This Tales of Park Life feature is slightly unusual from the rest in that it concentrates on a match that was abandoned. The game in question was an Isthmian (AC Delco) League Cup 2nd Round tie with Hungerford Town played at Bulpit Lane on 15th November 1988.
Crusaders hit form
To reach the 2nd Round of the League Cup, Hungerford had already seen off Letchworth Garden City, in the Preliminary Round, and then Flackwell Heath. Under joint-player/managers Gary Goodwin and David Dodds, the Crusaders went into the game on the back of a 3-1 league win over Molesey and a 5-1 Hungerford Challenge Cup victory over Great Shefford. They occupied a place in midtable in the league and the win over Molesey was their first at home since beating Eastbourne United on the opening day of the season.
Having struggled during our early campaigns following a return to the Premier Division in 1986, we were in the dizzy heights of the top half of the table as we headed off to the most westerly town in Berkshire.
Going to Hungerford in mid-November meant that sightseeing was out due to an evening kick off. The prospects of seeing much anyhow vanished as thick fog engulfed a town that has the distinction of being the birthplace of Robert Snooks (in 1761); he was the last highwayman to be hung in England.
City supporters crash course
The Saints took a coach carrying players and supporters to the game but they hardly made the best of starts as, due to a flat battery, it needed to be ‘bump started.’ However, those who were on the coach were the lucky ones as one City supporter made it to Hungerford but not the football ground. Ray Stanton, part of City’s successful matchday programme team of the 1980s, drove to the game straight from work but was involved in a collision with a lorry in the High Street. The accident was the fault of the third party, not that that was of much comfort to Ray whose car was written off. Fortunately, there were no injuries but he missed the game.
Just up the road at Bulpit Lane, 98 people did make their way safely to the ground but the shenanigans were far from over. The game was just two minutes old when Hungerford defender Dean Bailey went down following an accidental clash of heads with City’s Martin Gurney . Whilst Gurns was fine the situation for Bailey was not so encouraging as he was stretched off with blood said to be coming from his ears, nose and mouth.
Whatever concern Martin held for Hungerford was short-lived, as two minutes later he fired City into the lead. With a dozen goals from 52 appearances, Gurns was our leading scorer that season while goalkeeper Mark Pearson and midfielder Steve Oliver were ever-present in our 55 matches. Martin was unfortunate to have a second goal ruled out for offside but on 19 minutes Tony Kelly did add a second goal for the City. But that, unfortunately, is where the entertainment ended, as referee S.Wilson of Hazlemere called an end to the proceedings on 28 minutes due to the fog.
City win again
Somewhat surprisingly, Bailey was back in the Hungerford side when we reconvened at Bulpit Lane a fortnight later. The second game was far from a thriller but it was another accident-prone evening in front of a crowd numbering 115. Hungerford lost striker Kevin Bale through injury after just a couple of minutes while City’s Tony Kelly suffered ligament problems midway through the first half and was taken to hospital. City took the lead early in the second half only for Town’s Andy Wollen to equalise with his first goal of the season. The game went to extra time and Doug Parkin’s Saints won it fortuitously with virtually the last kick of the game. Noel Fletcher swung the ball in from a corner and it appeared to go straight into goalkeeper Peter Rackley’s net but Martin Gurney (left) was later credited with getting the final touch.
All the effort and agony exerted to get the tie played brought little reward with City bowing out in the next round to Staines Town at Wheatsheaf Lane. Our 5-0 victory over Epsom & Ewell in the 1st Round was one of few cup successes that we enjoyed that season. After struggling to defeat Malden Vale in the F.A. Cup we were tipped out of the competition in a replay at home to Dartford and, at the first hurdle, went the same way in the F.A. Trophy to Woking. Our Premier Inter-League Cup run lasted 90 minutes as we went down at Stag Meadow to Windsor & Eton, and Barnet knocked us out of the Herts Senior Cup with Herbie Smith scoring the only goal of the game. We did at least reach the final of the Herts Charity Cup for a third successive season only to be seen off by Boreham Wood at Broughinge Road.
The Clarence Park managerial merry-go-round
Doug Parkin’s reign as City manager was ended abruptly the following February and his replacements, Roy Butler with Steve Perrin, were also not retained come the summer.
The League Cup aside, Hungerford enjoyed a good season. In the F.A. Vase they defeated Whyteleafe, Eastbourne Town, Camberley Town, Hailsham Town and Thatcham Town to set up a semi-final meeting with Sudbury Town. The visit of Sudbury drew a record attendance of 1,684 to Bulpit Lane for the 1st Leg but the 2nd Leg in Suffolk was a disaster for the Crusaders as they went down 6-0. It was Hungerford’s and third and final appearance in the last four.
Line ups from the abandoned match between The Crusaders and The Saints:
Hungerford Town: Peter Rackley, Andy Wollen, David Dodds, Gary Goodwin, Dean Bailey, John Cowan, Mark Payne, Graham Blackler, Mark Boucher, Craig Gill, Mark Hughes, subs; Sean Tull, Nigel Packer.
St Albans City: Mark Pearson, Dean Austin, Andy Goodchild, Sean Priddle, Andy Cox, Steve Oliver , Nigel Johnson, Michael O’Shea, Martin Gurney , Tony Kelly, Trevor Parker, subs; Pete Churchill, Terry Nightingale.