62 years Ago Today in Oxford

Oxford City’s White House Ground was a typical Isthmian style ground but with a few quirky attributes that today’s groundhoppers would have loved. City  played their first match at the White House Ground in 1900  and stayed there until  1987 when, following a legal battle the ground was lost to the freeholders and the club made homeless.

The main entrance to the ground was from the Abingdon Road, to the east, behind one of the goals.  On the left, as you entered, behind the same goal, was a small stand that only took up about 35% of the end.  Along the touchline to the left was a long covered terrace and to the right a main stand, with an uncovered terrace to the side of it.

However, the finest and most memorable quirk was St Matthew’s Church, the grounds of which, abutted the football ground itself in the north west corner.  In order to gain access to the west terrace from the main stand, one had to pass through a gate and then along the side of the church grounds so as to access another gate, allowing one to move behind the goal.

1On 19th December 1953, the visitors to the White House ground were Clapton FC for an Isthmian league fixture with a 2.15pm kick off.  Clapton were said to be having a better season in the league whereas the hosts were struggling and, in fact, finished bottom of the pile that season and had to apply for re-election.

teamsBut Christmas must have come early for the Oxfordshire men that afternoon as they ran out 4-1 winners thanks to a hattrick by home centre forward Tony Skull. The Clapton team featured M Lyonsgoalkeeper Terry Dove, centre forward Peter Wylie and Mick Lyons (left).

The matchday programme, costing 3d, has some lovely advertisements including one from the Co-operative Sports Department who laid claim to providing ‘wing wizard’ Stan Matthews with boots of his own design.  A bargain at just 45/6 a pair.  (That’s £2.27p in today’s gelt)  Others include the Simons brewery that were swallowed up by Courage in the 1960s and better known local brewer, Morrells who fragmented in the late 90s and are no more.

Following their eviction from the White House Ground, City endured a couple of seasons of inactivity on the pitch and then had to virtually start again. However, the club itself had remained intact and a gradual re-emergence took place.  They came back through feeder leagues, were promoted to the back into the Isthmian league, enjoyed a Wembley appearance in an FA Vase final and then further promotion to the Conference South (National League).

Today Oxford City run numerous teams for men, women, girls and boys. They play in a stadium with a 3G pitch and are wholly immersed in their local community.  They have shown that a club can come back from adversity without going to the wall and re-emerging as an ‘AFC’.

The last Isthmian League meeting between the clubs took place on 19th February 1994 when City ran out 5-0 winners in their first season at their Court Place Farm Ground.  But for me, whilst the meeting at the White House Ground of the 19th December 1953 was most important, the real match of the day was taking place some 150 miles away in Heavitree, Exeter.  My Mum and Dad were getting married.  Happy Anniversary Mum and Dad.

See some fabulous photos of the White House Ground and previous City teams here





Clapton’s First London Senior Cup Win


London Senior Challenge Cup Final – Saturday 2 March 1889

Clapton Football Club won their first senior trophy at the end of their first season at the Old Spotted Dog Ground. Having negotiated the early rounds of the London Senior Challenge Cup, that included a 3-1 home victory against Millwall Athletic (now Millwall FC) the Tons came up against the might of Casuals FC The Casuals were a team that recruited the very best players in Amateur football and had assembled a team especially for the final which was to take place at Kennington Oval. Among their team were the Walters brothers, known as ‘morning and afternoon’ due to their initials A.M. and P.M., and Old Boy football enthusiasts regarded a victory for the Casuals as a certainty.

Thanks to Martin McShea and Roy Calmels (Wembley FC) for the copy of the programme sheet.

However, it wasn’t to be as the ‘real club’ triumphed on a snowy day in March with J.S. Sellar, the player who scored the first ever goal for Clapton at the Old Spotted Dog, netting a hat trick. The other goal was scored by J.S.L. Prior.

Extract from the Belfast Evening Telegraph and Star 2nd March 1889


Clapton v Barnet 1990

FA Cup 1st Qual. Round –  Sunday 16th Sept. 1990
Kick 12 noon – Played at Dagenham FC

homeprog2The pairing of the Tons with Barry Fry’s Barnet side was one of the strangest events of the early rounds of that season’s FA Cup competition.  The Tons had defeated Felixstowe 5-2 in the previous round and Barnet, because of their poor showing in the competition the year before, were required to compete amongst the minnows.

