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Manor Ground: How the club started

Entrance to Oxford United

We can thank a vicar and a doctor for the fact that Headington became the home of Oxford’s football club. The pair were the Revd John Scott-Tucker (Vicar of St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington from 1889 to 1899) and Robert Hitchings (who, after qualifying as a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, came to live in Windmill Road in 1893; in 1900 he moved into a large house on the site of the present Sainsbury’s).

The Headington parish magazine for November 1893 reads:

The cricket season being over, Mr Hitchings, with his customary energy and zeal for the young men of the parish, has inaugurated a football club.

This new club soon became known as Headington United. It was defeated by Cowley Barracks at its first match on its Quarry home pitch on 25 November 1893, but fared better on 13 January 1894 when it beat Victoria, with the Revd Scott-Tucker (at the relatively advanced age of 49) scoring two of the goals, and Dr Hitchings one.

The club initially had no permanent home: it played on Wootten’s Field (now occupied by Stephen Road); the Britannia Field (now occupied by the top half of Lime Walk); Headington Quarry Recreation Ground; and the Paddock (now occupied by the John Radcliffe Hospital). In 1913, the Headington Recreation Ground Committee was formed, to purchase the land now occupied by Stephen Road for the site. But in the 1920s this was sold for building land.

In 1926 a dozen public-spirited people (led by Robert Wylie of The Grange in Old Headington) formed Headington Sports Ground Ltd and bought most of the present site (including the bowls club) from Mattock’s nurseries to be a recreational facility for the people of Headington where they could play football, cricket, tennis, and bowls.

The 1939 Ordnance Survey map of Headington labels the present site of the football club “Cricket Ground”, indicating that it was still a sports ground that could be used by anyone in Headington. At this time there was no access from the London Road, as the land to the south was blocked by Sandfield Cottage, site of the famous meeting between Cecil Sharp and morris-dancer William Kimber in 1899.

In 1959 Headington United became full-time professionals, and the next year they changed their name to Oxford United. In 1961 Headington Sports Ground Ltd sold the football site to Headington United Football Ground Ltd, and in 1970 the bowling green to the bowls club.

Robert Maxwell took over the club in 1981 but failed in his attempt to merge it with Reading to form Thames Valley Royals in 1983.

”It was their club; Oxford had never raised a finger to help them. Why should it pinch their glory now?”
The view of the people of Headington in 1959 on the proposal to change the name of the football club from Headington United to Oxford United (Olive Gibbs, in her autobiography Our Olive)

© Stephanie Jenkins

 

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