After foundation in November 1871, matches against the Flamingoes, Richmond, Bute House, Wimbledon Hornets and St. Paul’s School were recorded. By the beginning of the next season, 1872-1873, a full list of 23 fixtures was completed, including Richmond, Harlequins, Wasps, Civil Service, Guy’s and Bart’s Hospitals, etc.
A number of reports of matches in 1872-73 have been traced including, inter alia, the following:
2nd November v. St. Bart’s Hospital
“The students were a little matter of six men short, so the O.Ps generously lent them three.”
16th November v. Civil Service
“In the course of this Match the opposition got in between the posts and a goal was kicked. But a dispute arising as to the scorer being offside and the kick a poster, the goal was left for discussion after the match.”
In those days it must be remembered a goal had to be kicked in order for a match to be won. Unfortunately the report does not state the result of the ‘discussion’!
1st February v. Wimbledon Hornets
The report states that when the Hornets arrived at Battersea Park they found the OPs in a disorganized state as their Captain had deserted them in order to play with a scratch team, and had taken with him another member of the Club. When at last the ground was discovered, the OPs only numbered nine men to the Hornets full team but, after the opposition had scored a goal, the Paulines were reinforced by five members of another club who apparently were without a game.
In the early days the Club varied between a full fixture list and one confined mainly to the vacation period – presumably because most of the players were up at one or other of the Universities.
During 1900/1901, the Old Paulines produced what must certainly have been one of their strongest ever sides as it included RO Schwarz of Cambridge and England (and a South African cricketer), four other ‘Blues’ and the Captain JH Harris who played for Middlesex.
In 1910 CM Roberts, a fine forward in his day, put the Club on a sounder footing with a strong nucleus of players including LPB Merriam, an Oxford Blue whose later England caps are in the Clubhouse.
During the First World War no football was played, of course, but in 1919 Roberts, together with WD Ramsay, re-started affairs and the Club recovered almost at once despite the heavy losses which it, in common with most sporting clubs, had suffered. Shortly after this, Hylton Cleaver, a well known sporting journalist became Hon. Secretary and Match Secretary (and later Chairman). IMB Stuart, an Irish International and a brilliant coach at St. Paul’s for two years, produced sides on whom the OPFC lived for the next decade.
The OPs gradually became a club who could and did hold their own with some of the best in the country. During this period they played matches against clubs such as Newport, Llanelli, Neath, Bristol, Richmond, Blackheath, Gloucester, Coventry and Bridgend, whilst Northampton, Liverpool, Plymouth Albion and Bath were regular opponents for many years.
The fixture with Bath was due to the same CM Roberts who was then agent for the Duchy of Cornwall Estates in the district and a Vice-President of both Clubs and who always arranged a magnificent day in the country on the Sunday after the match to dispel hangovers.
Of these first class provincial fixtures particular mention must be made of Bedford whom the OPs met each Boxing Day up until 1993. It is thought that the origins of this match go back to 1890s when the Old Paulines and Old Bedfordians used to combine to play a Boxing Day match against United Hospitals. On one occasion in the 1930s, the OPs for some reason did not go to Bedford on Boxing Day but travelled to Plymouth instead – and paid for it. After leaving London on the evening of Christmas Day and arriving at Plymouth after midnight to discover that they were lodging in a Temperance hotel, they woke some hours later to find several inches of snow had fallen in the meantime. The ground being unplayable, they returned with nothing to show for their wasted journey.