The upbeat words confidently projected by the St. Albans captain at the end of the 1897-98 campaign were not supported during the summer as speculation mounted surrounding the financial position of the club.
The club had carried a small debt into the 1897-98 season but officials were optimistic that increased attendances, due to playing in the Southern League, would keep costs under control. Whilst the club was correct in its assumption that gates would rise, it had not accurately allowed for a large rise in expenditure. The club estimated £125 would be required to cover players wages but as the season moved on new players were brought in and wages went some £70 above the proposed figure. At the Saints annual meeting, held inside the Town Hall on 2nd September 1898, club secretary Jack Dickerson revealed that the deficit was in fact £40, £15 of which had been carried over from the previous season. The meeting aroused no shortage of interest with the room being packed but when a collection was taken at the end of the evening only 18s was raised to boost club funds.
During the latter stages of the meeting the election of officers for the forthcoming season was held. Dickerson stood down as hon. secretary to be replaced by William R. Baum with assistance from W.C. Payne. Cllr William Bennett stepped forward to be treasurer and was duly elected, but the club also suffered further losses when Ernest Northern Sharpe declined an invitation to join the committee and John William Sharpe snr ended his long association with the club.
Dickerson’s playing days were also at an end although he did stand in for one Southern League match in mid-season while the Saints sought a replacement for H. Wagstaffe. A replacement was eventually found in the Hatfield custodian E. Johnson who made eight consecutive appearances before Wagstaffe returned to play in five of the final seven games.
Five players signed as professionals
Turning to the outfield playing squad for the 1898-99 season, it was announced that five players - Roland Brown, George Groom, Jack Dimmock, C. ‘Conny’ Watkins and Herbert Holdstock - were signed on as professionals. Brown, Groom and Watkins were ever present during the season but former Luton Reserve team member Holdstock made just one appearance for the Saints. Cox and Harry Payne later boosted the number of professionals to seven.
The Pemberton full-back Parsons was also signed but after making his debut during a promising 2-2 Southern League draw at Fulham he was then seen in only two of the next twenty-four matches. After a gap of one year the club welcomed back half-back W.G. Long who had the unusual nickname of ‘Never’. Long played in the St. Albans Reserve side that won the Herts Junior Cup in 1895, before then he had collected a Bingham Cox Cup winners medal with Stanville. St. Albans lost the services of full-backs Harry Williams and Albie Sharp. Williams played more than fifty times for Luton Town over the next two seasons while Sharp, turning professional, made 82 appearances for Watford between 1898-1901. The club lost three other players who had played a significant part in its fortunes during recent seasons. Reliable full-back Bert Sanders hung up his boots, Walter Giddings, scorer of 23 goals during 1897-98 and 29 goals two seasons earlier, departed as did half-back Herbert Vinsen.
Division Two, London Section, of the Southern League again had a dozen members but gone from the 1897-98 season were Royal Artillery (Portsmouth) who had won promotion to Division One to be replaced by Wolverton London & North Western Railway, while Brentford, Fulham, Shepherds Bush and Thames Ironworks were elected into the League in place of Dartford, Old St. Stephens, Royal Engineers Training Battalion (Chatham) and Warmley.
Glorious weather greeted the start of the Southern League season on 10th September but the searing temperatures, around 80 degrees, were not to the Saints liking as only a goal from Brown (right) brightened an otherwise disappointing day as they went down 6-1 at Brentford’s Cross Roads home – situated close to South Ealing tube station – in front of around 500 spectators. C. Ward scored a hat-trick for the home side.
The following weekend saw Clarence pay their annual visit to Clarence Park , to the accompaniment of the Abbey Band, and for the second time in three seasons Sir John Blundell Maple's employees were victorious.
F.A. Cup hat-trick for Sibley
Crouch End Vampires provided more serious opposition on 24th September as the two clubs squared up in the F.A. Cup. Goals from Fred Allen and W.G. Sibley, who was also cautioned, earned the Saints a 2-2 draw. St. Albans had an opportunity to win the game during the first half of extra time when Allen was fouled inside the penalty area. Unfortunately, Watkins’ spot kick lacked power and Vampires goalkeeper Chester was able to kick the ball away. Included in the Vampires line up was former Saint Arthur Taylor. The attendance was estimated at 600-700 with the match report stating frustration at the locals not coming out in larger numbers for a big game on a glorious day.
More good weather greeted the two teams for the replay at Wood Green the following Wednesday. An early goal set the Saints on the path to a 4-2 victory that was secured with Sibley scoring the second and final F.A. Cup hat-trick for the original St. Albans club. Groom completed the tally but goalkeeper H. Wagstaffe also grabbed the headlines when saving a penalty by Taylor (left). Strangely, both games kicked off around 20 minutes after the scheduled time.
