In contrast to the first conflict, organised football continued throughout the duration of the Second World War, although results and players statistics are not included in official records.
At the time that Britain declared war on Germany, 3rd September 1939, St Albans City were members of the Isthmian League. No league matches had been played by this date but City had featured in two cup ties. The first was a 1st Round Herts Charity Cup tie at Clarence Park with Hoddesdon Town. The match ended all square at 3-3 with the outcome staying unresolved until the two sides met again in December.
St Albans one other game before the outbreak of war was at home to Spartan League side Bishop’s Stortford, in an Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup (line-ups from centre pages of the programme are show left).
The Bishop’s cause was not aided when City keeper Cyril Longman saved a penalty. But that was nothing compared to the antics at the other end of the pitch where the Citizens, through Miller, Braithwaite and Martindale, squandered three spot kicks. However, these matches do not appear in officials records as the FA Cup was cancelled once hostilities had been announced and the matches played were expunged from the records.
The Charity Cup, though, did continue with City and Hoddesdon drawing their delayed replay at Lowfield 4-4 on 20thJanuary. City’s goals came from Vic Woolgar, R.Hutchings, Jack Gough and Jack Braithwaite. The tie was finally settled on 10thFebruary when the Saints cruised through 6-0 at Clarence Park with two goals each from J.Stevens, Woolgar and Gough.
Whilst it would be nice to believe that St Albans superior standing in amateur football shone in that third meeting, the facts are more closely aligned to problems that all clubs faced during the war, that is, the availability of players. Hoddesdon were missing four of their regular players due to other commitments involving the war, where as City were missing just one player whose father was seriously ill.
Hoddesdon managed to get a complete team together in time for the game but all too often clubs were scratching around for players almost right up until the kick off. There was little hope of fielding practically the same side for two consecutive games.
St Albans City were hit as badly as any other club in this respect. They became dependant on whichever battalion was in town at the time of a game. Appeals were even made just prior to kick off for any able bodied spectators to help out. The lax rules regarding the registering of players during the war at least ensured that most matches did kick off with eleven men against eleven.
But these late rescue acts by kindly spectators were not always a great success. For a league game at Barnet in January 1944 St Albans were without Jimmy Sperrin, as he had accepted an offer to turn out for Luton Town. And Wall, who had only made his debut the previous week, was absent for compassionate reasons. Their replacements, Murphy and Duncan, had a rough afternoon as neither turned up with football boots. Barnet were able to find a pair for Murphy, although these were two sizes too large for him, while Duncan had to turn out in normal shoes. City, not surprisingly, lost 4-1.
A week later and City were missing their goalkeeper for the trip to Leyton. An appeal at the ground prompted a soldier by the name of White, normally a left-back, to offer his services. This time City lost 7-1.
For one game against Wealdstone in 1943 City called up five members of the Welch Regiment, St Albans new-look side won 2-1. And later that season local side Bombers provided four players for another Herts & Middlesex League game. City lost that match 5-2 to Tufnell Park at Claremont Road, Cricklewood. Bombers had been formed earlier in the war by George Walker, who was later to become chairman of St Albans City Youth, and City committee member Charlie Hand.
WARTIME CUP FOOTBALL
During the course of the war St Albans played 166 competitive matches, most of which were in the Herts & Middlesex League. Both the Herts Senior and Herts Charity Cups continued throughout the war, but the results of these matches are not included in official club records.
City went into the war as holders of the Charity Cup and when they faced Welwyn Garden City in February 1946 they did so as holders of the cup. Hertfordshire Football Association records beg to differ with this assumption and the clubs that won the competition during the war have got their names engraved in bands around the base of the silver pot.
There had actually been no competition for the Charity Cup during the 1940-41 season, so St Albans City challenged Hitchin Town, winners in 1940, to a one-off game at the North Herts club’s Top Field home. St Albans, though, were beset with problems and struggled to raise a team. Fortunately, four personnel were called up from the military, Leavesden loaned the Club two players and Barnet offered their goalkeeper, A. Greygoose, when it was revealed that neither of City’s regular two custodians were available. W.Jones had accepted an offer to play for Watford, while A.Kirby had received a military call up. The game was drawn 1-1 and Hitchin, as holders, retained the cup.
