclean Cup for the Wednesday Division was won by Wednesday Athletic who beat Adult School 5-1. In April, Highworth played the pick of the League and were defeated 2-1.

The various winners for season 1909-1910 were Advertiser Cup and Junior Knockout Cup Highworth Iunior League Cup Even Swindon United Senior League Cup Swindon Congregationals

On 20 August 1910, clubs wishing to join the Wednesday League were asked to contact a Mr. Lomas at 33 Fleet Street. The Wednesday Division of the Swindon and District League now appears to have become a separate League in its own right, and was about to operate as such. At the start of the 1910-1911 season a Smoking Concert was held at the Greyhound Clubhouse to raise money to purchase medals for the winners in the coming season. The admission charge was 3d (11/4p). Harold Fleming, the star player of

Swindon Town, presented the trophies to the winners of the previous season. Present were the Mayor of Swindon, local councillors, prominent doctors and members of the Swindon Town Football Club.

The local press in January, 1911 gave the usual annual state of the clubs. At the top of Division One was Corinthians, having gained 12 points from 7 games, in second place was Stratton United with 10 points from 6 games Division Two was led by G. W. R. Temperance in first place with 13 points from 8 games and West End United in second place with 1O points from 6 games. Lechlade, a new club to the League appeared in fourth place in Division One. The champions for Division One for season 1910-1911 was Corinthians, with St. Paul’s as winners of Division Two, who had completed all their League fixtures without defeat. The Cup rules in season 1910-1911 were somewhat different from today’s rules. West End United were winners of the Swindon Junior Cup by defeating G. W. R. Temperance on the County Ground, and were also runners-up to Corinthians F. C. in the Advertiser Cup, also played on the Swindon Town ground.

From 1911 to 1914 very little news of the Swindon and District League appeared in the local press, but it is recorded that the Swindon Town Juniors won both the Advertiser Cup and the Swindon Junior Cup, and that teams like the Swindon Town Juniors, Corinthians and the like held prominent positions in the League tables. There are also records that a match on 2 November 1912 was won by Corinthians over Wantage. It is interesting to note that the 1912-1913 was the season when Swindon Town Football Club did an overseas tour and played several matches in the Argentine. One of their prominent players, Fred Wheatcroft (of the scholastic profession) married a teacher from King William Street School, Miss ]essie Jobson.

Almost all the League information is that the Swindon Advertiser Cup was won by Swindca Town Juniors.

By 1914 threats of War were over Europe. The Swindon and District League Management Committee met at the Eagle Tavern with Mr. G. Plaister in the chair on 4 March 1914. This meeting was the first for Mr. Arthur Gosling as Secretary. He continued his long reign as Secretary until 1946. He used to walk ‘from Chiseldon to Regent Street, Swindon to attend all meetings and walk the whole way back, a dedicated officer of whom the League can be justifiably proud.

An amusing decision for this season was the claim made by Highworth Town for 16 / – (8Op) for a journey by horse brake to Swindon where they were to play in a cup final. A brake was a horse drawn vehicle, frequently used then, accommodating 20 people. The committee granted 8/ — (40p) being equal to the train fare for the team, plus a quarter! A great deal of work was done by the committee to organise a Whist Drive and Dance to raise money for an injured player named Terry, when a local band gave their services, Harold Fleming attended and clubs in membership gave prizes for the Whist Drive.

During that season, Swindon Town Juniors again won the Advertiser Cup.

The Great War was declared on 4 August 1914. The Swindon and District League held a committee meeting on 12 August at the Eagle Tavern, but only four teams attended and arrangements were made for fixtures for those four teams during September. There is no record of any of these games ever having been played. Many of the young men who normally played in the League had joined the Forces, many of them thinking, as did so many people that the war would be over in twelve months, if not before that. It was soon realised that this would not be the case, and in September 1914 the League was disbanded. It was not to be reformed until after the war, and the next meeting was not held until July 1919.

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