THE EARLY DAYS
THIS SECTION CONCENTRATES ON THE CLUB’S EARLY YEARS AND ITS INVOLVEMENT IN THE NORTH WALES COAST LEAGUE AND CUP SCENE
Bangor Football Club was one of the first football teams formed in North Wales. The legendary Druids FC of Ruabon were formed as early as 1869, and the formation of clubs in Porthmadog and Wrexham can be traced back to 1872. In September 1876, a club was formed in Caernarfon, and three months later, in December 1876, Bangor Football Club was formed, based at the Maes-y-Dref ground, which was situated in Hirael, close to the present swimming pool. Until 1893, when a league competition was introduced, the only competitive matches available to North Wales Coast clubs were in the Welsh Cup, which was established in 1877. Bangor competed in the first season, and became the first club from North West Wales to win the trophy in 1889. Bangor also played friendly matches during the early days, but with transport being either very unreliable or expensive, many of the club’s friendly games were called off because their opposition failed to turn up.
Two northern leagues were established in 1890 – the Welsh League, which covered the Wrexham area, and the Combination League for clubs in Cheshire and Lancashire. However, the majority of clubs in North Wales, i.e. the ones based on the North-West coast, were unable to play in either league due to the expense and the difficulties in travelling to fulfil fixtures. Bangor did apply for membership to the Welsh League but were turned down for these very reasons. It was perhaps inevitable that, out of frustration at the lack of competitive football, all the main clubs on the North Wales Coast got together to discuss the possibility of setting up their own league. An historic meeting took place at the Lorne Hotel, Rhyl on 22 March 1893 attended by representatives from all the main coast clubs, and a resolution was passed that, subject to Welsh FA approval, a new league would be set up. That same year, the North Wales Coast League was formed and comprised of Bangor, together with Bagillt, Flint, Holywell, Rhyl, Llandudno Swifts and Caledfryn Rangers. Although Bangor had no less than 75 players registered, more than any other club in the League, their obvious strength failed to materialise, and they underachieved during the League’s inaugural season. On April 10, 1894, the North Wales Coast Football Association was formed, separate from the Welsh FA, to oversee and administer the League.
Although Bangor won the inaugural North Wales Coast Senior Cup the following season, it wasn’t until 1895-96 that the club’s true potential was realised. In a remarkable season, Bangor swept all before them, winning a unique Grand Slam – the League title (unbeaten in all matches), the Welsh Cup, the North West Wales Challenge Cup and they retained the Senior Cup. Hopes were high for the following season, but fans were to be bitterly disappointed, as the club failed to retain any of the trophies and were pipped at the post for the League title by Llandudno Swifts. In 1897-98, Bangor reclaimed the Senior Cup, beating Holywell 2-1 at the Oval, Caernarfon. The long-standing rivalry between Bangor and Caernarfon can be traced right back to these days, as it was reported by the local press that during the Final, Bangor players and fans were subject to a great deal of intimidation from "neutral" Caernarfon fans. In fact, this behaviour can be traced right back to the 1880s, with Bangor being reluctant to play in Caernarfon and vice versa, due to the hostile reception meted out by both sets of home supporters.
During the summer break, Bangor, together with Llandudno Swifts and Rhyl, made the bold move to join the Combination League and were accepted for the start of the 1898-99 season. The problem with the North Wales Coast League at the time was that there were never more than half a dozen or so clubs competing in the league, and for more ambitious clubs like Bangor and Llandudno, this didn’t provide enough of a challenge. The prospect of entering the Combination League and facing stronger competition, such as the likes of Everton and Liverpool Reserves, was an attractive proposition, as such matches would guarantee big gates. However, it was obviously a very risky move for Bangor, as it would mean the club having to turn professional, paying players’ wages and incurring very heavy travelling expenses. Although Bangor were remain in the Combination League until it folded in 1910, they were having financial problems as early as 1901.
During the First Team’s spell in the Combination, Bangor Reserves were to fly the flag for the club in the North Wales Coast League. During their first season in the league, the Reserves did very well, finishing runners up to Carnarvon Ironopolis on goal difference, and beating Buckley Victoria 4-2 in the Senior Cup Final for the club to lift the trophy for the fourth time in the five years of the competition’s existence. The following season, the Reserves went one step further in the League and won it comfortably ahead of nearest challengers, Llanwrst. In 1900-01, the Reserves hammered Buckley United 9-1 in the Senior Cup Final to lift the trophy yet again, but celebrations were somewhat dampened by the criticisms now being levelled at the First Team’s involvement in the Combination League. Many journalists felt that, in a craving for success in the league, Bangor were buying in too many foreign imports, and stifling the development of local talent, with the consequence that apathy was now starting to creep into the game. It was also argued that, after the running costs for competing in the Combination had been met, it was hardly worthwhile financially for the club to continue competing in it. However, in spite of the criticism, the club was determined to stay in the Combination, and the city itself was still regarded as the hotbed of North Wales football. In the early 1900s, apart from Bangor FC and its Reserve side, there were ten other clubs based in Bangor – Bangor Swifts, Bangor Celts, Bangor Amateurs, Bangor Rangers, Bangor Blues, Bangor Corinthians, Bangor Wednesdays, Bangor Railway Institute, Bangor St. David’s and Bangor YMCA.