CITY PLAYER SIGNS FOR MANCHESTER UNITED
The two sides met in the final again the following year and this time City ran out 5-0 winners at Clarence Park with Ron Burke scoring a hat-trick. Burke was one of many players whose promising football careers were devastated by the war. Born in Marske, near Middlesbrough, in August 1921, he turned 18 just after the war started. When the war finished he was almost 24. He was a highly rated forward who, by quite some distance, was St Albans City’s top goal scorer during the war with 48 goals in just 39 games.
Such good form prompted Manchester United to sign him and in two seasons at Old Trafford he scored 16 times in 28 league games. This was followed by spells with Huddersfield Town (27 lge app, 6 gls), Rotherham United (73 app, 56 gls) and Exeter City (42 app, 14 gls). Although Burke joined Manchester United from St Albans City, it could be said that he never played in a competitive match for the Saints, as all of his appearances fell during the war years.
City played in three other cup finals during the war years. Barnet won the Herts Senior Cup in 1942 with a 3-1 win over the Saints at Underhill. Burke scored the St Albans goal in front of a crowd numbering around 3,000. A year later Hitchin took the trophy with a 5-1 over the Saints at Top Field, City skipper Jock Ellison netting for the visitors. But in 1944 St Albans finally lifted a trophy with a 4-1 win over Hitchin at the Park in the final of the Herts Senior Cup. Burke scored twice. The cup was presented by George Wagstaffe Simmons, who was the long serving chairman of the Herts FA and the founder, in 1908, of St Albans City.
The Herts & Middlesex League introduced a League Cup for the 1942-43 season, but St Albans failed to get past the 1stRound for any of the three seasons that the cup was in existence.
HELPING THE WAR EFFORT
One of the ways in which football clubs did their bit for the war effort was to play charity matches; these often took the form of hastily organised, invitation Hospital Cup ties.
The first in which St Albans played was the Addenbrookes Hospital Cup, where City faced Cambridge Town on 8th May 1943. Cambridge won the game 5-2 courtesy of three goals during extra time. An extra 30 minutes had not been planned prior to kick off and only took place through a kind gesture by St Albans. It was something that the visitors were to regret though, for not only did they lose the match in extra time but their later than planned arrival back in Hatfield resulted in a lengthy walk home to St Albans for much of the party.
City gave debuts to several new players at Cambridge, including Fred Collings (often referred to as Collins). Employed by De Haviland’s in Hatfield, Collings played for the works team prior to joining St Albans. He played 31 times for the City during the war at the start of an association that ran for 15 years. It was not quite unbroken service as his peacetime debut did not occur until November 1947, at which time he was demobbed from the Army. Collings went on to play 367 games for the Club, the second highest in the history of the City up to that time, and on 30th April 1959 he had the honour of being the first ‘Saint’ to receive a benefit match, as City took on his new club Hatfield Town, at Clarence Park. St Albans won the game 5-0.
One week after the Cambridge match, St Albans made the short journey to Barnet to face the Bees at Underhill in the Barnet Hospital Cup. The hospital to benefit this time was The Victoria Hospital in Barnet. Barnet won the game 7-2.
In April 1944, and May 1945, City faced the Mid Herts League for the St Albans Hospital Cup. The Representative side won 4-3 and 11-3 respectively with the second game said to have raised ‘sixteen guineas’ for the St Albans City Hospital, whose matron, Miss Parfitt, presented the cup.
RAPID TURNOVER OF PLAYERS
City did not fare well during the war years and lost 20 of their final 21 games before hostilities came to an end. Pictured is the programme from City’s final match in the Herts & Middlesex League; away to Walthamstow Avenue on 21st April 1945. Walthamstow won the league that season and rounded off their campaign with a 6-3 win over St Albans. The Avenue took just 20 seconds to open the scoring.
