There is an air of romance still wafting around the terraces at Clarence Park surrounding City’s two FA Cup 2nd Round ties with Fourth Division Torquay United from back in December 1980. Those who were present at the first encounter at the Park will tell you that St Albans City, from a goal down at the interval, should have won. Whilst those who made the long haul to Devon for the replay the following wet Wednesday will struggle to mutter a single good word about the game.
The contrast between those two games and City’s National League South encounter at Plainmoor in November 2018 could hardly be starker. St Albans headed into that match as the higher ranked club with a one-point advantage over Gary Johnson’s side who, courtesy of City losing at home to Chippenham Town the previous weekend, went into the match with a game in hand.
In 1980 Torquay were in the Fourth Division of the Football League. Between the two clubs stood five sides in Division One of the Isthmian League, the Premier Division of that league, the Alliance Premier League and more than half of Division Four. Automatic promotion and relegation from the world of the non-league game into the Football League had yet to be introduced and the money-printing and squandering beast that is the Premier League was still 12 years away. This was pre-Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough while England had had only 14 years of hurt. City were sixth in Division One of the Isthmian League, ten points behind leaders Bishop’s Stortford but with four games in hand. Our position had been boosted by a staggering 6-3 win at the Bishop’s Rhodes Avenue home that ended their unbeaten home record and was sweet revenge for City manager Ron Duke following his recent dismissal from that club. In the crowd that night was Spurs manager Keith Burkinshaw, with Jon Sille and George Cooper said to be interesting the London club. Torquay were tenth in the table and had lost just one of their previous seven games, a run that included a 2-0 FA Cup 1st Round win over Barton Rovers at Plainmoor.
We had already played six games in the FA Cup that season as we saw off Chesham United (1-0, away – a week after losing 2-1 to them at The Meadow in the FA Trophy), Harrow Borough (4-3, away), Dulwich Hamlet (2-1, home), Harwich & Parkeston (3-0 at home after a 2-2 draw in Essex) and, finally, a 2-1 win at Gravesend & Northfleet with what was our first success over Alliance (Conference) Premier League opposition. Whilst the win at Gravesend, on the back of a brace of Ian Whitehead penalties with City supporters numbering around 400 in a crowd of 1,600, was a wonderful achievement the quality of Duke’s side was already evident with City having removed Isthmian League Premier Division opposition in both Harrow and Dulwich.
Left: Ian Whitehead scores the first of his two penalties at Stonebridge Road against Gravesend & Northfleet.
In the City squad were three survivors from the Saints two FA Cup 2nd Round matches with Walsall in 1968. John Butterfield, Dave Lawrence and Phil Wood , all aged 37, had played a combined total of 1,690 games for the Club prior to the Torquay games but were very much at the tail-end of tremendously distinguished individual careers. Injury ruled out Butterfield for both games against Torquay while Wood, an unused substitute for the first meeting, replaced the injured John Dear at half time in Devon. Skipper Lawrence played for the full 90 minutes in both games. Right: City in 1968; back - Phil Wood , Bill Ratty, John Butterfield. Front – Johnny Mann, Dave Lawrence, Bill Broomfield.
The City squad that travelled to Plainmoor in 2018 boasted a combined total of 696 appearances for the club and scored 72 goals; Butterfield got the small matter of 176 goals on his own, the last of which came against Willesden in the London Senior Cup a week before the home game against Torquay.
But Duke’s City was far more than an old boys’ reunion party. In Cooper and Sille we had two of the most gifted midfielders ever to play for the Club. Spurs returned to cast an eye over the two of them again before the season was out. Goalkeeper Ian Plumley, whose brother Gary was also a goalkeeper, was the son of Watford chief executive Eddie Plumley, defender Alan Droy was the brother of Chelsea man-mountain Micky Droy and was a fine player in his own right. Neil Levy was a tenacious pocket dynamo while the wonderful Dave Leonard was a central defender who could also turn his hand to attack and had scored a hat-trick earlier in the season as Chesham were hammered 6-2 in the League at Clarence Park . John Dear was a wile old fox but was another nearing the end of his playing days. The national press enjoyed making a feature of the day jobs of City’s semi-professionals. Dear was a taxi driver and in this photo (left) taken by The Sun his passengers are; Dave Lawrence, Alan Droy, JD, Paul Mayles , John Butterfield and Neil Levy.
