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home - chapter one p1 - p2 - p3 - p4 - EPILOGUE - buy the book!

Chapter one:
Down by the Riverside (page 2)

The delay in setting up the club had cost Riverside a place in the recently-formed Cardiff and District League for the 1899-1900 season. But, almost immediately, Bart arranged for them to play the first of a series of friendlies against Barry West End. The match took place on Saturday October 7th at Sophia Gardens, and in the previous day's South Wales Echo the team was listed as: Goal - G.A. Sheen. Backs - H.G. Pearce and P. Whitcombe. Half-backs - F. Drake (captain), B. Stone, T. Mann. Forwards - J. Holder, S. Barrett, W. Jenkins, J.F. Pearce and W. Hill.

It was not the most auspicious of debuts - Barry fell a goal short of double figures and Riverside were lucky to get one - but at least it was a start and something on which Bart Wilson was determined to build. During his life, he would often reminisce about those early days:

We wanted to keep the boys together in the winter. We decided to be different and go for soccer and we've been different ever since! Although we lost 9-1 to Barry West End, the funny thing was that, after the game, most of the Barry fellows wanted to play for us. Several eventually did, including their captain, George Travis.


For the moment though, Riverside had to rely on their own members as they played occasional games against the likes of Barry District Juniors, Llanbradach and Penarth Parish Church. In fact, there was so much interest that the club almost immediately started fielding two sides nearly every Saturday.

As secretary, it was Bart's job to make sure that details of Riverside's teams were supplied to the South Wales Echo. He didn't always manage it. On Friday November 10th, he received a mild rebuke when, under the headline 'Notice to Secretaries', the paper issued the following warning:

We have to inform certain club secretaries, who have expressed surprise at the omission of their players from our weekly list of teams, that the fault is their own. Teams not arriving by 9.30 on Friday morning cannot be inserted. A most frequent cause of non-insertion is that secretaries do not state the full name of their club and that of their opponents and where the match is to be played.


The paper then announced that the line-ups of Canton Villa v Riverside Reserves, among other sides, had accordingly been omitted. A fortnight later, knuckles gently rapped, Bart had sorted himself out. The South Wales Echo revealed that on Saturday November 25th, Riverside were playing Cadoxton United at Sophia Gardens while the reserves travelled north to meet Llandaff City Boys Brigade. The third week of December 1899 proved a turning point in the history of the embryonic football club.

Encouraged by results after the Barry West End thrashing, Bart decided that Riverside could spread their wings. It was the first of many tests for his fledgling footballers. At this stage, they played for just one of hundreds of local amateur parks teams in South Wales. In Cardiff alone, you could find clubs such as Clare Stars, Roath Road Wesleyans, St Catherine's Athletic and Cardiff Corinthians with which Jack Sandiford, one of the pioneers of football in South Wales, was involved. In 1890, Sandiford had helped form and finance a Cardiff A.F.C. which lasted only a couple of years.

Ten years later, the game was much better established in the town and, although Riverside may have been nothing out of the ordinary, Bart was very ambitious. As part of his vision for the future of football in Cardiff, he believed passionately in Riverside's potential and during that December week, he took the first steps towards helping them to realise it.


The secretary had a lot on his plate during December. Apart from work, his wife Sarah had just given birth to their second child, Alma May, but after choosing the teams for their matches against Penarth Parish Church and Barry Boys Brigade, Bart found time to put pen to paper.

As 1899 drew to a close, Charles Axtell, the honorary secretary and treasurer of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Football Association, was feeling pretty satisfied with life. Since August, there had been the usual irregular flow of annual subscriptions and affiliation and entry fees for the Senior, Junior and Junior Medal Cup competitions run by the Association, the game's governing body in South Wales.

Football was on the up and so were the Association's finances. In September, Axtell had submitted the annual accounts to the AGM and was able to report, for the first time in its history, a credit balance of £30.11s.1d. Two Senior Cup semi-final teams had drawn three games and given the association an unexpected windfall of £17.


On Saturday December 16th, Charles Axtell opened his post at his home in Caerleon in Monmouthshire to find a payment from a team he had never heard of before. W.B. Wilson, of 1 Coldstream Terrace in Cardiff, had sent him 2s 6d to enable Riverside Reserves to take part in the Junior Medal Cup.

This entry fee - more than a little late - meant that Charles Axtell had to begin a new receipt book and, as befitted a meticulous secretary, he duly entered Bart's contribution into the S.W.& M.F.A's records - appropriately for Riverside's first competitive fixture, receipt number 1. The club's history had officially begun.

Bart Wilson's was a name with which the football authorities in South Wales were to become infuriatingly familiar over the next decade as Riverside's honorary secretary doggedly pursued his dream of forming a professional team in Cardiff. His logic was simple: if it could happen in Bristol, then why not on this side of the Severn? When he arrived in Cardiff from Bristol to work as a lithographic artist, Bart saw the opportunity to emulate the success of football in his home town.


For most of his twenty-nine years, Bart Wilson had been a fighter. Struggling to overcome major misfortune had become a deeply-ingrained habit. Born in Bristol, with a clubfoot, on January 3rd 1870, Bart was the son of a publican-turned-brushmaker and a teacher.

He was orphaned as a boy and brought up with his cousin Arthur Spurll by their grandmother Jane Hathaway. Arthur, twelve years his junior, came to live with Bart and Jane in Barossa Place, Bristol, after losing both his parents, and later become editor of the Bristol Evening Post.

Bart married Sarah two days after Christmas in 1894 and by the time their son John was born in the following October, the couple had moved to 6 Green Street in Riverside. And by entering the S.W.&M.F.A.'s Junior Medal Cup, Riverside were on their way. Over the next ten years, he was to prove the proverb-ial thorn in the Association's side but, without him as midwife, Riverside A.F.C. might well have been stillborn and Cardiff City would not now be celebrating their centenary.

A hundred years ago, football's growing popularity was proving a double-edged sword for the S.W.&M.F.A. More clubs meant more money but also more problems for the administrators whose relations with the Football Association of Wales, the game's parent organisation, were often rather tense as a result of a North v South power struggle.

During the 1899-1900 season, they had to deal with a variety of disciplinary matters including stone-throwing at Barry, an alleged professional playing for Llandrindod Wells and a Builth goalkeeper who refused to leave the field after being sent off for using foul language to the referee. There were also regular protests about results - including the one involving Riverside Reserves in their first match in the Association's Junior Medal Cup.

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