The road to the Southern League
When Luton Town were formed in 1885 there was no league for the club to join. It would not be until 1894 that the Southern League was formed. This surprised me bearing in mind the number and age of many clubs in the south. This article explains the road to the Southern League from the viewpoint of Luton Town using local newspapers and the Luton Town Football Club minute books.
The Football League was formed in 1888 comprising of teams from the north and midlands. The Midland Football League was formed in 1889. A second division was added to the Football League in 1892 but there were still no clubs south of Birmingham. The strongest club in the south, Woolwich Arsenal, decided to join the second division of the Football League in 1893 despite their nearest away game being (probably) Leicester Fosse.
Football was in its infancy in Luton until the club reached the final of the Kettering Charity Cup in 1890. This achievement really propelled football in the town to a new level not least because the newspapers decided to fully support the club. Football was growing in the south and there were many other strong clubs at this time – Royal Arsenal, Millwall Athletic, Swindon, Reading, Marlow, Chatham, London Caledonians and West Herts. Then there were the strong Army teams and the “Old Boy’s” clubs such as the Old Westminsters, Old St. Stephen’s and Old St. Marks. There appeared to be enough clubs to make the venture worthwhile.
The first reference to a Southern League is mentioned in the Luton Town minute book on the 4th February 1890.
“A discussion took place upon a letter from Mr Murray Ford as to the desirability of forming a Southern League after which it was resolved that Hon Sec should inform Mr Ford that we should certainly send a representative for Luton Town but beyond that we let it rest in the Hon Sec’s hands until something more definite is known as to the working of the league”.
The clip below from the Daily News of 14th March 1890 tells us the fate of the meeting which calls it a London League.
The club minute book of 14th April 1890 says;
“also that in the event of the league falling through Hon Sec make the ordinary fixtures with the exception of Woodville”.
The minute book entry for 21st April 1890 says;
“With respect to the league it was left to the discretion of the Hon sec as to whether the clubs proposed by the meeting would be strong enough to do any good”.
Minute book entry for 25th April 1890;
“Proposed by Mr Bennett and seconded by Mr Long that as the majority of the best London teams do not intend to join the league we likewise do not entertain the idea”.
There is no further mention of a league until the sports editorial of the Luton Reporter of the 6th February 1892 raised the subject again;
“It was suggested two or three years ago that the formation of a Southern League would do much to improve football at this end of the country. It has now been revived, however, and I should not be at all surprised if a Southern League becomes a fait accompli before next season. If the promoters of the Kettering and Luton cup contest could be induced to institute a qualifying competition Luton Town would undoubtedly be one of the selected clubs, and they would then have time to engage in league matches. That the idea is a good one cannot be doubted, and the teams mentioned for membership render it certain that some grand games would be witnessed.
The action on the present occasion has been put forward in the columns of the Evening News, and here is what “Lutonian” writes to the editor of that paper:- “I was very glad to read in your issue last week your suggestion of a Southern League. Now, Sir, the only way to get better football in the south is to form a league. I am sure our Town Club would readily fall in with the idea, and I would suggest the following 12 clubs: Royal Arsenal, Millwall Athletic, Clapton, London Caledonians, Chatham, Marlow, Reading, West Herts., Chiswick Park, Ilford, Crouch End and Luton Town.” Another correspondent suggests Luton Town as a member of the league, and the idea is to be further discussed.
Here is what a correspondent writes to me on the subject: “The selection of 12 clubs would rest with the committees, but they would hardly reject the claims of our own club, and surely the latter would go in for it. Rather that, I should say, than the Kettering Cup. The idea of a League was whispered but was not taken up, but it is to be hoped the matter will be procrastinated until it is too late. Let the Club make its intentions known at once through the Press, is that London clubs may see how the matter is likely to go. But wait ! Would the Royal Arsenal join such a League and forego many of their greatest matches.”
