How Spencer Sports Club kicked off Banbury’s footballing tradition

MHBG-08-03-12 Nostalgia''Come on you Spencers!
MHBG-08-03-12 Nostalgia''Come on you Spencers!

This year, 2012, is a milestone in the history of football clubs whose playing years combine to forge an 80th anniversary.

Their origins were very different.

Spencer Sports Club was formed in 1931 as part of a recreational and social organisation tied to a Britannia Road company famous for corsets and surgical appliances. Banbury United rose from the Spencer ashes in the summer of 1965 and was recognised as a town and not a trade side.

The first two Spencer seasons were devoted to friendly matches.

They could so easily have become a wandering club but fortune determined that there was available the Middleton Road ground formerly used by the Banbury Nomads.

On Saturday, August 29, 1931 the Spencer players trotted out in their green jerseys with white sleeves and kicked off into a stiff breeze in the face of the opposition from St John’s, an established Oxfordshire Junior League side. The Saints were more skilful in attack and this was reflected in a scoreline of 8–2 to the visitors.

Spencer Sports fared little better in the following fixtures with Stones Athletic Reserves (lost 5-2) and St Leonard’s, who chalked up a 10-1 win. Fortunately these reverses were followed up by a drawn game with Wroxton, in which hope for the future was heralded by the skill of Windrow in attack and the foraging of Stroud and Carter.

In the Banbury Guardian issue of September 24, 1931 a news in brief item could have destroyed any future for the club had there been an ounce of truth in a rumour circulating Banbury about the Corset Factory closure.

The newspaper was able to end concerns and clear the way for Spencer Sports to enter Oxfordshire Junior League Division C and do battle with village teams under the new title of Spencer Villa.

Seasons 1932-1933 and 1933-1934 were like a fairy tale with progression from the rags of defeats in friendlies to the riches of top positions in the Junior and Senior Leagues.

By the time the club celebrated their achievements with dinners at the Crown Hotel in Bridge Street the name had changed again to Banbury Spencer FC.

These occasions defied all the best traditions in football training but who was worried, Banbury had a team of which it could be proud. The new found spirit was symbolised by the opening Senior League game of 1934-35 when Cowley were beaten 4-2 and 600 hundred people turned out to watch their favourites.

During the 1930s football coverage by the Banbury Guardian included a column entitled ‘Interesting Items’.

Spencers found themselves in this section at least twice during 1934-1935.

The first was when both they and MG Sports had a player named Lowe in the respective half back line-ups. On the second occasion, a charity match with Banbury GWR attracted some 800 people whose admission money went towards the Mayor’s Gresford Colliery disaster fund.

As the season evolved results such as Banbury 12 Pressed Steel Works 1 hinted that the Spencer Players were ready for even more illustrious company. The Birmingham Combination League beckoned.

In the face of opposition comprising the ‘A’ teams of Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Coventry City and Wolverhampton Wanders success was more elusive than it had been. With time and by Easter 1948 the club’s programme notes included remarks such as ‘Gay Puritans (a title linked to their kit) at their best’.

Thousands flocked to the stadium. Even more remarkably there was an average gate of 2,780, most encouraging for a town of some 14,000.

Many an away programme highlighted their attractive red and gold shirts which Hednesford Town dubbed ‘pretty little outfits’.

In 1961 cup fever was added to colour as Banbury were drawn against Shrewsbury Town in the first round of the FA Cup. Some 600 supporters filled a train drawn by a locomotive with the sign ‘Gay Puritans to Gay Meadow’. The team lost 7-1, but walked off to an ovation.

By this time the Spencer years were all but exhausted.

How a works side turned into a town team is a story for another day.