During the summer of 1890 there was a great deal of speculation as to whether St. Albans Football Club would be in existence for the 1890-91 season. A good deal of dissatisfaction had been voiced during the 1889-90 season about late kick offs and weak sides taking to the field. Another, major, problem being a venue for home matches, this matter had been discussed at the Crystal Palace during the AGM on 25th August. Those present at the meeting, who numbered just nine, looked into the suggestion that the club could, perhaps, relocate to the Cricket Heath. This would have taken the club back to one of its former grounds at Bernard’s Heath.
That move did not come off but after weeks of concern a new ground was found within the city at Gombards, off Folly Lane. The land was owned at this time by a lady by the name of Mrs Betts, who asked for no more than £8 in rent for the entire season. This represented a considerable saving from the £20 annual rent at the club’s previous home. Mrs Betts lived at Aboyne Lodge, a home described as, according to British History Online, ‘a modern brick house with a good garden.’ Work on building the nearby Aboyne Lodge School was not started until 1948 and completed two years later. In 1890 Gombards consisted of two fields but by the demolition of a fence the area was enlarged into one large playing field. Oak fencing enclosed the ground itself and a certain amount of work was carried out to the playing surface to bring it up to scratch.
St. Albans had a reduced fixture list for the 1890-91 season when all matches, other than for the Herts County Cup ties, were, once again, friendly games. The fixture list issued at the start of the season totalled 26 games but not all of these came to fruition with details for just 17 being unearthed.
John Sharpe replaces Richard Cook as hon. secretary
The club had a new secretary with Richard Cook, who had shared the task in recent years with James Robert Ball, standing down due to his business and other commitments taking up a greater share of his time than during previous seasons. Cook was replaced by John Willian Sharpe jnr who was credited with rebuilding St. Albans’ fortunes, as the club was felt to be in decline prior to his appointment, this despite reaching the County Cup final the previous season. Sharpe received no shortage of assistance from his father, John William senior, in fulfilling his new position.
Prior to the start of the season, which did not commence until 1st November, J.W. Sharpe appeared alongside James Dickson for Watford Rovers in an F.A. Cup 2nd Round Qualifying tie against 93rd Regiment Highlanders on 25th October. The two St. Albans players scored both of Rovers goals in a 3-2 defeat. The Highlanders were no mean outfit as they proved by reaching the final of the Army Cup, in which they went down 2-0 to the Scots Guards at the Kennington Oval. Sharpe’s skills were not restricted to football as he was also a keen runner, managing the mile in under four minutes and forty seconds.
After all the concern expressed about the club’s future, the start of the season was further delayed when the first visitors to Gombards, Apsley, had problems in locating the Saints new home. Due to Apsley’s late arrival - minus one player who never did find his way there - the match was reduced to just fifty minutes play during which time the home side clinched a 2-0 win. The visitors borrowed E. Beenham to make up their XI. Victory over Apsley was the launching pad for a fine start to the season, by the end of February the club had lost just once in ten outings and were through to the final of the Herts County Cup for a second successive year.
The Saints cantered to an easy 6-0 win over Croxley North End the following Saturday and on Wednesday 12th November four St. Albans players – Cecil Aylen, Chares Bennett, James Dickson and Sandford Moore – played for the county during a 2-2 draw with Middlesex at Chiswick.
Watford Church Institute lined up against St. Albans for the fourth and final time on 15th November and were probably thankful that they would not have venture this way again. Four players scored twice as the churchmen went down to a 10-0 defeat to go with earlier reversals of; 2-0, 15-0 and 8-0.
St. George’s inflict first defeat of the season
Four days later the Saints struggled to get a side together for a trip to St. George’s School and called upon some assistance from Luton, it was all to no avail as a strong school side, including Moore and Stanley, romped home 5-1 to hand the visitors their first defeat of the season.
After a break of more than two weeks St. Albans returned to action on the 6th December but on arriving at Hitchin looked destined to be a man short. Fortunately, in the crowd was the Hatfield player C. Chapman, who gladly made up the numbers – with a full XI St. Albans won 3-0 to avenge a 5-0 defeat received at Bedford Road on their most recent visit five years earlier.
