SPORT IN THE VILLAGE

Souldern, like most villages in the district, partook freely in sport through the years. However, it was mainly the menfolk who played sport in the form of cricket and football. Unfortunately, for the ladies little was done in the way of recreation for them. At least two of the larger houses did boast tennis courts but these were never made available to the village folk.

It could well have been that William Shakespeare had village people in mind when he wrote:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

(A number of people will be mentioned several times in this book in different roles: their employment, as members of the parish council, or as actively engaged in the enjoyment of football and cricket.)

Long before the First World War, the village had good football and cricket teams which more than held their own against other villages in the area. Immediately after the war, a really fit football team always took to the field. Unfortunately, for the young men returning from the war, they had no jobs to come back to. There being no transport, they were forced to walk to Deddington three times a week to sign on the dole. On the walk, they kicked a football down Wharf Lane and across the meadows to Clifton Mill – a distance of about four miles. Near their destination the ball was hidden away to await them on their return journey – after the visit to the Labour Exchange.

Lord Jersey, who resided at the big house on Middleton Stoney Park Estate, presents a cup known as the Jersey Cup for competition between the local village football teams. The final was played on the lovely ground of Bicester Town Football Club. Needless to say it was a great occasion for the village if the team reached the final – and if they won the cup then there were great celebra­tions, each player in the team receiving an inscribed medal which was proudly displayed on their watch chains.

The first time Souldern won the Jersey Cup they had a really great team ably captained by Major Wise who incidentally scored the only goal of the match. Two other members of the team were my brothers – Tom and Sam. Father farmed near Souldern at Chisnell Farm. They were only slightly built chaps but pretty tough and clever ball players. Keeper Westbury’s sons also played a great part in the victory, especially Milson who was a wing half. Without a doubt Milson was the most outstanding player ever to play for Souldern: he was an intelligent player for the District Team against an Aston Villa XI at Banbury. Milson was also a useful cricketer.

No-one enjoyed the Jersey Cup victory more than Duchy Bates. He got his name because when he got excited he tried to talk so fast he often got the words back to front (Double Dutch). He also led the singing of the victory song to the tune of “Madamoiselle from Armentiers”:

Souldern’s won the Jersey Cup – parlie vou,
Souldern’s won the Jersey Cup – parlie vou,
Souldern’s never no more to give it up
Inky pinky parlie vou.

Alas, it was to be a long time before the Jersey Cup came to Souldern again.

Much ado was made in the professional soccer world of the mid-thirties with the introduction of the “stopper” centre-half. However this system was already in being, in the Souldern team many years previously, in the person of a slightly built young chap – namely Frank Reeve. His style of play just happened: he did not move far from the centre of the field, just pushing the ball forwards or sideways with his feet or head. His Dad, Walt Reeves, used to say “Our Frank’s head is a blooming sight harder than mine, the way he keeps heading that football!”

A good little tricky player was Duck Castle – needless to say how he got his nick name. Duck was playing one Saturday afternoon when an opponent got his studs fastened in the front of his shorts, ripping them apart. There was no such thing as a trainer on the line with replacement shorts – so an embarrassed Duck stumbled towards the touch line covering himself as best he could with his hands. Dodger soon came to the rescue, carrying out a running repair by the use of his shut knife (pocket knife) and binder twine. Dodger never went out without his knife and string, irrespective of which clothes he was wearing. One can well picture him transferring knife and twine from working clothes to Sunday Best!

Two young players now making their presence felt were the Westbury brothers – Meyrick and Aubrey. (Later to be my brothers-in-law). The youngest, Aubrey, had been really outstanding whilst at school, both at football and cricket. He also represented the District Schools at athletics in both the high jump and the four-forty yards sprint.

Souldern played against Kings Sutton in the final of the Brackley Charity Cup on Brackley Town Ground. No one gave Souldern a chance. Kings Sutton was one of the outstanding teams in the district and had poached a number of better players from other villages to join them. As so often happened, Souldern brought off the unexpected and won! The two young Westburys were outstanding.

What celebrations took place afterwards! The highlight of the celebrations was laid on by Dad at his house. Dad was well known for making homemade wine. He cooked a home cured ham, and the football team and a few supporters were invited to a get together. Two big saucepans filled with wine were kept hot on the kitchen range. The Charity Cup then was filled and passed around became so hot that it was difficult to bear your lips against it to drink!

