The National League South encounter with Braintree Town on 7th April 2023 took us to a Baker’s Dozen number of games played by the Saints on Good Friday. At the moment the honours are even between us and our various opponents on this day with four games having been won, four drawn and four lost. This Tales from The Park feature goes back to our first game on a Good Friday, a Spartan League match against Woodford Albion played at Clarence Park 110 years ago on 21st March 1913.
Although played at the Park the game is recorded as an away game that should have been played at the Essex club’s Elmhurst ground, but was switched to our back garden. The switching of away games to Clarence Park was not a rare occurrence at this time in our history. Between our formation in 1908 and the start of the First World War twenty away games became home matches but were still recorded as having been played away from home. The main reason for the changing of venue was usually financial with better attendances likely to be found at Clarence Park than at the home of our opponents. The Good Friday game with Woodford Albion attracted a crowd of just short of 1,000 to the Park. Given that Woodford, founded in 1894, were well adrift at the foot of the Spartan League table in their first season as members since moving from the lower ranked Olympian League, that attendance was considered to be a healthy one.
We were the reigning champions but required a large slice of good fortune if our title was not to be seized by 2nd Coldstream Guards. Due to a variety of reasons, we were short of five of our regular players for the visit of Woodford. Ernest Grimsdell (the City captain) and George Edmonds had accepted an offer from Oxford City to join them for a ten-day tour of Belgium. With 25 games played Edmonds was our leading goal scorer on 21, he finished the season with 25 goals from 27 games.
George Meagher, who later became the first City player to reach 200 games, was another on tour. He had teamed up with Barnet & Alton for their three-game tour of the Channel Islands. Also missing from the City line up were Les Hosier – our first City Centurion and the scorer of two goals when the sides had met earlier in the season – and defender Tommy Hearn. Woodford were short of one of their regulars in T.N.Dainty.
City went into the game in fine fettle having won four and drawn one of our five most recent Spartan League matches and, just a month earlier, had caused a major upset in the Amateur Cup when knocking out holders Stockton 3-2 at the Park following a 1-1 draw in the north-east. Talking of switching venues, Stockton offered City £75 to return north for the replay. The first game attracted a gate of 6,000 but City returned down the offer and saw Stockton off in front of a then Clarence Park record gate of 2,912. Getting back to St. Pancras Station at 6am the day after the first game was probably another factor in convincing the City committee to not surrender home advantage for the replay.
With Grimsdell absent, Fred Palmer acted as captain but his afternoon got off to a bad start when losing the toss. This led to St Albans attacking down the slope towards the Hatfield Road goal during the first half when their preference was to do so during the second half of matches. Woodford failed to take advantage of the slope during the second and just five minutes after the restart G.Marsh fired City into the lead after the Albion ‘keeper, R.Coe, had parried a shot by W.Clark. Clark speed caused Woodford problems through and it was from one of his crosses that Marsh headed in his second goal. City wrapped up a 3-0 with Clark adding the final goal following a pass by Archie Michell.
The Woodford Times praised the work of goalkeeper Coe but was none too impressed with some tactics that it claimed we employed during the game. “The Albion forwards made several raids on the opposition goal, but were given little scope by the home defenders, who did not hesitate to use unscrupulous methods if a player became at all dangerous.” Woodford finished the season at the bottom of the 13-team Spartan League, they fared a little better the following year when rising to tenth but left the league at the end of the season.
Michell was an interesting character. Born in St Albans in 1889 he was one of nine children to Alfred and Anne Michell. Archie, an inside-forward, scored 14 times in 28 games for the City between 1911-13 but just over a month after the second game with Woodford Albion, on 30th April on the ship Royal Edward, he emigrated to Canada. He became the Divisional Superintendent of the Toronto Police Force and over the next forty years stayed in touch with the club with letters to the local press, matchday programme and supporters club magazines. It was most appropriate that he corresponded with the written word given that the City committee presented him with a leather writing case while players, courtesy of George Meagher, presented him with a fountain pen. He was the third Saint from our early years to head for Canada, Willie Hughes and Harry Davies having already made the lengthy journey.
Just 24-hours after the win over Woodford, we were back in action on Easter Saturday and Monday. On the Saturday goals by Charley Paul and Clark secured a 2-1 win at Chesham Generals and that was followed by a Tommy Hearn brace and singles from G.Marsh and Clark as Tufnell Spartans were seen off 4-0 at the Park. We stayed in good form until the final day of the campaign when newly crowned champions 2nd Coldstream Guards won an uninspiring encounter 1-0 at the Park. One week after their victory at Clarence Park , the Guards returned to the city for a Champions v The Rest representative match. Three City players featured in the game – Grimsdell, Meagher and Jimmy Brandham – that finished all square at 1-1. During the first six years of our existence the league double was completed at our expense just twice, both times it was by the 2nd Coldstream Guards.
City players appeared in four representative matches during the course of the season. Pride of place went to Ernest Grimsdell who moved closer to breaking into the England Amateur International side when appearing, and scoring, for The South and then the Southern Counties in games against The North and London at York and Stamford Bridge respectively. Five St Albans City players Herbert Smith, Arthur Wiggs , Brandham, Edmonds and Meagher) were included in a Spartan League XI that faced the Isthmian League at Clarence Park in September but local knowledge counted for little as the Isthmians strolled to a 6-1 win. In June 1914 Grimsdell, a left-back, made two appearances for the Amateur England international side during win of 5-0 and 5-1 over Sweden in Stockholm.
Below are the line-ups for City’s 3-0 win over Woodford Albion on Good Friday 1913.
St Albans City: Herbert Smith; Fred Palmer, Arthur Wiggs ; William Figg, Jimmy Brandham, Jack Hillier; R.Emerton, Archie Michell, W.Marsh, Dicky Hammond, W.B.Clark.
Woodford Albion: R.D.Coe; W.H.Green, H.J.Stace; R.A.Danielli, F.W.Mellows, W.H.Hodder; W.W.Webster, W.J.Hendrey, F.M.Comerford, H.D.Heppell, B.W.Green.
St Albans City 1912-13
Trophies: Bingham Cox Cup, Spartan League, Herts Charity Cup.