WITH the current football season on hold, and Bridgwater Town still involved in last year’s Les Phillips Cup and this campaign’s FA Vase, club secretary Kerry Miller takes a look at the town’s first ever cup success in 1899, which was overseen by President Van Trump!

Association football had taken a firm hold in the minds of the working man in large areas of the country by the late 1800s, but both Taunton and Bridgwater lagged behind, with both towns dominated by rugby.

The round ball game was played by Dr Morgan’s School in the town and by the YMCA, while there were odd games in Burnham, Highbridge and the Huntspills, but it wasn’t until January 1898 that the seeds of a new club were sown.

A meeting was called at the Cross Rifles, as it was suggested that there was plenty of room for the ‘socker’ game in the town.

Both the brick town and the county town were rugby strongholds, with both having two established clubs, but the new venture in Bridgwater had the backing of Henry Van Trump, a wealthy shirt factory owner, who he was made president of the new club.

They were also privileged to have the great Sammy Woods there, and he was made vice-president as well as being a member of new side.

Woods was one of the most revered sportsmen in the country, having been capped by Australia at cricket and by England at rugby.

He lived in Bridgwater with fellow county cricketer George Burrington’s family, and his connections saw that there was a strong cricketing representation in the first couple of seasons.

Somerset all-rounder George Gill was a regular in the side alongside his brother Ernie, and another well known face in those squads was Ernie Robson, who had previously played in the Western League for Bristol South End (later to become Bristol City).

Robson played professionally for Somerset until he was 53, taking up umpiring when his health deteriorated through cancer, but stood for just one match before he passed away in Bristol, aged 54.

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Councillor Bouchier took the chance to enhance his standing in the town by providing a pitch in front of his home at Sydenham House, which still stands just off Bath Road; duckboards were put down and the pitch readied for a handful of friendlies.

That summer, having played no more than half a dozen games on the new ground, it was decided to hire a pitch by the Bath Road bridge, and once again it was built up with post and rails, a solid metal fence and more duckboards, it being agreed that being closer to the town was an advantage for the embryonic club.

Bridgwater joined the Somerset Senior League, which was not a success, but there was better news in cup football as they faced Clevedon in the first round of the County Senior Cup.

On February 18 “the fastest and most exciting game seen so far” ended with the Brickies winning 3-1 through goals from Jenkins (2) and Benjafield, which brought another home tie in the semi-finals.

Before then the club played a league game and a couple of reserve matches, with the cricketers rarely available - Woods in particular still playing rugby to a very good standard.

In the Senior Cup semi-final at Bath Road, a record gate turned up, boosted by hundreds of Street supporters who travelled by cheap excursion from Glastonbury on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway.

After the visitors had arrived late, the game kicked off 30 minutes later than advertised - a common occurrence at the time.

What was to be a cup success riddled with controversy continued as Bridgwater had a goal disallowed for handball, although none of the officials saw it and it was reported that the referee was put under so much pressure by the Street players and their vociferous supporters that he buckled.

During the game Woods was injured and went in goal, with Albert Leaker coming out to play up front, but the game ended goalless although a protest went into the county after the game by the home side. It was argued that the goal should have stood and that the referee did not see the incident and also he did not play any extra-time.

Both claims were rejected and so a replay was held on the cricket ground at Street, where many Bridgwater fans made the return journey and saw their side triumph 2-0 with goals from Henry Skitt and Fred Hagen.

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The final, against Yeovil Casuals, was set for Easter Monday at the Athletic Ground in Wells, and cheap trains and glorious weather ensured another big crowd.

The club and most if its supporters had long since given up on the league games, but they were there in force to watch their side play out another 0-0 draw, after extra-time, described as “an end-to-end game with superb defences”.

The following Saturday everybody journeyed to Street again, but with Leaker forced to play outfield again, young Jim Tyler had a nightmare in goal and Casuals went 4-0 up.

Skitt pulled one back but the cup was destined for Casuals, who accepted it in front of the pavilion to the cheers of their supporters.

And yet, that was not the end of the story, as the Yeovil side had drafted in an Oxbridge Blue by the name of Lowe who was a vicar’s son from East Coker, and it was alleged that he had not resided in the area for the mandatory 28 days prior to the game.

In fact it had only been 25 days, and incredibly the protest went to the English FA headquarters; another replay was the decision, to be played at the end of April, back at Wells City FC.

The Yeovil club were furious, as were many of their supporters - who sent a miniature coffin with a corpse dressed in the club colours to club officials - but when the final was played again it was an anti-climax, as Bridgwater won by a goal 15 minutes from time.

Despite the controversy, a common situation in late Victorian sport, Mr Van Trump stated that “he took pride in the success and knew of many towns much larger than Bridgwater with not half the enthusiasm for this manly winter game”.

Sadly, the enthusiasm was not to last, as the club lost every game in the Senior League in the following season and two years later they folded, to be succeeded two years later by a new Bridgwater FC, who played in the more junior Clevedon & District League.