On the afternoon ofthe Saints FA Cup tie with Lowestoft Town on 6th October 2012 it was a tremendous privilege for the club to welcome our former player Norman Griffiths to Clarence Park as a guest of the club.
Norman played 49 times for the Saints between 1949-52 and even since turning 90 back in June 2012 he had had the thrill of taking a flight in a glider before returning to the Park.
Prior to the Lowestoft game Norman and his good friend Terry Tietjen joined City historians David Tavener and Peter Taylor for lunch at the Three Horseshoes at Smallford and talked about his time at Clarence Park some 60 years earlier.
Norman kicked off by saying he, despite living on the doorstep of Walthamstow Avenue and being keen on joining the Avenue, was persuaded to join St Albans by Albert Martin. Albert was very much a City favourite and Norman played alongside some other figures from that era that are still popular, such as Freddie Collings and Dave Sayers.
His association with Walthamstow pre-dates his playing days. “I used to sell programmes at The Avenue and they were a penny each,” said Norman with the broad smile that seldom leaves his face. “Walthamstow and Romford both moved from the Athenian League to the Isthmian League on the day war broke out, so had to wait five years before they could play in it. They had some good players and won it at the first attempt.” He then reeled off the names as if it were yesterday rather than 66 years ago.
Norman then moved on to the time the legendary Pegasus played ay Clarence Park. “Do you remember when Pegasus played at St Albans,” he asked, before continuing, “5-3, what a game, they won the Amateur Cup twice and there was a big crowd. We all went for tea up in the town after the game and they said it was a better game than either of the cup finals.” Norman neglected to mention that he scored one of the three City goals.
Looking through some photocopied memorabilia Terry had brought with him stirred other memories. The clippings recalled cricketers Doug Insole and Trevor Bailey playing for Walthamstow and esteemed writer Bernard Joy playing for Corinthian Casuals. “We played them (Cor-Casuals) at The Oval a couple of times, there were just a few spectators and no atmosphere.” And Terry recounted seeing a Nigerian XI play barefoot at Ilford. Newspaper reports suggest that the Nigerians played barefoot on hard grounds but wore boots on the softer pitches.
Returning to matters closer to home, Norman was asked about what training was like at St Albans back then, bearing in mind that floodlights were not installed at Clarence Park until the winter of 1963. “We would be sent out to run around the streets and then we’d do some skipping inside the ground, we would never see a ball,” he said.
Norman’s playing days were ended by a broken leg, suffered in a match in which he almost did not play. “I got married and got a call when I got back from honeymoon asking if I could play at Clapton on the Saturday (5thJanuary 1952). I didn’t have a car so got the trolleybus to the Spotted Dog but there was a power-cut and of course the trolleybus stopped. Eventually the power came back on and I got to the ground with about five minutes to kick-off. They stopped the side as they went out, I got changed quickly and half an hour later I was in hospital with a broken leg.”
And was there boot money for the players back then; Norman confirmed that indeed there was.
Terry Tietjen is not without good football connections himself and watched Ilford for many years while his great uncle played in goal for Ilford when they lost to Casuals in the 1936 Amateur Cup Final at Upton Park.
Photo: Norman Griffiths is welcomed back to Clarence Park by chairman Ian Ridley 59 years after he last trod the turf as a St Albans City player.