In the late 19th Century Windsor had more than one football club. Windsor Pheonix, Windsor Victoria and Windsor St Albans were all important clubs on the local scene. Another team playing regularly at a very good standard were the military side 2nd Batallion Scots Guards.
There was clearly a lot of football being played in Windsor at the time, and with the modern day Stag Meadow not coming into use until 1911 clubs needed a place to play. Alongside Windsor Recreation Ground a popular venue was the wonderfully named Balloon Meadow.
Balloon Meadow stands where Windsor Racecourse is today. It gained its name from being a location where, in the early years of aeronautic adventure, hot air balloons would land. The most famous instance of such was that of Minister of Parliament Walter Powell attempting a trip from Crystal Palace to Malmesbury in 1881 and landing in Windsor. He completed the journey the next day, taking off from where he landed.
Later that same year Powell, an experienced balloonist, was involved in a terrible accident. His balloon, travelling over the Dorset coast hit the ground, his two fellow passengers were thrown out, one breaking their leg. Powell was seen, his balloon rising into the English Channel waving to his companions. Despite large scale searches, he was never found.
In October 1889 Balloon Meadow was opened to football as Windsor Phoenix played a glamour tie against Berks and Bucks Cup holders Marlow. The game ended in a tight draw of two goals apiece.
On Saturday 27th February 1892 Windsor Phoenix (one of the clubs that would eventually become Windsor & Eton FC by merging with Windsor St. Albans only a few months later) played at Balloon Meadow against Royal Arsenal, losing by five goals to nil. Interestingly the London Evening Standard writes “The Royalists made a visit to Windsor”. It’s a quite confusing description when you’re used to Windsor sides being nicknamed Royalists. The team for Phoenix that day was as follows: T Husted, H Davenport, AW Brown, C Thompson, E Shaw, F Wilson, C Barker, E Bensetad, H Dudson, V Gaylard and O Scoones. Notably, the referee for the fixture was Percy de Paravicini who had played three times for England and won the FA Cup with Old Etonians a decade earlier.
Balloon Meadow would also see FA Cup action in 1896 when South West Ham (not to be confused with Thames Ironworks who would later become West Ham United) of the Essex League travelled to Windsor. The home club were victorious, defeating the east London club by four goals to one.
The Balloon Meadow was a frequently used football ground over the next couple of decades. It wasn’t always that popular though, as it was felt it was quite far from the centre of Windsor. The development and use of the area of the Great Park that now houses Stag Meadow as a football ground was a welcome addition to footballers and football fans within the town.