Stories of non-league sides hitting financial hard times are nothing new and the 2017-18 season has seen a number of high-profile National League clubs crash into the buffers and facing possible extinction.

But before we get too smug and join the bandwagon of preaching that clubs should live within their means, it is worth taking a look at just how many times the well-run ship at Clarence Park has crashed into the rocks only to be hauled to safety just before falling apart.

The original St Albans Football Club that existed between 1881-1904, and played at Clarence Park from its opening in 1894, was the first to encounter problems in the late 1800s and, technically, floundered in 1899 before starting the 1899-1900 season as St Albans Amateurs.

Success at a price

The present-day City club have faced financial problems on many occasions, with serious problems cropping up several times over the past 30 years. The highly entertaining sides put together throughout the 1990s certainly came at a price and when the club was sold in 1998 the debt was estimated at around £125,000. The new owner failed to get our house in order, despite City reaching the FA Trophy semi-final in 1999, and when the players went five weeks without being paid the club was suspended by the Isthmian League in January 2002.

The club was then bought by the chairman of construction company William Verry Ltd. When they crashed in the summer of 2009 with debts of £19.1m it spelled trouble for the football club. The players wages were paid by Verry’s parent company, William Verry Holdings, and the debt that they accrued on behalf of the football club was said to be in excess of £600,000. This debt, however, was written off by the administrator. The Football Association also fined the club £7,500 during Verry’s reign for financial irregularities, regarding the paying of players wages.

Taxman looks to cash in on City’s success

However, the first time that St Albans City crossed swords with the taxman was not during hard times but, ironically, during the halcyon days of the 1920s. Five league championships were won during this decade (two Athenian, three Isthmian), three times the semi-final of the Amateur Cup was reached, and local players Wilfred Minter and Harold Miller were capped by the England Amateur International side.

To keep pace with the success on the pitch the club sought to improve its facilities. As with today, the ground was owned by the local council, but, despite this, vast improvements were made to our Clarence Park home at the expense of the club. The success of this was borne out in February 1926 when we recorded home gates on successive Saturday’s of 9,745 and 9,757. 

Up until the summer of 1921 there were no terraces at Clarence Park. Work began in July of that year to install terracing in the form of railway sleepers (at a cost of £70 per sleeper). The terrace facing the main stand was completed during October with the two end terraces finished off in December. The following year saw the original main stand extended from 104 feet in length to 290. Extending the stand cost the club £1,000, with another £300 donated by Mr D. Martin.

All of these improvements had been possible due to the success of the club and the income generated by playing in front of some phenomenal crowds, such as close on 21,000 and 19,00 in the Amateur Cup semi final and 14,000 during a tournament in Belgium. This was all back in the days when the club was amateur, therefore no payments to the players. Unfortunately, the taxman either took a dim view of our success or rubbed his hands with glee as he filed a report on the activities of St Albans City at Clarence Park.

In the early part of winter 1925 the Inland Revenue sent the club a tax demand, said to cover several years, for £1,250. It was a huge amount of money that had, mostly, already been spent. The revenue authorities insisted that the money spent by the club on its surroundings was capital expenditure, and, therefore, could not be offset against profits.

The revenue stood firm as the club voiced its outrage but once the taxman realised that the club had no assets that could be carted off in payment, a deal was struck and the football club agreed to pay a revised sum of £318 1s 6d by 1stJanuary 1926.