Wednesday, 30 September 2020

More Amateur Cup Stories: Pegasus, the post-war Oxbridge side that became stars of amateur football

'Maybe a university degree is the perfect passport to soccer success' wrote Bob Rodney in the Daily Mirror the Monday after the 1953 FA Amateur Cup final and this was certainly true for the students of Oxford and Cambridge who had battled together on the pitch. Pegasus Association Football Club, a joint venture between Oxford and Cambridge Universities had just won their second Amateur Cup in three seasons. A year before Bishop Auckland and Crook Town battled it out in that mammoth final I wrote about recently it was a rather more unique side who put their name on the trophy for a second time - This is a brief look at their story.

Although in much later years the players of Pegasus were not solely university students, the side included a lot of ex-servicemen, when the club was originally set up its players were either Oxbridge students or ex-students who had left university the previous year and this was generally the case during their two FA Amateur Cup wins. Formed in 1948, the club was an amalgamation of the Oxford and Cambridge University football teams. Harold Warris Thompson, a professor at St. John's College, Oxford, who would later become chairman of the Football Association was the main man behind the creation of the club along with Ken Shearwood who would later write a book about the team. The name Pegasus came from the winged horse of the same name in Greek mythology and symbolised the union of the Centaur horse on the Oxford crest and the Falcon on the Cambridge crest.

Vic Buckingham, Joe Mercer, Bill Nicholson, and Arthur Rowe all famous names in the footballing world were involved in coaching the Oxford and Cambridge University teams at one point or another with all three having all previously played for Tottenham Hotspur and Rowe also going on to manage them. Unsurprisingly then Pegasus often tended to play with the same push-and-run style football that eventually helped Spurs win the league championship in 1951 under that man Rowe. Indeed playing that same style of football actually brought Pegasus Amateur Cup success in that same year with none other than Buckingham at the helm.

Pegasus would fold in 1963 when they decided to no longer play matches but interestingly during their 15 years of existence they did not play in a league of any sort. Alongside friendlies and tours, the only competitive matches they played in came in varying cup competition's which, of course, included the Amateur Cup. They entered the competition in their very first season with regular Amateur Cup followers wondering quite who this new team were. 'Pegasus are the mystery club of the F A. Amateur Cup competition,' wrote David Williams in the Daily Herald before continuing 'As a club they have not kicked a ball, so there's a mystery in why they have been exempted until the final qualifying round,' The Football Association were seemingly not forthcoming with an answer to this question but Pegasus proved their worth by reaching the quarter finals before losing 4-3 at home to Bromley.

In 1949-50 Willington defeated Bishop Auckland 4-0 in the Amateur Cup final with Pegasus knocked out early on but the following year, however, it was Pegasus who won the competition. With the team being based in Oxford there was a bumper crowd in attendance when they faced city neighbours Oxford City in the quarter finals where they ran out 3-0 winners to set up a semi-final tie with Hendon. In the semis, a 1-1 draw at Highbury was followed by a 3-2 replay win at Selhurst Park. 

In the 1951 FA Amateur Cup final, Pegasus would face Bishop Auckland, that great amateur side who would go on to win in total a record ten Amateur Cups having won several already, but pre-match some in the media were already talking about a potential Pegasus victory and the historic nature of it. 'Who outside the writers of cheap fiction, could visualise such a romance as a club winning on of the games chief trophies in its third year of existence thus fulfilling one of the very objects for which the club was formed,' wrote Eric Stanger for the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, for example.

The crowd of around 100.000 in attendance was a record for the competition and saw a Pegasus performance that 'smacked of the old Corinthian spirit and Spurs' skill combined,' at least according to Stan Halsey of the Sunday Mirror. Halsey, however, was not the only man to compare Pegasus to the old Corinthians amateur side that promoted sportsmanship and fair play as many others also romanticised the Pegasus story, his comments were just one of many examples. 

In the final itself, Pegasus' Henry Potts who also played first class cricket with Oxford University saw a tame effort saved just before the break as the sides went in 0-0 at half-time. Just five minutes into the second-half and Pegasus were in front, however, and it was that man Potts who got the goal with a powerful header. Nine minutes from time great link up play saw John Tanner put Pegasus two up. Tanner went on to make 305 appearances for Huddersfield Town playing First and Second Division football and also made seven first-class appearances for the Oxford University cricket team. Bishop Auckland would pull one back but Pegasus held on to win their first FA Amateur Cup trophy just three years after their formation - an incredible story.

Pegasus spent much of their time playing against representative sides such as the Coventry Football Combination and the Leeds and District FA for example, two teams they played in 1951 and 52 respectively. There was even a match against a team of Dutch players that took place in Hull. Inbetween touring the country, however, Pegasus would twice win the Oxfordshire Senior Cup with those two Amateur Cup triumphs inbetween the second of which came in the 1952-53 season. 

The club had failed early on in the previous season's competition but this time around coached by George Ainsley, an ex-Leeds United and Bradford Park Avenue forward, they had no such problems as they made it all the way to Wembley once again. In the earlier rounds, their third round tie was considered by some easily the tie of the tournament as they faced Corinthian Casuals in what Laurie Burills of the Daily Herald said 'could well be the greatest amateur game of the past 25 years.' Corinthian Casuals, a team formed thanks to a merger between the two great amateur teams Casuals FC and that earlier mentioned Corinthians FC side, were favourites to win the competition whilst Pegasus were not far behind. Burills considered them evenly matched, however, claiming there was 'nothing distinguishable in strength or stamina' and that 'a clear cut result seems unlikely,' In the end, it was, as predicted, a close run thing but Pegasus ran out 1-0 winners. Slough Town were beaten next in the quarter finals before in the semis a 1-1 Highbury draw with Southall was followed by a 2-1 replay win at Craven Cottage.

In front of another 100,000 crowd, Harwich & Parkeston of the Eastern Counties Football League would be Pegasus' opponents in the final and Pegasus produced what Bob Rodney of the Daily Mirror described as 'the most devastating show seen in a cup final for twenty-one years since Dulwich Hamlet beat Marine 7-1'. Winning by the same margin as Dulwich Hamlet had done, Pegasus ran out 6-0 winners scoring three in each half. There were five different scorers for Pegasus with the pick of the goals coming from Donald Carr who controlled the ball expertly before firing a low drive into the corner of the net. 

That sublime performance would be the high point of Pegasus' 15-year existence, however. In the following season's Amateur Cup Pegasus lost in quarter finals which was followed by a semi final defeat a year later. But after in the few years that followed during their short existence, they never came anywhere near close to winning the cup again.

"Pegasus came and went like a shooting star. But in their short life they shed a light on the game as a whole. They were something different," wrote Geoffrey Green of The Times in his forward to Shearwood's earlier mentioned book on the club. Just like the FA Amateur Cup, which as mentioned in my earlier piece on the 1954 final is no longer in existence, Pegasus are also long gone. Gone is the era of amateur football, and the idea of a team such as Pegasus gaining such prominence would nowadays seem a little far fetched. Those were definitely different times!

This article was written with information obtained from the British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) and the British Library Board. 

These services are not free and incur a fee. For said fee I was allowed to view a set number of newspaper pages and have almost used up my quota. For more articles like this that will involve me paying more money to view further newspaper pages please contribute by donating/supporting me via my Patreon page www.patreon.com/inlovewithfootball.

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