The Luton Reporter of the 13th February 1892 said;
“The suggestion to form a Southern League has been well taken up in some quarters, but not so widely as the importance of the matter deserves. The “Evening News” on Saturday contained a number of letters on the subject, amongst them being three from the secretaries of the Luton, Reading and Swindon clubs intimating their desire to join. The Luton secretary (Mr Smith) says – “We have long wished that a Southern League were formed, and have followed your remarks re: same with pleasure, and for a start I am instructed by my committee to give in our name as one willing and eager to form the same, our one stipulation being that only clubs of good standing such as those you mention be accepted. Any meeting called for purposes of arranging such a League we should gladly attend.”
The secretary of the Reading Club (Mr H.E. Walker) observes – “Another great thing it would do; it would do away with the many cup-ties that are such a prevailing nuisance. At the beginning of the season you have a good show of fixtures, but at the end you have only carried out about only half of your original fixtures, thus causing no end of work for nothing. I was speaking to the secretary of a prominent London club, and he agreed with me that football in the South could only be placed on a substantial footing by forming a League.” The first part of this might well have emanated from Luton.
Mr H.G. Spratley writes from Luton as follows:- “The letters that have appeared in your columns concerning a proposed Southern League have given our football enthusiasts a lot to talk about, and the general opinion all over town is that a League should be formed, and I consider the best way would be for some responsible person to call a meeting of delegates from the proposed clubs at once, so that a League could be formed and fixtures made before the annual meeting of secretaries.
A correspondent, signing himself “Pelican,” says – “No one can doubt that Southern clubs are far behind their brethren in the North, but, sir, do you think it would be fair for such clubs as the Royal Arsenal, for instance, to place their first team against teams that have been beaten by their reserves? And again, would it pay to do so? What I would venture to suggest is that a Southern League and also an Alliance be formed, which would be conducted on the same lines as the present League and Alliance, which, I think, would make the competitions more equal, and would give some of the weaker clubs an opportunity to distinguish themselves, which I contend to the partiality of the London Football Association does not. I would suggest such clubs as the following for the League:- Clapton Casuals, Royal Arsenal, Millwall Athletic, Chatham, London Caledonians, Old Foresters, and Luton; and for the Alliance such as St. Bart’s Hospital, Royal Arsenal Reserves, City Ramblers, Foxes, 2nd Scots Guards and Reading.”
“Another correspondent ridicules the idea that the Royal Arsenal would join such a League, and “An old player” makes the following complimentary allusion, to the Town Club:- “I was very glad to see in last Saturday’s edition that the Luton Town F.C. was one of the clubs suggested to belong to the League. Anyone who has seen this club play this season will have been struck with the good form they display. I have seen them once or twice, and am wonderfully pleased with their play, and I fancy they would give any South of England club a good game. They have a good ground, and any club visiting them can rely upon a splendid reception by a large crowd that takes great interest in our winter game.”
The writer of “Football Gossip” in the same paper, alludes to what has been done and urges the London clubs to action. He proceeds:- “I may as well make it clear to all interested, that it would be as well to leave Royal Arsenal out of the calculations – for two reasons. Firstly, they are not likely to join because with their highly-paid pro’s it is necessary for them to try at higher games. Secondly, even if they would join, it would be as well to bar them, because amateur clubs who do not pay highly for the services of players could hardly hope to have a chance. The competition would be robbed of much of its interest as there were in it a club whose superiority made the result a foregone conclusion. Luton is also nominally a professional team, but here the objection would not hold good, for the players are only paid out of pocket expenses, and not for their services. They are all real Lutonians, and not imported. Swindon want to come in. Here there is the difficulty of distance, and I doubt whether it would pay the Swindon club to make a dozen journeys from home. Of course that is for them to consider. In fact, I have no wish to discuss details – general principles are enough for me. The rest is for the clubs themselves to settle.”
