Organised football first made its mark in St. Albans sometime during the 1860s but it was not until 1881 that a club was formed bearing the name of the city.
This club, in various guises, was in existence for just twenty-three years before folding at the end of a disastrous 1903-04 campaign in the South-Eastern League where they were regularly thrashed by the Reserve side of many of London’s top clubs. At the time the club met its end it was known as St. Albans Amateurs but, for a short period of time towards the end of the previous century, had also played under the banner of St. Albans Town.
Despite playing nothing more than friendly matches prior to the inauguration of the Hertfordshire County Cup during the 1885-86 season, the club was not without success with the County Cup, the Bingham Cox Cup, the Herts County League and the Herts Junior Cup all coming into its possession prior to 1904.
Individually, a good number of the players enjoyed personal success with many of them being selected to represent Hertfordshire at county level. One of the captains of the club, Jack Dickerson, went on to become a top class referee while another player – ironically the brother-in-law of Dickerson – George Wagstaffe Simmons, not only played a major part in the formation of the City club but was also one of the leading administrators for the Hertfordshire F.A. and, more significantly, the English Football Association. He was also vice-chairman to Tottenham Hotspur and was a linesman at the 1903 F.A. Cup Final. Right: Jack Dickerson’s Herts (Senior) County Cup winners medal from 1892-93.
Wagstaffe Simmons, as a former player of the original club and the man who practically hi-jacked the meeting that led to the formation of the City club, provides a strong link between the old and new clubs but Clarence Park provides the most obvious connection, this being home to both clubs. St. Albans began life playing at a pitch in Hatfield Road loaned to them by Jacob Reynolds, the site of the pitch is believed to be where Loreto College now stands. Up until 1894 the club led a nomadic existence as they moved between Hatfield Road, Gombards, Bernard’s Heath, the Holywell Hill Meadow (also known as the Grammar School Ground under what is now a housing estate in Belmont Hill) and, finally, Clarence Park.
On 23rd July 1894 the Park was ‘presented’ to the city of St. Albans by its then owner, Sir John Blundell Maple. Sir Blundell, who owned and lived at the magnificent country house and grounds at Childwickbury, bought the land from the Earl Spencer.
With the demise of the St. Albans Amateurs the city was left without a senior football club but by the start of the 1904-05 season Clarence Park had a new lodger as the St. Albans Abbey Football Club moved in. The Abbey had won the Bingham Cox back in 1897 but the move to Clarence Park coincided with the club’s most successful years. Over the next three seasons the Abbey team were to enjoy success in the Herts County League, the Mid Herts League, the Herts Charity Cup and the Herts Junior Cup. For their final season, 1906-07, the club even competed in both the F.A. Cup and F.A. Amateur Cup.
St. Albans Abbey met their end just a week into the 1907-08 season and the city faced a future lacking a senior football club. Without a regular user the football ground section of Clarence Park was in danger of falling into disrepair barely thirteen years after opening. The ground did not lay idle for the entire season though as the Old Albanians Football Club, playing to A.F.A (Amateur Football Alliance) rules was granted use of the ground although they played just a limited number of games. Two OA players featured in a Hertfordshire A.F.A. side that played one match at the Park while St. Albans Thursday also made use of the pitch and, as with previous seasons, the finals of both the Herts Junior and Bingham Cox cups were played at the Park.
Permission was also granted for a rugby union club, Herts Wanderers, to use the Park for their home matches. Although the Wanderers attracted larger attendances than the Old Albanians, playing at Clarence Park – which was actually too short for a full-sized rugby pitch – was not a great success with gates ranging between 200-400.
As early as December 1907 there was discontent that Clarence Park was going to waste and mutterings abounded that St. Albans should once again possess a football club of its own playing its home matches at the Park. The mutterings grew ever louder and by late spring there were clear signs that moves were afoot to form a new football club. A player with the original club, Ernest Northern Sharpe, had a letter published in the local press in which he sang the praises, in fact exaggerated, of the good times experienced by the original St. Albans club. He bemoaned the sad sight of the football ground laying unused while football was flourishing both locally and nationally.
Sharpe’s interest was probably greater than most in the vicinity if only for the reasons that he made more appearances for the original club than any other individual and was part of a family that was hugely influential through the Saints twenty-three-year existence. Sharpe’s letter, on its own, certainly did not lay the foundation stone upon which St. Albans City was formed but within five weeks of him taking a stroll through the emptiness that was the football ground at Clarence Park a public meeting had been called to discuss the possibility of forming a new football club to play its home games at Clarence Park.
The desire to form a football club to represent the city of St. Albans had been voiced in the local press since December 1907 and with Ernest Sharpe’s letter the move gathered greater momentum. A meeting designed to form a new club was called for Monday 13th April 1908 but those making the proposal wanted a club to play under A.F.A. (Amateur Football Association) rules rather than F.A. (Football Association) rules. The division was stark; those wishing to form an A.F.A. club were pretty much interested in only their own needs as A.F.A. football consisted of players who were public school old boys, the appeal was limited in the extreme. Those looking to build a club tied to the F.A. did so with the aim of allowing the whole city to embrace the club. Given such a clear divide the outcome should have been a forgone conclusion but instead the meeting was fractious.
