At the time of Bath City’s visit to Clarence Park on 28th August 2023, St Albans City had had ten players who had gained international honours either at Amateur of Full level. Our First was Fred Fayers in 1909 and the most recent was James Comley who managed to turn out for two countries. Less than two months after this article was written Dan Bowry represented Antigua and Barbuda.
OUR FIRST and OUR LAST
‘Our First and Our Last’ feature today looks at players to have been capped by their country whilst on the books of St Albans City. The concept for today’s piece sounds quite straightforward but, somehow, this is not the case.
The first City player to have the honour of representing his country was Fred Fayers who lined up in the England Amateur XI that faced Sweden at Hull City’s Anlaby Road home on 6th November 1909. Having been formed in April 1908, we were in only our second season and to have one of our players selected for the England Amateur side was a major achievement. The only problem is, was he our player?
Born in Kings Lynn on 29th January 1890, Fred lived with his parents, John and Mary, two sisters and four brothers at Sedgeford Lane before the family moved to Westbury Road in Watford. It was at Watford that his football ability was noticed and he played for Watford Schools before signing for Watford as an amateur. Fred played at centre-half, which, in the old ‘W’ formation, meant that he was centre midfield.
He made his First team debut for The Brewers (Watford’s nickname until the 1920s) during a 1-1 Southern League Division One draw away to Bristol Rovers on Monday, 30th March 1908. The following season, 1908-09, saw him become a regular in the side, appearing in 33 of Watford’s 43 games. He began the 1909-10 season in the First team at Vicarage Road but was relegated to the Reserves following a 4-2 Southern League defeat away to Luton Town on 15th September.
It would appear that Fred was none too chuffed that he was dropped by Watford and when asked to turn out for the First team a week later he refused. An editorial in the Watford Observer at this time described him as, ‘the best half-back at the disposal of the directors at the present time, and that it was a mistake not to include him in the side last Saturday.’ But it then went on to criticise him for refusing to play. He did not return to the First team until the end of November.
During the intervening period he played for Watford Reserves but, on 25th September, Fred made his St Albans City debut. The Herts Advertiser announced that, ‘For tomorrow’s game the City will make an important alteration. “Tiny” Fayers, of Watford, will play centre-half and (George) Price will move to the centre-forward position.’ He was given the moniker of ‘Tiny’ due to being just under 5’6” tall. That game was a Herts Charity Cup tie at home to Apsley that ended all square at 2-2 with George Butcher scoring both of our goals.
Fred played just one more game for the City but that was not until 5th February 1910 when he converted a penalty during a 7-0 win over 3rd Grenadier Guards in a Spartan League fixture. Butcher – soon to join West Ham United – again scored twice and was joined on the scoresheet by Willy Hughes 2, Les Hosier and Tommy Knott.
Fred’s appearance in England’s 7-0 thrashing of Sweden at Hull on 6th November 1909 was the first of nine games that he played for his country. The query is, which club was he member of at the time of his first international game. Many provincial newspapers, along with the esteemed ‘Sporting Life ‘and ‘The Sportsman’ (both are still going strong today) listed Fayers as a player with St Albans City at the time of that Sweden game. This, despite six weeks having passed since he had played for the Saints. Just a week before the Sweden game he turned out, as an amateur, for Watford Reserves during a 4-2 defeat away to Coventry City. The Watford Observer, emphatically, had him listed as a Watford player. As things stand, we have Fred listed as our first international, and Watford have him as their first international, too.
Frederick Leonard Fayers played 70 games for Watford before moving north to play for Huddersfield Town, Stockport County, Manchester City and Halifax Town. He died in Huddersfield on 4th February 1954.
OUR FIRST and OUR LAST
‘Our Last,’ or, more optimistically, most recent, international came around 105 years after our first and is another tale that is far from normal.
During the 2014-15 season, St Albans City midfielder James Comley was selected by England C manager Paul Fairclough to feature in an International Challenge Trophy tie against Turkey at the Basakehir Fatih Terim Stadium in Istanbul. James came on as a 74th minute substitute for Jake Gallagher as England went down 2-0 and bowed out of the competition after two Group matches. ‘Coms’ is pictured wearing his No.14 England shirt.
Born in Holloway on 24th January 1991, James was fully qualified to play for England but the game in Turkey was his sole performance for his country. Manager of the England C team at that time – and has been since February 2002 – was Paul Fairclough. Former schoolteacher Paul had no problem in getting to see James in action at Clarence Park , as he has lived in the city for many years and during two spells with the Saints between 1976 and 1983 scored nine times in 104 games.
Comley’s one game for England is perfectly understandable but what follows is less so. Later in the 2014 season he received a call up to the Montserrat national side, despite having turned out earlier in the season for England. He qualified for the Caribbean country, which is a British Overseas Territory, through his grandfather, Thomas Greenaway, who was born there. For many years Coms had mistakenly believed that his grandfather had been born in St Lucia, as that is where his grandmother was from.
Ranked 170th in the world, Montserrat may not quite be a power in international football but the two games for which James were initially called up were most definitely of some significance. The two games Montserrat faced were World Cup Qualifying ties against Curacao, an island in the Caribbean Sea. Sadly for Coms, and Montserrat, the World Cup adventure ended with a 4-3 aggregate defeat. His debut came in the first meeting, a 2-1 defeat at the Stadion Ergilio Hato, Willemstad, in front 9,000 spectators on 27th March. In the return fixture at the Blakes Estate Stadium four days later a 2-2 draw sent a Curacao side, managed by Dutchman Patrick Kluivert, through to the next Round. That game attracted a gate of just 500.
Coms may not have added to his England caps but he has remained a regular in the Montserrat side and, earlier this year, took his international appearances for the ‘Emerald Boys’ to twenty. He is just three games behind the country’s record appearance maker, Swedish-born Alex Dyer. James’ brother Brandon has played for the country on 16 occasions while former Saint Jernade Meade has played for Montserrat four times.
James Richard Comley started his football career in the Youth set-up at Crystal Palace and made eight appearances in the First team at Selhurst Park before being released. After a brief spell with Concord Rangers, he joined the Saints in March 2012 and made his City debut, under Jimmy Gray and Graham Golds, during a 2-0 Southern League win over Bashley at Clarence Park on 17th March. The last of his 153 games for the club came on 23rd January 2016 when we crashed 4-1 at Oxford City during Harry Wheeler’s ill-fated brief spell as City manager. He scored 14 times whilst in our colours, was sent off on three occasions and booked 37 times.
After leaving us James had a long association with Alan Devonshire’s Maidenhead United but, other than for his spells with the City and Magpies, he has had a somewhat nomadic football career that has seen brief stops at Kettering Town (injury led to his departure from the Poppies without playing a game), Walton Casuals, Boreham Wood and Dulwich Hamlet. In March of this year he joined fellow National League South side Hampton & Richmond Borough.