Human scarecrows, AWOL and Bristol East. 1899-1900

The 1899 AGM can best be described as a mixed bag. The President Major Kelly, remarked that the previous average season third in both the Dorset and Somerset leagues, although not setting the world alight was certainly no embarrassment. Major Kelly then speaking about the Somerset Challenge Cup fiasco, in typical military fashion expressing " Gentlemen, it was a disappointment but rules are rules"

Those attending chose that H. Arnold would be Captain for the forthcoming season with Fred Bond concentrating on off the field matters, although of course still a valuable and much loved playing member. As a token of their services to the club Fred Bond and Sammy Sugg were given lifetime membership of the club. The most welcome news of the night being that the club were still happily £50 in profit. Even as the accounts had shown that Sammy Suggs had been paid an old £5 debt. 

The football club committee were voted in, one member being William Culliford. An extraordinary man, who had no formal education. His first job being basically a human scarecrow in a field in Chilthorne Domer for a penny a day. William Culliford even without an education, worked himself up by educating himself. He was also a methodist lay preacher for sixty-five years and would eventually rise to the position of treasurer of Yeovil Casuals. 

William Culliford

As for the football front, the same leagues would be entered into, Dorset and Somerset. However, the club refusing to take part in any Somerset Cup matches, they would only concentrate on national competitions. The FA Amateur Cup and the English Cup, better known today as the FA Cup. 

Before the 1899/1900 season started the Casuals demonstrated their social responsibilities in the town by visiting the workhouse in Preston Road, now Summerlands hospital. Now being run by Mr Brooke , an ex-Yeovil footballer before the days of the Casuals. Described as a "prison for the poor with no hope nor means", the Workhouse was a living hell. The players giving out, sweets, tobacco and toys then they sung a song for the children called 'the football king'. In fact, the club would take social responsibility very seriously, in later years being one of the major contributors to the Yeovil hospital. 

Yeovil Workhouse, visited by the Casuals before the start of the season 

The football part started on the 16th February 1899, a game against Glastonbury Avalon Rovers, later to simply be called Glastonbury. A match easily won with Hann getting his first Yeovil hat trick. Big Bob Wyatt getting amongst the action by 'severely winding a couple of players" Yeovil eventually running out winners 5-1.

The team for the opening match being:

Palmer, Bond, Hamblin, Poole, Sercombe, E. Arnold, Seymour, Clarke, Wyatt, Hann, Beare

Herbert Seymour, now a Casuals player from Sherborne where he had previously played and gained Dorset County caps. Clarke and Hamblin and Poole coming up from the Reserves where they'd played the previous season. 

The Glastonbury match was followed up with a friendly match against Bristol Amateurs, in front of a large crowd. They were sent back to Bristol with a  4-0 defeat. Fine wins in the Somerset League followed. A trip to Burnham, who would not see out the season, saw the Casuals return with a 3-2 win. A week later, Bob Bob Wyatt, piled in with all five goals in a 5-4 at Paulton . 

On the 14th October 1899, Yeovil played their first ever game in the English Cup, or as we know it the FA Cup.  On this occasion Street came to Pen Mill. Street, were seen by far as the best team in a Somerset, so a very tricky game was expected. A very large crowd lined the ropes and packed the stand to witness a very exciting match. Yeovil winning 3-1 however allowed Street back into the match with two late goals. The Street second goal a penalty, given away by Sercombe, who "after a scrimmage found the ball in his hands" Street also missing another penalty beforehand, saved by Palmer in the Yeovil goal. The referee Mr Bloor from Bristol, who had referred the infamous Bridgwater Cup games the previous season, was "hooted by Yeovil supporters on the ropes". Hooted being a term for coming into some heavy abuse. He warned the crowd of their behaviour. 

After the game, a date was attempted to be found for a reply. Unfortunately with Yeovil's commitment to games in the Dorset aswell as Somerset league, no date could be found. Subsequently, the match was given to Street.

A couple of weeks later, it was a trip to Devizes in the amateur version of the English cup. An exciting match, made surreal when Yeovil had eight goals disallowed for one offence or other, all in the second half. The score finishing 3-3. As with the English cup, Yeovil could find no time for a reply and handed the tie to Devizes and allowed them to play the 1st Battalion of the Light artillery in the next round. So, still unbeaten in the season but out of both cups. 