Council get heavy-handed over club caterer
September had been a hectic month for the club for in addition to a heated AGM, the commencement of the Southern League season and the start of their F.A. Cup campaign, St. Albans Town also became embroiled in a bizarre argument with the local council. On the 17th, the day of the friendly with Clarence, the council informed committee member, and club caterer, John Leeds, that the police would eject him if he tried to take refreshments into the ground. The council was taking action after stating it had not been told by the club that it had a caterer. The club appealed against the excessively harsh stance taken by the corporation but at a committee meeting on 20th September the appeal was rejected. The club was particularly strong in its condemnation of Cllr Hurlock whom they believed was behind the move to ban refreshments from Clarence Park despite him never going to football matches there.
The Saints had just a couple of days in which to savour their victory over Crouch End as the week ended, on 1st October, with fellow Southern League members Shepherds Bush visiting Clarence Park for a 1st Round tie. Shepherds Bush had reached this stage of the competition in circumstances that were somewhat fortunate them and less so for one individual. The west London club were trailing 3-2 to Hounslow when the game was abandoned following the sudden death of a spectator. The F.A. ordered the game to be replayed, this time Shepherds Bush won 3-1.
Three changes were made to the side that had defeated Crouch End with Stonebridge and White coming in for their first game of the season. Adams, at full-back, made his sole appearance of the season. Of the first two named the Herts Advertiser reported, ‘As for White he was no use at all, but Stonebridge was not quite so bad.’
The Londoners ended the Saints interest in the competition with Fred Allen scoring a consolation goal for the home side during a 2-1 defeat. It proved to be St. Albans last game in the competition before the club closed down in 1904 and was played out in front of the Mayor of St. Albans and the Town Clerk. The reporter was, clearly, none too pleased at the exit from the F.A. Cup and bemoaned the lack of a table for the press to use, and compared it to the facilities at Watford where the press were asked where they would like the table to be situated. He was not alone in failing to enjoy the day though, as the referee stopped the game for several minutes during the second half due to ‘rowdy’ spectators.
The following Saturday’s game, 8th October, against Fulham, was postponed due to the west London club being involved in a London Senior Cup tie against Civil Service that the Cottagers won 5-0. The date was filled with a friendly against Chesham at the Park. Although not reflected in the score, it was a one-sided affair with a brace of goals from Sibley securing a slender 2-1 victory.
Sibley added two more the following weekend as a meagre crowd witnessed a 7-2 rout of a combined XI playing under the guise of Kensal St. Mary’s, Allen also scored twice.
‘This was my first visit to Southall, and I sincerely hope it will be the last’
A return to league action was made on the 22nd when a crowd of approaching 800 saw the Saints go down 3-2 at Southall. Sibley and Allen were again on target. As the end of October approached just two league games had been played and St. Albans were two places off the foot of the Southern League table.
The Herts Advertiser could find little, in fact, nothing, to commend the afternoon spent in Southall. ‘I was one of a small number who journeyed with the St. Albans team on Saturday. The day cannot be characterised as an ideal one, for there was a strong wind blowing and rain descended in steady showers at times. We started from St. Albans at 12.45 and reached our destination at about a quarter to three. This was my first visit to Southall, and I sincerely hope it will be the last.’
‘Southall is just such another place as Brentford, and the accommodation both for Press and players was very poor indeed. Instead of there being dressing rooms, such as we have at St. Albans, both teams had to dress at a public house or inn, whatever you like to call it, where the accommodation was not at all good.’
‘On going to the field of play, another surprise was in store for me. There was no pavilion, except what might be termed a shed, which was set up on one side of the field, but this was not provided with seats of any kind, and there was no Press accommodation. The ground, too, was all ups and downs, and somewhat hampered the Saints when near to goal in the second half.’
Five days after that game a general meeting of the club was held at the Town Hall during which club secretary W. Baum contradicted earlier figures and stated that the club had started the current season with a deficit of £50. The club was in serious financial difficulty and attendances were dropping alarmingly. Various suggestions were put forward as to how the finances could be improved. A working man’s committee had been formed at the previous meeting with the intention of raising revenue, this had been an unmitigated flop. The chairman of the meeting, Cllr W.S. Green, stated that a city with inhabitants numbering 20,000 should be able to call upon regular support of 1,000 paying 1s each, which would raise £50 at every home game. With attendances far below that figure other options had to be investigated. Aside from looking at fundraising schemes some donations were collected on the night. The chairman donated 50s and was joined by Councillors R.L. Samuel and W.G. Bennett who donated 12s each, others to make donations were; Mr W. Fisk 42s, Mr Hawes 21s, Mr G. King 10s 6d, Mr J. Smith 5s and Wagstaffe Simmons who promised to collect 42s. A certain amount of envy was again directed at the Watford club whose attendances, within two years, had grown from 300 to 2,000, the question was posed; ‘If Watford could do it, why not St. Albans?’
The return league match with Brentford was booked for 29th October but due to the Bees facing Clapton in the 3rd Round Qualifying of the F.A. Cup that day, St. Albans arranged to play an away friendly instead. Luton Town and Watford were also meeting each other that day and the fear was that the game at Dunstable Road would hit the attendance if the Saints were at home. It was reported that 300-400 spectators from St. Albans did attend the game. What the actual attendance was, however, is unclear. Luton put it at 2,500, Watford 3,000 and the Herts Advertiser 4,000. Brentford went down 6-1 at Clapton and Luton beat Watford after a replay. As for the Saints, they were in Surrey where Sibley scored his tenth goal in seven games as Redhill were defeated 2-1.
