Socialist and the public schoolboy, Broken legs, and Evercreech Season 1902-03

The kit was a problem again, the one Guinea kit given by Mr Newton the previous season  was of poor quality. Some at the 1902 AGM even questioning the colours. They stayed as they were though! The club financially couldn't have been better £60 lay in the bank, thanks mainly to a good good run.

The AGM, was chaired by the Rev. Robins who gave a long speech regarding the importance of football in the town was and how it gave boys a sense of purpose and discipline. Ironically given the Vicar's speech, a young footballer from Barwick had been killed in a match against Yeovil Harlequins reserves a few months before in a very ill disciplined drunken match.

The FA Amateur cup was put on hold this season with new teams entering the Wiltshire league and eight matches to play in the Somerset Senior league , free time for other matches was in short supply.

The football club played their annual cricket match against the cricket club, losing by twenty-seven runs. There was one footballer not able to play in the match. Gilbert Vassall was making his County cricket debut for Somerset against Surrey. 

Upton Park from London paid their usual pre-season trip to Pen Mill. Yeovil taking the opportunity to trial some new players in a 3-2 win. One of their old players the same day was signing for Aston Villa, Harry Griffin who had appeared for the Casuals a year earlier. His Villa career was short lived however making just one appearance for the Villa side. Two new signings were made, it seems the the Casuals were throwing their net wider for better players  Orr and Hoare were signed from Shepton Mallet. 

After a disappointmenting trip to Melksham in their first game of the campaign, a 2-0 defeat, the Casuals entertained Chippenham United at Pen Mill. A match that saw some new blood in the team, a fine performance in front of a large crowd saw the Glovers perform well in a 4-0 victory, two apiece  for Leonard Vassall and Gard. 

The team for the opening home match being 

Herb Cook, Fred Bond, Rudd, Maynard  Williams, Reg Luffman, Bradford, Leonard Vassall, Davey, Gard, Beare. 

Rudd coming through the reserve side that was year upon year proving to be a good vein of talent for the full  first team. Gard a young player that had previously played for Lymington a small village near Ilchester. Davey had been signed from Ewen & Cobbs FC, a glove factory team in Reckleford. Reg Luffman would become an influential player over the next few seasons, scoring plenty of goals and earning County caps. He was the joint owner of Luffman and Thring glove manufacturers. Later becoming captain but  as captain not particularly being well liked by the players for his bombastic attitude. 

Reg Luffman 1880-1960

A week later, and Bradford-on-Avon returned to Pen Mill, after doing the double over the Casuals the season before. This time they were up against a much stronger Casuals's side. Making his debut was William Seymour, in a very attacking side Yeovil playing a 2-3-5 formation. It worked, Yeovil winning 7-1. William Seymour had been a prominent player for Sherborne before being fighting for his country  in the Boar War with his younger brother Herbert. Both players gaining Dorset County caps previously. The awful experience of conflict shaped both of their outlooks on life in future years. Both becoming anti-war advocates and members of the Socialist party. 

William Seymour 

Results continued on a positive note and goals aplenty in the new formation. Glastonbury, on the first Somerset league match of the season being sent home on a 5-1 defeat. Devizes, the embarrassment of the 0-15 humiliation still haunting the Glovers, returned back on the Pen Mill up train after losing 4-2.

Evercreech football club felt the rath of the Yeovil committee in an emergency meeting. The Casuals had sent a side to their ground to raise money for their new club. A guarantee payment of 15 shillings and travelling expenses promised to the Casuals. The finances were not forthcoming, forcing the committee to declare that they would never play them again. 

Again the death of another young player hit the club. Everard Hann, a Casuals player up to the previous season, had been taken ill whilst at his work as a schoolmaster in the Reckleford Board School . Sent to his home to recuperate, he died just a few days later from meningitis. Described as a gentile and quiet person, he was a deeply Christian man who was assistant organist at St John's Church. He was just twenty-four years old.

The English cup came round, and Yeovil again pulled professional Southern League Swindon Town out of the hat. This time at home. Swindon being used to playing the likes of Tottenham and Southampton didn't fancy a trip to Yeovil. A telegram was recieved from the county ground offering The Glovers the grand sum of £20 to play the game at Swindon, Yeovil refused. The offer was upped to £25, again Yeovil refused citing that they owed it as a duty to their fans to play the game at home. 

The Swindon press hadn't changed from the arrogance of the previous season questioning " Why must a team like Swindon have to travel to lesser teams such as Yeovil and play on their peculiar shaped pitch" 

Yeovil pulled in their big guns, Gilbert Vassall arriving from his Oxford home to play. Even with one of England's finest amateur players, it wasn't enough. Swindon were 3-0 up before lemons were sucked. Yeovil pressed down the slope towards the Camborne End in the second half but couldn't break through. Swindon repeating the 4-0 scoreline of the previous season.

A week later, musical accompaniments were on show at Pen Mill when the Bethesda Welsh male voice choir sang before, at half time and after the match. Swindon Athletic being the visitors. The Casuals obviously enjoying it winning 5-0. A collection was taken around the ground for the striking Penryn quarry workers. Swindon enjoying their stay at Yeovil so much they missed the train home, an urgent call for beds having to be made for the Swindon team. 

The Swindon Athletic victory put the Casuals firmly at the  top of the Wiltshire league  second place he top of the league with a game in hand on second place Warminster. 

After two 0-0 matches on the bounce against Calne and Bradford-on-Avon, both away another away trip arrived with a visit to Swindon Athletic, less than a month since they kindly had been found beds in Yeovil. Yeovil, aware that in previous seasons of taking a weak side to far flung places was not good form if they wanted to be champions, so they arrived with their strongest team possible. The pitch was found to be as hard as rock with frost. Swindon ran riot beating a shocked Glovers 7-1. Sending Yeovil into second place behind Bradford-on-Avon. Swindon Athletic by the way many years later formed with Supermarine FC and play now as Swindon Supermarine. 

