Cartoon that marked the rise of Headington United

Out to launch: Alan Course’s cartoon in recognition of Headington United becoming a professional club in 1949

Out to launch: Alan Course’s cartoon in recognition of Headington United becoming a professional club in 1949

First published in Memory Lane

AN ALAN Course cartoon summed up a football club’s hopes when it turned professional.

Headington United, the forerunner of today’s Oxford United, had played in amateur leagues.

But in 1949, it was ready to step up to the professional stage and enter the Southern League.

A club handbook marking this historic move included this drawing by the well-known Oxford cartoonist.

It showed a ship called Headington United being launched, with a bottle-smashing ceremony, hats raised and a band playing, with a Doubting Thomas scurrying away.

Alan Course’s work featured regularly in the Oxford Mail and he was in great demand to draw caricatures for other clients.

A copy of the handbook has been sent to Memory Lane by Henry Harris, of Routh Road, Barton, a former club steward.

The club’s roots can be traced back to 1893 when a few ambitious young men got together a scratch team.

One of them was Fred Tolly, who had just left the Army and, having played for his regiment, was keen to start a football club in his home parish.

The first few games were played outside the parish at Quarry recreation ground. Headington at that time was a large, well-populated village and with few other activities on offer, villagers became enthusiastic football fans.

A club moved to a cramped site inside Headington parish, in Manor Road (now Osler Road), then across London Road to a field behind the Britannia Inn.

The team won its first trophy in the 1897-8 season. A large crowd went to Grandpont to see Headington beat St Mary Magdalen Club in the final and the players celebrated by touring the village in a horse-brake with the cup.

In the early days, the club was known as Headington FC, but added United in line with the village cricket team.

It continued to make headway and moved to Manor Park (now part of the John Radcliffe Hospital) and then, in 1922, to Manor Road, its home for the next 80 years.

Oxford Mail:

  • Tie land: Alan and Phyllis Course behind the bar at the Bear Inn, showing their collection of ties to a Pathe News film crew in 1955. The tape was used to measure the distance between the camera and the customer

In between, there was the change from Headington United to Oxford United (no-one outside Oxford knew where Headington was), entry to the Football League, promotions, relegations, the move to the Kassam Stadium and much more to keep fans on their toes.

Many of the club’s ups and downs were recorded in the Oxford Mail by cartoonist Alan Course, who came to Oxford in 1934 to join Oxford City Police.

Afterwards, he led a varied life as an entertainer, landlord of three pubs, fire extinguisher salesman, author of guide books and telephone operator.

He ran the Bear Inn in Blue Boar Street, where he started a collection of hundreds of ties, the White Hart at Wytham and the Star at Woodstock.

He organised many entertainment shows for charity. He died in 1975, the day after his 62nd birthday.

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