For each of their first three seasons the Saints kicked off their campaign during October with the starting date getting progressively earlier (22nd, 14th& 6th) and by the time the 1884-85 season got underway football was being played in St. Albans in September for the first time, with Luton Wanderers visiting Bernard’s Heath on the 13thof the month.
For the only occasion in the twenty-three years of the various pre-City clubs the opening day of the season fixture failed to produce any goals, although that is not quite how the locals saw it. St. Albans scored what they believed to be a winning goal; the St. Albans umpire awarded the goal but his Luton counterpart disallowed the effort and a 0-0 draw was recorded.
The incident was repeated two weeks later at the same venue when the Saints played another Luton club, St. John’s College. This time it was St. John’s who claimed the extra goal. Again, neither umpire could agree with the other and the result was recorded thus in the St. Albans press, ‘The play resulted in a draw, in favour of St. Albans.’ A more gentlemanly agreement had been reached when the Saints met Hitchin on 16thDecember 1882. Hitchin won the game 2-1 but St. Albans believed they had scored a second goal, Hitchin contested the claim so the Saints withdrew their claim.
Disputing goals was a common occurrence during the latter part of the 19th century and if the incident occurred late in the game it was not unusual for sides to express their displeasure at the umpire’s decision by walking off. Even so, what happened on 29thNovember 1884 was rare. It was reported that St. Albans had lost 1-0 at Bernard’s Heath to Watford Rovers. The St. Albans secretary, Richard Cook, had umpired the game and wrote to the local newspaper the following week explaining that he had allowed a second Watford goal to stand thus giving the Rovers a 2-0 victory. This result is disputed by Watford club records though, and the Watford Observer, both of which claim their side won 3-0.
Fred Sargent scores 15 in a single game
Another match in which the final score was contested took place on 28th March 1885, when the Saints entertained London club Seckford Rovers. In an encounter that was nothing short of a slaughter St. Albans ran amok with a victory of either 19 or 20-0 that still stands as the highest score by the first team of any of the clubs to represent the city. Such was the regularity that St. Albans found the back of the net that the two leading local newspapers of the day – the Hertfordshire Standard and the Herts Advertiser & St. Albans Citizen – could not agree on the final score with the latter settling on a 19-0 victory. But, as the Standard listed all twenty goalscorers and its rival did not, then the staggering 20-0 result is taken as being the accurate account of events. Not too surprisingly the man to benefit most from Seckford’s visit was Fred Sargent – seen resting on the ball in the team photograph below - who virtually doubled his tally for the season by striking fifteen times that day. It is the only known match whereby a St. Albans player scored goals running into double figures and at the end of the season Sargent had scored some twenty-five goals more than the second highest scorer, H.T. Smith.
The match was also significant for another reason. Once the game was over the players posed for what is thought to be the earliest photograph taken of a St. Albans team. No trace can be found of the photograph being published around the time that it was taken but fifty years later, in March 1935, the Herts Advertiser published the picture along with some reminisces of Paul Ashby who was with the club during the 1880s. A fine runner, Ashby, a former pupil at Aldenham School, went on to be Canon of Lincoln Cathedral and Dean of Stamford. He eventually moved back south retiring to Hitchin. At the St. Albans Whitsuntide Sports in 1885, held on Bernard’s Heath, Ashby came second in the mile, the prizes that day were handed out by John Blundell Maple whose contribution to St. Albans sport was becoming significant. Along with Ashby, two other players from the St. Albans side that season, C.H. Marriott and Cecil Hugh Aylen, had connections with Aldenham School where the former was a master.
As with all other matches played thus far by the club the Seckford game was a friendly and a friendly of a different nature took place on 6thApril when the Married Men of the club lined up against the Single Men. Married life had clearly softened up some of the players as the bachelors romped to a 7-2 victory.
England international plays for St. Albans
One of the most significant players to turn out for the club during the season was 24-year-old Charles Plumpton Wilson, a master at Elstree School. A half-back, he made just one appearance, that came during the second match of the season, a draw with Luton Wanderers at Bernard’s Heath. He made a further four appearances for St. Albans in later years. Earlier in 1884, on the 15th and 17th March respectively, he played for England during a 1-0 defeat away to Scotland (Cathkin Park, Glasgow) and a 4-0 win over Wales at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, in the inaugural season of the Home International Championship. Charles was one of just three sportsmen to have played both football and rugby for England and was also a fine cricketer. Born in Roydon, Norfolk, on 12thMay 1859, he passed away in Dereham on 9thMarch 1938.