Come Mid-December the Casuals played only their second Somerset league match of the season against Street. Behind the scenes a row had broken out amongst the committee. One half of the board believing that the Somerset League games should be played by a weakened side, and keep players fresh for the Wiltshire campaign. The other half believing no matter what league the club should play their strongest team at all times. A weakened team at Street, told us which side won the argument. A side mixed with reserves and fringe players travelled to Street. A 1-0 victory surprising all! 

The Devon County XI fulfilled the annual Boxing day game at  Pen Mill in 1902. A county XI seemingly a major draw as over 1500 turned out to see the Glovers victorious by 3-2. Patten, another player poached from Shepton Mallet on the scoresheet. 

Young Casuals's third team player Archie  Pragnell must have woken up with excitement on the 10th January 1903. With Luffman and Leonard Vassall called up for the county team, and the Reserves needing their main strikers for league glory, he was set to make his full team debut. Called up from the third team . Swindon Town reserves being  the visitors. Swindon had put a fine run together and found themselves top with Bradford second and Casuals fifth . A win for the Casuals would still put them in with a shot for the league title. 

Young East Coker lad Pragnell kicked off facing the Hotel End , playing alongside the great G. C. Vassall. Swindon were soon on the attack and were soon 1-0  up with a soft  shot at the Camborne End. Ten minutes into the match, young Pragnell went for a challenge with the Swindon full back, Day on the half way line under the shadow of the Grandstand. "The click was heard by all as Pragnell' s leg was cleanly broken" as the report nicely put it. Day on seeing the extent of the injury fainted on the spot. An ambulance from Pen Mill Station was urgently called for, with both players hurriedly transported to Yeovil hospital. Archie never played for the Casuals again.

A week later a collection was made for Archie, £3.5 shillings raised. About £450 compared with today. 

As one can imagine, the atmosphere was subdued after, however a fine Yeovil 4-2 win, aided by a hat trick from Gilbert Vassall, softened the experience. 

In typical Yeovil fashion, after putting themselves in with a chance of Wiltshire league glory, they blew it by picking up just one point out of a possible twelve in their next six Wiltshire league matches! 

One of the defeats was at home to Warminster the reigning champions and fighting for the title again.  A match that saw two debutants for the Casuals. Firstly the Reverend G. Norris recently coming to the town to take over as Vicar of St Michael's Church. The second debutant being Gilbert Curgenven, a nineteen year old from Derby and former pupil at the prestigious Public school for the elite, Repton college. One can only imagine the conversations  to be had in the changing room with William Seymour the committed socialist. Curgenven later went into play first class cricket for Derbyshire, once taking 6-89 against the Australians. Unfortunately dieing at the young age of fifty-two in Birmingham.  On this occasion neither Gilbert of the Rev. Norris could save the Casuals from a 4-3 defeat against Warminster. 
Gilbert Curgenven Yeovil Casuals and Derbyshire 

Devizes were to be visited, the Casuals seemingly in freefall and had the humiliating experience of not being able to raise a team to travel. A telegram being sent the night before the match to the Quakers Wall Devizes HQ to give them the news. 

The local press in the town questioning how a Casuals club with three teams could not even field a team to take on their main responsibilities. The answer lay right in the pages of their own sports reports. The Casuals reserves were going for glory in the East Somerset District league. Important and difficult  matches would often see the best of the first team players called up for the Reserves instead. 

The club were fined five shillings for the Devizes debarkle. The fine was  small as Yeovil had already offered to forfeit their 50% takings of the gate, when the match was played. The offer being happily accepted by all with the added compliment "the Yeovil club show wonderful sportsmanship and are run by a committee that are the envy of many" 

The season was slowly coming to a drab end, the team not even bothering again to field full first team players. One had to feel sorry for young Rudd, up from the reserves who after a 4-2 home defeat by the miners from Welton Rovers was roasted by a fan in the local press. " Do we not have anyone better than can play than Rudd, its a poor show if we don't" 

One of the most prestigious teams in the country came to play the Casuals in April. A crowd of 1500 turning out to watch the 1st Scott's Guards. The guardsmen having to hire a special train at the cost of £9 to get from Weymouth for the match. Pen Mill had already witnessed a Welsh male voice choir during the season this time the Scott's band turned up in kilts, and bagpipes to entertain all. Accompanying the guards to a 1-0 victory. 

Scott's Guards FC circa 1900

The season was nearly finished dead rubbers all round for the Casuals who were by now below half way in both Somerset and Wiltshire leagues.  The last league match of the season was against Swindon Town reserves at the County ground. The Swindon team already ensured they would be champions a week before. The  Glovers took a weakened team and played as if they just wanted to be on the next train back to Pen Mill. By half time they were 5-0 down, they improved in the second half only conceding four. The 9-0 defeat being labelled as an absolute disgrace and an embarrassment to the town. 

There was still one chance of Silver-ware. The reserves had kept up their fine season aided by first team players making numerous appearances. Finishing equal top with Shepton Mallet. Resulting in a play-off to be handed the championship of the East Somerset League. A large crowd gathered at Wells City's ground, to see the Casual Reserves win a hard fought game by a single goal to nil. The celebrations went on long into the night at the Red Lion. Shepton made an objection that the field was not roped off resulting in spectators continuously on the pitch making it hard to play. It was objected. 

So, the season ended, a season like many that promised so much to begin with but ended with apathy after Christmas. Could it get better? 

Happy days! 


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