11/11/2007

Cheltenham in the Cup – The Early Years

The first mention I can find of Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup results was for the 1914-5 tournament. However, this was the shortest lived of all cup runs – with no result recorded, and both ourselves and our opponents, Trowbridge Town managing to get disqualified without reaching the next round.

In this article, most of our matches are in either the Extra Preliminary Round (XP) or the Preliminary Round (P) – there were then a number of further qualifying rounds (1Q, 2Q, etc) before the first round proper.

With war intervening, it was not until 1919 that Cheltenham finally got a result on the board – not a particularly inspiring result, being as it was a 4-0 defeat at Chippenham Town. For the next decade or so, entry to the cup was patchy, results even more so. In 1920, we got through XP after a 2-2 draw with Melksham & Avon United, due to our opponents being disqualified, but then lost in PR at home to Trowbridge by 3-1. The following season we fell to XP defeat at home to Devizes, while in 1922-3 – the season of the first Wembley final, we were missing from the competition. This may have been because we had just entered the newly formed Gloucestershire Northern Senior League, which had finally brought organised football to this area. Up to this point, teams in the area played in a number of local leagues, such as the Cheltenham league. Each league had a limited number of teams, but many clubs competed in more than one league, leading to frequent chaos with the fixtures.

We were back at XP in 1925, when Union Jack (Bristol) continued our run of defeats, the score was 3-6, so maybe it was not a surprise we gave 1926 a miss – returning in ‘27 to lose the XP 3-5 at home to Warminster. Still, our league form was improving – as we became the dominant team in the league for the next few years, although we recorded only one title, compared to four runners-up positions. But although 1928-9 was the championship year for Cheltenham, it was a double disappointment in the cup, as we were drawn away to play Gloucester, and still lost, this time 2-1 (XP) – Gloucester went out 1-0 at Spencer Moulton, two weeks later. The next two seasons went by without Cheltenham entering the FA Cup. Finally, on 5 September 1931, at the start of our last season in the Northern Senior League, we went to J.S. Fry & Company, at the chocolate company’s grounds in Keynsham and won an FA Cup (XP) match – not only that, we won it 5-0. This only kept us in the competition for two weeks, after which we travelled to Kingswood and lost 2-0, but it was a start.

In 1932, we moved into the Birmingham Combination, a professional league requiring far more travelling. We had a successful first season, finishing 3rd behind Redditch and Birmingham ‘A’, while our reserves replaced the first team in the Northern Senior and won the title. Perhaps in view of the greater commitment to league games, we did not enter the FA Cup. As it was, this was the final season in which we did not enter. The following season, we started the league campaign with a 3-0 home win against Atherstone, but then lost midweek at Aggborough in the Worcestershire Senior Cup. The second Saturday of the season brought Mount Hill Enterprise to Whaddon Road for an FA Cup game (XP). We won 2-0 with goals from Horace Payne and George Knight. Two weeks later, it was down to Bristol to play St. Phillips Athletic, and a Reg Smith goal gave us a draw and a home replay (which was played the following Wednesday, late afternoon – no floodlights then). Smith got a hat-trick as we won 5-0. So it was into 1Q, when Western League side Street came to Whaddon Road and lost 4-0. Then to Pennydarren Park, to play Merthyr Town. The former football league club, now playing in the Southern League had drawn with QPR in the previous season’s first round – Roy Hill and Harold Yarwood scored a brace apiece as we won 4-2. It turned out to be the Welsh team’s last ever FA Cup match – they folded at the end of the season. Another Southern League club in Wales in 3Q – Llanelly, (they changed the name to Llanelli in 1960). A 2-2 draw in Wales (George Knight, Horace Payne) led to 3000 people at Whaddon Road on a Wednesday afternoon, (1st November, so kick off surely could not be later then around 3pm). Despite Harold Yarwood’s goal, the Welshmen won 2-1.

But that was not the end of it – the FA found out that Llanelly had played ineligible players in both matches, so Calne and Harris United made the trip to Cheltenham in 4Q. Calne were a relatively minor team, (playing below Western League level at that time) and had reached this round with a series of relatively local home wins, beating Devizes 3-0, Frome Town 5-2, Radstock 2-1, and Clandown 3-1. On the 11th November they met their match, with 5000 in Whaddon Road to see Harold Yarwood score four times, George Knight and Roy Hill two each, George Blackburn and Fred Hazard one each, as Cheltenham marched into the competition proper with a 10-1 win.

Serious stuff now, even if it was a home match against non-league opposition. Barnet had won the Athenian League in both 1931 and 32, and were to reach the semi-final of the Amateur Cup in the following spring. Such a reputation seems to have been lost on Cheltenham, as Payne (2), Knight (2) and Yarwood led us to a 5-1 win, and then the longest trip imaginable – to play Third Division (North) club Carlisle at Brunton Park. If the majority of the 7347 crowd expected to see Carlisle win, then they were wrong, Cheltenham went home with a 2-1 victory, Reg Smith and a Bradley own goal doing the trick. So a club that had only win in 7 previous FA Cup attempts, now had 7 wins in one. All good things come to an end, though and Blackpool, relegated from Division One the following season came not to Whaddon Road, but the larger Athletic grounds, 10,389 came to watch, and Horace Payne who had scored the first FA Cup goal of the campaign also got the last, with Blackpool winning 3-1.

The following season was to be the last with our first team in the Birmingham Combination, before we moved on to 50 years in the Southern League, we played only one more FA Cup game, and again lost at home. This time, at 4Q our opponents were Barry, and we lost 4-2.

Early data from Tony Brown and www.thefa.com – post 1932 data courtesy of Keith Iles and Roger Knapp.