An Introduction to the History of the Barry & District League

Although football in Barry is almost as old as the docks themselves, local amateur teams had the choice of competing in the South Wales League or the Cardiff and District League by the turn of the century.

The majority of clubs, however, would play in ad hoc friendlies whenever a local field became available for use – and sometimes when they weren’t available for use! The March 5, 1897, issue of the Barry Herald newspaper reported on one such occurrence;

The Barry Milltonians v Barry Dock match came to a rather abrupt conclusion just before half-time. Through an oversight, permission had not been asked to play on the ground, and in the middle of the game the owner of the field put in a rather unwelcome appearance, and ordered referee, players, umpires, and spectators off the ground. The Barry Dock XI had scored once to their opponents nil, when they had to leave the game unfinished.

…and even when pitches were available, there were often other obstacles to overcome;

What might be called an excentric match was that played on Barry Island between the Island team and Cardiff Riverside. The ground of the home team is not perfection, there being, besides many kopjes, a telegraph pole in the centre of the field. It’s not exactly in the centre, but is often in the way of the ball, as are telegraph wires. The referee on Saturday’s match was also an ornament, being a gentleman on crutches. However, a man on crutches may be a good referee. The home team had it all their own way on Saturday, scoring seven goals to one. The scorers were R & J. Flint, W. Brown, and J. Sharp. (Barry Herald, Friday 19 January, 1900)

It wasn’t until the 1907-08 season that Barry would have a league of its own. Meetings at the Clarence Temperance Hotel in Holton Road, which had initially been held to organise a charity cup competition to involve clubs from Barry and the Vale, but soon the idea developed into the creation of a new league for the District. About 20 clubs had been represented, and it was decided that eight of these were to be accepted into Division One of the new league.

Barry & District AFC fob from 1907-08

Barry & District AFL fob from 1907-08

Teams in that first season 100 years ago included Barry District Reserves, Barry Island, Holton United, Cogan Old Boys, Barry West End, Gladstone Villa, Barry Railway Offices and Cadoxton. Division Two of the new league would feature other Barry teams as well as Vale teams such as Cowbridge, St. Athan and Penarth, but it was hoped new teams would be formed in order to enter the new competition. A Third Division, formed with the assistance of local school teachers, would consist of teams of schoolboys under the age of sixteen, schoolboy football proving extremely popular at the time.

Unfortunately, with clubs fielding teams in both the Barry and Cardiff leagues, the Cardiff League was always going to be the senior partner and Barry sides would prioritise towards the Cardiff League. By the start of the 1909-10 season it was reported that the Barry & District League was in financial difficulty, and details of games in the local press after this point are few and far between, possibly meaning the league had unfortunately folded soon after.

The intervention of the Great War would mean any thought of re-creating a football league for Barry would have to wait. However, after previously introducing the YMCA club to baseball as well as re-forming the Barry YMCA Football Club, the YMCA’s Secretary Mr. A. C. Morrish was the energetic personality behind the reformation of an association football league for Barry and the district.

On 24 March 1920 at the YMCA Hall in Newlands Street, Barry Dock (now flats), 37 local football clubs pledged their support for the new football league.  By July 1920 this number had risen to some 44 clubs and the plan was to have 4 divisions of teams, with Division 4 being for ex-schoolboys under the age of 17.  Clubs were not allowed to compete in the Cardiff & District League, but to open up the Barry competition to other organisations clubs within 15 miles of Barry could sign up for the new league.

By August 1920 a friendly match was organised at Jenner Park between two teams made up of players from the more prominent clubs in the district. Off the field, the organisation of the league was progressing well and it was reported that a new cup was given by the tradesman of the town to the Barry & District AFL and would be known as the Barry Cup and was open to clubs within a radius of 15 miles of ‘equal standing’.  Barry Cup Runners-up medals were presented by the Barry AFC Supporters’ Club.

A further cup, the Harris Cup, was donated to the League by Mr W. Harris of the Central Billiard Hall, and this would later become known as the Harris Junior Cup, or simply the Junior Cup. The Dockers’ Cup would come along a few months later, and would be played for by teams outside of Division One, but was also open to teams of ‘equal standing’ within a radius of 15 miles.

Another cup competition was already well known to local clubs. The ASRS Cup dates back to 1911 when a football fund-raiser for the Orphan’s Fund of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servicemen (ASRS) took place between Barry Island and Pyke Street Old Boys, two of the best teams in the district, at Romilly Park over the Easter weekend. This event would prove such a success that the following season a new ASRS Cup knock-out competition was created. The very first winners of the ASRS Cup as we know it today was in 1911-12 when Barry Island defeated Bethel Baptists 2-1.