The day that Charles Wilson made his debut for the Saints, 20th September 1884, St. Albans had been booked to play a London club by the name of Reindeer. Unfortunately, Reindeer sent a telegram a few days before the game to say that they could not muster a side but Luton Wanderers happily stepped in to fill the gap. Towards the end of that game some members of the Reindeer team did show up and at the conclusion of the Wanderers game St. Albans hastily got another XI together and won 4-1.
Three other members of Elstree School, Philip Howard Morton, W.H. Bather and William Nichols Roe, also turned out for St. Albans this season whilst A.T.B. Dunn was also a member at that school.
During the course of the season the First team fulfilled twenty-nine games and the Reserves fourteen. The campaign petered out with home defeats against Watford Rovers and Hitchin although for the latter match the Saints were below strength and had to borrow some Bedfordshire based players. Whilst the 1884-85 season was undoubtedly an intriguing one on the pitch for the Saints it was also a time of great change - not only for the club but also for Hertfordshire football in general.
New home for the football club
St. Albans started the season on Bernard’s Heath but on 20th December the Saints played their first home match at the Grammar School Ground, also known as the Holywell Hill Meadows. The football club was forced into this move in order to preserve the high standard of the playing surface on Bernard’s Heath. Cricketers were concerned that the pitch would be damaged during the latter part of the winter rendering it unplayable come the start of the cricket season. Consequently, a request was put to the football club for them to find a new home around the turn of the year, given that a good number of the footballers also played cricket there was little trouble in getting them to comply. Another pointer in favour of the Holywell Hill site was the belief that matches at that ground would attract better support than had been witnessed on the Heath. Admission to matches at Holywell Hill was set at 3d but it is believed that by the time of the move this had been revised to 2d with members, as before, able to gain free admission.
In latter days the Holywell Hill Meadow, formerly the property of Fred Gentle who also owned the Crystal Palace Inn, would be known as the playing field at Belmont Hill, which disappeared under a housing estate during the 1980s. Towards the end of the 1800s the Grammar School Ground was a sports ground of some repute and down the years it has housed, in addition to the football club, a cricket pitch, a rugby pitch and swimming pool but in 1884 it was owned by the estate of the late George Debenham.
The majority of the Saints matches were played at their two grounds in St. Albans although the first team did also travel to such places as Church End (Finchley), Hackney Marshes, Dallow Road and Shepherds Bush (Wormholt Farm) where they played Hendon, Phoenix Athletic, Luton Town and West End respectively. The Reserves ventured out of the city to face sides at Watford, Boxmoor and Luton. This was also the season when St. Albans came face to face with their namesakes from London. Honours were even with both sides winning at home, following the match at Holywell Hill the teams retired to the Crystal Palace for refreshments. A third meeting was pencilled in for October the following season but the match was scratched when the London club could not muster a side.
At the end of the season the club returned to the Crystal Palace Inn, on 22nd April, for their second annual dinner. Joint-hon. secretary Richard Cook was one of the principal speakers and he aroused no shortage of laughter and cheers when he moved on to the topic of a permanent home ground for the club. Commenting on the facilities available at the Holywell Hill Meadow he 'wished that some local Peabody would purchase the meadow, fence it, and then present it to the club.'
He also gave mention to Herts Rangers and how that club ceased to be once it ran into financial difficulties. Similarities between the Rangers and the St. Albans club were clear given that St. Albans ended the season with arrears amounting to £4. The timing of his comments were well calculated as the next speaker was the Mayor, Mr S.M. White, who, whilst admitting that he knew little about football, paid tribute to the clubs excellent record during the 1884-85 season and in an effort to give the Saints a clean slate for the following season agreed to wipe off their debt. Furthermore, in addition to paying his annual subscription to the football club, the Mayor stated he would donate a sovereign to the club funds, his generosity was followed by the donation of £1 by Cllr George Slade - he was vice-chairman for the evening - and other members and friends of the club who made smaller donations. Earlier in the evening, Mr Slade proposed a toast 'to the success of the St. Albans Football Club' before giving a stirring speech that included the following upbeat message. "I feel that a club of this description and other similar organisations deserve the greatest support as the sports which they were established to promote conduce to the moral and social well-being of society and were for the benefit of the rising generation."