Below: Luton Town’s Dunstable Road ground (courtesy of Brian Webb, thestrawplaiters.com)
A resurgent Wycombe Wanderers handed the Saints a third defeat in three Southern League outings with a 5-0 drubbing at Loakes Park on 5th November. Two days before the match a well-attended Smoking Concert at County Hall boosted the Saints coffers. The goals against column took another battering the following week as Thames Ironworks won 4-1 at the Park. The performance was described as being as miserable as the wet weather although Wagstaffe received praise and crowned his performance by saving a penalty. The attendance was approaching 800. The Canning Town club had, reluctantly, turned professional during the summer and were expected to challenge for promotion.
A fifth successive league defeat was suffered on 19th November as Brentford moved to the top of the table with a 5-4 win at Clarence Park . George Groom, who had been switched between centre-forward and centre-half, was leading the attack and scored twice. H. Cox, who played a couple of games early in the season, was back in the side at centre-half having recently moved into the district. He was also due to take up employment as a builder and missed just one of the final 28 games of the season.
First League win is recorded
St. Albans had tried several new players during recent games and in a bid to attract more players an advertisement was placed in the sporting press. Although this move was unsuccessful, they did have two new faces in the side for the visit of Southall on 26th November. One of the new players, John W. Welham, was seen to be a most significant signing. Welham, having played 53 times for the professionals of Tottenham Hotspur, was the first former Spurs player to join the Saints. He played 12 times for St. Albans before the season was out and scored one goal during a 2-2 draw with Wolverton. His time with the Saints may have been short but Welham was roundly praised for his performances.
The other new face against Southall was A. Dixon, he played seven times during the season and was on the winning side six times. The first of these came against Southall as the first points of the season were collected with a resounding 5-1 victory on another day of dismal weather that had a detrimental effect on the attendance. Allen scored twice as he joined Sibley in double figures for the season.
The search for a second league success was put on hold as the expected visit by Wycombe on 3rd December was put delayed as the visitors had a 1st Round Berks and Bucks tie against Slough to fulfil; Wycombe won 2-1. A friendly was arranged against the Metropolitan Railway (later known as Willesden Town) and Trevor Shrewsbury, in his third game, scored his first goals (2) of the season as an 8-2 win was registered.
St. Albans fortunes were very much heading in the right direction by now and a first visit to Fulham’s Craven Cottage home resulted in the first away point of the season being collected from a 2-2 draw. W.L. Miecznikowski came in for his only league game of the season and marked it with a goal, Groom notched the other. The draw was all the more commendable as the Saints went down to ten men when Sibley was sent off. Sibley was dismissed when referee J.B. Langham saw him kick Fulham’s J. Ballantyne. Unfortunately, that kick was retaliation and Ballantyne stayed on the pitch due to the referee missing the initial kick.
There were over 1,000 inside the ground and Sibley’s actions did not go down well with the Londoners. He beat a hasty retreat to the dressing rooms protected by several committee members but not before having to duck to avoid one angry punch. Despite collecting a point, it was not an overly enjoyable day for the Saints. The Herts Advertiser reporter declared that Craven Cottage, a ground that Fulham had moved into just two years earlier, was ‘one of the best in London, although it is nowhere near so good as that at St. Albans.’ He pointed out that there was no main stand and that the teams had to get changed in the same room which had just a wooden partition separating the two sides. On suspects that his mood had been darkened by his own position in the ground, the glass at the front of the press area was broken and, although there was a bench upon which he could rest to make notes, there was no chair for him to sit on. Sibley’s thoughts towards Fulham were also less than charitable after he was handed a fourteen-day ban.
On 12th December Fulham, known as the Reds (below) – they did not adopt their black and white kit until 1903 – became the third London club to turn professional following on from Royal Arsenal and Millwall.
The upturn in fortunes continued with Chesham beaten 3-2 on their own patch in the final league game before Christmas. W. Sygrove was in goal for the Saints due to the regular custodian, H. Wagstaffe, sorting out the final details for his wedding that was just a few days away. With Wagstaffe absent the captaincy was passed to Welham. Chesham had lost their previous two games 7-1 and 6-1, a crowd of 700 turned up to see if they could halt the run against St. Albans. But, it was not to be for Chesham as Groom continued his goalscoring run and Sibley bagged a pair as the Saints chalked up their first away win in the league since March.
Festive oddities at Clarence Park
As usual, the club faced a hectic time over the Christmas holiday period with three games in four days. A Christmas Eve fixture against the amateurs of Barnet saw the visitors – playing in violet and black – run out surprise winners 6-2. J. Prince put Barnet ahead inside the opening minute before a home player had touched the ball. The McGeorge brothers, R. and G., each scored twice for the ‘Hillmen.’ The Barnet Press claimed that had the game been under the control of a neutral referee, Alf Miskin was in charge of the whistle, then Barnet would have been awarded at least four penalties due to the rough nature of the Saints play.