Two characters present were Frank and Joe Lake. Neither was ever known to refuse a glass of wine. Frank had a reputation of being the champion for pulling funny faces. He was in fine form that evening – no doubt helped by the considerable amount of wine consumed! Joe considered himself a bit of a singer amongst his other qualifications. Joe was a giant of a man, well over six feet tall, very broad with a big bushy beard and a voice to match. Whether you wanted to hear it or not, nothing would prevent Joe from singing his own special song:

My name is Joe Muggins, a farmer am I,
I once went a courting and felt very shy,
I stood under a spouting and got very wet through,
Until a young damsel poked her head out of a window,
And said “Joey, Joey, would you like a dumpling or two?”
I said “yes, yes, I don’t mind if I do.”

Needless to say Frank and Joe had to be carried home and put to bed that night!

Cricket probably just had the edge over football in popularity – here again many outstanding personalities emerged. Perhaps the most outstanding was Arthur Allen – a really top-class bowler. His career spanned many years. When a very young man, the building of what was known as the “New Line” was taking place. This was the railway line from Aynho via Bicester and High Wycombe to London (Paddington Station). This brought many outsiders to the village, including several men who were good, keen cricketers. They soon started organizing special matches against teams from London and other places. These folk also realized that in Arthur Allen they had a player who could hold his own “against the best of ’em”. Very often Arthur was away playing cricket when his mates were slogging away on the railway. He was a quiet, unassuming chap with a friendly smile but he loved to talk cricket, and his eyes would twinkle when he used to say:

“That was the type of cricket I liked, when I pitched the ball in the block-hole and it raised up and rapped the batsman’s knuckles.” Arthur always encouraged the youngsters to play; he was very proud that he assisted his nephew Meyrick Westbury to develop into such a good all-rounder and one of the outstanding players in the district.

Arthur Allen’s partner in opening the bowling was George Westbury, who was pretty fast. George’s outstanding feature was the height he lifted his leg before stamping it down when about to deliver the ball: this technique frightened many a batsman facing him for the first time.

Many matches played had lots of talking points, but the one that stands out was the game against the GWR (Great Western Railway) on their ground in Banbury. This was a midweek limited overs match for the Banbury Hospital Cup. Souldern batted first and were all out for twenty runs. No-one thought Souldern had a chance with such a low score and it was thought to be just a matter of time before the GWR knocked off the runs.

However, this was not so. Frank Finch opened the bowling to Bert Dunn, recognized as the best opening batsman in the district. Frank was a really fast bowler but erratic and temperamental. Frank’s first ball was super: very fast and on the off-stump. It was too good for Bert Dunn, who just got a faint touch. The ball flew to Frank Humphriss at first slip like lightning and he caught it with both hands as clean as a whistle and as if to say: “I do this sort of thing every day.” Poor old Bert Dunn – he just stood still, looking at Frank Humphriss in disbelief. Then, like the great sportsman he was, he shook Frank by the hand and congratulated him. Many present at that match were convinced that if Frank had not caught that ball it would have gone clean through him!

The Souldern bowlers went on to excel themselves that night and, backed up by good fielding, dismissed the GWR for ten runs. It was a tense game, especially for George Watts, who admitted he was praying that the ball did not go his way, as he was sure he was so keyed up he would not have stopped it – let alone caught it. Even today, many years later George still gets butterflies in his tummy when that match is being discussed.

The cricket ground was in the Park and made a lovely setting. Unfortunately, the Park was ploughed during the Second World War and has not been used for sport since – a great pity!

Sport played such a big part in the life of the villages prior to the Second World War and people went to great lengths to ensure its success. In those days buses were few and far between, and cars for working-class people were unheard of.

Bodicote, a village near Banbury, was playing Souldern on Saturday. To get to Souldern, they came on a Midland Red bus to Aynho, walked through the “Dark Alley” and across the Park, carrying their cricket kit – a distance of about a mile. The Souldern people could see them in the distance from the cricket ground. The Bodicote team were led by Wil Hitchman, a Souldern man who had married a Bodicote girl and settled there. Luckily they did not have the walk back after the match, but went on the Oxford bus which called at Souldern in the evening en route to Banbury. It is difficult to imagine many young chaps being prepared to undertake such a journey today.

