The formation of the present day St. Albans City Football Club can be traced back to April 1908 but organised football had been played within the city well before the end of the previous century. The City club could, in fact, be said to be the fourth to have represented the townsfolk.
With football taking longer to make its presence felt in the south of the country than it did in the north, it was not until 1881, nine years after the Wanderers and Royal Engineers competed in the first final of the F.A. Cup, that St. Albans was represented by a club bearing the name of the city. Why St. Albans took so long to boast a football club of its own is a mystery especially given that back on 30th September, 1875, a member of St. Albans Cricket Club wrote anonymously to the local press suggesting that it was time St. Albans founded a football club of its own. It was to be another five years before the suggestion was taken a step further and six years until the St. Albans Football Club saw the light of day for the first time. During the intervening years, on 28th August 1877, the town of St. Albans was upgraded to a city but the change in status was not to be reflected in the name of the football club for more than thirty years.
The simply named St. Albans Football Club was the first Hertfordshire-based club to bear the St. Albans name following its formation in September 1881, but a London club of that name had been in existence since 1877. The London club played its home matches at the Upton Fields in East London and used the facilities at the nearby Princess Alice public house for dressing rooms. Constructed from gentlemen working in the business houses of London the club played in a kit of blue and white. The Londoners were accepted as members of the Football Association and competed in the F.A. Cup, F.A. Amateur Cup and the London Cup. The biggest claim to fame that the club achieved being that on 17th October, 1885, they were the first opponents of Tottenham Hotspur in a competitive match. Spurs won the game, a London Cup tie, 5-2. There was no link between the London and Hertfordshire St. Albans clubs although they did face each other twice during the 1884-85 season. Honours were even with the London club winning the first encounter at Upton Fields 1-0 on 3rd January while just over a month later, on 7th February, the Hertfordshire club gained revenge by virtue of a 3-2 margin. Both clubs met their demise during the final decade of the century although the Hertfordshire club reconstituted itself under a new name.
The Hertfordshire-based St. Albans club came into existence on 21st September 1881, although the first meeting to discuss the possibility of launching a new club had taken place on 14th September. That St. Albans were to play a leading role in the advancement of football in Hertfordshire owed much to the vision of the club's first secretary Richard Cook who chaired the meeting which precipitated the formation of the St. Albans Football Club. The need for St. Albans to boast a football club of its own took on greater significance due to the relative success of a fellow Hertfordshire club by the name of Herts Rangers. The Rangers can claim to be one of the earliest clubs formed in the south of England having been founded around 1865, the same year as the original Hitchin club, with their original home at Langley Road, Watford. Herts Rangers, for whom several St. Albans players appeared prior to the formation of that club, reached the competition proper of the F.A. Cup on seven occasions including the 1881-82 campaign that proved to be the final year of their existence.
Despite of the interest for St. Albans to form a football club it was a very modest notice that appeared in the local press, as those proposing to form a new club sought new members.
PROPOSED FOOTBALL CLUB - A meeting will be held on Wednesday evening next, at eight o’clock, at the Crystal Palace Inn, London-road, to take into consideration the proposed formation of a football club for the city. All those interested in the pastime are invited to attend.
Such was the interest in the proposed new club that within four years St. Albans were considered to be one of the strongest sides in the county, not that the list of local opposition was either strong or lengthy. Members of the club frequently spoke at the annual dinner of the strength of the club and its standing within Hertfordshire but quite how this could be effectively judged is debatable given that the club did not play its first competitive fixture until November, 1886, when they faced - and lost to - Watford Rovers in the County Cup.
At the inaugural meeting Cook, who chaired the event, was appointed secretary with Mr T.Harris elected into the position of Hon. Secretary & Treasurer, and Christopher Walter Miskin was appointed club captain. Cook and Harris also assisted the side on several occasions during that season; Harris filled a number of positions during the campaign while Cook played in goal for a couple of matches. Without being disrespectful to Cook, it may be fair to assume that he was not one of the better players of his day, a profile of him stated, ‘his exertions as a player were more beneficial to his liver than his club.’
One week after the formation of the club, a third meeting took place, also at the Crystal Palace, to establish the first committee, Mr W.R. Masters chaired that meeting. The club adopted the city colours of amber (gold) and blue and subscriptions were set at five shillings per annum. It was reported that from the home match with Aldenham Grammar School on 5th November, which the Saints lost 1-0, a small charge for admission was to be made although members could gain free entry to the ground.