On Boxing Day, a Monday, the Saints drew 1-1 at the Park with a representative side from the Northants League. The visitors consisted of players from Rushden, Wellingborough, Desborough, Wollaston, Irthlingborough and Kettering. The kick off was delayed while St. Albans tried to get a team together and when the game did start they played with two players short for a while. An entertaining game finished all square at 1-1. Allen, who also picked up an injury, was on target once more.
The following day saw Borstal Rovers defeated 1-0 at Clarence Park courtesy of a goal by Cox. The game, which kicked off at 2.30pm, was played in the face of a gale and occasional heavy showers that left the surface slippery and muddy, something that made Borstal possibly regret wearing white shirts. The conditions kept the number of spectators present down to around 100. There was, briefly, an addition to the attendance when a young man climbed over a fence at the back of the pitch. He then strolled up to the rope encircling the pitch and started to watch the game. He was, however, spotted by a committee member who had a word with a policeman. The constable went over to the intruder and made him leave by the same route that he had got into the ground.
Another strange incident occurred when one of the Sibley’s (both Arthur and W.G. played in this game) upset one of the visiting players who was about twice the size of the St. Albans player. The Borstal man was talked out of striking Sibley by his team mates. One spectator, tall and stocky, took umbrage to the attitude of the Borstal player and strolled onto the pitch to protect Sibley. It took a couple of committee members to persuade the man to leave the pitch.
League football resumed on the final day of the year and 1898 was signed off with first half goals by Watkins, Allen and Groom setting up a 3-1 win over Uxbridge at Clarence Park . Welham picked up a bad injury during the first half and was off the pitch for a while. He soon returned but limped for the remainder of the game.
After losing the first five Southern League games of the season, St. Albans were now above Maidenhead, Shepherd’s Bush and Fulham, and bottom dogs Maidenhead provided the next opposition on 7th January. Another day of thoroughly miserable weather restricted the attendance to between 400-500 but the locals got value for their 4d as a two-goal first half deficit was turned into a 3-2 victory. Harry Payne reduced the arrears from the penalty spot, Allen bagged the equaliser and a powerful shot by George Groom secured the win. Standing in goal for St Albans in this game for the only time this season, and for the last time in his playing career, was Jack Dickerson. The Hatfield Road Schoolteacher had played 131 times for the club. Jack’s days with football, however, were far from over and his career as a referee culminated with him taking charge of the 1911 Amateur Cup final between Bromley and Bishop Auckland at Herne Hill.
Concern over state of financial matters
Off the field, the club’s future was being discussed with a view to moving in a completely different direction by forming a limited company. Club secretary Baum wrote to the local press on 13th January stating that the notion of floating the club was in its infancy. Writing from his home in Grosvenor Road, Mr Baum said. "I am confident of one thing - no company, no club next season, as it is at present being financed solely by the committee, who, I am sorry to say, are the target for many criticisms and much abuse from gentlemen who steadfastly refrain from assisting the club in any way." The notion of floating the club was generally believed to be a sound idea but the attention to detail was poor and without the issuing of a prospectus the move was doomed to failure. As this idea began to flounder it was clear the club was in trouble and the possibility of St. Albans possessing a football club of that name by the start of the following season looked increasingly suspect.
With three straight wins behind them, the Saints were in good form for the visit of second in the table Wolverton London & North Western Railway. The Railwaymen were the top scorers in the Division but, on a day of welcome good weather, they were held to a 2-2 draw at the Park. Groom and Welham, with his only goal for the club, scored for the Saints.
The Albanians longest unbeaten run in the Southern League, six games, was brought to an abrupt conclusion by Maidenhead the following Saturday. Having hit a rich vein of form the 5-1 defeat at Maidenhead was a blow to the Saints, especially given that Maidenhead won just three games all season and finished eight points adrift of Uxbridge at the bottom of the table. The two sides had met just a fortnight earlier, the Saints showed four changes from the first game and Maidenhead six.
After losing heavily to the bottom placed club St. Albans then went down, at home, to the side one place above Maidenhead, Shepherd’s Bush. Groom scored twice for the homesters as he took his total of league goals for the season into double figures. A decent sized crowd assembled at the Park to see the Pinks lose a home league game for the first time since November. Making his debut in goal at the start of ten games for the club was Hatfield’s E. Johnson.
The two successive league defeats were ended by a 3-2 friendly win over London side Polytechnic. More poor weather restricted the crowd numbers and those present were kept waiting for a delayed kick off due to St. Albans’ contingent of Luton players arriving late. The visitors played the entire game with just ten men. Amongst the scorers was W.G. Sibley with his last goal of the season.
A return to Southern League action was made on 11th February but it ended in a third successive defeat with Watford winning 2-1 at Cassio Road. Watford were two goals to the good when H. Payne, who helped Watford’s close rivals St. Mary’s the previous season, scored a consolation for the visitors. The rivalry between the two close neighbours was as intense as ever with over 2,000 spectators witnessing the game. The local press, as with previous years, could not agree on how the game panned out. The Herts advertiser declared that the Saints were unlucky whilst the Watford Observer, who admitted that whilst it was a fascinating game to watch it was not of a high quality.
