Item no 3 in our list of 100 objects is technically not an object at all. There are several related objects which could tell the story, but none so well as witnessing the real event – the tension, the passion, the heart-break, the nail-biting finish of a penalty shoot-out, and all set to the pounding rhythms of Oasis and The Black Eyed Peas. This is communication in the 21st century – immediate, shared, interactive, jointly constructed by players, coaches and spectators.
But there is more to this story than technology. This is a story over twenty years in the making. This is a story about soccer versus rugger, about amateur versus professional, about the reliability of the official record, about suppression, about class division, about mythology and journalism. Above all, about triumph – a triumph achieved after one hundred years. And about how Radley College Association Football Club won the LB Cup.
Let us begin by hearing from the heroes themselves:
Best memory from Radley:
‘Saving the penna to win the LB Cup.’ Andrew Sweerts
‘Winning the LB Cup for the first time in history …’ Jack Nicholls
‘The celebrations sparked off by scoring the winning penalty in the LB Cup football final…’ Jamie Chaplin-Rogers
‘Passing the Shell French verb test/ Winning the LB Cup.’ Ben Browne
‘Scoring 2 goals in cup final.’ Jack Trowbridge
‘LB Cup final.’ Jake Woolfenden
‘Winning the LB Cup and scoring in the penalty shoot-out.’ Angus McAlpine. (Radley Leavers’ Book, 2011.)
And then travel back in time… To 1996 and George Atwell’s headline in The Radleian: ‘Football’s Coming Home … but not to Radley!’ He writes about a paltry four or five fixtures squeezed onto one Lent term pitch, and laments:
At its lowest form it is simply a sport where the ball has to find its way between two posts for one team to beat another (something which the Senior Radley football squad found exceedingly difficult.) … (The Radleian, 1996)
This was the year when Euro ‘96 was played in England, and soccer fever racked the land. But soccer was not flavour of the month at Radley. George continues:
Great national institutions like Eton and Winchester thrive on what is supposed to be the ‘Gentleman’s game’, yet here at Radley (where it is thought to be anything other than Gentlemanly) it seems to get no attention worth mentioning. (The Radleian, 1996)
‘Ah, George… Yes, I remember him fondly, the budding journalist (did he go on to do that?) needing to exaggerate for effect. But one certainly needs to know that there was by 1996 already a nucleus of committed soccer players, taking part in more fixtures than he seems to have been aware of – even if energies were not at that stage being directed to penning full-scale reports for The Radleian. There was undoubtedly at that stage still a sense of being part of an underground movement. The real story of those early years is that it all started with five or six boys approaching me in the late Michaelmas Term of 1990 asking if there were a chance of something a little more organised than the occasional ‘social’ fixtures with Stowe and Rugby (along with an annual trip to the Douai 6-a-sides) that had been overseen by Bernard O’Keeffe. Yes, it did take a little while to get any sort of a pitch – and indeed kit which was specific to the club, but we were soon playing on an ad hoc basis (and initially on Sunday afternoons) new opponents such as Oxford colleges (Brasenose and Somerville), ‘Hamilton Academical’ (a ‘wandering’ team from Reading), David Guest’s XI… and then Oratory School. We played their 2nd XI in initial games.
I do give enormous credit to such as George for penning the sort of article that got the attention of boys and dons alike, but at the same time I know that he didn’t know the whole story…’ Paul Gamble, Master in Charge of Soccer, 1990-2002, writing in 2012
By 1998, Paul Gamble could tell a different story:
Unaided by Murdoch’s millions and without the assistance of a faith-healer, RCAFC continues to enjoy a renaissance … 1997-98 saw approximately one out of three Radleians involved in some sort of competitive action and over thirty inter-school matches played. (The Radleian, 1998)
Now there was a 2nd XI as well. The 1st team played twelve matches, won six and lost six; the 2nd team played ten, won five, drew two, lost three. But more significant was strength in depth – now the Colts also had organised soccer, and there was a Junior Social knock-out competition. Thus from small beginnings … But Paul highlights two crucial elements on the way to winning the LB Cup:
The future of Radley soccer looks bright, with teams now beginning to think and play like footballers, as opposed to playing like rugby players who have lost their pitch…
All that has been achieved would not have been possible without the hard work and enthusiasm of my fellow coaches and referees, particularly Vic Clements and Mark Moore… (The Radleian, 1998)
Training – particularly acquiring a different set of skills to those which have been taught over most of a lifetime. And coaching – the enthusiasm to keep going, particularly for a minor sport that does not attract the funding and the glamour of the school’s major sports.
