The date of 22nd November is a special one in the history of St Albans City. Exactly 100 years ago on that date the famous F.A. Cup tie between ourselves and Dulwich Hamlet took place at Champion Hill. It was the day, a Wednesday afternoon following a 1-1 draw at Clarence Park , that Wilfred ‘Billy’ Minter scored all of our seven goals during a remarkable 8-7 defeat. Billy’s achievement that day remains as the highest tally by an individual on the losing side of an F.A. Cup tie.
Moving forward 58 years from that date and another significant event occurred in 1980 and again it involved an F.A. Cup tie. A 3-0 replay victory over Harwich & Parkeston put us into the 1st Round Proper of the competition for the first time in 12 years and we were drawn away to our visitors this afternoon, who, at this time, were known as Gravesend & Northfleet (the club was formed in 1946 when two clubs from the 1890s, Gravesend United and Northfleet United, merged).
In 1979 Gravesend became one of the founder members of the Alliance Premier League, the forerunner to today’s National League. As members of the lower league Isthmian League Division One (effectively the Second Division), City were very much underdogs. After an indifferent start to the season, Gravesend found some form going into the game with a convincing win over Aveley in the final qualifying round of the F.A. Cup being followed by a home draw with Stafford Rangers and a first away win of the season over Nuneaton. Tony Sitford’s side sat in 11th place in the 20-team Alliance Premier League. Sitford, who had City watched on three occasions, featured in the Gravesend side knocked out of the F.A. Cup by St Albans in a replay in 1972. Also in the Fleet side for that game as well as the 1980 encounter was full-back Ken Burrett.
Under the leadership of the colourful Ron Duke , St Albans were flying. The side had suffered a shock defeat the Saturday before the trip to Kent when the Metropolitan Police arrested our push towards the top of the table with a 3-2 win at Clarence Park . Prior to then, we had been unbeaten in the previous seven league matches, a run that was rounded off by a 6-2 win at the Park over Chesham United with makeshift striker Dave Leonard scoring a hat-trick.
In the City side in 1980 were Dave Lawrence (right), the captain, and joint leading goalscorer John Butterfield, both played in the St Albans side that took Walsall to a 2nd Round replay in 1968. On the bench was Phil Wood , another veteran from the Walsall games. Twelve years on and the trio were to make a return visit to the 2nd Round as the Saints pulled off a surprise 2-1 win at Stonebridge Road. It was our first success over Alliance Premier League opposition.
City had the better of the opening half but Gravesend went closest to scoring with a Brian Gregory header hitting Ian Plumley’s crossbar. The breakthrough came on 56 minutes when long-serving full-back Ian Whitehead fired home from the penalty spot after a John Dear shot had been handled on the goalline.
Whitehead doubled his tally from 12 yards four minutes from time after Paul Mayles had been hauled down by Fleet ‘keeper Colin Lewington. A minute later, the appropriately named Phil Stonebridge pulled one back for the Kent side but City held out in relative comfort to set up a 2nd Round meeting with Torquay United at Clarence Park ..
Whitehead successfully despatching a penalty was hardly a rare event. During the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons he converted a staggering 33 penalties and missed just two. Ian went on to play 361 times for the club and scored 49 goals, 44 of which were penalties.
Gravesend finished the season in 15th position and bowed out of both the F.A. Trophy and League Cup at the first hurdle. One piece of silverware did go to Stonebridge Road though, as the club lifted the Kent Senior Cup for the third time.
As for the Saints, we drew 1-1 with Torquay ( Paul Mayles ) before bowing out 4-1 (Whitehead penalty) at Plainmoor. Three days after winning at Gravesend, Duke’s side pulled off a stunning 6-3 win over his former club, and then league leaders, Bishop’s Stortford at Rhodes Avenue. This was followed by a 5-2 home win over Finchley but, unfortunately, victories came less frequently during the second half of the season and we came to rest in fifth place, but were the top scorers in the Division.
The F.A. Cup aside, we enjoyed little success in the knock-out competitions. One week before a headed Dave Leonard goal earned us victory at Chesham United in the 1st Round Qualifying of the F.A. Cup, we went down to the Generals at their Amy Lane home in the F.A. Trophy at the first hurdle. Our London Senior Cup venture was slightly better with Terry Minett and Phil Evans scoring their only goals for the club in a 2-1 win at Feltham. Goals from John Butterfield and Jon Sille accounted for Walton & Hersham in the next round before we succumbed to a surprise 3-2 defeat at home to Willesden (Butterfield and John Dear) a week before the Torquay tie. Willesden, then members of the Isthmian League Division Two, finished 17th out of 19 and folded at the end of the season when the council suggested raising the rent for their Donnington Road home from £150 to £2,083.
A John Dear goal secured victory over Wokingham Town at Finchampstead Road in the League Cup but the run ended in the 2nd Round when Woking won 4-3 at Clarence Park . The Premier Division side won with a goal just seconds after Butterfield had scored an 85th minute equaliser; Neil Levy and George Cooper scored our earlier goals.
The two Hertfordshire cup competitions saw us removed from the Charity Cup by Cheshunt following a 1st Round replay at Theobalds Lane while 3-0 a 2nd Round win in the Senior Cup at home to Hoddesdon Town was followed by defeat in the next round at home to a Bishop’s Stortford side that went on to win our Division of the Isthmian League. The league match at Stortford provided one of the stand-out moments of the season as Ron Duke took his Saints back to the table topping club that had sacked him a few months earlier. Tottenham Hotspur manager Keith Burkinshaw was amongst those looking on as Leonard, Lawrence, Sille, Whitehead and Paul Mayles , with a brace, scored the goals that gave us a memorable 6-3 win. Burkinshaw kept tables on City during the season with Sille and Mayles said to be his targets, but nothing transpired. The win at Stortford was probably a bitter sweet moment for John Dear and Dave Lawrence as they had played in the last Amateur Cup final in 1974 when Stortford beat Ilford in front of 30,500 spectators at Wembley. Stortford captain Lawrence, who now resides in Devon, scored the opening goal.
Whitehead was ever-present in the 60 games played and with 19 goals (18 penalties) was the second highest goalscorer. Fondly remembered midfielder Jon Sille picked up the Player of the Year award having scored 23 times in his 57 games.
The line-ups for our F.A. Cup tie at Stonebridge Road were:
Gravesend & Northfleet: Colin Lewington, Geoff Idle, George Jacks, Ken Burrett, Dave Galvin, Phil Stonebridge, Paul Dyer, Brian Gregory, Jeff Bryant, Dave Busby, Bob Dudman, sub, Steve Brown.
Referee: A.J. Bidmead. Attendance: 1,659.