For this ‘Tales’ we head back to the campaign of 1908-09, the first season of St Albans City. With there being an insufficient number of clubs to make for a good fixture list in one league, we entered our first team in both the Herts County League Western Division and the Eastern Division of the Spartan League. Our Reserve team competed in Division One of the Mid Herts League.
The secretary of the Herts County League at this time was George Wagstaffe Simmons, he was also secretary to the Hertfordshire Football Association and was better known in these parts as being instrumental in the formation of St Albans City in April 1908.
In the Spartan League we lined up alongside Chelmsford for whom this was also their first season in that competition. Our friends from Essex had been formed in 1878 and ran until 1938 when they were closed down to be replaced by a professional cub, Chelmsford City (the town itself was not made a city until 2012). The new club participated in the Southern League. In addition to ourselves and Chelmsford, the Spartan League in 1908 featured just three other clubs; Luton Clarence, South Weald and Walthamstow Grange.
Our first meeting with Chelmsford did not take place until relatively late in the season, 3rd April, when they visited Clarence Park . The game was our fourth in the Spartan League and we had made a good start with goals from Tommy Noel and Tommy Walker (right) securing a 2-0 win over another Essex side, South Weald at their Warley Road ground in Brentwood. This was followed by a 1-1 home draw with Walthamstow Grange and a 2-2 draw at Clarence Park with eventual champions Luton Clarence.
The kick-off time for the game with Chelmsford was put back by 30 minutes from the normal time of 3.30pm so as to not clash with the funeral of the St Albans Town Clerk, Alfred H. Debenham. Both sides showed changes from their previous outing. Chelmsford were without Downing, Bellamy, the King brothers and C.Turrell. We made four changes from our previous match, which was an 8-3 defeat at home to Rickmansworth in the County League. Prior to then we had enjoyed an 11-match unbeaten run.
On a pleasant afternoon, Chelmsford won the toss and chose to play up the slope towards the York Road goal with a wind to their backs. The first half though, did not go as the visitors had wished and with a brace of goals from W.Bennett and a single from George Butcher , St Albans led 3-1 at the interval. Chelmsford’s first half goal came from C.Abbott, after the break they pulled level at 3-3 but there was some confusion as to the goal scorers. The St Albans Post opted for the brothers C.Turrell and Edgar Turrell while the Herts Advertiser and Chelmsford Chronicle both credited Whitehead with scoring twice. Awarding a goal to C.Turrell appears generous as he is not listed in the team line-up and it could be that it should have been P.Turrell. Either way, it does not matter too much from our end as a late goal by Leslie Hosier secured the two points for the Saints.
That winning strike came as some relief for Hosier (below, left) as, earlier in the game, he had encountered some problems from the penalty spot. He scored from the spot during the first half but encroachment by Walker led to the kick being retaken, this time he fired over the crossbar. Les, who was also a noted cricket, had a chance to redeem himself during the second half but, instead, gained the unwanted distinction of being the first City player to miss two penalties in one game when he shot straight at the Chelmsford custodian, J.E. Smith. It would be almost 44 years, on 7th March 1953, until Charlie Barker became the second City player to miss two penalties in the same match when we lost 3-0 at home to Bromley in the Isthmian League. Since then both Ian Whitehead and Paul Mayles have joined the ‘missed two penalties in one game’ club. On a more cheerful note, Hosier, Mayles and Whitehead also appear on a list of 14 players to have converted two penalties in the same match, Whitehead actually achieved the feat four times.
The win over Chelmsford gave us a record of two wins and two draws from our four Spartan League but, unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. The return game with Walthamstow was lost 4-0, South Weald won 2-0 at the Park, Luton Clarence ran riot with an 11-2 trouncing at their Highlands ground that secured the championship for the Bedfordshire club. The closing few games saw City put out a much changed XI and for the final Spartan League game of the season, a 5-1 defeat at Chelmsford, it has not been possible to find the St Albans line-up save for Tommy Walker and Walter Weston. It is the only match in the 4,987 played by the club (prior to today) in which we have been unable to find the full City team.
Our downturn in form left us at the foot of the table and the position was made more desperate when two points were deducted due to us fielding an ineligible player. Chelmsford’s victory at Kings Head Meadow came courtesy of goals from A. Beach 2, J.Hoy and F. Hance 2 and took them to third in the table on eight points.
We fared far better in the County League where we finished three points clear of runners-up Rickmansworth. As winners of the Western Division we faced Northern Division winners Welwyn, and Eastern Division champions Ware in two play-off matches. A goal by H.Green secured victory over Welwyn but, with a 4-4 draw at Clarence Park , Ware took the Herts County League title on goal difference having beaten Welwyn 4-1. As the City and Ware players left the pitch there was an altercation when a Ware player, accused of ‘interfering’ with Hosier, was attacked by a St Albans supporter and suffered a cut close to his eye that required medical attention.
We made our debut in three cup competitions during the season. First up was the F.A. Cup where we bowed out 3-2 (Hosier two penalties) after a 1st Round Qualifying replay with Upton Park at West Ham Park. Our Amateur Cup fortunes were equally unsuccessful with us having just another Hosier penalty to show for our efforts during an 8-1 1st Round Qualifying defeat at home to the 1st Scots Guards. The Herts Charity Cup also failed to bring any joy with City bowing out 4-2 to Hitchin Blue Cross at Clarence Park . The Reserves made it to the final of the Bingham Cox Cup but lost out to Hatfield United, the same club also removed our second string from the Herts Junior Cup.
During the season a total of 12,536 spectators (9,922 adults and 2,614 ‘boys’) attended games at the Park bringing in gate receipts of £137 7s 10d. The population of the city at this time was around 17,000. Due to the football ground not possessing dressing rooms, the club had to pay the council £4 4s for the use of the cricket pavilion. Fortunately, in a show of support for the club, the council agreed to revise the figure and accept just £1. The football club did not have its own dressing rooms until 1929.
Our leading goalscorer for the season was Tommy Walker on 14, he also made the most appearance by featuring in 24 of our 26 matches. The club hon. secretary and treasurer was Bob Fox.