In 1905-06, it was decided to set up a Coast League Second Division, and Bangor Reserves emerged as Champions of the "new" First Division on goal difference over Holyhead, and won the title again in 1908. After the Combination League became defunct in 1910, Bangor temporarily found themselves in limbo. They had expressed no interest in returning to the Coast League, claiming that there was no pleasure in the away matches, because by this time crowd trouble and intense local rivalries had increased. They had also got used to playing at the higher standard of football that the Combination had offered. Instead, Bangor joined the North Wales Alliance League and continued to field the Reserves in the Coast League. The first season of the Alliance was fraught with problems, mainly in the fulfilment of all the fixtures. Although there were attempts to revive the Combination League for the start of the 1912-13 season, Bangor were to stay in the Alliance League until the war. They had also tried to apply for membership to the West Cheshire League in the summer of 1914, but were rejected due to the club being based too far outside the League’s boundaries. By this time, however, the outbreak of the First World War meant that people had more important things on their minds.
After the ending of hostilities in 1918, many North Wales clubs added the term "Comrades of the Great War" to their names out of respect for the many young men who left their communities to fight on the battlefields of mainland Europe, and Bangor were no exception. So, the 1919-20 season not only saw Bangor return to the North Wales Coast League First Division, but it saw them return as Bangor Comrades FC, with the Comrades Reserves entering the Second Division. Bangor marked their return to the Coast League with a championship win, and the summer break saw a major development in the club’s history. During 1919, the club had to vacate Maes-y-Dref and the ground was converted into allotments. The club fulfilled its home matches by playing at the Bangor Cricket Club at Farrar Road, near the railway station. In 1920, an official amalgamation between the cricket and football clubs took place under the new name of Bangor Athletic Club, and the Farrar Road ground became the new home of Bangor Athletic FC, and has remained the home of football in the city to this day. The club’s first season at Farrar Road saw them finishing in fourth place behind Denbigh, Holywell and champions Holyhead.
The following season, 1921-22, saw the biggest upheaval in the North Wales football scene since the formation of the Coast League in 1893. The Welsh FA decided to form a new Welsh National League (North), similar to the one already in existence in South Wales. In total, 14 clubs, including Bangor Athletic, were upgraded into the new league, and the Coast League was disbanded, with Divisions 1 and 2 becoming Divisions 2 and 3 of the new league system. The new system, through no fault of the clubs involved, initially proved to be a big disappointment, and was not as popular as the Welsh FA had hoped. The 1923-24 season saw the introduction of a new cup competition, namely the North Wales Coast Challenge Cup, and the old Coast League First Division trophy was to be used for the new competition. Bangor Athletic reached the first-ever Challenge Cup Final, but were beaten at Flint by Mold. It was 1927 before Bangor eventually won it. The 1929-30 season proved to be the last for the National League, and it ended in some disarray, with a lot of the fixtures not being completed. The 1930-31 season saw another complete reconstruction of the North Wales league system, with the setting up of a new league to be known as the North Wales Football Combination League, which consisted of the top Coast clubs and clubs from Cheshire, such as Ellesmere Port. Colwyn Bay won the inaugural title, with Bangor finishing as runners-up. The following season saw Colwyn Bay and Rhyl, two ambitious clubs, defect to join the Birmingham & District League, and Bangor, remembering past glories in the Combination League, followed suit in 1932 thus incurring the wrath of the Welsh FA. Perhaps because of the defection of three of its top clubs, the North Wales Combination League folded after just three seasons, and in its place, the North Wales Coast League was resurrected.
Bangor, now known more familiarly as Bangor City FC, enjoyed a relatively successful first season in the Birmingham & District League, finishing in a very commendable fifth position. The club had by now acquired the services of ex-Cardiff City and Welsh International Len Davies, and during the several seasons that he spent at Farrar Road, his experience proved to be a tremendous asset both on and off the field. In 1935, the club secured the services of former Merthyr manager and Chelsea Scout Harry Harley as their new manager. As the decade wore on, the Birmingham & District League continued to grow in strength, bolstered by the likes of Cardiff City and Bristol Rovers, but Bangor still managed to finish in eighth place in the 1936-37 season whilst Colwyn Bay were stuck firmly on the bottom.
That same season, City achieved a unique record as the only club ever to win the same cup twice in one season against the same opposition! Bangor had reached the North Wales Coast Challenge Cup Final during the 1935-36 season and their opponents were Rhyl. However, the Final was delayed until the start of the 1936-37 season and Bangor duly won 4-2. The two clubs met up again in the 1936-37 Final, and once again City triumphed, this time by 4 goals to nil. If that wasn’t enough, the two clubs met up yet again the following season, with City managing to hold on to the trophy for the third successive season. That season (1937-38) was to be their last in the Birmingham & District League, and they finished in mid-table. During the summer of 1938, their application to join the Cheshire League had been rejected, but they were instead accepted into the Lancashire Combination League and on the eve of the Second World War, City finished the season as league runners up. After the end of World War II, the football scene soon got back to normal. City reached the Final of the 1946 North Wales Coast Challenge Cup but lost to Caernarvon Town. Bangor were re-elected into the Lancashire Combination League for the start of the 1946-47 season and won the Lancashire Combination Cup in 1949. This was to be their last season in the Combination as their application to join the Cheshire League was finally accepted in 1950.