St. Albans progress to the final of the County Cup was aided in the 1st Round by the withdrawal of Cheshunt College who were due to visit Gombards on 13th December. The College gave plenty of notification that they would not fulfil the fixture and allowed St. Albans enough time to arrange a friendly against the 2nd Coldstream Guards. Coldstream was very much the way of things on the day as the players had to contend with a Gombards pitch that was covered with ice. Charles Bennett and Sidney Stanley received late notice of the game and somehow got through the game playing in normal boots, in spite of this handicap the Citizens won 2-1.
Country gripped by big freeze
Over the course of the next eight weeks inclement weather restricted the club to just one game. The bad weather was country-wide but some Football League games were played. Where the conditions forced one of the clubs to protest the League ordered the games to be replayed. By mid-January leaders Everton had just one of their 22-games still remaining while reigning champions Preston North End had seven games to play. Everton clung on to take the title from Preston by two points, West Bromwich Albion finished bottom of the 12-team table.
St. Albans’ one game during this period was on the final day of January with a straight forward, if uninspiring, 3-0 win over London Rovers being recorded during an afternoon of heavy rain. John William Sharpe junior scored two of the goals.
Two games were played during February in the build up to playing in the County Cup. Redbourn were seen off in some comfort at Gombards on the 14th February, this despite the Saints going down to 10-men early on due to an injury to Beenham. Another injury was sustained the following Saturday during a home goalless draw with London Welsh. The rib injury picked up by full-back George Humphrey forced him out of the side for the rest of the season and he never played for the club again. Born in Berkhamsted in October 1861, George had played for both St. Albans and Luton Town in previous years and only left Luton the previous November to make the switch to St. Albans permanent. He made 52 appearances for the Saints.
St. Albans opponents in the Herts County Cup were Hoddesdon. In earlier years this would have been a daunting prospect but Hoddesdon’s star was on the wane and there was every chance that St. Albans would triumph in this semi-final encounter at Hatfield. An estimated 200 supporters travelled on the special G.N.R. train laid on from St. Albans, while a similar number were said to have made their way by other means. The Herts Advertiser described the ground in these terms, ‘The enclosure was Mr. Canham’s meadow adjoining the “Gun” Inn turned out to be a very level piece of ground, and the turf, moreover, was in capital condition. The playing pitch had been roped off, and for the convenience of spectators an enclosure was provided for those who cared to pay a trifle.’
Humphrey was not the only St. Albans absentee. Fellow full-back, Cecil Aylen, had declared himself as available for the cup ties but then withdrew from this game. Half-back, Rev Charles Bennett also appeared unlikely to make the starting line-up after missing his train at Harpenden. Horace Paul, who decided against playing after suffering a very personal bereavement just before the start of the season, was called in to fill the void. Fortunately, just before the kick-off, Bennett arrived and took his place in the team. Receiving an unexpected call up as goalkeeper was George Hartley, who, mostly, filled that position for the Reserve team. It was George’s 16th and final appearance for the First team. In later years he was the trainer – the man with the towel and water – to the St Albans City First team, a position that he held from 1908 to 1920. George passed away in August 1923 and was buried in the Hatfield Road cemetery.
St. Albans had to defend stoutly for long periods but did clinch a 2-1 victory and along with it some measure of revenge for the previous defeats meted out by the cup holders. John William Sharpe played a leading role in the victory as he set up Sandford Moore for the opening goal and then took the credit for the second himself as he bundled the ball and the goalkeeper, H. Salwey, into the back of the net after the custodian caught a shot from the team captain, James Dickson.
Two games were played before the final against Watford Rovers. First up were Chesham Generals at Gombards who caught the Saints when they were very much off form and ran out comfortable 4-2 winners. Goalkeeper E. Johnson was praised for his performance but was left out of the side for the next game. He appeared in the First team on just two more occasions, once as a goalkeeper and once as a full-back.
Jack Dickerson joins St. Albans
Taking Johnson’s place for the home game against London Caledonians on the 14th March was the highly rated Jack Dickerson. Born in Bishop’s Stortford in 1871, Dickerson had recently moved to St. Albans to take up a teaching position at the Hatfield Road School. He had previously played for Hertford Excelsior where he lined up alongside George Wagstaffe Simmons; the duo were to become significant figures in the history of St. Albans football.
Dickerson received favourable reports following a 3-2 win over the London Caledonians but he had not been resident in the district for a sufficient length of time to retain his place against Watford Rovers. Tom Long was entrusted with the gloves for the final.
