This First & Last feature is about the glory days, promotion.

Our First Promotion - 1984

From 1908 until 1974 St Albans City competed only in single-Division leagues. Starting off jointly in the Herts County and Spartan Leagues, we were elected into the Athenian League in 1920 and, three years later, the Isthmian League. The Isthmians did not add a Second Division until 1974. The bottom two sides in the summer of 1973 had the ‘honour’ of being the first clubs relegated within the league; ourselves and Corinthian Casuals. The league continued to expand and in 1983 we went down for a second time. It proved to be a watershed moment for the club as, under the guidance of manager John Mitchell , we began to move swiftly back towards the top table.

14 1983 84

(Photo: Neil Dudman, Rob Smale , Mark Pearson, Dave Leonard, Terry Benning, Paul Marriott. Front row: Steve Oliver , Laurie Ryan, John Watt, Steve Pattison, Ray Tucker, Gary Keen).

Following relegation under John Butterfield, City went into the 1983-84 campaign with a squad that was almost a throwback to the early days as the partnership of Butterfield and Mitchell rebuilt with local players. The opening game of the season was something of an eye-opener as we went down 3-0 at Cheshunt in the Herts Charity Cup. A week later a brace of Gary Keen goals secured victory at Southall as the league season got underway. The homegrown nature of the side was obvious as the St Albans-born trio of Keen, Steve Oliver and Rob Smale lined up with the Watford trio of Mark Pearson, Terry Benning and Laurie Ryan. Four more players all had local roots; Paul Mayles (Harpenden), Paul Marriott (Welwyn Garden City), Ray Tucker (North Mymms) and Dave Leonard (Letchworth). Other local players played their part as the season wore on and were led by one of the finest captains this club has been fortunate enough to call upon, John Watt. Born in Airdrie, John made one appearance in the Watford First team and lived in High Wycombe. Another significant moment came when the hugely influential Phil Wood decided to delay his retirement for another year 

Business commitments forced John Butterfield to step down towards the end of October with Mitch taking sole control. Their final game together was a 2-0 win over Dorking Wanderers (Mayles, Benning penalty). It sparked a four-match winning run and a 4-1 defeat at Tring Town was only a minor blip as we then embarked on a 21-match unbeaten run – the last of which was a revenge-fuelled 3-0 win over Tring (Mayles, Oliver, Ryan).

With ten games to play City could virtually secure the championship with victory away to Basildon United on 10th March. Basildon and Leyton Wingate, due to a number of games in hand on the Saints, were the only sides with the remotest chance of denying us the Isthmian League Division Two title. A controversial last-minute penalty, awarded for handball against the unfortunate Neil Dudman, allowed Colin Russell to score from the spot and end the unbeaten run.

City’s response was typical to any setback that season. Barton Rovers escaped with the most fortuitous of draws in our next game but the final eight games yielded a maximum 24 points with just four goals conceded. A Steve Oliver goal at Epping Town secured promotion in the penultimate game of the season. Our final game was at The Oval in Sussex, home to Eastbourne United. Mayles had helped himself to a hat-trick when United visited Clarence Park in February, it took his personal tally to 27 in 19 league games. Paul was unable to find the net at Eastbourne but goals by Watt and Smale had us two up at the interval. Only Basildon could deny us the title but they were trailing 2-0 at Southall at half time. Eastbourne pulled one back through Neil Mandry before George Cooper, a wonderfully gifted midfielder, secured City victory with our 100th league goal of the season. Time to open the champagne? Yes, but only for promotion as runners up, as Basildon had come back to win 3-2 at Southall with the title-clinching goal coming four minutes from time.

League appearances and goals 1983/84: Mark Pearson 42. Steve Oliver 41/12, John Watt 41/5, Paul Mayles 40/33, Rob Smale 33/15, Laurie Ryan 32/10, George Cooper 32/8, Ray Tucker 32, Mark Riddell 29, Neil Dudman 27, Phil Russell 27/2, Gary Keen 26/5, Phil Wood 26, Terry Benning 17/5, Joe Smith 11, Dave Leonard 8, Steve Pattison, Paul Marriott 5, Henry Rios 5, Steve Murphy 2/1, Paul Fairclough 1/1, Simon Marjoram 1, Peter Robinson 1. Own Goals 3.

Our Last Promotion - 2014

Thirty years after our first promotion within a league we sampled our most recent promotion, but, this time, it was via the drama of the play-offs at the end of a 44-match Southern League Premier Division programme.

