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  RAF College Cranwell Football Team - Inter-war Years

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Updated: 29 Oct 11

RAF Cranwell's football team played at a creditable level between the wars. The team was amateur but they must have been good amateurs to play in the competitions that they did.

The team existed from at least 1920 when they joined the Central Alliance. This was a league based in the East Midlands and had a mix of professional, semi-professional (i.e. players who were paid part-timers but had other jobs) and amateurs.

There were 18 teams in this league in which RAF Cranwell played against Derby County Reserves, Leicester City Reserves and the first teams of Mansfield Town, Grantham and Kettering, amongst others. This was actually a little ambitious for Cranwell as they finished at the foot of the 1920-21 table, although not disgraced with 6 wins and 16 points in their 34 games.

They then dropped out of the league for 2 years but returned in 1923 when the league was not quite so strong. The Football League reserve teams had both left, as had Kettering but Grantham reamined, while Cranwell also had to play Alfreton Town, Newark Town and Retford Town. Again, the league proved too strong, with Cranwell finishing at the foot of the 1923-24 table with 3 wins and 9 points from their 26 games.

They remained in the league and improved slightly in 1924-25, when there were only 11 teams in the league. Cranwell finished 10th, with 4 wins and 12 points from 20 games, 4 points more than the bottom club. Grantham were champions.

The Central Alliance then closed down and I have no more information on any league the team may have been playing in until 1933. They had though also entered two national cup competitions. They entered the F.A. Cup just once, in 1920-21 and went out in the early qualifying rounds but had far more success in the F.A. Amateur Cup.

This was run on the same basis as the F.A. Cup but was for amatuer teams only, with several 100s entering. In later years it had its Finals at Wembley, some of which attracted crowds of 100,000.

Cranwell entered the competition in every season from 1920-21 to 1927-28 and reached the First Round Proper (last 64) four times, with their best season being 1923-24 when they won their First Round tie but went out in the Second Round (last 32).

Details are slightly hazy until 1933. That was when the RAF Cranwell team entered the Central Combination, a very similar league to the earlier Central Alliance. Amongst Cranwell's opponents were Nottingham Forest Reserves, Kettering, Worksop, Newark and Grantham, formidable opponents. Despite the quality of the opposition, Cranwell finished a very creditable 11th out of 17 in 1933-34, with 10 wins and 26 points from their 32 games, ahead of many of the semi-professionals. 1934-35 was much more difficult though with the team dropping to the foot of the table and gaining only 1 win and 8 points from 28 games in a 15-team league.

In 1935, a new league was set up, just for the region's amateur teams and so RAF Cranwell left the Central Combination and joined the Central Amateur League. They finished 5th out of 8 in 1935-36 with 5 wins and 12 points from 14 games. RAF Upper Heyford were also members and finished 7th. In 1936-37, there were 11 teams in the league and Cranwell were runners-up with 13 wins and 28 points from 20 games. They were 7 points behind champions Moor Green, Birmingham's most senior Amateur club. Upper Heyford had left the league after just one season.

In 1937-38, Cranwell slipped down the table to finish 10th out of 12 with 6 wins and 18 points from 22 games. Moor Green were again champions.

In 1938-39, they were at the foot of the table with 4 wins and 10 points from 20 games. Moor Green were champions for the third time in a row.

Cranwell also played in the Amateur Cup from 1933 to 1939 and reached the First Round three times. In 1933-34 they won one of their qualifying games 13-0.

There are no uncovered records of the team competing in any senior league after the war although they did enter the Amateur Cup again, every season between 1949-50 and 1963-64. They never again reached the First Round proper though.

In summary, the team played far above its apparent potential, particularly in the mid-1930s.

With thanks to Mick Blakeman. If anyone can help fill in the gaps from 1928-1933 please get in touch.

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