It wasn't long for the first defeat though, it came a week later away to Radstock in the Somerset league, who were also unbeaten. Much interest was given around Somerset of which team would fall. In an evenly fault match Radstock edge it at the end when Herbert Cook the Yeovil debutant in goal making a hash of a long shot by Bill Hymen the Radstock and Somerset captain. Despite his mistake Herbert Cook went on for many years as the Yeovil custodian between the sticks. He had started playing for the B team then had advanced to the Reserves and now found himself the first choice, later gaining county honours. 

It wasn't until November the 18th before the Dorset League fixtures got under way. A home game with Bournemouth in front of a moderate crowd being the opener. As Bournemouth had arrived late the last twenty minutes played in near darkness as Yeovil won 2-1. Dorchester, a week later, although turning up on time, arrived with only ten men and they were sent back, after Yeovil had won 3-0.

After their antics the previous season, Bridgwater were hardly given a 'warm welcome' to Pen Mill on the 2nd December 1899. The reception they were expecting could be accounted as to why they turned up with only nine players, their ageing secretary being forced to wear the blue shirt of Bridgwater. Yeovil put them to the sword and a 4-1 win against their foes from the previous season being celebrated. Although the celebrations were short lived as a week later as Yeovil returned home from Street having lost 3-1. All the takings at the match going to the Boer war fund. 

Christmas arrived with again some sub-standard friendlies, Eastleigh drew a crowd of 500 at Pen Mill, although the Weymouth Royal artillery drew double that number with again all proceeds going towards the War fund. More poignantly for Yeovil  as two former players were in battle for their country, namely John Strode-Batten and Seymour. Only Seymour returning back home alive. £10 pound was raised for the fund. Seymour had written home to his parents to say that his battalion had been under seige but his only complaint was one of toothache which he'd had for ten days and attributed this to the hard biscuits he had to eat. The affects of War hitting hard on Seymour. In 1914 he became a conciencous objector. 

John Strode-Batten

The celebrations for a new Century on the 31st January 1899, seemed to have been pretty low-key in a Yeovil. With people occupied of what was happening in the Boer, maybe celebrating was not high on their list. 

There certainly wasn't much to be celebrated at Pen Mill in January either, with the Casuals going all month without recording a goal let alone a victory. Four defeats in a row, conceding fifteen goals, in fact it wasn't to be until March that a win was achieved. 

Amongst those defeats was a trip to  play Bristol East considered the best amateur team in Bristol. Although taking a very strong side, the city of Bristol as in previous seasons had not been a happy hunting ground and the trip back to Pen Mill was a forlorn one having lost 4-0. Salisbury was also visited, in January. A team without a win to it's name all season. Yeovil boosted with the appearance of Vassall were a sure bet for victory. They lost 3-0. The Salisbury sports reporter mocking Yeovil in his report with "oh look the big boys from Yeovil  had a shot, but missed again and again"

A 2-0 defeat by Weymouth wasn't to the liking of one Yeovil fan. Albert Henwood, a youth was charged with being drunk and disorderly at the match, arrested after causing a disturbance amongst other spectators. Fred Bond apparently leaving the field to assist in his arrest. Albert was fined 10 shillings. He certainly would not be the last fan to be arrested whilst attending a Yeovil v Weymouth match! 

After the Casuals seven defeats in a row in all competitions, Wells City must have visited Pen Mill licking their lips. Yeovil had welcomed back Hann and Beare for the match, the two being indisposed for a few weeks previously . It is a wonder that the crowds were not falling after recent matches, although a large crowd witnessed Yeovil tear Wells City apart. With Bob Bob Wyatt helping himself to a hat trick. 

The celebrition was short lived, because of a fixture pile up. Yeovil were forced to play at Poole the following Wednesday afternoon, played at Serte, which was later to become Poole Stadium. One suspects many players having to take time off work. However Yeovil travelled with a strong team albeit without Wyatt and Hann, but all seasoned players. Poole on the other hand forced to play "four minors" In what was to become a major embarrassment, Yeovil were defeated 6-0, leaving them second from bottom of the Dorset League. 

Strong words were needed and obviously said. Three days later, Bristol East were coming, a team that were making a name for themselves and slowly climbing the table in the Somerset Senior league. A decent result was needed to pacify the committee and the fans. 

The usual 3 o' clock kick off came and went on the Saturday, still no sign of the Bristol club. Fans gave up and were starting to ask for refunds. Suddenly a telegram arrived from Castle Cary to explain that the Bristolians were on their way, but because of a train delay they would be late. And late they were, they arrived at five o'clock with the sun already going down. 