Once it became known that the Bees were having to visit the Old Spotted Dog, their chairman, Mr Stan Flashman, contacted the FA to object to his team having to play in such basic surroundings, given that his club had such a following of supporters.  The Police were consulted, and made the decision that the Tons had to forfeit ‘home advantage’.  With Mr Flashman rubbing his hands at the thought of a match at Underhill, an official ‘declared’ gate of 400 when the place would be heaving, Clapton Secretary Andy Barr, became inundated with offers of help from non-league clubs wishing to ensure ‘fair play’. Hendon FC, Aveley, Leyton Wingate and, inevitably, Met Police FC, were among those who offered  their grounds, free of charge as an alternative venue.  In the end it was the offer from Norman Sparrow, Secretary of Dagenham FC which was accepted, although this meant playing at noon on the Sunday.  Barnet were officially disappointed, Barry Fry extremely kind and diplomatic, and Mr Flashman spitting feathers.

Entrance to the match costs £3.50 and included a 22 page programme.  Within the pages was a history of both clubs and pen pictures of both squads.  The Clapton team, managed by Mickey Cleaver, included many players who had completed over 100 appearances for the Tons.  Iconic keeper Brian Balkwill, local lads Chris (Smike) Driscoll and Dave Fahy and Daren Holding, a cultured and classy centre back who hailed from the Isle of Dogs.  The Barnet side, as one would imagine of a club who had finished Conference runners up the previous season, was littered with players who had, or who were about to attain Football League experience.  Keeper Gary Phillips (Brentford), Mick Bodley (Chelsea, Edwin Stein (Luton) and Andy Clarke, who a few months later was to sign for Wimbledon for £250,000.

Many expected Clapton’s amateur team to be routed by Barry Fry’s non league pros.  However, although Barnet were superior in every department, and only a spirited and determined effort by the Tons kept the score to just 0-2.  In fact, Barnet’s second goal only came from the penalty spot after professional diving theatrics that Ashley Young would be proud of today.

The match finished with hand shakes and cheers for Clapton’s gallant effort.  Barry Fry, who was kind and had behaved impeccably throughout the events leading up to the game, was extremely complementary to the team and conciliatory. Mr Flashman was absent.

After the game, the Clapton dressing room was filled with singing and laughter, whereas through the walls of Victoria Road, one could hear Barry Fry having a good old ‘tear up’ on his squad (no hair dryer available at Victoria Road)  which only served to heighted the volume of jollity amongst the Tons players next door.

It was left for the Clapton lads to return to the Old Spotted Dog for a ‘Sunday session’ in the bar and a good time was had by all.  The Tons may not have carried off a giant killing act and no one expected them to do so.  However, they had shown one of the non- league big boys of the day that the spirit of Clapton FC survives and that, not only did we have friends in the game who would help us in times of need, we knew how to enjoy our football.

That season, Barnet progressed to the 3rd round of the FA Cup where they were beaten by Portsmouth.  At the end of the campaign they were promoted to the Football League.

Following the game Mr Flashman contacted the club and demanded half of the remaining programmes as these formed part of the gate money.  He was told that he could collect them from the Old Spotted Dog.  He never did.


Match of the Twins

Pre season friendlies at Clapton FC are not normally interesting events.  Long gone are the tours to the Channel Islands or even Europe but, on one occasion in the 1980s, the Tons took to the road and met with Exmouth Town of the Western League for a friendly in the Devon sunshine.

The match came about as a result of unique arrangement between the clubs.  The FA were running an initiative called ‘Friends of Football’, promoting the idea of fans getting together.  This was at a time when hooliganism was rife and segregation was standard.

In response to the FA’s initiative, the committees of Clapton FC and Exmouth Town AFC got together to form ‘twin’ the clubs, must in the same way as towns across the continent do.  This move was applauded by the Football Association and, in August 1988, a friendly match was arranged to take place at Exmouth’s Southern Road ground.

The club’s at this time had differing fortunes.  The Devon club were one of the strongest non league teams in the West of England.  A couple of years later they were unlucky to lose and FA Vase semi final to Fleetwood Town, and they had won the Western League Championship twice in the previous four years.  Their pre-season programme included visits from Bristol Rovers, Exeter City and Chelsea whereas the Tons, after facing Exmouth, had the likes of Beckton United and Ford United to look forward to.

On the pitch, the clubs were some distance apart.  The Exmouth team were unashamedly semi-professional and boasted players with football league experience amongst their squad.  Frank Howarth, Alan Hooker and Graham Weeks had all previously turned out for Exeter City.

The all-amateur Clapton XI included popular goalkeeper Brian Balkwill and captain Jim McFarlane who is now manager of AFC Hornchurch. Also in the side were Adam Baker who went on to sign for Leyton Orient and Miguel de Souza, who was later to become a very accomplished player in the Football League for many seasons after leaving the Tons.

The Clapton coach arrived in Exmouth for the match in good time, only to find that the kit man had packed the away kit by mistake and that the sky blue away shirts of Clapton would clearly clash with the royal blue of the hosts.  The result was that the Tons borrowed Town’s second strip and played in all red shirts and sky blue shorts, a look that amounted to an offence against football fashion and thankfully has never been repeated.