The first full season of the new Barry and District League in 1920-21 saw four divisions divided up between 38 clubs. A Division One of six clubs was won by Barry Centrals, with Cadoxton Old Boys as runners-up. Division Two was won by the Barry Centrals Reserves team with Barry YMCA Athletic as runners-up. Division Three was won by Barry YMCA Seconds with Barry Ninians as runners-up. Finally, Division Four, which acted as the Junior Division was won by Tynewydd Road Congregationals, with St. Paul’s as runners-up.

As far as the Cup competitions went, the Harris (Junior) Cup was won by Barry Island, the Dockers’ Cup was won by Atlantic Juniors, while the Barry Cup was won by Cadoxton Old Boys who had beaten Barry YMCA in the final at Jenner Park. Unfortunately, it later transpired that both clubs had fielded an ineligible player and so the very first Barry Cup Final was forced to be replayed at the start of the 1921-22 season. Cadoxton Old Boys would win the replay 3-0 at Jenner Park.

Barry League 1923-24

Barry League Officials and Management Committee, 1922-23   (photo courtesy of Alan Blainey)

Interestingly enough, Cadoxton (who were now known as simply Cadoxton AFC) would win the Barry Cup at the end of that season also, and so go down as being the only club to be presented with the Barry Cup twice in one season. They would also be the first team to record a league and cup ‘double’ and also had the distinction of three of their players helping out the town’s senior team, Barry AFC, in their Welsh League campaign. The 1925-26 season saw the first Vale team win the League when Sully Athletic claimed the title, as well as lifting the Barry Cup.

The League had plans of expanding its divisions to include a Wednesday Division, a Sunday School Division, as well as merging with the Bonvilston & District League. However, with the economics of the town on the downturn the Barry and District AFL would soon be in financial difficulty. Popular clubs, unable to afford the fees for affiliation to the league, would withdraw or in most cases just fold. This lessened the quality of the league as a whole and by the 1930s the league was almost constantly fighting against adversity.

The League reached crisis point prior to the 1932-33 season whereby so few clubs had applied for Division One status, an expanded Division Two was formed and the Division One was suspended. Fortunately, this lasted only the one season, but throughout the 1930s the amount of Barry teams in the League would gradually decline and the amount of Vale teams would increase, and this was also the period where Abercrete Athletic, from Rhoose, would rise to prominence winning Barry Cups, Dockers’ Cups and League titles along the way.

There was brief talk of merger between the Barry and Cardiff League, which was also struggling, but this would come to nothing. The ASRS Cup fell from favour during the Depression years, and after briefly being claimed by Cadoxton Athletic in 1932-33, the Cup was not competed for until the 1957-58 season when Cadoxton Albion would go on and win it for four consecutive years.

With the League suspending activities throughout the Second World War, league football was not resumed until the 1947-48 season when the Barry Town Supporters’ Club gave a new Barry Town Supporters’ Cup to the League for competition. The 1950s was marked by the rivalry between some great teams like Cadoxton Albion, Borough Rovers, Trebeferad, and Sea View Labour.

The 1960s saw the emergence of Colcot Stars who did a Treble twice in four seasons (League, Barry Cup and ASRS Cup, and League, Barry Cup and Supporters Cup respectively), and Barry Saints deserve a mention too for their 1967-68 Quadruple of League, Barry Cup, ASRS Cup, and Supporters’ Cup. The team was later adopted wholesale as the Barry Town AFC Welsh League side. With Butlin’s coming to Barry Island, and with local sport in mind, a special Butlin Trophy was given to the league to be competed for by junior sides. The trophy is still competed for today as the Junior Cup.

Key dates / events :

August 18, 1920: First exhibition match of two sides made up of players affiliated to the new league takes place at Jenner Park, Barry

September 4, 1920: First weekend of league matches take place.

September 10, 1920: The Barry Cup and Harris Cup competitions are announced

November 6, 1920: First ever Barry Cup fixture is played (Barry Centrals 3-3 Barry Bohemians), and takes place at Jenner Park.

December 25, 1920: First match between the Linnets and the League (Barry AFC 5-0 Barry League XI)

April 1, 1921: The senior club, Barry AFC, recognises the value in the local league and field several Barry League players in their Welsh League side.  One of them, John ‘Jackie’ Gardner, later establishes a lengthy career with the Linnets.  Gardner was inducted into the Barry Town Hall of Fame in 2013.

April 21, 1921: A Division One Championship decider is held at Jenner Park between the Barry Centrals and Cadoxton Old Boys.  Centrals win 1-0 and become the league’s first senior division winners.

May 6, 1921: First Barry Cup Final (held at Jenner Park) Cadoxton Old Boys 3-2 Barry YMCA

June 24, 1921: The Barry Cup Final result is declared invalid and has to be replayed as both teams fielded ineligible players.  The replayed Final takes place in September of the following season.  Therefore the 1921-22 season is unique in that it had TWO Barry Cup Finals.

Jason Pawlin