Jimmy Gray and Graham Golds had replaced David Howell as joint-managers in December 2012 having previously run the successful midweek City Youth team. Both were also former City players. The 2013-14 season was their first full campaign in charge and it, ultimately, became a season to cherish. Our early season form was inconsistent with three successive home wins being let down by gaining just one point from three away games. The prospect of something special developing was forged when John Frendo scored four times in a 5-2 win at AFC Totton, seven different players were on the scoresheet in the next away game when Truro City were turned over 7-3 at Treyew Road.

Promotion was open to the champions – Hemel Hempstead Town – and the winner of four teams that featured in the play-offs. We moved into the top five, a play-off position, with a 3-0 win at Clarence Park over AFC Totton on 13th January. The Totton game was only the 25th league game of the season but we stayed inside the top five for the remainder of the campaign with a play-off placed secured on the back of a dire goalless draw at Frome Town at the end of April.

Our opponents in the semi-final of the play-off were Cambridge City who, at the time, were ground sharing with Histon at Bridge Road, Impington. The Cambridge manager was the former Saints player and manager Gary Roberts . An Adam Marriott goal had handed The Whites victory in the league meeting at St Albans but a brace from midfielder David Keenleyside and a James Brighton own goal gave City ample revenge in the return fixture. The Saints went on another goal spree on our return to Bridge Road in the play-off with efforts from Frendo, Steve Wales, Ben Martin and Sam Corcoran completing a 4-2 win and securing a trip to Amy Lane, home of Chesham United, in the final.

The attendance against Cambridge was a season’s best 768 and the highest Southern League gate for the season was recorded at Chesham when 2,960 spectators filed into The Meadow on Monday, 5th May. Although there was still space inside the ground, the gates were locked close to the kick off that was delayed by 15 minutes as the police and Chesham officials worked to clear the queues. Many people took to watching the game from the picturesque hillside outside the football ground but were, ridiculously, told to move on.

14 Frendo scores third goal at Chesham 1Chesham were unchanged from the starting XI that had defeated Stourbridge 3-1 in the semi-final. Andy Leese’s side included former Saints Shane Gore , Danny Gordon and Drew Roberts , while two other City old boys, Inih Effiong and Richard Graham , were second half substitutes. City were also unchanged from the semi-final and had former Chesham winger Chris Watters on the bench and, quite significantly, Steve Wales in the starting line-up. Wales, a former England C international and son of former City full back Pater Wales, had joined the Saints from Chesham just six weeks earlier.

City skipper James Comley was joined for the toss-up by his Chesham counterpart, Gore, and we were back in the centre circle six minutes later to kick off again after James Potton had fired Chesham into an early lead. It was nowt but a temporary setback and goals in the final six minutes of the half from Frendo and Wales put the majority in the crowd in party mood. The St Albans support that day was astonishing with around 1,800 of those present thought to be wearing City’s colours. Their day of celebration got into full swing just before the hour when Frendo, teed up by Watters, bundled home the final goal of the game and his 42nd of the season in 55 appearances (photo by Robert Walkley). After three years in the Southern League – during which time Chesham had beaten us 6-1 at Clarence Park – we were back in the Conference (National League) South.

League Appearances and Goals 2013-14: Lee Chappell 45/2, Paul Bastock 43, James Comley 41/5, John Frendo 41/30, Chris Henry 36/5, Ram Marwa 33, Howard Hall 32, Ben Martin 30/4, Mark Nwokeji 25/3, Tom Ward 25, David Keenleyside 24/4, Darren Locke 24/2, James Kaloczi 22/7, Richard Graham 21/1, Jamal Lowe 16/5, Matt Taylor 16/1, Chris Watters 16/2, Karrea Gilbert 15/2, Sam Corcoran 14/2, Danny Green 13, Elliot Bailey 12/4, Peter Dean 11/1, Ryan Wharton 11/1, George Sykes 9/2, Steve Wales 9/5, Warren Whitely 7, Adam Goss 6/1, Greg Ngoyi 6, Ryan Ashe 5, Aryan Tajbakhsh 5, Nathan Ferguson 4, Harrison Georgiou 4, Tom Coulton 3, Chris O’Leary 3/1, Victor Osubu 3, Layne Eadie 2, James Gray 2, Connor Calcutt 1, Own Goals 6.