The match itself was the usual lame pre-season affair with both teams going through the motions.  The final result, a 3-0 win for the hosts, reflected the difference between the teams at this time.  It didn’t matter.  Showered and ‘spammed up’, the Clapton team left the dressing room with one thing on their mind, party.  The food laid on by the hosts was superb and was washed down with copious amounts of beer by the visitors.  Gradually, the home team drifted away until virtually all those that remained in the clubhouse were from the Clapton contingent.

Evening turned to night and the Clapton lads were very much on the town.  The coach driver had been ‘bunged’ to delay the departure and eventually, as morning broke in Forest Gate, the Clapton coach pulled up outside the Old Spotted Dog Ground.

However, the party were minus one member who had missed the coach due to his taking a ‘tactical nap’ on the beach.  No mobile phones then, no alarm calls etc.  He finally returned to London on Sunday evening, shattered and with only a sketchy recollection of the previous day’s events.  His secret is safe with me.

Since then the fortunes of both clubs has waned.  Exmouth’s semi-pro policy came back to bite them on the bottom, as has happened to so many other clubs.  Players left to chase the dollar elsewhere and kiss another badge.  They were withdrew from the Western League and had to reform as Exmouth Town (2006).  They now play in the South West Peninsula League.

As we know, the Tons lost their Isthmian League status in 2006 and have suffered hard times since.

However, the twins could both be on the up.  Last season, Exmouth gained promotion to the premier division of their league and won the Devon Senior Cup.  The Tons, as we know, are enjoying their best season for many years and are playing in front of attendances not seen at the Old Spotted Dog for some time.

The Friends in Football initiative by the FA might not have had the clout or success of the Respect or Grassroots campaigns, however it did provide some lads from East London with a jolly good day at the seaside and a few sore heads afterwards.


W.D.J. (Walter) Tull

Walter Daniel John Tull was born in Folkestone on 28th April 1888. His father was a carpenter from Barbados who had moved to Folkestone and married a local woman.

By the age of nine, Walter had lost both his parents, and when he was ten, he and his brother Edward were sent to a Methodist orphanage in Bethnal Green. His brother left the orphanage two years later, was adopted by a Scottish family and became a dentist. Meanwhile, Walter played for the orphanage football team, and in 1908, began playing for Clapton FC.

It has been widely, and mistakenly, reported in articles in both football and national press that Walter played for Clapton Orient (now Leyton Orient).  Other reports state that Clapton FC were a local team and infers that the Tons were a mere ‘bunch of amateurs’. How wrong they are.

Amateurs they may have been, however the Clapton team of this era were one of the best non-professional outfits in England.  Whilst playing for the Clapton FC, Walter Tull won winner’s medals in the FA Amateur Cup, London County Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup. He, and Clapton FC, were certainly no ‘bunch of amateurs’.

Clapton Team 1909 2

The Clapton team of 1909, winners of the FA Amateur Cup and London Senior Cup.  Walter Tull is seated in the front row, one from the right.

However, Walter Tull had been identified as a player of great skill and, in March 1909, the Football Star called him ‘the catch of the season’.

tull2In 1909 he signed as a professional for Tottenham Hotspur and whilst with the Spurs he experienced, for the first time, spectator racism when his team travelled to play Bristol City. According to one observer, ‘a section of the spectators made a cowardly attack on him in language lower than Billingsgate.’ The correspondent continued:  “Let me tell those Bristol hooligans that Tull is so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football whether they be amateur or professional. In point of ability, if not actual achievement, Tull was the best forward on the field”

In October 1911 Tull moved to Northampton Town where he played half-back and scored nine goals in 110 senior appearances. When the First World War broke out, be became the first Northampton player to sign up to join the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, and in November 1915 his battalion arrived in France.

Walter Tull
Walter Tull

The Army soon recognised Tull’s leadership qualities and he was quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant. In July 1916, Tull took part in the major Somme offensive. Tull survived this experience but in December 1916 he developed trench fever and was sent home to England to recover.

Tull had impressed his senior officers and recommended that he should be considered for further promotion. When he recovered from his illness, instead of being sent back to France, he went to the officer training school at Gailes in Scotland. Despite military regulations forbidding “any negro or person of colour” being an officer, Tull received his commission in May, 1917.

Lieutenant Walter Tull was then sent to the Italian front. This was an historic occasion because Tull was the first ever black officer in the British Army. He led his men at the Battle of Piave and was mentioned in dispatches for his “gallantry and coolness” under fire.