A return to winning ways was made the following weekend with Pemberton beaten 3-1 at the Park in a friendly. Both sides played the 90-minutes with just ten men. Included in the Pemberton line-up was full-back A.W. Parsons who had previously assisted the Saints. As with several of the home friendlies during the season the referee was George Wagstaffe Simmons. During February, Simmons’ brother-in-law, Jack Dickerson, resigned his membership of the Hertfordshire Football Association.
The run of four league games without a win was brought to an end on 25th February when goals by Shrewsbury and Allen overturned an early deficit to secure victory over Uxbridge at their west London home.
A strange complaint was made against the club at a meeting of the Mid Herts Association during February with the St. Albans Abbey secretary, Mr Fred Hilliard, believing that a Bingham Cox Cup tie against the St. Albans Reserves should be replayed. The Abbey complaint was that the goals were not roped in and neither were stakes placed in the ground, match referee Mr Williams also noted that down one side of the pitch no line had been marked out. Replying on behalf of St. Albans, as secretary to the Reserves, Frank Sharpe pointed out that the club had appealed successfully against playing the tie on the Abbey's home ground as it was felt to be unsuitable for the match. Consequently, St. Albans offered to stage the game at their Reserves' ground with all the arrangements being left to the Abbey who would also receive all the gate receipts. The Association dismissed the Abbey claim but as it was felt they had acted under a misapprehension it was decided to refund their appeal fee.
Fulham made an unsuccessful visit to Clarence Park on the first Saturday in March as a 3-1 win for the Saints just about ensured that they would finish about the Cottagers in the table. A decent crowd was at the Park but the weather was not kind to them as frequent heavy showers blighted the afternoon. Harry Payne opened the scoring with a penalty in the Ninefields (latterly York Road) goal. Conny Watkins scored the second goal and Jimmy Dimmock, after the interval, completed St. Albans tally.
Champions-elect Thames Ironworks continued their pursuit of the Division Two title with a goal by Scotsman Jimmy Reid in the first minute of the second half seeing off the Saints at the Memorial Ground, Canning Town, on 11th March. The Ironworks victory was just one of 17 in their final 18 league games.
2,500 at Clarence Park to see Watford defeated
Saturday 18th March was a landmark day in the history of the club as a local derby against Watford attracted the record Southern League crowd for a match at Clarence Park of close on 2,500. Watford records suggest that the figure was closer to 2,000, The visitors are thought to have taken 600-700 with them on a special train and, with Luton Town playing away at Loughborough, a couple of hundred are believed to have made the short journey from Bedfordshire to watch the game.
St. Albans called back old boy W.G. Long, who had been playing for Barnet, for the game and with goals from the reliable trio of Groom, Allen and Dimmock they overcame a goal by John ‘Jack’ McNee for the visitors. Along with Johnny Hill, McNee was ever present during the season and, in February 1888, had scored for Renton in their 6-1 win over Cumbuslang in the Scottish Cup final.
On 25th March St. Albans looked to make it third time lucky against Shepherd’s Bush, having lost at home to the London side in both the F.A. Cup and the league earlier in the season. On a cold day and rutted pitch at Wormholt Farm the Saints were below their best although Roland Brown maintained the good form that he had shown all season. Allen scored for the Saints and appeared to have added a second that was disallowed for a reason that the reporter could not fathom. The Bushmen won 2-1 and kept a three-point gap between themselves and bottom side Maidenhead who beat Watford 3-0 at Cassio Road.
The Saints returned to Clarence Park on Easter Saturday, 1st April, and found their shooting boots with a 7-1 thrashing of Poplar. The visitors had already won the East London League but for various reasons, including having defeated West London League champions Hamilton, from Ealing, on Good Friday, sent a weakened side to Hertfordshire. Strangely, the East London Advertiser claims that Poplar played with just ten men while the Herts Advertiser listed a full eleven. Amongst the Saints scorers was Cox with the only hat-trick seen at the Park since the previous April. Joining Cox in the half-back line was Joseph ‘Conny’ Watkins (right) who got married during the week and a collection was taken at the ground for his benefit. A resident of Luton, he played for the Town club before joining St. Albans. He worked as a Straw Hat Blocker in Luton.
The final of the Bingham Cox Cup took place at Clarence Park on Easter Monday morning with a large number of past, present and future St. Albans players on show for the two sides; St. Albans ‘A’ and Campfield. The ‘A’ team, who included Ernest Northern Sharpe in their ranks, won with a goal from E. Sargent. The cup was presented by Charles Woollam, the president of the Mid Herts League, who stated, or probably croaked, his apologies that he might not be heard as clearly as usual due to suffering from bronchitis.
A large crowd had witnessed the final of the Bingham Cox and another excellent attendance of over 2,000 returned in the afternoon to see a disappointingly uninspiring goalless Southern League draw between the Pinks and Chesham. The Saints team included Arthur Sibley and Trevor Shrewsbury who had both also played in the morning for the ‘A’ team.