The Public Announcement in the Herts Advertiser and St. Albans Times stated that the meeting was to take place in the Mayor’s Parlour at the Town Hall but such was the interest that it was moved to the adjoining Council Chamber. Interest had been generated by the efforts of two individuals, A.B. Cliff and H.Swinnerton, who, in addition to placing the advertisement in the newspaper, also sent letters to various individuals to promote the formation of an A.F.A. club to play under the city name. With this in mind the meeting was, to say the least, lively as supporters of an alternative club playing to F.A. rules turned up in considerable numbers.
The meeting was presided over by the Mayor of St. Albans, Alderman W.S Green, who declared that it was his duty to oversee the formation of an amateur club to represent the city but he was not favouring one side or the other.
Following the Mayor’s opening address, Mr F.Mercer moved, “That a club be formed, to be known as St. Albans City Football Club, to be affiliated to the A.F.A.” Mr Mercer went on to explain how football had declined in the district and that St. Saviours were now the senior club in the city, but that could not in any way be seen as representative of the city. He added that the new club would be open to all and would not have any connections with the other A.F.A. club in existence in St. Albans at that time, the Old Albanians. Mr C.Moody, who also gave a short speech, seconded the move.
It was when Mr Moody took his seat that the meeting really came alive as George Wagstaffe Simmons, a former player and honorary secretary with the original St. Albans Football Club but now hon. secretary to the Herts F.A., got to his feet to put across his point. Wagstaffe Simmons was most forceful in his condemnation of those who had called the meeting without managing to notify him of it. Given his standing in both Hertfordshire and English football in general, he was indignant that he had been overlooked; those who tried to ignore him clearly did so at their peril. He said that it was right and proper that a St. Albans City Football Club should be formed and that he himself had been taking steps to do just that during the preceding month.
Wagstaffe Simmons stated, “It was an extraordinary thing, or a remarkable coincidence, that about three weeks after the name of their club had been decided on, the circular calling the meeting that evening was issued proposing the same name for the A.F.A club.” He went on to say that a tentative application had been made to the corporation for the use of Clarence Park for a new City club that ‘would be absolutely amateur, governed by amateurs, and only amateurs would play in it.’ During a lengthy eulogy Wagstaffe Simmons criticised those running the A.F.A. game but praised the Old Albanians for their courtesy, he was not able to offer the same courtesy to those looking to form a City club bound to the A.F.A. At the conclusion of his speech, Wagstaffe Simmons, moved that the wording, “To be affiliated to the A.F.A.,” be deleted. Ernest Northern Sharpe, who also offered a few words of his own, seconded this amendment.
Mr Cliff, one of the main exponents of the A.F.A. game, responded strongly to Wagstaffe Simmons comments. He stated that it was deemed unlikely that he would be interested in the formation of an A.F.A. club given his criticisms of that organisation through his weekly newspaper article, hence there being little point in inviting him to the meeting. Emotions were further stirred when Cliff sniped that, as the invitation was for those interested only in the formation of an A.F.A. club, he did not understand why Wagstaffe Simmons was there at all.
Mr E. Wade Finch sought to further undermine Wagstaffe Simmons by complaining that F.A. football was rough and unsporting and only A.F.A. football could purify the game. A player with the original club, Mr Fred W. Stanley, swiftly countered Finch’s extravagant claims and added that a successful club playing F.A. rules would be met with public support, where as a successful A.F.A. club would not generate such support.
The meeting stagnated over a point of principle, as some suggested that the meeting was called for the formation of an A.F.A. club and as such only those interested in such a prospect should be in attendance. Mr W.Sharp asked whether the meeting was a public one and was immediately shot down by Mr Cliff who reiterated that it was open to those interested in an A.F.A. club, and he requested that all others should leave so that they could continue with their meeting. The Mayor settled that point by stating that if it were indeed a private meeting then he would not only have no right to preside over the event but he should not be there at all. After this Wagstaffe Simmons’ amendment was put forward and duly carried with large support.
The temperature of the gathering continued to rise as Wagstaffe Simmons came under fire from several A.F.A. supporters but he was a seasoned speaker and stood his ground with great fortitude, Despite protestations to the contrary the A.F.A. could not disprove Wagstaffe Simmons’ claim that their organisation was class-based and that their appeal was limited.
At the end of that exchange the Mayor put the amendment that the club be of A.F.A. persuasion, it was defeated, to the accompaniment of much cheering, by a huge majority. Mr Cliff refused to accept the inevitable and once more requested the Mayor not put the resolution to the meeting that the club be affiliated to the F.A., as the meeting had been called to form an A.F.A. club and all others should be asked to leave. His request, more like a plea, was rejected and the Mayor put forward the proposal to form a club affiliated to the F.A.; this was carried overwhelmingly. St. Albans City Football Club was now in existence.
