IN this second part of his new series, Bridgwater Town FC club secretary Kerry Miller looks at how the first independent association football club in the town went from cup holders in 1899 to obscurity inside a year, but gave a platform for a future war hero to gain county caps.

Rugby football had long been established in Bridgwater by the turn of the 20th century, freezing out any chance of development within the association ranks.

Bridgwater Football Club had been in business since 1875 and played rugby on the Malt Shovel ground, a smaller version of which is now known as Victoria Park, which had been enhanced by a wooden grandstand for some time when senior soccer made its first tentative steps around 1898.

Sixteen years later Bridgwater Albion RFC was formed and they enjoyed life on what was called the Taunton Road ground, later known as Broadway, which also boasted a grandstand and hosted cricket and football as a way of boosting funds.

With virtually the entire sporting public tied up with those clubs, who went toe-to-toe until merging in 1919, any association football club would be on the back foot.

After the brief success of Bridgwater AFC in winning the Somerset Senior Cup in 1899, all of its influential cricketing footballers had long gone and, with only a handful of league games interspersed with occasional friendlies on wet fields, the dribbling code limped along somewhat unloved.

The Annual General Meeting on July 25, 1901 was held at the Cross Rifles, where the club had been formed, and the assembled heard that they had endured “a very unsuccessful season” where the first team had won six out of 25 games, the reserves winning five of 14 and the Thursday side two out of 12.

A seven-man committee were forced to work with a loss of £4 12/-, a mortal sin in an era where debt was anathema to many, but bizarrely they voted to enter the Somerset Senior League, the FA Cup and FA Amateur Cup for 1901-02.

This somewhat baseless optimism manifested itself in a statement that “prospects were brighter than for some time” and after a single practice match the new side were off the play a friendly at Bristol City FC, left over from the previous season.

Just a handful of hardy spectators watched in pouring rain at the St Johns Lane ground, which 80 years later was the home of Robinsons FC, which dominated the Senior League for many years.

Defeats by Street and Chippenham in both cup competitions were not unexpected, the Wiltshire club having offered a guaranteed sum to switch the game, but both saw brave showings in goal by Arthur O Major, known to all as Oswald.

He was one of the sons of Henry James Major, a prominent brick and tile manufacturer who lived close to the Horse and Jockey Inn opposite the town cricket ground.

The press were less than impressed with the aggressive league and cup games, and the correspondent offered the opinion that it would be “much better to have a quiet gentlemanly friendly”.

The club’s problems were not exclusively on the pitch, either, as they travelled to play Glastonbury Avalon FC in a league game in late November, and after a long and challenging ride by horse-drawn brake in very greasy and wet conditions, were an hour late in kicking off; the match was abandoned in darkness with Avalon 5-0 up.

Two weeks later a Thursday game in Taunton was also abandoned in darkness, which added more pressure to a club struggling to convince men to play the game, despite beginning the season with three XIs.

Just before Christmas, the landlord of the Cross Rifles - Walter Graddon, who was a founder of the club as well as being treasurer, secretary and occasional referee - left town, which created a huge void, and it was downhill from there onwards.

Only two first teamers travelled to Wells City for a league game, and with the new and controversial Eastover Recreation Ground providing organised football without the need to travel, the problems mounted.

Bridgwater Mercury:

MEMORIAL: The Major family gravestone at Wembdon Cemetery

Among all the chaos keeper Oswald Major was capped against Devon at Paulton Rovers and at Bath City FC against Dorset, but he would be looking for another club soon after as the club scratched a return game up the road at Burnham Town, citing no players.

Few cared when a handful went to Pen Mill to take on the awesome Yeovil Casuals in the penultimate game and they did well only to lose 10-1.

Just eight home league games in two years was no way to promote soccer in a rugby-mad town, and after a meaningless replayed game at Glastonbury nothing more was heard of the very first Bridgwater AFC.

The one success story was Oswald Major, who was already well known and respected in the town, playing football, cricket and hockey, as well as being involved in bellringing in and around the town.

With his two brothers Herbert and William often in the same side, the Major family did their bit to keep the side afloat, before Oswald went on to play Wembdon and Nether Stowey after the club folded.

He later joined the forces as a private on the outbreak of the First World War.

The former Dr Morgan’s Schoolboy served for three years, reaching the rank of captain, before being transferred to Egypt with the Somerset Light Infantry where he fought in the Battle for Jerusalem in November 1917.

On November 21, Captain Major was first wounded and then killed by shellfire. He was 42, is buried on the Mount of Olives, and has an inscription on the family grave at Wembdon Cemetery.