Paul Mayles will always be remembered for two things during his time with the Saints. First and foremost is his goal against Torquay and, secondly, his ability to win penalties that contributed to Ian Whitehead scoring 33 times from the spot in two seasons – had VAR been around back then Whitehead’s tally could well have been somewhat reduced. Completing the team that lined up against Torquay was Nick O’Donoghue, another talented forward and fans’ favourite who had just returned to the Park for a fourth spell.
City, looking to make the most of home advantage, took to the pitch in yellow shirts and socks with blue shorts. Torquay wore their second strip of all white, possibly a colour that they came to regret as the afternoon wore on. The match ball was sponsored by Alan Cobb, who was still assisting around the ground when the clubs met again 38 years on, and Derek Hawthorne. Right; Calm before the storm. Ray Stanton’s photo from the tea bar shows the pitch to be looking in a pretty healthy condition as the terraces fill up. Below left; Bruce Rioch leads out his Torquay United side at Clarence Park . It was in the days before the tunnel had a protective cage that was put in place to keep spectators away from the players and match officials.
Duke’s boys started well but Torquay grew increasingly comfortable and confident as the game settled down. Steve Cooper looked to have opened the scoring for the visitors with a header but the goal was wiped for a foul, but just a minute later, the 37th, Gerry Fell took a pass from Keith Bowker and fired past Plumley from the edge of the box. The tide was most definitely sweeping in favour of the seasiders.
That, however, all changed when O’Donoghue and Gulls captain Bruce Rioch suffered a clash of heads when going for a header. O’Donoghue was able to carry on but Scotland international, future Arsenal manager and Harpenden resident Rioch had to toodle off down the tunnel to spark off a series of events that embrace the Magic of The Cup.
Torquay boss Mike Green expected Rioch to have a few stitches and be sent back out into the fray. He overlooked the small matter that he was at the home of a non-league club. We may have had a man with a bucket, sponge and towel but a doctor capable of inserting stitches was alien to us. It wasn’t quite a case of be a man and get back out there, but it was not far from it. Rioch was forced to start his homeward journey via the St Albans City hospital who kindly inserted five stitches into the wound but not in time for him to join the evolving nightmare for his side on the other side of the city.
With it now evident that Rioch, who had only joined Torquay two months previously from America club Seattle Sounders, would no longer be there to bolster an increasingly troubled defence the Gulls substitute Brian Wilson was sent on to aid the beach boys cause. Green was livid that St Albans did not have a doctor at the ground and threatened to report the club to the Football Association. And sweet F.A. is all he would have got as it was not mandatory at this time for non-league clubs to have a doctor in the house.
The pitch, that had heavily sanded goalmouths at the start, was now starting to cut up all over (above) and the conditions looked ripe for City to claim their second Football League scalp….a mere 56 years after 8,825 spectators saw Brentford beaten 5-3 at the Park in November 1924 for our first giant cup killing.
Playing up the slope towards the York Road goal posed no problems for a City side that had already scored 41 times in 14 home games that season and just eight second half minutes were required for Mayles to make it 42 in 15 (left). Latching onto Bourne’s under-hit back pass from Ian Plumley’s punt upfield Mayles rounded keeper Vince O’Keefe and slid the ball through the thickening and strength sapping mud into the York Road goal. Torquay were rocking, United they weren’t.
Both sides had chances as the half went on but the majority of the pressure was coming from St Albans and in the closing stages the Gulls should have been shot down. In the closing moments of the game Gulls defender Richard Bourne was dismissed. The Torquay programme took the Magic of The Cup to mean fantasy and said of Bourne’s dismissal, ‘was sent off for an innocuous looking tackle.’ In his notes Green said, ‘through little or no fault of our own we lost our two central defenders.’ Absolute tosh. Bourne was rightly dismissed for hacking Mayles down from behind having already been booked. Writing in a local St Albans newspaper Keith Perry described it as Bourne’s second bad tackle on Mayles while Duke accused the Torquay defender of taking lumps out of his players all afternoon. As one quote in a national newspaper said, ‘Their centre half kicked my players so much I thought they had Minerva written on their knees.’ Another national hack recorded that, ‘with the rough treatment he (Mayles) received from their defenders, it was a wonder he was still standing. It was sweet revenge for the striker, who had suffered badly at the hands of Bourne.’