In between the two meetings during September evidence of the new club was seen on the playing fields as a practice match, starting at 3.30pm, was held on Saturday, 24th September at Mr Miskins meadow in Wellclose Street, St. Albans. It was, however, to be another four weeks before the public gained its first glimpse of the new club while further practice games were organised at Wellclose Street and at Mr Jacob Reynolds’ field in Hatfield Road. The exact location of the area of ground given over by Mr Reynolds for use as a football pitch is open to conjecture but it is not beyond the bounds of reason to suspect that it fell within the confines of what was to become Clarence Park. Certainly notes, which appeared in newspapers in later years, support this suggestion.
Born in Norfolk, Reynolds trained as a chemist in Swaffham before living for a while in Hatfield and working in London. From there he moved to realise his ambition of becoming a farmer, this he had his first taste of at Hammond's Farm in 1868. Three years later Earl Spencer offered Reynolds the Heath Farm on Bernard's Heath, St. Albans, from where he set up Heath Farm Dairies. Reynolds went on to farm 700 acres of Earl Spencer's land taking in Fleetville, St. Peter's Park, Bernard’s Heath and land that was latterly known as Clarence Park. By the time of Reynolds death in January 1926, his holding was down to around 150 acres. Through his love of sport and generosity, Reynolds staged the annual St. Albans Athletic Club Sports on his Heath Farm land off Sandridge Road for many years before the event switched to Clarence Park.
1881-82 The First Season
A total of 15 games were played during the 1881-82 season with Mr Reynolds field in Hatfield Road being the home ground. St. Albans first match was on Saturday, 22nd October when near neighbours Hemel Hempstead provided the opposition; the game kicked off at 3pm in front of a small gathering of local citizens who looked on inquisitively as the destiny of sport in St. Albans took a unknowing leap into previously untested waters.
The honour of being the first gentlemen to wear the blue and gold of St. Albans was bestowed upon:
Goal R.Cook; Backs L.Sell, TL Brash (Captain); Half-backs F.Gentle, H.Slade; Forwards JR Ball, G.Brown, T.Harris, FJ Preece, A.Webdale, HC Webdale
Hemel Hempstead were represented by: Bethom, Collins, Hancock, Burrage, RH Balderson, F.St J.Badcock, Roget, Winter, Puddifoot, Clark, Woodman.
St. Albans’ Mr Masters umpired the game.
Life did not start too pleasantly for St. Albans as the visitors ran out 4-0 winners. Hemel goalkeeper, J.Bethom, turned out for St. Albans later in the season and in years to come was to gain county honours with Hertfordshire.
St. Albans suffered four more defeats during the next four weeks and it was not until they played their sixth match that the citizens had a goal of their own to celebrate. That goal secured the sweet taste of victory for the first time with Mr James Woods team of Salisbury Hall, Barnet, on 26th November, being defeated 1-0 at Hatfield Road. The scorer of that long awaited first goal was F.Preece following a pass from R.Faning. The Rev R.E. Faning was the first of several ‘men of the cloth’ to play for St. Albans during the early years.
One of the most peculiar outcomes to a game occurred on 7th January 1882 when St Albans played away to Luton Excelsior. The Herts Advertiser match report only hints at what went on. “Owing to the late arrival of the train at Luton, the match did not commence until half-past three. The match was, however, brought to an abrupt conclusion, at a little after four, on the grounds that the Luton team were playing twelve men to St. Albans eleven, it being agreed that eleven should be the number. The game, therefore, ended in a draw.” To make the outcome of that game even more curious is that the report for the game at Hatfield Road between the two sides on 29th October lists 15 players for each team.
The club went on to win just one more game, 3-2 at home to Hitchin Town, before concluding its first campaign with a 2-0 defeat in the return fixture at Hitchin on 18th March – the report on that match declared that the weather was most summer-like with ‘numerous present to witness the game’. Results may not have been over-inspiring but the interest in the new club was sufficient for the committee to run a 2nd XI although the only evidence of that side playing a game is centred on a 1-0 defeat against St. Albans Grammar School, at the Holywell Hill Meadow, on 11th March. The venue of that match took on greater significance in future years.
Players had to be flexible during the early days of the club and would often play wherever there was a gap in the team. No better example of this can be given than between the sticks with a different goalkeeper being used for each of the first seven games. Richard Cook was the first and he was followed by the likes of the Hemel Hempstead keeper Bethom, Cecil Hugh Aylen, Herbert C. Webdale F.J. Preece, Gomm and Christopher W. Miskin, all of whom were to become long serving members of the club. Other than for Cook and Gomm, all of those ‘goalkeepers’ also played outfield during the season.