The writer afterwards says :- “If I were to suggest to clubs who might form the League I say they should be as follows:- London Caledonians, Clapham, Millwall Athletic, Crusaders, Chiswick Park, Chatham, Luton, Marlow, Reading and West Herts, or Ilford. If any of the Old Boys clubs, say Old Foresters, or Old Carthusians, chose to come in so much the better. Each club would have to play 18 matches, nine at home and nine away. The travelling expenses would in the case of the London clubs not prove heavy, as they would have to go out of London five times each. Chatham, Reading, Luton and Marlow would have the greatest burden to bear, but as these clubs can all get good gates, I have little doubt they would be able to bear it. Now, Londoners, be up and doing and let us see if we cannot start next season with a Southern League.”
The minute book of the 17th February;
“Proposed Mr Bennett, sec Mr Evans that Hon sec represent the club at the meeting called for the formation of a Southern League”.
The 20th February 1892 Luton Reporter;
“The proposal to form a Southern League seems in a fair way to become accomplished, the correspondence in the “Evening News” having evoked general expressions of favour. Mr T.W. Beardsley, vice chairman of the Royal Arsenal club, writes on Saturday to the effect that he considers this an opportune time for a step in this direction. “It will,” says the writer, “raise the standard of football in the South (London in particular) from the state of lethargy and mediocrity it is labouring under, and stimulate in the minds of young aspirants a desire to attain League perfection. There appears to be a lack of sympathy on the part of leading clubs with a Southern League, but I hope there is sufficient pluck in the south to overcome that little difficulty.”
The same writer suggests the holding of a meeting of representatives of clubs that are interested in this movement, no matter whether first or second-rate teams, to be held at Oliphant’s Restaurant, Ludgate-circus, London, on Wednesday next, at 7.15, to decide what steps shall be taken. He also suggests that clubs intending to send representatives should furnish the Evening News with their names for publication to ensure a representative gathering. Several other correspondents write in favour of the institution of a League, though one or two advance the difficulty of access between outlying places mentioned as worthy of inclusion. The idea is eagerly welcomed at Luton, and the West Herts executive are to consider it.”
The Luton Reporter of the 27th February 1892 gave huge coverage;
“FORMATION OF A SOUTHERN LEAGUE
On Wednesday night a meeting of representatives of Southern football clubs took place in London for the purpose of considering the availability of forming a Southern League. There were delegates from 24 clubs, Luton Town being represented by Mr I. Smith. Mr Beardsley (Royal Arsenal), in proposing “That a Southern League be formed,” said he should like to bring about a consummation. His experience was that the greatest interest was centred in League football. He thought it was very necessary indeed to form a League. Mr Henderson (Millwall Athletic) seconded, and the proposition was carried unanimously. The number of clubs to form the League was then discussed. Mr Smith (Luton Town) proposed that the League should be formed of 10 clubs. His club had been in favour of a League for four years past. Three years ago a meeting was called for the same purpose. In “The Sportsman” it has been said that probably Luton and other country clubs had plenty of Saturdays to spare. He could assure them that their chief difficulty was to get through their matches. They, like London clubs, were messed up with those abominable things called “cups.” In consequence of these they were either scratching to some club every Saturday or being scratched to. His club would work hard for the formation of a Southern League to save themselves from the blackballing they were subject to in other quarters. Mr Williams (Wolverton) seconded. Amendments were proposed in favour of the number being eight and 12 clubs, and Mr Smith withdrew his motion in favour of the latter, which was eventually agreed to by 20 votes to five. It having been decided to select the teams to form the League on the spot, and some questions with regard to Royal Arsenal and Millwall Athletic having been answered, Mr Smith (Luton Town) asked for information as to which took the gate-money in League matches. If he was enlightened on this point, he would promise that his club would stand by what he did that evening. It was explained to him that his question was a matter for the clubs themselves to settle and not for the present meeting. The business of selecting the teams to form the League was therefore proceeded with, with the result that the following were chosen:-
Chatham 26 votes
Luton Town 26 votes
Millwall Athletic 25 votes
Marlow 24 votes
Swindon Town 24 votes
Reading 22 votes
West Herts 21 votes
Royal Arsenal 19 votes
Ilford 19 votes
Chiswick Park 18 votes
Old St. Mark’s 15 votes
Crouch End 12 votes
The unsuccessful clubs were voted for as follows: Chesham 10, Wolverton 9, City Ramblers 8, Woodville 8, Uxbridge 7, St. Albans 6, Erith 3, Westminster 3, Criterion 2, Old St. Stephen’s 2, Upton Park 2 and Tottenham Hotspur 1.