One of reasons for the run of poor results was the rapid turnover of players. A remarkable 140 players made a single appearance for the Saints. Continuity was a seldom attained commodity during the war.
Players such as Jack Braithwaite, David Rand, Dave Sayers, Bob Christopher, Stan Kirkham, and countless others, played when leave would allow them to do so. Just five players managed 50 or more games during the six years of the war. Jock Ellison headed the appearance chart with 85 games, followed by Vic Sutterby (69), Jack Richardson (60) with both Kirkham and Bill Saunders on 50. Kirkham, with 23 goals, was also City’s second highest goalscorer.
In addition to playing 26 times for St Albans during the war, David Rand played in 105 games either side of the war and also went on to be the Club chairman for 15 years. A flight engineer during the war, Rand still found time to play football, even when posted to Ceylon, as pointed out in this letter sent to his parents (right).
But the war years were not six years of complete suffering for Rand, as he married Miss Joan King on 6th January 1940. Romance was also in the air for another City player that month, Jack Braithwaite, as he announced his engagement to Miss Beryl Shears.
Of the 140 players to have featured in just a single wartime game for the Saints, most were military personnel, and throughout the war City played friendly matches against the military. These teams included the Royal Artillery, the Royal Air Force, The Army, the Royal Engineers, the Northants Regiment, the Essex Regiment, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the Royal Army Service Corp and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
But one of the most noteworthy friendly matches staged took place on 21stNovember 1943, when the Free French Navy dropped anchor at Clarence Park. The Mayor of St Albans, Mr J. Tacchi, welcomed the visitors at the Town Hall. After light refreshments St Albans guests were given a guided tour of the Abbey and Verulamium. Various toasts were made at a luncheon, including words from the St Albans City chairman J.E. ‘Jack’ Squire and the Free French Navy Captain, C. Speitel.
The City secretary, Sid Hopkins, introduced the French team to the large crowd at Clarence Park and before the game got underway the national anthems of both countries were played. After the game the visitors had tea with the St Albans Branch of the Association of Free French Volunteers, while the evening was spent at the Camp Liberal Club.
During the game, a collection for the Free French Prisoners of War Fund raised £12 12s 4d, with the St Albans City committee donating £5. St Albans won the game 13-3 with W.Topliss scoring six times. Topliss was a prolific wartime goalscorer with 19 goals in 16 competitive games.
The collection made during the game with the French was one of many taken at football matches during the war. The organisations to benefit from collections at Clarence Park included; Aid To China, St Albans City Hospital, Mrs Churchill’s Red Cross to Russia, Mayor’s Fund for Christmas Parties for Children, the Red Cross Prisoners of War Fund, the Overseas League Tobacco Fund and the Mayor’s Appeal for the Merchant Navy’s Comfort Service.
During a Herts Senior Cup semi final defeat at home to Hitchin Town on 22nd February 1940, there was a non-war effort collection in aid of the St Albans player A.Franklin. The player suffered a broken leg during a 3-3 draw away to Slough on 11th January. £4 13s was raised whilst there was also a raffle for a silk scarf.
A more unusual means for raising money at Clarence Park was through boxing. The football ground played host to two boxing contests during the war, in 1941 and 1944. More details about these can be found elsewhere in this publication.
NOT SO FRIENDLY MATCHES
The friendly fixtures and charity collections may give the impression that football was not taken overly seriously by its participants. Nothing could be further from the truth and the games were as competitive as they have always been.
And, as with peacetime football, one or two of those involved did, occasionally, overstep the mark. The most unruly incident involved a Tufnell Park player during a Herts & Middlesex League match at Clarence Park on 18th December 1943. The Herts Advertiser reported it thus.
‘One Tufnell Park player, after being involved in a brush with a St Albans player, attacked his opponent. The referee and other players intervened and the Tufnell Park man was ordered off. As he was leaving the field a spectator at the back of the stand blurted out an insulting observation, concerning the player’s conduct.
“Do you mean that?” shouted the player. “Yes,” replied the spectator, whereat the player rushed into the stand and was soon involved in a scuffle with the spectator. Officials quickly intervened and the incident closed.’