The final, played at Mr. Canham’s Field in Hatfield, was the 19th and final meeting between the two clubs and having lost just two of the thirteen most recent encounters Rovers were very much the favourites to lift the cup. The Watford side also had Arthur Tempest Blakiston Dunn not only in their ranks but also in outstanding form and there was little doubt as to the outcome. Dunn duly scored twice, as did another St. Albans old-boy, Fred Sargent while Sandford Moore and J.W. Sharpe scored for the Saints in a 6-2 defeat. This was a strong Watford side and St. Albans sought to counter them by bringing in some big guns of their own. Aylen, Hod Paul and Henry Webdale all came in for their only appearance of the season but it was all to no avail. Aylen and Paul both made over 100 appearances for the club.
At the final whistle St. Albans could do no more than look on as Mr W.P. Coles, standing astride a wagon, made a short speech and presented the cup to the Rovers captain, Alec Sargent, who also treated the crowd to a few words. Various reports estimated the attendance as either 1,000 or 2,000. The large crowd was not only good for the competition but also for Joseph Canham, for not only was it his field on which the game took place but he was also landlord of the adjoining Gun Inn.
‘Usually desolate roadway full of stir and bustle’
The Herts Advertiser felt that St. Albans had under-performed on the day but paid tribute to the supporters who had made the short journey to Hatfield on a day of less than favourable weather for spectators. ‘A large number of persons “padded” the distance from St. Albans to Hatfield, others “biked” it, others rode over in specially chartered conveyances, and from one until three o’clock this usually desolate roadway was full of stir and bustle.’
Two days after the final, on Easter Monday 30th March, St. Albans were back at Gombards to defeat the 2nd XI of the 1st Life Guards 3-0. The visitors took to the pitch wearing red striped shirts and regimental trousers tucked up to the knees. A busy week continued on the Wednesday with a 3-1 defeat away to St. George’s School. Having appeared for St. Albans in the cup final, Charles Bennett and Sandford Moore line up for the school XI, while Arthur Dunn pulled on a shirt for the Saints and scored the consolation goal.
Hendon Rovers were the visitors for the penultimate game of the season and were seen off by James Dickson who scored all three goals in a 3-0 win for the home side. Dickson had scored just twice in his first 24 games for the club but over the course of his next 111 games scored a further 68 times.
The final game of the season was played on Saturday 18th April with London Caledonians gaining revenge for their earlier defeat at Gombards by winning 2-0. E. Johnson was back in goal making his final appearance for the club.
John William Sharpe junior (left), celebrated his first year as hon. secretary by scoring a dozen goals in 16 appearances as he finished the season as the top goal scorer.
The Herts County side played four matches with five St. Albans players involved. Dickson and Moore each made three appearances with the latter scoring three times. J.W. Sharpe and Aylen played twice each while Rev Bennett played in one game. Former Saint Fred Sargent had lost none of his goalscoring prowess and demonstrated it by scoring five times during an 8-1 thrashing of Surrey at Watford. The full list of matches was; 22-10-1890 Herts 3-11 London Reserves (Hitchin), 12-11-1890 Middlesex 2-2 Herts (Chiswick), 14-02-1891 Herts 2-3 Casuals (Watford), 18-03-1891 Herts 8-1 Surrey (Watford).