George Belcher was captain of the Souldern team for a number of years and was a farmer at Nell Bridge Farm. He was a jolly chap, always smiling, and he also liked a glass of beer. Before every match he would announce:

“I shall not be staying on tonight. I have to get back to feed the pigs.” However, when the rest of the team went for a drink, George had to succumb. After about an hour, when George had got his taste for the ale, his eyes would light up and he would say:

“Ah, those pigs will have to have a streak of lean tonight.” Then he would settle down until “Time” was called.

Two stalwarts in the sporting life of the village could be called cripples – Walter Rouse and Ned Morris. Walter was mainly engaged with cricket and Ned with football. Walter had a club foot but it did not stop him from getting around. He rode his cycle miles to away matches with his score book, a pair of pads and a cricket bat tied to the carrier of his bike. Strangely enough, both these chaps were cobblers, which of course proved very handy because they carried out any repairs needed for the kit.

Ned only had one leg: he had to have the other amputated when a young man – but my word, couldn’t he get just get around with the use of a crutch, especially at football. Imagine the long strides he could take, and even when someone was nearer to the football than he, he was deft at hooking the ball away with his crutch. Of course, he was not allowed to play in proper matches, although his services would have been welcome on many occasions. He also took his turn with bat and ball during cricket practice sessions.

Joe Lake has already been mentioned, but one could go on and on writing about him. For a great many years he was a “Knight of the road” (a tramp). During his travels he always managed to see the Australian Cricket Team in action when touring the country. Joe was a knowledgeable cricketer, and loved nothing better than to be with the schoolboys, either relating his thoughts about the best players he had seen, or coaching the boys. The young lads thought a great deal of Joe. Prior to a coaching session, Joe had all the boys grouped around him, showing them how to hold their hands when making a catch. When demonstrating with the bat, he drove home his points with little sayings such as:

“When playing a rising ball use Douglas Jardine’s half-cock”. If the batsman did not know whether to play forward or back, it was: “When in doubt push out.” His own favourite was:

“When the ball is bowled down the leg side, turn your arse to the wicket and slog.”

After Joe had given his little talk and the practice had started properly, Joe always had first bat. He would set the field to get the boys used to the various positions but before the bowler started to bowl he would shout out:

“Are you ready?” to which all the fielders had to answer:

“Yes, Joe.” On one occasion he was going through this procedure “Are you ready?” and “Yes, Joe” had been called and the ball was bowled down the leg side. Joe correctly turned his arse to the wicket and slogged, hitting the ball full on the face of the bat. It went like lightning straight to Ken Fathers fielding at square leg, hitting him with a thud on the chest. Ken started to cry and Joe bellowed out:

“Why din’t you catch it?” to which Ken replied:

“Joe, I wasn’t ready.” What Joe called him was nobody’s business. For many years afterwards Joe loved to relate that story.

Many of the boys were much better players because of the coaching given by Joe. He also felt very proud when one of his prodigies made his way into the village team, especially when they subsequently did well.

Lord Cotonham lived at Hill House, which is situated on the outskirts of the village on the Somerton Road. One day several of the boys went to his house and asked his lordship if he would like to contribute a fund so that a cricket bat could be purchased. He told the boys he would think it over. Imagine their surprise when the Lord’s secretary turned up at the school with two new cricket bats and a new leather ball for the use of the boys. After thanks had been expressed by the Headmaster (Jimmy Wills) and the secretary had left, the lads responsible were hauled out in front of the whole school. The Headmaster then proceeded to give them a good ticking off for their cheek in approaching such an illustrious personality. It did not make much impression on the boys, all they could see were two brand new bats.

At about the same time the parson, Reverend Bently, asked if there was any other kit required – and he gave a pair of real leather wicket-keeper’s gloves. The schoolboy cricketers now considered themselves rather important, because prior to this, their main source of equipment had been old kit handed down by the men players. Those bats, balls and gloves provided the boys with many hours of enjoyment over a great number of years.

A number of people are well worthy of a special mention. Percy Taylor was a keen boxer and skilful too. He learned his craft with Deddington Boxing Club and used to cycle there for training or bouts every week. He was the talk of the village after an occasion at Banbury Fair. Percy accepted the challenge to go into the ring at the boxing booth to last three rounds against their black heavyweight. If he succeeded he would get three pounds, which was a lot of money in those days. Unfortunately, Percy had to quit in the third round, after having held more than his own for the first two rounds. Of course, what was not known at the time was that Percy had been to a dentist just prior to the fight to have a tooth extracted; they came tough in those days.