Tull stayed in Italy until 1918 when he was transferred to France to take part in the attempt to break through the German lines on the Western Front. On 25th March, 1918, 2nd Lieutenant Tull was ordered to lead his men on an attack on the German trenches at Favreuil. Soon after entering No Mans Land, Tull was hit by a German bullet. Tull was such a popular officer that several of his men made valiant efforts under heavy fire from German machine-guns to bring him back to the British trenches. These efforts were in vain as Tull had died soon after being hit.

He was the first British-born black army officer and the first black officer to lead white British troops into battle.

In 1997 an appeal was launched in Northampton to recognise Walter Tull’s achievements, inspired by research undertaken by Phil Vasili and an enthusiastic local fan. In July 1999 a memorial to Walter was finally unveiled at Sixfields the home ground of The Cobblers, and the approach road to the stadium renamed Walter Tull Way. More recently, the offices of Probation Services in the centre of Northampton have been renamed Walter Tull House.

Walter’s status as a war hero should also be considered in the context of other un-named Black soldiers who fought for Britain in both World Wars and other battles across the world over hundreds of years.

So, journos, archivists, playwrights and the football world in general, please remember that Walter Tull first made his mark on the game of football at the Old Spotted Dog Ground and with Clapton FC.






W.I. (Bill) Bryant

William Ingram (Bill) Bryant was born in Ghent, Belgium on 01 March 1899.

bryantcartoonHe was a full England International as well as an Amateur International. He won his only full England cap on 21 May 1925, in a friendly against France in Paris. England won the match 3 – 2, and Bryant played the full 90 minutes.

A centre half, he plied his trade with Clapton and Millwall. He was a Clapton player at the time of his full International call up.

William was the Clapton captain for the 1924/25 F.A. Amateur Cup Final against Southall, held ironically at The Den, Millwall, home of the team he was soon to join. Clapton won the game 2 – 1, thus retaining the trophy they had won a year earlier, when Bill was also a member of the victorious Clapton team.

He left Clapton to join Millwall in 1925 and played 132 games for “The Lions”, scoring 30 goals before returning to Clapton in 1931.

William Ingram Bryant died on 21 January 1986, in Witham, Essex aged 86.


Bill Bryant, holding the FA Amateur Cup, makes his way back to the dressing room
following the Tons 2-1 win over Southall at Millwall FC in 1925

W.V.T. (Viv) Gibbins

Clapton, West Ham & England
Proud Amateur and Pioneer of ‘Player Power’vivgibbins

William Vivian Talbot (Viv) Gibbins was born in Forest Gate on 10th August 1901.
A talented footballer, he played for Clapton while training as a schoolteacher.  In 1923, whilst still at the Dog, he signed as a amateur for West Ham United and he made his debut for the Hammers in a game against Nottingham Forest on 15th December 1923.

Gibbins continued to play for Clapton and he won the FA Amateur Cup with the club in 1924 and 1925. Gibbins also won two amateur international caps against France during this period.

Still on the books of West Ham, Gibbins’ played in only one game for West Ham United in the 1925-26 season and scored two goals in the 6-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers.

Whilst registered with Clapton, he made two England appearances, both against France, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory on 17 May 1924 and once on 21 May 1925. Gibbins went off injured after 35 minutes of the latter game.   England finished with nine men, but managed to hang on to win the game 3-2.  Gibbins was one of the last amateur footballers to feature for England.

The 1926-27 season saw the beginning of the break up of the famous Clapton Amateur Cup winning teams as Bill Bryant was now playing at Millwall and Stan Earle had moved to West Ham the previous season.  Gibbins was persuaded to link up again with Earle at the Boleyn and made 22 appearances for the irons that season.

Viv Gibbins continued to play at West Ham but his teaching commitments limited his appearances.  However, he remained a consistent goalscorer (total of 63 goals in 138 games).

His time at West Ham ended somewhat acrimoniously when West Ham refused to release him from his one-year amateur contract.  Viv had not been included in the West Ham team and according some newspapers, felt that he was “not being selected for the level of football that his talent warrants.”  At one stage, West Ham offered him professional terms, which he refused, so he eventually he took take his case to the Football Association for adjudication.


A consequence of this was that Clapton benefited by his turning out for the Tons in the meantime (he was still a member), Nonetheless, Gibbins wanted to continue playing in the Football League.   A month later, West Ham released him and he joined Brentford.  He later signed for Bristol Rovers and Southampton before joining Leyton for whom he played in the 1934 Amateur Cup Final.

The following season Viv joined Catford Wanderers for whom he played until his retirement from the game in 1939.

Gibbins2However, in the 1940s Viv returned to the Old Spotted Dog as trainer of the Clapton team.  (pictured above – back row far right) He was also the headmaster of Harold Road School in West Ham.

The entrance to the Old Spotted Dog Ground at Disraeli Road, Forest Gate is called the Vivian Gibbins Memorial Gate.

Viv Gibbins died at Herne Bay, Kent on 21st November 1979