Hertfordshire county side established
With football continuing to expand around the county several clubs, St. Albans included, mentioned the possibility of putting together a team that would represent Hertfordshire in matches against other counties. The idea gained a more solid foundation in the spring of 1885 with a team being selected to face Surrey. Most credit for the organisation of this side was heaped on the St. Albans secretary Richard Cook whose enthusiasm and vision for progressing St. Albans football was now stretching into a wider arena. Cook was assisted in his duties by his opposite number at West Herts, W.A. (Alec) Sargent (brother of Fred) and it was through their efforts that Hertfordshire football established a county side. Strangely, though, it was to be a further eleven months before the official formation of the Hertfordshire Football Association.
Given its close affiliation to the new county side it was of little surprise that the honour of hosting Hertfordshire’s first home match should befall to St. Albans, as the County squared up to Surrey at the Holywell Hill Meadow on 7th April, 1885. The game, admission to which was set at 4d, ended level at 2-2 with the first goal in the history of the Herts F.A. being scored by a St. Albans player, Fred Sargent. Other St. Albans players in the county side that day were C.H. Aylen (whose corner led to the second Hertfordshire goal), J.A. Toomes, J.Hatch, E.Halsey and H.T. Smith.
1884-85 Season Line-Ups
|Sep||13||Fr||LUTON WANDERERS||(H)||D||0||-||0||Gentle F||Miskin CW||Aylen CH||Hartley G||Sell L||Miskin WW||Smith||Russell JT||Hatch W||Halsey E||Turner HT||Turner G|
|Sep||20||Fr||LUTON WANDERERS||(H)||D||1||-||1||Gentle F||Miskin CW||Aylen CH||Wilson CP||Sell L||Webdale HC||Hatch W||Smith HT||Sargent FA||Morton PH (1)||Bather WH|
|Sep||27||Fr||ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE||(H)||W||3||-||2||Miskin CW||Aylen CH||Drew H||Drew JP||Ball JR||Laurie WA||Miskin WW||Smith HT||Sargent FA (3)||Smith HT||Turner G|
|Oct||4||Fr||Hendon||(A)||L||0||-||2||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Marriette EH||Miskin CW||Sell L||Davies||Webdale A||Ashby PO||Sargent FA||Wilkinson H||Sargent WA|
|Oct||11||Fr||WATFORD ROVERS||(H)||W||4||-||1||1||1||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Drew H||Smith A||Ball JR||Drew JP||Webdale A||Miskin WW||Sargent FA (2)||Laurie W||Francis H|
|Oct||18||Fr||LUTON EXCELSIOR||(H)||D||1||-||1||Gentle F||Marriette EH||Roe WN||Aylen CH||Sargent WA||Miskin CW||Scrimshire||Ashby PO||Sargent FA (1)||McDonnell||Morton PH||Bather WH|
|Oct||25||Fr||OXHEY||(H)||W||3||-||1||1||Hartley G||Miskin CW (2)||Drew JP||Ball JR||Smith A||Bushell J||Gentle F||Miskin WW||Webdale A||Paul H||Miskin H|
|Nov||1||Fr||ALDENHAM GRAMMAR SCHOOL||(H)||D||1||-||1||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Miskin CW||Sargent WA||Smith A||Drew JP||Hatch W||Deacon A||Sargent FA (1)||Halsey E||Lomax EH|
|Nov||8||Fr||WOODVILLE||(H)||W||5||-||0||Hartley G||Ball JR||Drew H||Drew JP||Smith A||Paul H (1)||Halsey E (1)||Miskin H (1)||Hatch W (1)||Smith HT (1)||Webdale A|
|Nov||22||Fr||Excelsior||(A)||W||3||-||0||2||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Disbrowe EJ||Miskin CW||Smith A||Drew JP||Smith HT (1)||Ashby PO||Sargent FA||Ross||Sargent WA|
|Nov||29||Fr||Watford Rovers||(A)||L||0||-||2||Hartley G||Ball JR||Miskin CW||Turner F||Halsey T||Drew JP||Paul H||Miskin H||Gentle F||Hatch W||Halsey E|