1890-1891 Season Line-ups
|Nov||1||Fr||APSLEY END||(H)||W||1||-||0||Long T||Humphrey G||Johnson EJ||Looker HW||Sharp EM||Smith T||Reynolds FE||Fowler HC||Sharpe JW (1)||Mantle E||Sharpe JW snr|
|Nov||8||Fr||CROXLEY NORTH END||(H)||W||6||-||0||Hartley G||Humphrey G||Slight WG||Looker HW||Mantle E||Smith T||Pryor||Fowler HC||Sharpe JW||Sharpe EN||Sharp W|
|Nov||15||Fr||WATFORD CHURCH INSTITUTE||(H)||W||10||-||0||Hartley G||Slight WG (1)||Humphrey G||Mantle E (1)||Franklin A||Smith T||Miskin A (2)||Fowler HC||Sharpe JW (2)||Sharp W (2)||Sharpe EN (2)|
|Nov||19||Fr||St. George's School||(A)||L||1||-||5||Hartley G||Slight WG||Humphrey G||Sharp EM||Looker HW||Whitby A||Mantle F||Furlong||Whitby F (1)||Whitby H||Chennells G|
|Dec||6||Fr||Hitchin Town||(A)||W||3||-||0||Johnson EJ||Humphrey G||Long T||Chapman C||Smith T||Mantle E||Sharp EM||Dickson JW||Sharpe JW (1)||Beenham E (1)||Sharp W (1)|
|Dec||13||Fr||2nd COLDSTREAM GUARDS||(H)||W||2||-||1||Long T||Humphrey G||Slight WG||Smith T||Bennett CW||Looker HW||Stanley SM (1)||Dickson JW||Sharpe JW||Sharp W||Miskin A|
|Jan||31||Fr||LONDON ROVERS||(H)||W||3||-||0||Long T||Humphrey G||Johnson EJ||Slight WG||Smith T||Sharp EM||Miskin A||Fowler HC||Sharpe JW (2)||Sharp W (1)||Sharpe EN|
|Feb||14||Fr||REDBOURN||(H)||W||4||-||0||Hartley G||Slight WG||Smith T||Looker HW||Sharp EM||Beenham E||Miskin A||Sharpe JW (2)||Fowler HC||Stevens J (1)||Sharpe EN (1)|
|Feb||21||Fr||LONDON WELSH||(H)||D||0||-||0||Long T||Slight WG||Humphrey G||Sharp EM||Smith T||Mantle E||Mantle F||Sharpe JW||Moore SFP||Sharpe EN||Sharp W|
|Feb||28||HSCsf||Hoddesdon||(A)||W||2||-||1||Hartley G||Slight WG||Long T||Bennett CW||Sharp EM||Smith T||Miskin A||Sharp W||Moore SFP (1)||Dickson JW||Sharpe JW (1)|
|Mar||7||Fr||CHESHAM GENERALS||(H)||L||2||-||4||Johnson EJ||Slight WG||Long T||Looker HW||Mantle E||Smith T||Sharp W||Mantle F||Sharpe JW (1)||Sharpe EN (1)||Rumball|
|Mar||14||Fr||LONDON CALEDONIANS||(H)||W||3||-||2||Dickerson J||Slight WG||Long T||Paul H||Sharp EM||Smith T||Dickson JW||Sharpe JW (1)||Mantle E (1)||Sharpe EN||Sharpe JW snr (1)|
|Mar||28||HSCf||Watford Rovers||(A)||L||2||-||6||Long T||Aylen CH||Slight WG||Sharp EM||Paul H||Bennett CW||Dickson JW||Webdale HC||Moore SFP (1)||Sharpe JW (1)||Miskin A|
|Mar||30||Fr||1st LIFE GUARDS||(H)||W||3||-||0||Long T||Johnson EJ||Slight WG||Sharp EM||Johnstone A||Mantle E||Stone HC||Marchant H||Sharpe JW||Sharpe EN (1)||Dickson JW (2)|
|Apr||1||Fr||St. George's School||(A)||L||1||-||3||Dickerson J||Marriette EH||Slight WG||Mantle E||Dickson JW||Sansom T||Stone HC||Fowler HC||Dunn ATB (1)||Sharpe JW||Sharpe EN|
|Apr||11||Fr||HENDON ROVERS||(H)||W||3||-||0||Rumball||Smith T||Slight WG||Sharp EM||Beenham E||Fowler HC||Sharpe EN||Sharpe JW||Dickson JW (3)||Miskin A||Stone HC|
|Apr||18||Fr||LONDON CALEDONIANS||(H)||L||0||-||2||Johnson EJ||Dickerson J||Slight WG||Smith T||Beenham E||Sharp EM||Sharpe EN||Stone HC||McFie WM||Dickson JW||Sharpe JW|
Appearances and Goals
|Cecil Henry Aylen||1|
|Charles William Bennett||3|
|James William Dickson||9||5|
|Arthur T.B. Dunn||1||1|
|Sandford Ffolliott Pierpoint Moore||3||2|
|Ernest Michael Mannock Sharp||12|
|Ernest Northern Sharpe||11||5|
|John William Sharpe jun||16||12|
|John William Sharpe snr||2||1|
|William Goode Slight||15||1|
|Sidnet Margetts Stanley||1||1|
|Henry Charles Webdale||1|