Nightmare train to Wolverton
St. Albans played their final away Southern League game of the season on 8th April with a visit to Wolverton London and North West Railway. To put it mildly, the Saints encountered a few problems on their way to the game. The Luton quintet of Watkins, Groom, Allen, Dimmock and Brown, went via Leighton Buzzard to Bletchley where they were due to meet the rest of the team that travelled from Watford. On arriving at Bletchley, it was discovered that there was not a connection to Wolverton until after 4pm, the game was due to kick-off at 3.30pm.
Desperate to get to Wolverton as soon as possible the party tracked down two ‘traps’ (horse drawn carriages). One was large enough to take three people and the other four. Somehow, nine of the group were squeezed into the traps with two others, including the trainer (the modern equivalent being the physio) left behind. During the approximate seven-mile drive from Bletchley they were caught in a storm of heavy rain and a strong wind, and several of them did not have overcoats. When the party arrived at the ground they were greeted with a telegram from Miecznikowski informing them that he had missed his train. Due to this the team had just ten players. Regardless of all of their problems, the Saints, with a brace from Freddie Allen and a strong wind to their backs, went into a two-goal lead. Wolverton pulled level by the break and shortly after the restart St. Albans went down to nine-men when Groom went off injured. Cox and Allen also picked up knocks later in the game and the home side took full advantage to run out winners 10-2, as the Saints went down to their heaviest Southern League defeat.
While a most miserable afternoon was being endured at Wolverton, conditions were little better back at Clarence Park where Herts Senior Cup holders Hitchin lost their grip on the trophy when going down 2-1 to Ware. The captain of the Ware side was Rev. Sidney Margetts Stanley who had also won the cup in 1893 whilst with St. Albans. The cup was presented to Stanley by the Mayor of St. Albans, William S. Green.
Elsewhere, St. Albans side Campfield travelled to Hitchin to face Stevenage Town in the final of the Herts Junior Cup and returned to the city with the cup in their grasp following a 2-0 win with goals from W.G. Sibley and Charlie Richardson. The cup was presented to the Camps’ captain Arthur Sibley.
The following Thursday afternoon, 20th April, saw Sibley make his second appearance for St. Albans in the Southern League as the Saints ended their league campaign with a resounding 4-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers at Clarence Park . Wycombe were short of four of their regulars and paid the full price as the Pinks signed off with a win that included a brace for Jimmy Dimmock. The two points secured eighth position in the table for St. Albans, while Wycombe came fifth.
For the only time in its history, the Southern League possessed three Divisions this season. Six clubs made up the extra Division – Second Division South West Section – with Cowes winning all ten games played followed by Ryde, Freemantle, Sandown, Eastleigh, and Andover.
The season was brought to its conclusion with two friendly matches. A representative XI of the Mid Herts League were beaten 3-0 at the Park on the 22nd April and the Saints saw out their season the following Saturday with a 3-0 defeat at Watford. A crowd of 1,500 was present at Cassio Road and, prior to the game, Watford posed for a team photograph with the Bucks League Cup and Shield placed in front of them.
During the course of the season thirty-one players represented the Saints in the Southern League but, as with the 1897-98 season, there was again a healthy number of regulars who held the team together. Three players were ever present, Roland Brown, George Groom and Conny Watkins. Over the two seasons the Saints spent in the Southern League Groom missed just one game and with 21 goals was second only to Fred Allen, 25, in the list of goal scorers.
The 1898-99 season saw the inauguration of the Herts County League although come September the league had still to be sanctioned by the F.A., once this obstacle was overcome St. Albans Reserves took their place in the new league alongside Apsley, Berkhamsted, Harpenden, Hitchin Blue Cross, and Stanville. Frank Sharpe continued at the helm of the Reserves but did not enjoy the best of fortunes in the County League and finished at the foot of the table having won just two and drawn two of their ten games. Hitchin Blue Cross lifted the championship.
Towards the end of the season, during March, the club sought to strengthen its Reserve side with the signing of Herbert Warwick from Harpenden but the Herts F.A. refused this transfer, despite this he was a St. Albans player by the start of the following season. Also, during March, Stanville accused the club of paying W.G. Sibley. Mr Baum refuted the allegation and demanded an apology otherwise he would take the issue to the county association.
Club reverts to Amateur status
But the problems the club were experiencing with certain allegations paled into insignificance compared to what was going on behind the scenes. The club held its AGM at the Town Hall on 28th June 1899. Although the building was hardly over-subscribed those in attendance included the joint honorary secretaries William R. Baum and W.C. Payne, Wagstaffe Simmons, Alf Miskin, John W. Sharpe snr., F. Slade and W.G. Sibley; J.M. MacLarty took the chair.