‘1996-8 certainly did see a critical phase of acceleration in the process of developing the club. Other similar phases have been the early ‘noughties’ and the last couple of years, when Paddy Wallace has taken things by the scruff of the neck. The trend is, of course, easy to spot: RCAFC is growing to the natural level of its boy support…’ Paul Gamble, 2012
By 1999, ‘consolidation’ was the word. Now the seniors could field four teams at a push, with the 3rd XI playing four fixtures. The coaching team had risen in numbers from three to nine members of Common Room. Paul could report: ‘There is no doubt that, year by year, we are getting closer to competing on an equal basis with teams of equal experience.’ (The Radleian, 1999)
In 2000, there were four senior teams with competition for places, a professional coach had been hired (Owen McGovern of the Oxford United Centre of Excellence), and, for the first time, there was a new (and shiny) 1st XI kit. The year saw fifty-four fixtures across the Club. The climax was the last away match against Wellington, so far unbeaten in the season, which resulted in a 4-4 draw, ‘undoubtedly [Radley’s] best performance of the past decade.’ (The Radleian, 2000)
In 2002, The Radleian presented sports in order of seniority, with ‘Football’ still firmly included under the heading ‘Minor Sports.’
‘Major sport versus minor sport: I understand the way in which others have seen this as the model for the relationship between hockey and soccer in modern times, but I always went to great lengths to avoid portraying any inter-sport relationship in these terms. My philosophy on sport does not in any case allow for such terms: all the games/sports which we might wish to play have far more in common with each other than they have differences and I’d like to feel that by holding to that view in public and in my own mind I helped soccer to get established in the modern era.’ Paul Gamble, 2012
A greater disappointment for the Club was failing to reach 200 goals scored by just one. But by 2003, such distinctions had been dropped by the magazine’s editors, and the Soccer Club was, in any case, rising to the dizzy heights of ‘major’ sport. The 1st XI played in their first final – the Crusader Cup. A final which, like the LB Trophy in 2011, went to extra time:
As we had been relieved by the arrival of half-time, so Rugby were delighted to reach the sanctuary of the extra period. As it turned out, our chance had gone, Rugby scoring the winning goal against the run of play and heading back to Warwickshire with the silverware. And yet, it somehow didn’t seem to matter at the time: the fact that we had done ourselves justice, taken part in a memorable occasion, enjoyed the fantastic support of a coach load of Radleians and shown what Radley football is capable of meant that the smiles on the faces of the Radley players at the end of a very long night were as broad as those of the victors. (The Radleian, 2003)
So the decade progressed. A decade of dedication, hard work, and training. In 2009, the Crusader Cup was replaced by the LB Cup competition. LB is a sports clothing firm founded in 2007 by an amateur footballer. It sponsors the ISFA (Independent Schools Football Association) affiliated to the FA, promoting a league competition based on the FA Cup. The names of just two schools are engraved on the trophy: 2009 and 2010 Loughborough Grammar School, 2011 Radley College. LGS’s 2012 website states their determination to win it back. Radley came close in 2010:
Warning: this report contains superlatives. The 1st XI of 2010 were an outstanding team to oversee, giving great entertainment at times with attacking play that was full of verve, whilst all the time playing with a compelling focus under the strong leadership of Nick Ramsay. Granted there was the disappointment of falling short of expectations in the LB Cup, in a year when we had a good enough team to go all the way, but this should certainly not overshadow a term of exciting games and strong individual performances. (The Radleian, 2010)
|And so to victory in 2011:
‘About which… what would I say? (i) It was an exceptional performance by a group of boys who showed every positive characteristic that one would want from a Radley team. I don’t believe that I will see a better advert for Radley camaraderie in my time here. (ii) Not so much in the final, but through the term as a whole, the team played the sort of football that I would not have felt possible at Radley in 1990… or 1996… or even 2003. This was possible because the right foundations were laid and the right principles adhered to – over many years. (iii) You can add me to the list of those boys quoted above: being associated with that group of boys and my excellent colleague and friend Adam King is, for now, my single best memory of my time at Radley – not because of winning the cup, but because I probably know best where the journey had started and how much unseen hard work went in over many years. The cup was won. as I see it, by every boy who ever played for RCAFC in the modern era. As RCAFC developed, I sensed that at some stages a small minority resented what was being done to allow the boys to play soccer, but the club has always endeavoured to rise above such petty points-scoring and malevolence. Perhaps because we have never been in a position to take anything for granted it has been easier for us to stay humble?’ Paul Gamble, 2012
Our story so far implies that Association Football is a relative newbie on the Radley block. Twenty years to get from ‘very little’ to national champions. But that ‘very little’ needs to be examined a little more closely. In Tony Money’s obituary in 2007, Hamish Aird referred to Tony’s love of the game and his role in running soccer at Radley throughout the ‘wilderness years’ when no reports appeared in The Radleian at all:
Later he was to run football (regarded as a rather louche sport by the establishment) for many years and he refereed in long floppy, faded blue shorts. He was believed to have played for Arsenal in his youth or was it the Cup-winning Corinthian Casuals team?’
Tony Money was a boy at Radley in the mid-1930s and a school master there in the 1960s, a time when Rugby Union reigned supreme, yet the autographs he collected whilst a boy at the school include the names of players from the contemporary Arsenal team. Was this an underground movement among Radleians? A secret vice? An unspoken love for the ungentlemanly sport of professional soccer, as opposed to the nobler aims of amateur rugger? This stigma still hung over RCAFC in 1996, when George Atwell wrote about the perceived class distinction of soccer versus rugby: ‘What used to be the love of the working class has now been transformed into a Bourgeois pastime …’ and viewed in Radley as ‘not gentlemanly’. In 1999, The Radleian illustrated the soccer team report with a headline ‘The importance of being a posh footballer,’ with team members shown wearing suits and white tie. There is some anecdotal evidence of being laughed off the pitch at some less-judiciously chosen fixtures… It was not thus in the beginning.
Football (by which I mean the art of kicking around an inflated bladder between an undefined number of players, on any rough patch of ground, with or without handling the ball, or reference to any rules) has been played at Radley since the school was founded in 1847. In 1853 Radley created a game commonly known as Radley Football, and played their first ever match against a ‘foreign’ team, an unnamed Oxford College. This was loosely based on a form of football played at Harrow, with similarities (for the spectator) to the Eton Wall Game. The team originally consisted of fifteen players, but within a few years had changed to twelve.
A poem from 1875 describes a Radley Football match at home (and incidentally answers a recent debate about the school’s colours):
Football on a wet day
Behold a wet and wretched day,
With clouds as black as ink,
A four-and-twenty shiv’ring boys,
In caps of red or pink.
Among the number there’s the one
Who writes this mournful tale,
In Jersey, coat, and comforter,
And boot with many a nail.
A solemn pause – the ball’s kicked off –
To kick at it I try,
But slipping in the soaking grass
Down in the mud I lie.
I madly rush at friend or foe,
Shin two of my own side,
Push over one, trip up two more,
And then quite blown, subside.