Mr J. Butler, whose address is 3, Kerlsey Street, Poplar, was appointed secretary pro tem, after a request from Crouch End to be allowed to withdraw had been refused. It was then proposed that the clubs not selected on the League should form an Alliance, and on the proposition being carried, a vote of thanks to the chairman brought the meeting to a close, it being adjourned indefinitely.”
“The remarks in the “Sportsman” to which Mr Smith referred were as follows: “the subject is a difficult one to tackle, and has its advantages and disadvantages. On the other hand, there should be a better fixity of programme, and perhaps a keener interest in the game; on the other the introduction of League in the South will tend towards the spread of professionalism with many of its objectionable features, and the rendering of of an enjoyable afternoon’s football subservient to mercenary principles. It will be almost impossible for clubs to carry out a League programme and compete in the Football Association, the London, Middlesex and other Cup competitions, with a few visits from famous provincial teams thrown in. Keener interest than was recently evinced at the Oval when the Casuals met Millwall Athletic, and the Old Westminsters played Clapton, it would be difficult to conceive, and the question arises, Is it not better to let well alone? For the Arsenal, Luton, Chatham and Swindon, who are outside the metropolitan competitions, there may be plenty of spare Saturdays, but not for others I could name, unless the Cup ties are not to be thrown over. Again, the clubs are nothing like so well matched as is the case in the provincial combinations, and teams that drifted rapidly to the bottom would – from my experience of amateur bodies – find a lethargic state of affairs arise, which could not fail to prove injurious to the clubs. Such are a few of the questions that suggest themselves to me, and without expressing any decided opinion on the matter, I would ask delegates to seriously weigh up the pros and cons before taking a step to-night that may afterwards be deeply regretted.”
The minute book entry for the 7th March 1892 was as follows;
“Hon Sec gave report of League meeting which was as follows, that Marlow, Chatham, Reading, Chiswick Park and Crouch End had withdrawn and Chesham admitted. It was resolved to ask Mr C. Walcock to become President, Mr Oliver Treasurer and Mr Butler Secretary. An executive was also appointed consisting of representatives of London clubs. A number of rules were drawn up a draft of which would be sent to all clubs in the league”.
The Luton News of 10th March 1892;
“A set of rules were drafted, and in due course be submitted to a general meeting for approval. Among other things they provide that a club failing to play its first team shall be liable to a fine not not exceeding £10; that the executive shall have power to exclude any club by reason of objectionable conduct; that players shall be registered fourteen days before playing; and that the referees shall be appointed by the executive.”
“According to this it would seem that the Arsenal will either have to enter their first eleven or withdraw from the League.”
The Luton Reporter of the 12th March 1892
“The first actual meeting of the recently formed Southern League was held in London on Saturday, when Mr W.A. Sargent (West Herts) was voted to the chair. It was reported that Chatham, Reading, Great Marlow, Chiswick Park, and Crouch End had withdrawn from the League. It was them formally put that the League be formed, and the following clubs be included :- Ilford, Millwall Athletic, Royal Arsenal, Luton Town, Old St. Mark’s, West Herts, Swindon Town and Chatham, the representatives of these clubs being in attendance. The remaining four clubs to comprise the League will be elected at the ensuing meeting of the executive. The representatives of the Royal Arsenal, Millwall Athletic, Ilford, and the Old St. Mark’s will form the executive committee. It was agreed to ask Mr C.W. Alcock to become president of the League. Mr Fred Butler, 3 Kerbey-street, Poplar, was elected honorary secretary.”