|Dec||13||Fr||Phoenix Athletic||(A)||D||2||-||2||Gentle F||Ball JR||Martin (1)||Brooks||Drew H||Miskin H||Smith HT||Sargent WA||Ellingham||Hatch W (1)||Halsey E|
|Dec||20||Fr||HADLEY||(H)||L||0||-||1||Gentle F||Ball JR||Drew H||Drew JP||Tooms JA||Paul H||Smith HT||Miskin H||Halsey E||Webdale HC||Hatch W|
|Jan||3||Fr||St. Albans (London)||(A)||L||0||-||1||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Drew JP||Smith A||Tickell A||Miskin CW||Smith HT||Miskin WW||Arkness||Sargent WA||Morton PH|
|Jan||10||Fr||West End||(A)||W||2||-||1||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Drew JP||Smith A||Tickell A||Sargent WA||Smith HT (1)||Tooms JA (1)||Sargent FA||Wilkinson H||Halsey E|
|Jan||17||Fr||LUTON TOWN||(H)||D||1||-||1||1||Gentle E||Ball JR||Dickson JH||Miskin H||Paul H||Sharp EM||Johnstone F||Thody RC||Chatterton HO||Miskin WW||Webdale HC|
|Jan||17||Fr||Luton Town||(A)||W||3||-||1||Hartley G||Tooms JA||Aylen CH||Drew JP||Smith A||Sargent WA||Smith HT||Miskin CW||Sargent FA (3)||Wilkinson H||Hatch W|
|Jan||24||Fr||WATFORD ROVERS||(H)||L||1||-||2||1||Miskin WW||Tooms JA||Marriette EH||Ball JR||Drew JP||Miskin CW||Smith HT||Ashby PO||Hatch W||Prior H||Francis H|
|Jan||31||Fr||Luton Town||(A)||W||2||-||1||Miskin H||Aylen CH||Tooms JA||Goodwin W||Smith A||Miskin CW||Hatch W||Halsey E||Sargent FA (2)||Gentle F||Miskin WW|
|Feb||7||Fr||ST. ALBANS||(H)||W||3||-||2||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Tooms JA||Sargent WA||Drew JP||Smith A||Hatch W (1)||Halsey E (1)||Sargent FA (1)||Smith HT||Clarkson|
|Feb||14||Fr||HENDON||(H)||L||0||-||2||Hartley G||Aylen CH||Smith A||Miskin H||Drew JP||Paul H||Smith HT||Gentle F||Wilkinson H||Johnstone F||Webdale HC|
|Feb||21||Fr||Aldenham School||(A)||L||2||-||7||2||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Tooms JA||Drew JP||Halsey C||Paul H||Halsey E||Hatch J||Sargent FA||Miskin WW||Miskin H|
|Feb||28||Fr||HITCHIN TOWN||(H)||L||1||-||3||Hartley G||Aylen CH||Tooms JA||Sargent WA||Drew JP||Smith A||Smith HT||Gentle F||Sargent FA (1)||Hatch W||Halsey E|
|Mar||7||Fr||WEST END||(H)||W||6||-||3||Tooms JA||Aylen CH||Marriette EH||Sargent WA||Villiers EE||Smith A||Smith HT (2)||Ashby PO||Sargent FA (3)||Hatch W||Halsey E (1)|
|Mar||14||Fr||LUTON EXCELSIOR||(H)||D||1||-||1||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Tooms JA||Sargent WA||Ball JR||Drew JP||Smith HT||Webdale HC||Sargent FA (1)||Hatch W||Halsey E|
|Mar||28||Fr||SECKFORD ROVERS||(H)||W||20||-||0||1||Gentle F||Tooms JA||Ball JR||Sargent WA||Dickson JW||Drew JP||Hatch W (1)||Halsey E (2)||Sargent FA (15)||Paul H||Miskin WW (1)|
|Apr||6||Fr||WATFORD ROVERS||(H)||L||1||-||2||Gentle F||Aylen CH||Tooms JA||Ball JR||Drew JP||Miskin CW||Smith HT||Miskin WW||Chatterton HO||Webdale HC (1)||Miskin H|
|Apr||18||Fr||Hitchin Town||(A)||L||1||-||4||1||Webdale HC||Aylen CH||Capon||Taylor||Clarke||Miskin CW||Bullock||Jones||Gin||Miskin WW||Paul H|
1884-85 Appearances & Goals
|Paul O Ashby||5|
|Cecil Hugh Aylen||20|
|James Robert Ball||12|
|James William Dickson||1|
|Ernest Herbert Lomax||1|
|Christopher Walter Miskin||15||2|
|Walter W Miskin||12||1|
|Philip Howard Morton||3||1|
|Horace Joseph Paul||9||1|
|William Nichols Roe||1|
|W Alec Sargent||13|
|Ernest Michael Mannock Sharp||1|
|Henry Charles Webdale||7||1|
|Charles Plumpton Wilson||1|