The controversial Somerset Challenge Cup final of 1899.

As we saw previously the 1898-1899 season, although having highlights ended in despair. However, the despair was heightened by the Casuals experience in the Somerset Challenge Cup. One in which Bridgwater was to become on a par with Wells City as a side that the Yeovil fans would hate with a passion! 

It all started  with a nice little trip to West Somerset to St.Decumans in Watchet. Watchet were a very strong team and had easily beaten Yeovil the previous season. So, in the first round Watchet saw a visit by the Yeovilians as although not a walkover, very 'doable'. 

Watchett, still playing today in their red and black kit, advertised the match in the local press as the first in this competition ever to be played in West Somerset. Admission  was 3d or 3d extra on the reserved side where you had the luxury of boards to stand on! 

The Yeovil Casuals turned up with confidence though after beating reigning Somerset Champions, Street, 3-1 the week before. Two of the Yeovil players, Wyatt and Luffman already well known amongst the West Somerset crowd. Bob Wyatt's reputation went before him,. At eighteen stone, six foot four, he was described as a 'collosus of a man'.  Yeovil's forward Reg Luffman was  educated at Queens College, Taunton and had played at Watchet many times before. 

In a hard fought match, where Watchet had the majority of the game, Yeovil won 1-0 with a thunderous shot by Beare, that stung the hands of Chidgey in the Watchet goal and flew in.  Watchet made up of seafaring men like Chidgey in goal and Organ up front, weathered the storm and attacked for much of the second half but to no avail. The West Somerset corresponding at the match commenting that the forwards were the reason for the loss. Though his description of the the Yeovil forwards was such:

"The Casuals front rank did some very good 
work collectively, and they had a  splendid knack of feeding their ' heavy 'un-Wyatt-whenever a favourable opening occurred. It took a lot to pull " Big Bob" up once he had got under weigh (sic) , and his shots were quite of the catapultic order"

The win placed Yeovil straight into the semi-final where they would face Burnham. The other Semi being between Bridgwater and Street. 

Burnham arrived at Pen Mill on the 18th March 1899 with a high reputation, having beaten Radstock 4-0 in the previous round after a reply, in front of its highest ever crowd. 

The Somerset Challenge Cup was a relatively new competition and hadn't quite grasped the attention of the Yeovil public. Barely, five-hundred turned up at Pen Mill, paying their 3d and entering through the gates. 

The match was pretty much a one sided affair, the highlight of the first half was Ewans the Yeovil midfielder scoring from a pot shot from the half-way line. The red shirted Burnham team came alive in the second half and attacked down the slope towards the Camborne End, but to no avail . Big Bob, the farmer from Maiden Newton scored a couple and Beare finished it off near the end. 4-0 to the Casuals! 

Bridgewater had caused a shock! Facing Street, the reigning Somerset League champions, they had scored twice in the last ten minutes and had beaten them 2-0 in a replay on Street's Victoria Road ground. 

Yeovil v Bridgwater, Somerset Challenge Cup Final was to be played at Wells City on Easter Monday 1899.

If the Yeovil fans hadn't caught the cup bug before they certainly had for the final. Hundreds took advantage of a football special to the Cathedral City, whilst hundreds more took 'brakes', some even cycling! 

A beautiful sunny day awaited them with a slight wind as both teams took the pitch. The Yeovil team being :

Hyde, Bond, Sugg, Arnold, Sercombe, Seymour, Stone, Wyatt, Ewans, Hann, Beare

The Bridgwater side containing the Gill brothers, Ernie and George. Ernie going on later to play for Southampton. George later to have a successful cricket career with Somerset and Leicestershire. 

George Gill, Bridgwater FC and Somerset 

The match was hotly contested, both sides attacking each other in turn, chances being  missed at both ends. The match was stopped for some considerable time as Charlie Gill and Tommy Stone clashed heads and both had to be bandaged up to stop the flown of blood. After restarting, again chances missed with Big Bob Wyatt the main culprit for Yeovil. 

45 minutes, 90 minutes, 120 minutes - still a goal could not be found by either side. A draw it was. The happiest people in the crowd being the officials from the Somerset FA. A grand sum of £22 pounds was taken at the gate. A replay would also produce a similar figure. 

The Victoria ground, Street was to be the venue for the reply. Just three days later. Hastily football specials were booked and it seemed the whole of Yeovil wanted to get to the match. 