The entry of 14th March 1892 for the Luton Town committee minute books reads;
“The Hon Sec read the draft of Rules of Southern League and the same were passed as read”.
The Luton Reporter of the 19th March 1892;
“Ilford and Old St. Mark’s have both withdrawn from the Southern League. The London Caledonians have declined and Clapton, Chiswick Park and Chatham have not replied to the invitation to join. There are at present only five clubs adhering to their promise – Millwall Athletic, West Herts, Swindon, Luton and Chesham.”
The Luton Reporter of the 26th March 1892;
“The Southern League. It was with a great flourish of trumpets that an association of Southern clubs with this title was formed some weeks since, but owing to the withdrawal of several of the principal clubs it seems likely to be dissolved. The Alliance, which is composed of less important clubs, still survives, and the teams which have adhered to their promise to join the League are to be invited to join it. It does not speak well for the future of Southern football that such an excellent chance of improving the game should have been allowed to pass.”
It appears that there were a number of issues that prevented the formation of the Southern League in 1892. Firstly, negotiations started in early February which was probably a month too late and left no wiggle room. Secondly, Royal Arsenal were far ahead of any other club in the south. Their set up, huge attendances and professional squad was not geared for games against small clubs such as Ilford, Old St. Mark’s etc. Their first team would have won every game in such a League and it was not accepted that their reserves join the Southern League. The third and most serious issue, which was not addressed for some years, was that the smaller clubs took such little gate money. This would mean that many away teams would not be paid all their rail fare. Luton was one of the clubs with the most at risk in this department. Indeed, it would cause the club to resign from the Southern League after just two seasons. (The club secretary, Isaac Smith in addressing the Annual General Meeting in June 1896 said that the club made a loss of between £10 and £50 on each pair of matches, except Millwall, in the Southern League.)
The following year it appears a rather half-hearted attempt was made as there is little information. The Luton Reporter of 21st January 1893 said:
“The following paragraph in the Evening News will probably afford more acceptable reading :- “An attempt may be made towards the close of the resent season to form a Southern League – a feat which was unsuccessfully attempted at the close of last season. Undoubtedly the holding aloof of the Arsenal had a great deal to do with the failure of the scheme. It is, however, gradually dawning on the minds of those who pull the strings at Plumstead that engagements with northern professional combinations are neither so profitable nor so attractive as they might be. The drawing power of the Cup tie between Millwall Athletic and the Reds opened the eyes of not a few. On the evidence afforded by this match alone, one is justified in claiming that matches in a competition between eight of the best clubs in the South would prove as attractive and certainly much more profitable than matches with the English League teams. When the time comes for bringing the proposal up again, I am assured that the Arsenal will not hesitate as to which course to adopt.” Onlooker.”
As far as the club were concerned the only entry from the minute book was on the 4th April 1893;
“That Hon Sec attend the meeting of Secretaries to be held at Anderton’s Hotel, Tuesday April 11th”.
There are no further entries in the minute book about the Southern League in the Spring of 1893. I cannot find any newspaper reports either. The Midland League clearly saw an opportunity to attract the Straw Plaiters because the minute book entry for 4th December 1893 says;
“That Secretary write to Mr Augrave for further information re Midland League”.
Mr F.A. Augrave of Leicester.”
Minute book entry for 11th December 1893;
“Resolved that Secretary write Mr Augrave thanking him for the rules sent and that the matter re Midland League was receiving our consideration”.
Interest in the Southern League was restored in early 1894 as the minute book entry for 8th January 1894 says;
“Resolved that Messrs Arnold and Shane attend the meeting in London on Friday 12th as representatives of Luton Town re: Southern League”.