Rather amusingly the next paragraph began with these words… ‘Generally, it was a drab game.’
DAYS OF ACUTE CRISIS
As mentioned at the start of this article, St Albans City’s first game of the 1939-40 season, on 26th August, was at home to Hoddesdon Town. The opening three lines of the matchday programme warned of the horrors that lay ahead.
‘We are embarking upon a new season in days of acute crisis, which we all fervently hope will so disappear.’
Sadly the acute crisis did not disappear and the warning was even greater in the notes for the FA Cup tie with Bishop’s Stortford on 2nd September.
‘Having regard for the prevailing conditions when everything is uncertain, with an increasing number of men being called up, it was, at the time of writing, somewhat difficult to forecast the constitution of our team for to-day’s game.’
That game kicked off at 3.30pm and less than 24 hours later war had been declared. Even on the eve of war St Albans produced their normal 12-page matchday programme.
There was a two-week break until the next game, at which time City entertained Hitchin Town in a friendly. A programme was not produced for that match nor for the visit of Finchley on 30thSeptember. As well as the home games against Hitchin and Finchley, City had also visited both clubs on 23rd September and 7th October. All four matches were classed as friendlies.
City’s first competitive match when the country was at war was at home to Enfield on 14th October. Somewhat surprisingly, St Albans produced their normal full-sized 12-page programme for this match (left) and declared their intention to do so throughout the entire season. This was achieved but subsequent war years saw the programme reduced to just a single sheet of paper printed on one side.
When the Herts & Middlesex League commenced the competition was of a non-competitive nature, but at a meeting in early November it was decided to reverse this and that a league table would be produced. However, all matches played before 14th October were not included as league matches, which meant that when Tufnell Park visited Clarence Park on 11thNovember they were facing the league leaders. City lived up to their lofty position with E.Parish scoring six times during an 11-2 romp. A week later the two sides drew 2-2 at Claremont Road – Tufnell Park were, at this time, ground-sharing with Golders Green (later to become Hendon).
Defeat at Barnet, for whom Lester Finch scored the only goal of the game, saw City knocked off their perch but a week later the Saints bounced back to beat Barnet 6-0 at Clarence Park. Jack Braithwaite scored a hat-trick in that match but a 4-0 defeat away to new leaders Hitchin Town confirmed that City’s title challenge was over.
A TEAM OF MANY COLOURS
When St Albans City was formed in 1908 it was agreed that the Club would adopt the colours of the city, blue and gold. But during the 1939-40 season the Club wore a variety of colour schemes.
The match against Hoddesdon saw City take to the pitch in shirts of amber and black hoops. A week later, for the visit of Bishop’s Stortford, this had changed to white shirts and black shorts. This combination of black and white had been adopted by the Club back in 1925. No reason has ever been discovered as to why blue and gold gave way to the black and white kit.
When Finchley called in to St Albans for a league game on the 32nd anniversary of the formation of the Saints, 13th April, the Club moved closer to its original colours with shirts of amber and blue stripes. City then returned to the white shirts and black shorts kit for the remainder of the season.
It was not until 1948 that City once again embraced their true colours, when they took on a design consisting of a blue body with gold arms.
No midweek matches were played during the war years – Clarence Park did not get floodlights until 1963 – but Saturday afternoon kick-off times did fluctuate according to the time of the year. Early season matches got underway at 3.30pm. As winter drew in the kick-off times were brought back to 3pm and then 2.30pm. By early spring the start time had moved forward again to 3pm.
Following the ending of hostilities in the early summer of 1945, regular football resumed for the 1945-46 season. But it was many years before Britain was once again prosperous, and St Albans City certainly took a long time to recover.
For the first season after the war the matchday programme was a continuation of that seen during the hostilities, as the Club produced a single sheet that was printed on one side.
The City programme was up to full size for the 1946-47 season, but the effects of the war were still felt at Clarence Park with frequent requests made through the programme for supporters to donate clothing coupons to the Club.