January 2022 marked the centenary of the first meeting between our two cities on a football field. Since then, the clubs have squared up to each other 129 times with Oxford City just shading the ‘wins’ column by 51 to our 49. Most of our encounters have been in the Isthmian League but this Tales of Park Life feature takes a look back at the first time that our paths crossed, it was for an Amateur Cup 2nd Round tie at Clarence Park on 14th January 1922.

City (St Albans, that is) were members of the Athenian League, in fact we were the reigning champions having won the title at our first attempt. At the time of the cup tie we trailed league leaders Metrogas by three points (two points for a win) but held four games in hand. Oxford were plying their trade in the Isthmian League having been members since their election on 31st July 1907.

Founded in 1882, one year after the original St Albans club, Oxford City won the Amateur Cup in 1905-06 and were beaten finalists on two other occasions, 1902-03 and 1912-13. To reach the 2nd Round this season, and set up a meeting with the Saints, Oxford had defeated Custom House at the Old White House ground following a goalless draw with the London club.

4,000 see a thriller at the Park

Playing opposition from the higher ranked Isthmian League attracted a crowd of 4,000 to the Park. It was close on the ground record at that time and included around 300 from Oxford who arrived in a ‘fleet of char-a-banc.’ The take at the gate was £121.

 The Hertfordshire News described the game as, ‘an hour and a half of good thrilling football, full of incident and excitement.’ Oxford’s line up was felt to be their strongest XI, whilst the Saints brought in Harry Hankey for the injured Tommy Field. Oxford won the toss and played up the slope during the first half.

1a v Oxford City 1921 22 Bertie ButcherAfter 32 minutes of open, attacking football, St Albans took the lead when Bertie Butcher (left), fed by Peter Pierce, fired past H.Harley in the Oxford goal. Harley pulled off a series of exceptional saves to frustrate the Saints until Ted Miller stooped to head home on 51 minutes after Spiller had blocked Pierce’s initial effort. Oxford’s cause looked to be hopeless on 56 minutes when Wilf ‘Billy’ Minter accepted a pass from Ted Miller and slotted home his 15th goal of the season in his 18th game.

Oxford were being overrun at this stage but rallied impressively and pulled a goal back through W.Millin following a goalmouth scramble midway through the half. On 74 minutes A.H. Phillips added a second for the visitors after the Saints custodian W.Hempsall had saved his first attempt.

Saints through to the 3rd Round

Oxford pressed for an equaliser but returned home defeated 3-2 having met us at, possibly, the strongest point in our history. Since losing at home to Ilford in the Amateur Cup on New Year’s Day 1921, we had lost just once in the twelve months prior to Oxford’s arrival. That defeat was away to Football League side Gillingham in the F.A. Cup. We retained both the Athenian League title and the Herts Charity Cup but bowed out of the Amateur Cup in the 3rd Round to Dulwich Hamlet. Dulwich required two games to become the first non-league (amateur) side to beat us in more than 13 months. The two games with Dulwich drew crowds of 7,440 and 10,888.

Oxford came seventh in the 14-team Isthmian League and reached the 6th (final) Round Qualifying in the F.A. Cup before bowing out in a replay to League Division Three South side Norwich City in a replay at Carrow Road.

Oxford had quite some pedigree in their side in the shape of three England Amateur internationals. Frederick Ansell played four times for England prior to the First World War. Frederick Spiller had made three appearances for England prior to the cup tie and went onto add a further four caps to his collection. Frank Hartley had yet to receive international recognition but did eventually play seven times for England.

City players were not without recognition though. Minter, Pierce and Harold Figg were regulars in the Athenian League Representative side while that trio were joined by Field, Hankey, Butcher, George Meagher and Redvers Miller in the county side that reached the final of the Southern Counties Amateur Championship.

Figg and Minter attract the Professionals

 On 7th January 1922, one week before the Oxford match, Figg played in an international trial match for The South against The North at Carrow Road. Also playing for the South was Oxford City’s Spiller; the South won 4-3. Many anticipated that Figg would win his first cap at the end of the month when England faced Wales at Swansea but, sadly, he was among the reverses and was not called upon to play. Spiller was more fortunate and collected his fourth cap in England’s 7-1 win. The Saints trainer, Eddie Anderson , filled the same role for England that day.

Minter had yet to gain the first of his three England caps but did join Hartley to lead the England attack against Ireland at Deepdale, Preston, in November. Hartley scored three of England’s four goals in a 4-0 win that day.

Figg and Minter were attracting quite a bit of interest at this time with Aston Villa Watford, Luton Town, Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur all showing an interest. Figg did have a trial with Villa but the approach from Spurs in particular caught the eye. A letter from the Tottenham secretary Peter McWilliam invited the duo for a trial ‘on a day when the City Club have an easy match and can spare them.’ The two players were shown the letter and replied to the effect that they did not wish to have a trial with a professional club at the present time but, if they wished to in the future, they would certainly like to have a game with the ‘Spurs.

1b v Oxford City Aston Villa letter to Harold Figg 30 12 1921

Above: Aston Villa’s letter to Harold Figg offering a trial in December 1921.

St Albans City: W.J.Hempsall; F.J.Holland and H.B.Hankey; H.Figg, P.Bird and G.Meagher; P.E.Pierce. B.Butcher, W.H.Minter, H.E.Miller and R.Miller.

Oxford City: H.Harley; B.J.Brooker and F.T.Ansell; R.H.Golby, W.H.Millin and F.W.Spiller, H.Wackett, A.T.Jakeman, A.H.Phillips, F.Hartley and A.V.Hurley.