Luton Reporter of 13th January 1894;
“The Evening News of Saturday says :—“Luton have been invited to join the Midland League. That is a convincing proof that in the straw town at all events progress has been made with the game. But it is to be hoped that Luton will not give a decisive answer at present, because the Bedfordians will be wanted to strengthen the Southern League. Luton have always been favourable to the scheme for the formation of a league for the South, and I think they may be trusted to stick to their first love, though the offer of a place in the Midland League is an honour which is doubtless appreciated in the town.”
We have no record of the discussion as to which League to join. As the Luton Reporter suggested, they had always favoured the southern option even though the Midland League was well established. Minute book entry for 15th January 1894;
“Mr Austin reported that at the meeting nothing definite was done (Except that Caledonian would not join the league and no reply received from Crouch End). It was therefore left to Mr Henderson to write to other clubs and adjourn the meeting until Friday 19th. Resolved that Messrs Arnold and Shane represent the club at the adjourned meeting. In the event of Mr Arnold being unable to go, Mr Smith to fill the vacancy, failing Mr Smith, Mr Hinson”.
Minute book entry for 22nd January 1894;
“Messrs Arnold and reported that satisfactory replies had been received so as to form the 9 clubs to constitute the league. Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer were appointed, other arrangements to be left for a first time meeting”.
The letter, left, is from the Luton Times of the 26th January 1894 and shows that it was not all plain sailing. The letter is by the editor of “English Sports” and therefore a neutral voice. It appears that there was a view that Millwall and, more especially, the newspaper, the Morning Leader, were controlling operations. This impression certainly fits in with later developments which favoured Millwall to a considerable degree.
The Luton Reporter of the 27th January 1894;
“LUTON AND THE SOUTHERN LEAGUE.
At length the long-talked of Southern League is an accomplished fact, and next season residents in the South may expect to see a great impetus given to the game. The decision to form a League was arrived at on Friday at a meeting in London, when the Luton Town Club was represented by Messrs. H. Arnold and G. Hinson. The following report of the proceedings is extracted from the Evening News :—After the minutes of the last meeting had been read by Mr. W. Henderson (hon. Sec. Pro. Tem.), Mr. Rennie Rogers (Reading) proposed and Mr. W. H. Lawson (Swindon Town) seconded that a Southern League, consisting of nine clubs (Millwall Athletic, Swindon Town, Reading, Royal Ordnance Factories, Luton Town, 2nd Scots Guards, Ilford, Clapton, and Chatham) be formed. Mr Clark having given a pledge that Clapton would throw its lot with the League and similar pledge having been given by Messrs. Davies (Ilford) and Harman (Chatham), the resolution was carried unanimously. Mr. W. H. Lawson (Swindon Town) proposed and Mr. Colin Gordon (Millwall Athletic) seconded a resolution to the effect that the affairs of the League be managed by a council consisting of an hon. President, hon. Secretary, hon. treasurer, chairman, and a council consisting of one representative for each affiliated club. After some discussion as to the advisability of having an honorary president, the resolution was carried unanimously. Neither the chairman , treasurer, secretary, nor president will have a vote at the meetings of the executive council, but in case of equality in voting in any matter the chairman will have a casting vote. On the motion of Mr. A. J. Davies (Ilford), seconded by Mr. Rennie Rogers (Reading), Mr. R. H. Clark (Clapton) was elected the first chairman of the League. Mr. Colin Gordon (Millwall Athletic) was appointed hon. treasurer of the League on the proposal of Mr. A. J. Davies (Ilford), seconded by Mr. H. Arnold (Luton Town). Mr. W. Henderson (Millwall Athletic) was elected hon. sec. on the proposition of Mr. Colin Gordon (Millwall Athletic), seconded by Mr. J. Dowsett (Ilford). The question of an honorary president was thoroughly thrashed out, and after a long discussion it was resolved by a majority of one to ask Sir Reginald Hanson, Bart., M.P., to accept the position. On the proposition of Mr. Rennie Rogers, seconded by Mr. Colin Gordon, a proposed set of rules was read by the chairman, and it was resolved to recommend to the next meeting that the entrance fee should be five guineas, with an annual subscription of two guineas ; that a £10 penalty should be inflicted in the case of breaches of the rules ; that all players should be registered, and that they only be eligible to play for one club in each season ; that urgent matters should be dealt with by an emergency committee ; that in the case of a tie for the championship a deciding match should be played; and that a trophy and medals should be presented to the winners. Mr. Rennie Rogers announced that in all probability Mr. J. Oliver (Old St. Stephen’s and London and Middlesex Associations), the president of the late Southern Alliance, would present a challenge trophy to the league. A vote of thanks to the chairman concluded the business of the meeting.