Come the match day, Street was inundated with supporters as another 2000 plus crowd lined the ropes trying to obtain any view of the game they could. Interestingly most of the match reports talked of the financial gain the Somerset FA were making from the game, as the majority of the gate money went directly to them. 

Yeovil lined up slightly changed from the first game. 

Hyde, Bond, Sugg, Arnold, Sercombe, Luffman, Seymour, Ewans, Lowe, Beare. 

Lowe, a West Coker lad had recently arrived back in the village from his studies at Oxford University. Something that was to have significant consequences later. 

Bridgwater also had to make some significant changes, through illness. 

The match kicked off late, several Bridgwater players were delayed getting to the ground. Bridgewater playing in blue shirts and white shorts. Yeovil being forced to wear all white to stop a kit clash. 

The replayed final was a different game, although Bridgwater started the stronger, Bond and Sugg defended well enabling Yeovil to slowly come on top. Halfway through the first half, the Yeovil voices in the crowd were sent into raptures as Beare fired on from inside the box through a crowd of players. The noise doubled nearer halftime as Big Bob Wyatt fired in Yeovil's second. 

The second half was much the same, Yeovil with the advantage of the slope and the wind, were on top. Lowe, who had formally been a Varsity player at Oxford being the star man for the Casuals. Soon Big Bob fired in a thunderous shot and to finish the job of a little later Beare scored his second. Bridgwater obtained a consolation near the end aided by an own goal from Fred Bond. It didn't matter, soon after Mr Bloor the Bristol referee blew his final whistle to set off amazing scenes amongst the Yeovil contingent. 

The crowd gathered in front of the pavilion at Street to see the handing over to the cup to Harold Arnold the Yeovil captain. First though a speech from Mr H. Sheldon from the Somerset FA. Interestingly,he mentioned how the cup, had become the chief revenue maker for the Somerset FA and the Association would struggle to survive within the finances the cup made for them . One suspects, his inner happiness that the best supported team in Somerset had been in the final and a final with a lucrative replay! 

The celebrations in Yeovil were wild, as 1000 people were at Pen Mill station to welcome the boys home. All being taken by brake to the Borough for speeches. It had finished the season on a high, another cup to display in the jewellery shop windows for admiring fans to walk by and feel proud. Yeovil were happy with their lot!

Bridgwater had other plans though and had been been to work immediately after the final. Checking the registration of the Yeovil players and the competition rules. One being that a player had to reside in the county for twenty-eight days continuous!  The Oxford blue, Lowe, man of the match for  Yeovil at Street, they suspected, hadn't. 

To confirm this they contacted no other than Lowe's own Father, the Vicar of West Coker! Who replied by letter that he had been in the village for twenty-five days! 

Bridgwater went straight to the Somerset FA, who were still probably counting the money from the match at Street. They, in turn contacted the FA in London , who ordered the match to be replayed. The Somerset FA's finances would get another handsome pay day.

As for Yeovil they had the ultimate embarrassment of having to hand the cup back! The Somerset football Association would get another payday, but ultimately it would cost them, as Yeovil chose never to enter the competition again. Removing the cups biggest financial draw! 

On the 27th April 1899, Wells was to be the venue for the replayed final. Nobody it seems in Yeovil cared one jot about it anymore. No special trains were organised and the gate was described as 'fairly' big, one suspects most from Bridgwater or locals from Wells. 

Yeovil put out a reasonably strong team

Hyde, Sugg, Bond Seymour , Sercombe, Arnold, Luffman, Beare, Wyatt, Ewans, Stone. 

Bridgewater welcoming back Sammy Wood, the Australian captain for Somerset cricket club, and a fine footballer also. 

Bridgwater it would seem were more up for it, Yeovil having chances but ultimately, with fifteen minutes left Skitt scored for Bridgwater, meaning that the cup was theirs. 

The reception of the winners in Bridgewater was a mirror imagine if what had happened in Yeovil just a few weeks before. Hundreds lining the streets to welcome their heroes home with the cup. 

The team returned to the Cross Rifles pub in the town where the cup was filled with champagne and a toast was made to "Bridgwater football club". One does wonder if they toasted the health of the Somerset FA also! 

Happy days! 

* for more seasons and stories check the archive 


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