Games between St Albans City and clubs from Tonbridge are a scarce commodity with ourselves and Tonbridge Angels first coming into contact with each other as recently as 2013-14. Before looking back at our encounters during that season a glance will be made back a further 100 years to when we played the nearby Tunbridge Wells club, home and away, in the Spartan League.
Senior football in Tunbridge kicked off in 1886 – five years after the formation of the original St Albans club – with Tunbridge Wells becoming members of the Isthmian League in 1911. The club finished bottom of the table at the end of its first season in that league but were successfully re-elected. A year later their fortunes dipped and, after finishing 10th in the 11-club league, failed to gain re-election and were replaced by New Crusaders.
For the 1913-14 season the club were members of the Spartan League, which is where we came into contact with them. The first meeting was at Clarence Park on 15th November 1913. Willie Paul put City ahead early in the second half only for M.Saunders to secure a point for the visitors. The return fixture was played at the Kent club’s Ferndale, Charity Farm, home on 28th February 1914. Goals by George Edmonds (eight years later an F.A. Cup finalist with Wolverhampton Wanderers) and Frank Butterfield clinched a 2-0 win for the Saints. And that is our complete record against Tunbridge Wells.
Moving forward 100 years and we faced Tonbridge Angels for the first time on 12th October 2013. We were in our third season as members of the Southern League following relegation from Conference South. Our management team consisted of James Gray and Graham Golds, both of whom were former City players and had enjoyed success when running the City Youth team. Taking charge of the First team was a big jump for Jimmy and Graham but they continued to enjoy the success achieved at a lower level.
The Angels were in their third season in the higher Division, Conference South, but were struggling. Tommy Warrilow’s side had nine points from nine games and were just one place above the relegation zone, one place below them were Ian Allinson’s Boreham Wood.
In the Tonbridge side were several faces who were already familiar, or soon would be, to Clarence Park regulars. Captain of the side was central defender Gary Elphick (left: with James Comley) who had made 85 appearances for the Saints in Conference National and Conference South and was our Player of the Year in 2007. Left-back Ryan Watts appeared in 61 City matches during the two seasons prior to this one. Moving into the middle of the midfield and we find David Ijaha who played 75 times for us at the same time as Watts. Completing a quartet of one-time St Albans players in the Tonbridge starting XI was Nathan Green who pulled on a City shirt six times during the 2014-15 campaign. Two more one-time City players were listed among the seven substitutes in the form of Chris Piper (47 games 1999-2001) and Nathan Pinney (8 games in 2017).
Tonbridge got off to the worst possible start in the F.A. Cup 3rd Round Qualifying tie with John Frendo (above) giving the Saints an eighth minute lead with his 10th goal of the season after being set up by Mark Nwokeji . The visitors battled back to enjoy the majority of the play but created little in front of goal and when Mark Lovell headed home powerfully from a Watts cross on 41 minutes it was their first on-target effort of the day. With seven goals, Lovell was the Angels top scorer for the season. But it was City who progressed through to the final qualifying round when Nwokeji slotted home on 73 minutes following good work by Lee Chappell and Richard Graham .
Making his home City debut was 20-year-old goalkeeper Tom Coulton, called in at late notice when Paul Bastock failed a fitness test on ribs damaged during a midweek draw at Bedford Town. City were also without Ryan Wharton; the defender was in Crete as a member of the England 5-a-side football squad. In particularly fine form that day was the towering central defender Ben Martin who was playing in the 160th of his 277 games for the City. Making his 100th appearance for the club was midfielder Ram Marwa .
To reach this stage of the competition City had defeated Enfield Town 6-1 (Nwokeji hat-trick) and Billericay Town. Tonbridge had joined in a Round later than us and defeated Hayes & Yeading United after a replay to set up the tie at Clarence Park . John Frendo maintained his record of scoring in all four of the qualifying rounds when putting us ahead at Chatham Town in the next round and David Keenleyside ensured our place in the competition proper when quickly adding a second goal.
A crowd of 3,251 looked to be witnessing a cup upset in the 1st Round when Darren Locke’s early header put us ahead against Mansfield Town. That lead was held until a couple of minutes before the break when the Stags struck twice in a matter of seconds to lead at the interval and then run riot after the break to hand us a humbling 8-1 defeat.
City and the Angels met again at the end of November in the 1st Round of the F.A. Trophy. Our extended participation in the competition looked in some doubt when Richard Graham was dismissed after just three minutes but we held firm to haul Tonbridge back to the Park for a Monday night replay. Tonbridge went into the game at Longmead on the back of an upturn in fortunes with a replay F.A. Trophy victory at A.F.C. Sudbury and a league win at Eastleigh. But their season started to go into decline when goals by James Comley, Nwokeji, Howard Hall and substitute Chris Henry saw City cruise home 4-0 and through to a 2nd Round meeting at home to Cambridge United. In that game, a Frendo penalty cancelled Nathan Arnold’s first half goal for Richard Money’s side but the visitors clinched victory with substitute Aaron Pierre, on his debut, scoring a stunning goal four minutes into added time. There was just sufficient time remaining for the City duo of Ben Martin and Chris Henry to both be dismissed.
At the time of the first meeting with Tonbridge Angels we had started to find our feet in the Southern League and a 3-1 defeat at Hungerford Town at the end of December was our only reversal in 20 league games. A 4-2 win over A.F.C Totton on 13th January (that included two own goals) took us into the play off places, which is where we stayed until the end of the season. In a play-off semi-final away to Cambridge City we stormed to a 4-2 victory and with a brace in the play-off final away to Chesham United, Frendo took his tally for the season to 42.
The 3-1 win at Chesham, in front of a crowd numbering 2,960, secured our return to Conference South but we did not play Tonbridge Angels the following season as they had finished the 2013-14 campaign just one place off the foot of the table and were relegated to the Isthmian League. Manager Tommy Warrilow left the club at the end of the season and five seasons were spent in the Isthmian League before Steve McKimm – surprisingly sacked in May 2022 – led the club back into the now rebranded National League South.
St Albans City: Tom Coulton, Howard Hall, Lee Chappell , Ram Marwa , Ben Martin , Darren Locke, Richard Graham , James Comley (Chris Henry 70), John Frendo, Mark Nwokeji , Chris Watters (Matt Taylor 27, (James Kaloczi 83)), unused subs; Elliot Bailey, Harrison Georgiou, David Keenleyside, Greg Ngoyi.
Tonbridge Angels: Clark Masters, Harry Muggeridge, Ryan Watts, Mark Lovell (Mikel Suarez 83), Gary Elphick , Sonny Mills, Phillip Appiah, David Ijaha, Luke Blewden, Lee Browning (Nathan Pinney 76), Nathan Green, unused subs; Jon Heath, Gary Borrowdale, Chris Piper, Luke Olly, Scott Chalmers-Stevens.
Referee: Antony Coggins (Bicester). Attendance: 605.
All photos courtesy of Robert Walkley.