The Evening News says :—We have strong faith in the future of the League, which is likely to be managed upon lines that are both popular and generous. Let the clubs but live together in amity, avoid personal and petty jealousies, and there is not the slightest doubt but that, as regards the League, the Press and the public will do their duty.
The Morning Leader, commenting on the fact that several other teams were invited, writes :—It is well that these clubs have been asked, because they cannot turn round at some future time and say, “You did not give us an opportunity of entering the League when it was formed.” If any of the clubs who declined the honour wish to join the League later on they will of course have to make application and take their chance of being elected. It seems to me a pity that one or two other Southern clubs were not invited. Such clubs as St. Mary (Southampton), who are known to be in sympathy with a league movement, might, I think, have very well been included. Perhaps they will be asked to do so before the opening of next season, when the League will begin operations. In regard to the Arsenal, it appeared to be the general desire to include them, provided they could see their way clear to play their full first team. Of course it is not easy to anticipate what the Arsenal may or may not do before next season, but there can be no doubt that their presence would immensely strengthen the Southern League. The writer subsequently observes :—Here, then, we have a League—in our midst at last. So far as harmony of opinion went, it could not have a better chance. It will start next season, each club playing home and home fixtures, which means that every club will play 16 matches. These League fixtures will, of course, not interfere with Cup-ties, while they are few enough in number to allow of many of the old friendly fixtures being played. So far as I can see, the Southern League has every prospect of success. Apart from any pains and penalties which may be imposed, every one of the nine clubs should, and doubtless will, be loyal to the League, and do everything possible to promote concord amongst its top position, it is sincerely to be hoped that to the added interest which the League will undoubtedly bring, there will be no added bitterness, but rather that the freer intercourse will lead to greater friendliness, especially amongst the players.
The Athletic News says :—So a Southern League is formed at last. The clubs composing it are nine in number—Clapton, 2nd Scots, Reading, Swindon, Millwall, Royal Ordnance, Chatham, Ilford, and Luton—which, with the exception of the first-named, are all run chiefly on business lines. Consequently, their leading players may be available whenever required. I should have expected that both Millwall and Luton would have flown at higher game than this, which appears to have been floated in rather a hole-and-corner sort of a manner. From what I can learn, there was some thought of including the Arsenal, but the wire-pullers positively refused to admit the Plumstead club unless they would always guarantee that they would play their first team. I can’t understand the bitter feeling that exists against the Arsenal Reserves. It strikes me they could lick quite half the teams in the new league. Some people think I am opposed to the league. It is a matter of perfect indifference to me whether it succeeds or fails. It can do the game no harm, but I certainly am at a loss to perceive in what manner it can raise any of the clubs engaged beyond certain level. The Southern Alliance, which was to do such great things, soon fizzled out. London Caledonians and Crouch End were asked to join, but they were not taking any.”
Minute book of 29th January 1894;
“The Secretary read the proposed rules for the Southern League which were thought to be satisfactory and as a meeting was to be held on Friday Feb 2nd, Mr Arnold was appointed as representative on the League Council for Luton Town.”
Minute book entry 5th March 1894;
“Mr Arnold gave report of League meeting stating that only one thing of importance was brought forward viz. that no clubs be allowed to make fixtures until all League matches are arranged.”
The Luton Reporter of 14th April 1894;
“THE SOUTHERN LEAGUE.