Perhaps the best known boxer was Ron Gibbs. As a boy he had shown no inclination for boxing, and when he left school he went to work on Chisnell Farm. However, my father and brother were both keen boxers and that soon started Ron off. He was no stylist but he was fit and tough. No matter how hard he was hit it did not seem to make any impression on him and he would come up for round after round, battling through them at top speed.

The boxing activities centred on Andy’s Garage, Banbury and Ron often appeared on the same bill as the Turpin Brothers, Dick and Randy, who were just beginning to make their names known in the boxing world.

What perhaps was one of Ron’s outstanding bouts took place in a Boy’s Club in Bicester watched by no more than fifty people. It was supposed to have been an exhibition bout, arranged to raise money for the Club. His opponent was of a similar mould, and they really put on a great show with no quarter asked or given. What a pity more people did not witness it – this bout would have graced many a fancy hall.

Frank Humphries probably did more than any other person in working for the football and cricket activities over many years. He worked on Aynho Estate and lived in the Lodge House at Park Gates. He made himself responsible for ensuring that the football pitch was marked out and that the cricket pitch was always mown and marked. He never received payment for this work.

Frank was also a good all round sportsman. He was an outstanding goal-keeper and this was during the period when goal-keepers were not protected players as they are today. He had one weapon in his armoury though, which served him well, and that was his ability to punch the ball. His hands were as hard as teak and when the ball was coming towards him, with the opposing forwards bearing down, he would clench his fist, draw back his arm and punch the ball with the thumb part of his hand so hard and with such a thud that the ball was sent well over the half way line. Many a forward has been heard to say:

“Thank goodness he hit the ball and not my head, as he would have knocked it off!”

Frank opened both the batting and bowling for the cricket team for many years and he also captained the team with distinction. They don’t come any better than Frank Humphries.

Will Parker, who lived in Woodcote, one of the big houses in the village – did not usually associate himself with the sporting activities. One day, however, he surprised everyone: Will was the proud owner of the first wireless set (radio) in the village and one Saturday afternoon in April at ten minutes to five o’clock he was walking up the street asking any folk if they wanted to know who had won the FA Cup. Of course, everyone replied they did, and Will promptly answered:

“Bolton – one to nought.” Bolton had beaten Arsenal one-nil at Wembley Stadium and this was the first time that Cup Final had been broadcast. The mystery was – how could Will Parker have sat for nearly two hours listening to the broadcast of a football match, for he was a man who just could not sit still and do nothing, but was always looking for something to do.

Frank Finch has already been mentioned in respect of cricket, but he was also a useful footballer. He reached his greatest heights, however, through playing darts. He was really outstanding, and was the “hottest favourite” ever to play in the final of the “News of the World” darts competition, which took place at Shoreditch. Although supported by many villagers on the night, success was to elude him, and he was narrowly defeated.

The Second World War changed the face of sport in the village. Three younger chaps who were obviously going to shoulder the responsibilities for many years, were called up for War Service. Aubrey Finch, younger brother of Frank had developed into a first class fast bowler, and he was regularly taking three and four wickets every match. He went into the army and transferred to the Airborne Division. It was a sad day in village when it learned that he had been killed in the ill-fated Arnhem Battle.

Meyrick Westbury outstanding at cricket and also a useful footballer, had captained the cricket team before he was called up into the Army Service Corps. After the war he went to live in Banbury. He continued to play cricket but he also took up golf and darts and became an above average player at both games.

Aubrey Westbury, also went into the army in the Oxfordshire an Bucks Light Infantry. He soon gained a place in the Battalion football team, playing in many countries where duty took him. On leaving the army he joined the Birmingham City Police and continued his sporting activities. Over the years he captained both the cricket and football teams.

Over the years new faces have come on the scene. The sports field is now at Souldern Gate in Bovewell, where a modern hall has been built with good changing facilities. Although the rules for the various competitions have changed, the village is still enjoying its fair share of success, including a recent victory in the Jersey Cup. It is to be hoped that sport will continue to thrive in the village, and the future looks promising – and sport seems just as important as ever it was.