Fleet Street loved the exchanges between Green and our Ronnie but The Observer, who gave the match extended coverage the day after the game, nearly missed the event completely. Their reporter got off the train at the city station but was unaware as to where the ground was and, just to compound his dilemma, the station staff were, apparently, unable to help him.
Torquay lived to fight another day but events on the pitch were quickly overshadowed by events off it, as Duke and Green became embroiled in a war of words. At times the spat was entertaining for the onlookers but it sank the depths as well. Green was highly dismissive of both St Albans and Duke; he was fortunate not to lose on the pitch to the former while the latter certainly won the off the pitch exchanges.
Green, still fuming about the Rioch affair, was reported as suggesting that there is no room for non-league sides in the FA Cup, he also complained that there was a lack of soap in the visitors’ dressing room. Duke apologised for the lack of soap and said that he would take a crate of it to the replay and present it to Torquay. It is said that Green and Duke did not speak during the replay and the handing over of the soap – an olive branch, or Palmolive branch as Duke called it – was dealt with by City’s general manager Maurice Walby .
Green said of his opposite number, ‘He’s just a plumber who knows nothing.’ Duke responded with, ‘The geezer’s an idiot, he can’t teach me anything.’ Duke suggested that Green stoked a war of words to increase the attendance for the replay but the City manager had also inflamed the situation by saying that O’Donoghue had had his nose broken by a Torquay player after the game. Although it is believed that the City striker did go to hospital, he denied that he had been struck by a Torquay player.
The attendance for the game at the Park was given as 4,601, although a number of media outlets incorrectly stated it as being 3,000. In the run up to the match the police had put a limit of 7,000 on the game. City Treasurer Bill Nicholson estimated at anywhere between 2,500 to 5,000 while club secretary Bernard Grimson went with 4,000.
The truth may be somewhat different. The City Historian at this time was Derek Christmas, he claimed that he counted the money after the game along with Bill Nick and Charlie Hand. Since then other people have said that they too were involved in totting up the receipts. Sadly, all of the above- named gentlemen are no longer with us, so the following story cannot be verified. Derek later gave an account of what happened that evening while the three of them were totting up the takings. While they were beavering away a figure was required urgently for the national media. To satisfy the outside world, they announced the figure as being where they had got to at that time, 4,601. By the time they had finished it is believed that the attendance was well in excess of 6,000. The truth will never be known. The Evening Echo claimed that the gate receipts were £6,206. Admission was £1.50 for standing, an extra 50p for a seat in the stand and £1 for senior citizens and children; figures that tie in better with the lower attendance. However, the receipts had to be split three ways with the Torquay and the F.A. also taking a slice from the takings. Nicholson revealed that the club overdraft of £2,900 had been wiped clean and outstanding invoices of £500-£600 had also been settled, although this may have been achieved with the aid of City’s share of the replay takings.
The Herts Advertiser stated that the gate receipts from the home tie was £3,200, a figure that is simply not possible given the cost of admission. It could be that the newspaper meant that City’s cut of the takings was that figure. Programme sales from the home game were 2,835, the programme cost 20p and included a guest article by John Mitchell .
However accurate the 4,601 figure may or may not be it is the 20th highest attendance for a City match at Clarence Park and has not been bettered since that day.
The bad feeling, sparked by Rioch’s injury and the lack of a doctor at Clarence Park , continued into the replay at Plainmoor the following Wednesday, 17th December. Green, writing in his notes, complained of the hostile atmosphere in the first game and said that he derived no pleasure from it whatsoever. Mind you, he also complained about the prospect of a long trek north to face Barnsley in the 3rd Round, the draw having been made before the replay had taken place. The matchday programme contained a photo of Dave Lawrence leading St Albans out for the game at the Park and ran with the text, ‘St Albans would not supply a team photo.’ The odds are that we didn’t have one. The text that accompanied the player profiles, however, caught the mood perfectly and was an excellent article.
Six City players posed for what almost counted as a team photo, along with four officials and assistant manager Peter Lawrence, on the platform at the City Station before setting off for Devon. Right; Ernie Adams, Jon Sille, Ian Whitehead, Michael White, Maurice Walby , Dave Leonard, Bernard Grimson, Peter Lawrence. Front; Paul Mayles , George Cooper, Dave Lawrence.