On Wednesday night the fixtures for next season in connection with the Southern League were arranged as follows :—
Sept. 22—Royal Ordnance Factories v. Ilford, Swindon Town v. Reading, Chatham v. Clapton.
Sept. 29—Millwall Athletic v. Swindon Town.
Oct. 6—Luton Town v. Millwall Athletic, Ilford v. Swindon Town, Clapton v. Royal Ordnance Factories, Southampton St. Mary’s v. Chatham.
Oct. 20—Reading v. Luton Town, Southampton St. Mary’s v. Royal Ordnance.
Oct 27—Luton Town v. Southampton St. Mary’s, Millwall Athletic v. Ilford, Chatham v. Royal Ordnance Factories, Clapton v. Reading.
Nov.10—Ilford v. Southampton St. Mary’s, Clapton v. Luton Town, Millwall Athletic v. Royal Ordnance, Reading v. Swindon Town.
Nov.17—Ilford v. Clapton, Royal Ordnance v. Reading, Southampton St. Mary’s v. Millwall Athletic, Luton Town v. Chatham.
Dec. 1—Ilford v. Reading.
Dec. 8—Royal Ordnance v. Luton Town, Clapton v. Millwall Athletic, Chatham v. Ilford, Reading v. Southampton St. Mary’s.
Dec. 22—Ilford v. Royal Ordnance, Southampton St. Mary’s v. Luton Town, Reading v. Millwall Athletic, Swindon Town v. Chatham.
Dec. 26—Millwall Athletic v. Clapton.
Dec. 29—Swindon Town v. Royal Ordnance.
Jan. 5—Ilford v. Luton Town, Chatham v. Millwall Athletic, Royal Ordnance v. Clapton, Southampton St. Mary’s v. Reading.
Jan. 12.—Reading v. Chatham, Millwall Athletic v. Luton Town, Clapton v. Southampton St. Mary’s Swindon Town v. Ilford.
Jan. 26—Clapton v. Swindon Town, Luton Town v. Ilford, Millwall Athletic v. Reading, Royal Ordnance v. Southampton St. Mary’s.
Feb. 9—Clapton v. Ilford, Chatham v. Luton Town, Reading v. Royal Ordnance, Swindon Town v. Millwall Athletic.
Feb. 23—Reading v. Ilford, Luton Town v. Royal Ordnance, Swindon Town v. Southampton St. Mary’s, Clapton v. Chatham.
March 2—Luton Town v. Reading.
March 9—Ilford v. Millwall Athletic, Luton Town v. Swindon Town, Chatham v. Southampton St. Mary’s.
March 16—Ilford v. Chatham.
March 23—Royal Ordnance v. Swindon Town, Luton Town v. Clapton, Millwall v. Southampton St. Mary’s, Chatham v. Reading.
March 30—Southampton St. Mary’s v. Swindon Town, Royal Ordnance v. Millwall Athletic.
April 6—Reading v. Clapton, Swindon Town v. Luton Town, Ordnance Factories v. Chatham.
April 12—Southampton St. Mary’s v. Clapton.
April 13—Southampton St. Mary’s v. Ilford, Chatham v. Swindon Town.
April 20—Swindon Town v. Clapton, Millwall Athletic v. Chatham.
The Southern League had at last been formed. If Isaac Smith, the club secretary, was excited about it he certainly hid it well. At the Annual General Meeting of the 28th May 1894, addressed the gathering and merely said;
“The Southern League had at last become an accomplished fact with the Town as one of its members. Beside the League, matches have been arranged with Wolverton, West Herts, Casuals and London Caledonians.”
These old adversaries were not therefore forgotten even though they had not joined the Southern League. Todays rivals, Watford, were not of course, formed until 1898 when they joined division two of the Southern League.
Perhaps Isaac Smith’s coolness was due to his awareness of the potential financial issues the new League would bring. What he could not have forseen was the controversy that occurred before a ball was kicked, followed by controversy during the first match, with more controversy piled on after the match mixed with not a little hint of corruption (not by the club).