Mr Baum, before giving the financial report, offered to stand down but was persuaded to carry on. The financial position was dispiriting, a deficit of £47 6s 7d from one year before had grown to £147 2s 8d. With that in mind it was hardly surprising that one of the suggestions put forward was of running the club along amateur lines. This was something that had come up several weeks before the end of the season. After a short debate this was carried unanimously and a discussion followed concerning which players may turn out for the club in its latest guise. Once that issue was dealt with the election of officers took place although some of the previous year’s members were criticised for not paying their subscriptions. The new committee now comprised of; J.T. Bushell, E.W. Hitchcock, R. Ironmonger, E. Lloyd, H.A. Richardson, J.W. Sharpe jun., H.J. Richards, J.M. MacLarty and J. Leeds, Mr Myers was elected auditor.
Once the financial position of the club became public knowledge concern was expressed as to whether St. Albans would have a senior football club come the autumn. Three weeks after the AGM, Baum, in response to numerous requests, went in print to state that St. Albans Town had not disbanded.
Below: The Hertfordshire Football Association accounts for 1898-99, including details of the takings from the Herts Senior Cup final held at Clarence Park on 8th April 1898.
1898-99 Season Line-ups
|Sep||10||SLD2||Brentford||(A)||L||1||-||6||Wagstaffe H||Holdstock H||Payne F||Watkins C||Dimmock J||Groom G||Brown R (1)||Sibley WG||Shrewsbury T||Cox H||Walker PF|
|Sep||17||Fr||CLARENCE||(H)||L||1||-||2||Wagstaffe H||Stonebridge E||Payne F||Watkins C||Harrison||Payne H||Brown R||Sibley WG (1)||Groom G||Shrewsbury T||Dimmock J|
|Sep||24||FAC1q||CROUCH END VAMPIRES||(H)||D||2||-||2||Wagstaffe H||Davis||Carter||Watkins C||Cox H||Payne F||Brown R||Sibley WG (1)||Groom G||Allen F (1)||Payne H|
|Sep||28||FAC1qr||Crouch End Vampires||(A)||W||4||-||2||Wagstaffe H||Bell FA||Carter||Watkins C||Cox H||Payne F||Brown R||Sibley WG (3)||Groom G (1)||Allen F||Dimmock J|
|Oct||1||FAC2q||SHEPHERDS BUSH||(H)||L||1||-||2||Wagstaffe H||Bell FA||Adams||Watkins C||White||Stonebridge E||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Oct||8||Fr||CHESHAM||(H)||W||2||-||1||Wagstaffe H||Bell FA||Payne H||Watkins C||Whitby||Stonebridge E||Brown R||Sibley WG (2)||Groom G||Allen F||Dimmock J|
|Oct||15||Fr||KENSAL ST. MARY'S||(H)||W||7||-||2||Wagstaffe H||Bell FA||Payne H||Whitby||Groom G (1)||Stonebridge E||Brown R (1)||Sibley WG (2)||Wood (1)||Allen F (2)||Dimmock J|
|Oct||22||SLD2||Southall||(A)||L||2||-||3||Wagstaffe H||Bell FA||Payne F||Watkins C||Groom G||Stonebridge E||Brown R||Sibley WG (1)||Crickmer||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Oct||29||Fr||Redhill||(A)||W||2||-||1||Sygrove W||Payne H||Baum W||Watkins C||Groom G (1)||Stonebridge E||Brown R||Sibley WG (1)||Newman||Allen F||Dimmock J|
|Nov||5||SLD2||Wycombe Wanderers||(A)||L||0||-||5||Wagstaffe H||Bell FA||Payne F||Watkins C||Groom G||Shrewsbury T||Brown R||Sibley WG||Crickmer||Dimmock J||Allen F|
|Nov||12||SLD2||THAMES IRONWORKS||(H)||L||1||-||4||Wagstaffe H||White||Payne H||Watkins C||Groom G||Bell FA||Brown R||Sibley WG||Crickmer||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Nov||19||SLD2||BRENTFORD||(H)||L||4||-||5||Wagstaffe H||Turner||Walker N||Watkins C||Cox H||Burgess||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G (2)||Allen F (2)||Dimmock J|
|Nov||26||SLD2||SOUTHALL||(H)||W||5||-||1||1||Wagstaffe H||Dixon||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Burgess||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G (1)||Allen F (2)||Dimmock J (1)|
|Dec||3||Fr||METROPOLITAN RAILWAY||(H)||W||8||-||2||1||Wagstaffe H||Dixon||Welham JW||Watkins C (1)||Cox H||Henry||Brown R (1)||Shrewsbury T (2)||Groom G (1)||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J (1)|
|Dec||10||SLD2||Fulham||(A)||D||2||-||2||Wagstaffe H||Parsons AW||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Payne F||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G (1)||Allen F||Miecznikowski WL (1)|
|Dec||17||SLD2||Chesham Town||(A)||W||3||-||2||Sygrove W||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Dixon||Brown R||Sibley WG (2)||Groom G (1)||Shrewsbury T||Dimmock J|
|Dec||24||Fr||BARNET||(H)||L||2||-||6||Sygrove W||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Vernon F||Brown R (1)||Sibley WG||Groom G (1)||Allen F||Farr S|