At this point Alderman Green called the meeting to a close while Wagstaffe Simmons spoke for one final time to say that a committee was in place and ready start to work for the new club and he added that he was happy that those who proposed an A.F.A. club would be invited to co-operate with the running of the club.
At the end of that week Wagstaffe Simmons, writing in his capacity of hon. secretary of the Herts F.A., revealed that plans to form a St. Albans City F.C. had been discussed in some detail at the end of February and had also been talked about in the Town Clerk’s office on 4th March. Wade Finch also went into print with a letter that not only attacked Wagstaffe Simmons but also the game played under the auspices of the Football Association.
With the St. Albans City Football Club now an operating organisation, the first meeting of the club took place at the Queen’s Hotel in Chequer Street on Wednesday, 22nd April; Wagstaffe Simmons occupied the chair. Those present were in ebullient mood and listened intently as the chairman gave details of the agreement the club had with the local corporation. The council were to receive a quarter-share of the gate receipts and half of the takings for those who wished to be seated in the stand. For use of the dressing rooms, which were situated inside the cricket pavilion that was outside the football ground, the club had to pay four guineas per annum.
Permission for the club to play home matches at Clarence Park had been granted by the council on 18th April. There were, however, some stipulations, mainly that four Saturday’s a season should be set aside for the Old Albanians to have use of the ground. Part of the agreement for the use of the Park also insisted that the Bingham Cox Cup Final continue to be contested on the ground on Easter Mondays. The club was also told that arrangements should be made for members of St. Albans Hockey Club, and other clubs, to enjoy free admission to the ground.
The only issue to prove a sticking point concerned the Old Albanians who put forward a request that they have use of the ground for ten Saturdays per season. This was discussed at the inaugural meeting of the City club but, despite a sympathetic hearing, this was not granted and the OAs future was immediately thrown into doubt. The main reason for not satisfying the OAs wish was due to St. Albans City declaring its intention to run a Reserve XI, thus deeming the club having continuous use of the pitch throughout the football season.
The club was facing a busy first season, as it intended to compete in numerous competitions. The first team were to be entered into both the Herts County League and the Spartan League, as well as four cup competitions; F.A. Cup. F.A. Amateur Cup, Herts Senior Cup and, if invited, the Herts Charity Cup. The club applied for membership of two leagues as there were insufficient matches in either competition to fill an entire season. An application was to be made to enter the Reserves in the Mid Herts League Division One while they would also contest the Herts Junior and Bingham Cox Cups. The club confirmed that the final of these two competitions would continue to be staged at Clarence Park.
The choice of club colours was straightforward as the members were keen for the club to be seen as representative of the city. Consequently, the selection of blue and gold was simple enough and although the exact format of the colours on the shirt and shorts had yet to be agreed the committee favoured blue shirts ‘piped’ with gold.
Whilst every effort was to be made to ensure that the club was financially viable within its first year, a certain amount of concern regarding this matter was alleviated when Wagstaffe Simmons declared he would guarantee the club £20 should there be a shortfall. A further expense was avoided when Mr Fred W. Stanley, previously with the Abbey club, donated goal posts and nets from that club. The mood of togetherness was further boosted by the offer of the use of the Queen’s Hotel as the headquarters for the Saints. The landlord of the hotel, Mr T.Crawley, made the offer. The committee was also optimistic that those who had opposed the formation of the club – the A.F.A. fraternity – would lose their bitterness and be made most welcome at Clarence Park.
Still to be finalised were the rules of the club but it was decided that these, along with subscriptions, should be dealt with by the committee. The list of committee members was agreed as;
W. (Bob) Fox (honorary secretary & treasurer, pictured left), Eddie Anderson (assistant secretary). Committee: Les Morrison, Arthur Welch, Horace Paul, T.Hosier, James Bushell jun., Fred W Stanley, JR Purves, Ernest Northern Sharpe, G.King, Mat Sharp, Jess G Slough, Jack Dickerson, Percy Walker and Mike Sharp. George Hartley and H.Turner, both players with the original St. Albans club, were named as trainers to the 1st and 2nd XI respectively.
Both the County F.A. and the English F.A made official recognition of St. Albans City Football Club. The following is recorded in the minutes of a meeting of the Hertfordshire F.A. at the Bedford Head Hotel, Tottenham Court Road, on Tuesday, 5th May, 1908.
`An application was received from the St. Albans City F.C., the newly-formed club at St. Albans. It was unanimously granted, and the Council expressed its gratification at the loyalty of the City to the Association.'
The Football Association also formally announced its blessings, 'An application for membership was received from the St. Albans City Football Club., the newly-formed club at St. Albans. It was unanimously granted, and the council expressed its gratification at the loyalty of the City to the Association. It was mentioned that the new club had entered all Herts F.A. competitions, and that it had secured Clarence Park, one of the best provincial grounds, for home matches.'