Fifteen games were played during the season but only two were won, 12 of the remaining 13 games were lost. St. Albans scored in just three matches and, unfortunately, the local newspaper does not name the scorers during the 3-2 win over Hitchin in February.
Notes for Player Appearances below:
The game at home to Luton Excelsior on 29th October was a 15-a-side match.
St Albans used 12 players for the home game with Luton Rovers on 12th November.
St Albans played with just ten players for the home game with Nascot on 19th November.
The result for the game against Great Berkhampstead Grammar School (spelling as it appeared in the Herts Advertiser) is unknown although it is known that St Albans lost. Also, the team line-up was not stated. This is also the case for the match against Nascot on the 10th December.
No goalscorers were named in the report for the win over Hitchin Town on 25th February.
1881-1882 Season Line-ups
|Oct||22||Fr||HEMEL HEMPSTEAD||(H)||L||0||-||4||Cook R||Sell L||Brash TL||Gentle F||Slade H||Ball JR||Brown G||Harris T||Preece FJ||Webdale A||Webdale HC|
|Oct||29||Fr||LUTON EXCELSIOR||(H)||L||0||-||2||Gomm H||Harris T||Brash TL||Webdale HC||Miskin J||Miskin CW||Webdale A||Turner G||Slade H||Sell L||Preece FJ||Gentle F||Brown G||Badcock FSt.J||Ball JR|
|Nov||5||Fr||ALDENHAM GRAMMAR SCHOOL||(H)||L||0||-||1||Bethom J||Hancock||Alexander H||Drew H||Miskin CW||Webdale H||Webdale A||Turner G||Preece FJ||Lockhart HE||Slade H|
|Nov||12||Fr||LUTON ROVERS||(H)||L||0||-||2||Webdale H||Hartley G||Miskin J||Drew H||Miskin CW||Sell L||Webdale A||Slade H||Lockhart HE||Brown G||Preece FJ||Ball JR||(12 players)|
|Nov||19||Fr||NASCOT||(H)||L||0||-||5||Preece FJ||Norman T||Harris T||Miskin J||Ball JR||Sell L||Turner G||Webdale H||Webdale A||Miskin CW||only ten men (Nascot had 11)|
|Nov||26||Fr||SALISBURY HALL||(H)||W||1||-||0||Miskin CW||Drew H||Aylen CH||Webdale H||Faning RE||Webdale A||Preece FJ||Preece FJ (1)||Turner G||Sell L||Slade H|
|Dec||10||Fr||Nascot||(A)||L||*||*||Aylen CH||Drew H||Preece FJ||Sell L||Sheldrake E||Martin HJW||Miskin J||Scruby TH||Marks G||Webdale A||Harris T|
|Jan||7||Fr||Luton Excelsior||(A)||D||0||-||0||Miskin CW||Drew H||Ball JR||Turner F||Titchmarsh VA||Webdale HC||Turner G||Harris T||Gentle F||Brown G||Aylen CH|
|Feb||4||Fr||Luton Rovers||(A)||L||0||-||2||Miskin CW||Turner F||Ball JR||Norman T||Martin HJW||Webdale A||Webdale HC||Slade H||Sell L||Harris T||Gentle F|
|Feb||11||Fr||Great Berkhampstead Grammar School||(A)||L||*||*|
|Feb||18||Fr||Aldenham Grammar School||(A)||L||1||-||6||Bethom J||Turner F||Woods||Webdale HC||Ball JR||Sell L (1)||Aylen CH||Slade H||Halsey E||Gentle F||Miskin CW|
|Feb||25||Fr||HITCHIN TOWN||(H)||W||3||-||2||Webdale HC||Drew H||Turner F||Ball JR||Miskin CW||Webdale A||Harris T||Sell L||Preece FJ||Herbert Slade||Faning RE||(scorers unknown)|
|Mar||4||Fr||CHRIST CHURCH INSTITUTE||(H)||L||0||-||1||Cook R||Slade H||Turner F||Webdale HC||Harris T||Ball JR||Webdale A||Turner G||Sell L||Gentle F||Preece FJ||Aylen CH||Slade H|
|Mar||11||Fr||Hemel Hempstead||(A)||L||0||-||2||Miskin CW||Woods||Farr E||Harris T||Ball JR||Webdale HC||Preece FJ||Eling||Hatch W||Halsey E||Miskin CW||Aylen CH|
|Mar||18||Fr||Hitchin Town||(A)||L||0||-||2||Miskin CW||Sell L||Hatch W||Halsey E|
Appearances and Goals
|Cecil Hugh Aylen||6|
|F St J Badcock||1|
|James Robert Ball||10|