In what can only be described as a farcial  match, Bristol East refusing to abandon the game, obviously aware that to not play it would give the points to Yeovil . The referee Mr Frowde from Poole deciding to go ahead and play. Kicking off in near darkness. Bristol's decision didn't exactly work in their favour. After seven minutes Yeovil scored through Beare, only for Bristol to equalise a few minutes later. With the match now in near complete darkness, Tommy Stone scored again for Yeovil to make it 2-1 at 'sucking lemons'. The official ordering the teams to immediately change ends for the second half to start. 

By now, Bristol, obviously realising their wishing for the match to go ahead was working against them started to kick all and sundry. Resulting in Stone, not being able to continue after a kick to the head. Ernie Sercombe was next to suffer at the Bristolians treatment, a kick to the stomach resulting in firstly a fan running in to attack Carter the Bristol culprit, secondly Mr Frowde ordering the player off the field. Now, nobody really able to see a thing, Hawkins compounded the Bristol side's suffering by making it 3-1, a goal nobody actually saw apart from himself and the referee. Once again the Mr Frowde called for the game to be stopped because of the dark, once again Bristol refused. They played on, with fifteen minutes to go, Bristol scored, again hardly anyone seeing it. At that point Frowde called the game to a halt amongst protest from the East players. He would not be persuaded and the match cut short by fourteen minutes. Incidentally, the referee Mark Frowde would have a distinguished career in the game, officiating in the 1907 Cup final. He was also one of the founding members of Weymouth football club. 

Mark Frowde referee for the Bristol East match 

Within days Bristol had appealed for the match to be replayed. The Somerset FA, still smarting over Yeovil 's decision not to play in any revenue building Somerset Cup matches, readily agreed with the  Bristolians! With a decision just as farcical as the match itself, the Somerset FA ordered the last fourteen minutes to be played at a later date! 

The decision seemed to polarise  The Casuals they went on a run that wouldn't see another point dropped in the Somerset Senior league. The next match at home to Midsomer Norton saw Big Bob Wyatt scored a double hat-trick as Yeovil romped home 10-0. More goals were to come, Radstock their old rivals from North Somerset, paid Pen Mill a visit, arriving an hour late and with only nine men. The Casuals happily accepted the situation by banging seven without reply. Glastonbury away next brought a 2-1. Paulton Rovers  away, never an easy place to go proved easy enough as the Casuals won 3-1.

By this time, the Dorset League games were secondary, laying third from bottom the Casuals using them to wisely blood in reserve players to test their mettle. As the winning streak in the Somerset league continued with a 5-0 away win at Bridgewater. 

Bristol East had already completed their fixtures, and were lying on top of the league with Yeovil after their fine run a close second. It all came down to the last game of the season. Street at home. 

Street, before considered the top team in the county were slowly being removed of that accolade, mostly assisted by the Ball brothers, who were considered the best footballing siblings in the County. If, Yeovil won they'd be equal top with Bristol East - with that fourteen minutes of the match still remaining and to be played! 

Street turned up minus their Balls, the sibling variety, who were indisposed, or just wisely had an  inclination of what was to come. In fact Street turned up with no fight or desire either as  Wyatt (5), Hann (4), Vassall (3) assisted the Casuals to an incredible 14-0.  Street failing to have a shot all game! 

Two Street fans at the match were from the Somerset Militia based at Portland. Privates Badman and Nichols both being given special leave to travel to attend the match at Pen Mill and support their home team of Street. The result obviously being too much for them as they decided to go AWOL after the match, starting a county wide hunt for their whereabouts, newspapers, billboards advertised for their whereabouts. They turned up a week later, still in Yeovil, both drunk, hungry and broke. They were escorted back to Portland to accept their fate. 

So, it came down to just fourteen minutes of football against Bristol East to decide the Somerset Senior league champions for 1899-1900. Well, it should have done! 

Bristol East, the team that had nearly broke down the doors of the Somerset FA,, wanting the fourteen minutes to be played, were now banging on the Somerset FA's door appealing that it shouldn't. 

The Somerset FA meeting at the Hare and Hounds in Shepton Mallet, again unjustly agreed with them. Ordering that the league trophy should be shared. Telling both clubs sort it amongst yourselves who will have it first! 

Yeovil got it first, it arriving alone in a box at Pen Mill Station picked up by Fred Bond, taken to the Full Moon pub and 'christened'. By the Monday it was in a jewellers shop window in High Street to display how Yeovil were champions of Somerset. 

Well half champions! 

Happy days! 

*for more seasons and stories check the archive. 



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