|Dec||26||Fr||NORTHANTS LEAGUE||(H)||D||1||-||1||Farr||Payne H||Sibley A||Watkins C||Cox H||Long WG||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G||Allen F (1)||Olney HB|
|Dec||27||Fr||BOSTAL ROVERS||(H)||W||1||-||0||Farr||Payne H||Sibley A||Watkins C||Cox H (1)||Long WG||Brown R||Sibley WG||Miecznikowski WL||Allen F||Groom G|
|Dec||31||SLD2||UXBRIDGE||(H)||W||3||-||1||Sygrove W||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C (1)||Cox H||Payne F||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G (1)||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Jan||7||SLD2||MAIDENHEAD||(H)||W||3||-||2||Dickerson J||Payne H (1p)||Payne F||Watkins C||Cox H||Burgess||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Groom G (1)||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Jan||14||SLD2||WOLVERTON L&NW RAILWAY||(H)||D||2||-||2||Sygrove W||Payne H||Welham JW (1)||Watkins C||Cox H||Payne F||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Groom G (1)||Allen F||Dimmock J|
|Jan||21||SLD2||Maidenhead||(A)||L||1||-||5||Sygrove W||Payne H||Dixon||Watkins C||Cox H||Joyner||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Jan||28||SLD2||SHEPHERDS BUSH||(H)||L||2||-||3||Johnson M||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Stonebridge E||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G (2)||Allen F||Dimmock J|
|Feb||4||Fr||POLYTECHNIC||(H)||W||3||-||2||Johnson M||Robinson||Dixon||Watkins C||Cox H||Stonebridge E||Brown R (1)||Sibley WG (1)||Groom G||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Feb||11||SLD2||Watford||(A)||L||1||-||2||Johnson M||Parsons AW||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Long WG||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G||Allen F||Payne H (1)|
|Feb||18||Fr||PEMBERTON||(H)||W||3||-||1||Johnson M||Payne F||Dixon||Watkins C||Cox H||Stonebridge E||Brown R||Sibley WG||Groom G (2)||Allen F||Dimmock J (1)|
|Feb||25||SLD2||Uxbridge||(A)||W||2||-||1||Johnson M||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Wagstaffe H||Brown R||Shrewsbury T (1)||Groom G||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Mar||4||SLD2||FULHAM||(H)||W||3||-||1||Johnson M||Payne H (1p)||Stonebridge E||Watkins C (1)||Cox H||Wagstaffe H||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Groom G||Allen F||Dimmock J (1)|
|Mar||11||SLD2||Thames Ironworks||(A)||L||0||-||1||Johnson M||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Burgess||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Groom G||Wagstaffe H||Dimmock J|
|Mar||18||SLD2||WATFORD||(H)||W||3||-||1||Johnson M||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Long WG||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Groom G (1)||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J (1)|
|Mar||25||SLD2||Shepherds Bush||(A)||L||1||-||2||Wagstaffe H||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Long WG||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Groom G||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J|
|Apr||1||Fr||POPLAR||(H)||W||7||-||1||Wagstaffe H||Payne H (1)||Sibley A||Watkins C||Cox H (3)||Long WG||Brown R||Warwick H (1)||Groom G (2)||Allen F||Dimmock J|
|Apr||3||SLD2||CHESHAM TOWN||(H)||D||0||-||0||Wagstaffe H||Payne H||Sibley A||Watkins C||Cox H||Long WG||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Groom G||Allen F||Dimmock J|
|Apr||8||SLD2||Wolverton L&NW Railway||(A)||L||2||-||10||Johnson M||Payne H||Long WG||Watkins C||Cox H||Groom G||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Allen F (2)||Dimmock J|
|Apr||15||Fr||MUSWELL HILL||(H)||W||6||-||2||Barker||Payne H||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H (1)||Long WG||Brown R||Wagstaffe (1)||Groom G (2)||Allen F (2)||Dimmock J|
|Apr||20||SLD2||Wycombe Wanderers||(H)||W||4||-||0||Wagstaffe H||Sibley A||Welham JW||Watkins C||Slough C||Dixon||Brown R (1)||Shrewsbury T (1)||Groom G||Allen F||Dimmock J (2)|
|Apr||22||Fr||MID HERTS LEAGUE||(H)||W||3||-||0||Wagstaffe H||Long WG||Welham JW||Watkins C||Cox H||Richardson J||Brown R||Shrewsbury T (1)||Groom G||Allen F (1)||Dimmock J (1)|
|Apr||29||Fr||Watford||(A)||L||0||-||3||Johnson M||Welham JW||Parsons AW||Watkins C||Cox H||Wagstaffe WG||Brown R||Shrewsbury T||Groom G||Allen F||Dimmock J|
1898-99 Appearances & Goals
|1898-99 Appearances & Goals||App||Gls|
|Joseph 'Conny' Watkins||38||3|
|John W Welham||17||1|
1898-99 League Tables
|Southern League Second Division||P||W||D||L||F||A||Pts|
|8||St. Albans Town||22||8||3||11||45||59||19|
|Herts County League||P||W||D||L||F||A||Pts|
|1||Hitchin Blue Cross||10||7||1||2||22||8||15|
|6||St. Albans "A"||10||2||2||6||4||19||6|