A trip to Torquay eight days before Christmas and before the M25 was in existence was far from ideal but along with the team went two coachloads of supporters dreaming of a cup upset. As with the first game the replay took place on a sodden surface with a cloudburst shortly before kick off dampening the spirits of those looking on from the stands and terraces.
City were unchanged from the first game. Butterfield failed a fitness test leading to Wood again being named as the one permitted substitute. Torquay made two changes, one self-inflicted, as Rioch and Bourne made way for Wilson and Steve Hayes. Both sides also made changes to their kit, Torquay went for blue shorts with their white shirts and socks while City were unrecognisable from their normal colours. Our change kit that season was all white which would have clashed with the Gulls attire, so to avoid any problems the home side leant City a set of red shirts. The bickering was over.
St Albans equipped themselves admirably during the first half and at times held the upper hand without looking seriously like scoring. But, as half time approached, Torquay applied pressure to the City goal and forged ahead on 40 minutes when Cooper headed home in style. Just a minute later and City’s cup dream lay in tatters when a blistering drive by Cooper thudded into the crossbar with Fell heading home the rebound. A two-goal deficit at the interval would have been tough to overturn but, unfortunately, there was sufficient time for things to get worse when Mayles, possibly harshly, was penalised for a foul on Jimmy Weston inside the penalty area and Fell fired past the shell-shocked Plumley.
Left; Dave Lawrence, Dave Leonard and George Cooper have their heads bowed in disappointment as Torquay celebrate Cooper’s opening goal for the Gulls. Within minutes City were three-down and all but out of the cup for another year.
Dear, injured and booked when making a rash challenge just before the interval gave way to Wood for the second half. It was to City’s credit that they did not get completely blown away during the second half and ten minutes after the restart pulled one back from the penalty spot through the reliable Whitehead after Hayes had brought down Sille as he latched onto Cooper’s through ball. That duo, Sille and Cooper, again had more than the City faithful watching them as all-time great Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson (no relation to his namesake at Clarence Park ) and Spurs scout Pat Welton (St Albans City manager for 92 games between January 1959 and May 1961) had also made the long journey to the south west. A 3-1 repeat of the score from the replay at Walsall in 1968 would have probably gone down not too badly in the City camp but Fell hadn’t finished yet and completed his hat-trick just after the hour, again from the penalty spot, after Droy was adjudged to have upended Cooper.
The dream was over on the pitch but the agony was far from over for the supporters. Rain fell during the game and due to this most City supporters congregated on the covered terrace that ran alongside the pitch. It may be rose-tinted glasses but my memory is that just three of us remained behind the goal for the entire second half; myself, my brother Kim and the late Steve Melnyk. When we were awarded our penalty a swarm of City supporters dashed from the stand to get behind the goal. For some reason the stewards took great exception to this and began chucking out those that had moved from one part of the ground to another.
But that was not the end of our misery, next up was the journey home. Still, a nice warm coach would be the ideal way to swap stories from the night. Except for one thing, the heating on the coach was not working and by the time we arrived back in St Albans at around 2am we were no warmer than we had been when the fourth Torquay goal went in. Ah yes, the Magic of The Cup.
The attendance at Plainmoor was 2,638, well down on that at St Albans. It was, though, up on the gate for the Barton match that was played on a Saturday and was more than 400 higher than Torquay’s average home gate up until that point of the season.
Following the replay Phil Wood left City for the second time in his long career. The first time, in 1972, saw him play for Enfield and Wycombe Wanderers , moves that brought him the Isthmian League title and an England cap. Dave Lawrence played on until the end of the season before hanging up his boots. His place in football history is assured after being the last captain, of Bishop’s Stortford in 1974, to lift the Amateur Cup at Wembley before that competition was laid to rest. John Butterfield’s battle-weary body played just three more games before he too went into retirement. He replaced Duke as manager at the end of the 1981-82 season but playing proved to be more his forte and his one full season in charge ended with relegation. Like Wood, Butterfield too won England caps when leaving City for Enfield early in the 1970s. Maurice Walby , another former City player and manager, gave up his role as general manager at the Park after the Torquay replay to become manager of Letchworth Garden City for a second time, he took Wood with him.
By David Tavener
12th November 2018