Into a gentle ambling trot,
When whirling comes the ball,
And hits me right upon the head;
Of course I promptly fall. (The Radleian, February 1875)
In 1871, four years after the FA was founded, the Rugby Football Union came into being. It received powerful support from a number of schools whose headmasters had been assistant masters under Dr Arnold at Rugby, and therefore began life with an extensive inter-school competition ready-made. By 1873 nationally fifty-three clubs and schools were playing Association, eighty-one playing Rugby Union, and sixteen playing to the rules in place at Rugby School. If Radley wanted to continue to play fixtures, it needed to choose its sport. Since the school was already playing a game much closer to Association Football than to Rugby Union, the choice was simple: Radley College Association Football Club was founded in 1881. The Old Radleians followed in 1885, and in 1886 Leonard Cooper won his Oxford blue playing in goal in the Inter-Varsity match, while Lowry North, Cecil White and William Andrews all played for the Swifts against Blackburn Rovers in the semi-final of the FA Cup. Association, called ‘Soccer’ by its public school players, was considered a sport for gentlemen, which allowed them to play against men from all classes and backgrounds. One of the original aims of the FA was to foster class equality. Rugby Union, on the other hand, involving more physical contact, was considered the less gentlemanly of the two sports.
|Soccer remained the school’s major sport, alongside rowing, throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. But rebellion was brewing. From 1904 there were calls for Radley to switch from Association to Rugby Union. The primary reason given was the increasing professionalism of soccer. This was perceived as unfitting for amateur gentlemen. In 1911, the College Debating Society proposed the motion ‘That in the opinion of this House Professional Football has a deteriorating influence on sport.’ On the games pitches, the debate was tossed back and forth between supporters of the two sports, with the bias towards rugby being assisted by a series of poor results by the soccer team, culminating in a ‘crushing defeat inflicted on the Old Radleian team’ in the Arthur Dunn Cup in 1907.|
‘You may, therefore, care to note the durability of the modern day OR team, who play towards the upper end of the Arthurian League – and who made it to the ¼ final of the Arthur Dunn Cup last season, losing out to Brentwood, who are a very well established soccer playing school. Our OR team are no occasional outfit: they play competitively throughout the winter. Needless to say, this would not be happening if soccer had not ‘come home’ to Radley!’ Paul Gamble, 2012
A letter to The Radleian in 1907 advocates the switch to Rugby Union on the grounds that it was easier to become proficient at rugby than at soccer – a point supported by the woeful performance of the soccer team:
After one game and a diligent study of the laws of Rugby Football, I found I was no longer a novice; I could drop kick with tolerable accuracy, take and give passes, find touch, and tackle a little; after three or four games I was quite a proficient player… (The Radleian, 1907)
The mood of the school swung in favour of Rugby Union, which had the additional advantage that it requires thirty players rather than twenty-two and so more senior boys had the potential to win the coveted ‘caps,’ but with the proviso ‘the idea of Rugger is that it should be for those who are not very good at soccer.’ The mood of the school may have been towards rugby, but soccer did not go down without a fight. In 1907 Radley formally joined the Amateur Football Association – a direct blow against those concerned about professionalism in the sport. But the end was in sight: the first Rugby Union game to be played at Radley was in 1911 – exactly 100 years before RCAFC won the LB Cup. In 1913 a new Warden, Edward Gordon Selwyn, was appointed. He was a keen sportsman who had played ‘football’ for Eton as a schoolboy. He was described by AK Boyd as ‘a man of progressive views in education who would not be afraid of reform.’ (Boyd, 1947. The history of Radley College, 1847-1947, 288-9) Reform was what the school Council wanted in the new Warden – someone ‘who would take an entirely fresh view of Radley and its problems and thrust it forward on a new educational path.’ Progressive, reforming Wardens are seldom instantly popular with an established Common Room and prefects. Selwyn walked straight into the soccer/rugger debate, and despite the sense that the general mood was towards Rugby Union, he was accused in the school’s mythology of high-handedly, tyrannically, without consultation, simply pinning up a notice in Covered Passage to the effect that rugby would now be the school’s major sport for dry-bobs. In 1914:
It is officially announced that the School game in the autumn term will be Rugby Football instead of Association. This seems to us at first to be great wrench from our old customs, but we suppose that in a few years it will work smoothly. (The Radleian, February 1914)
|[You can read more about this in Tony Money’s seminal works Football at Radley 1847-2000 and Manly and muscular diversions: public schools and the nineteenth-century sporting revival. Duckworth, 1997. Copies can be obtained from The Library, Radley College.]|
Clare Sargent, February 2012