After defeating the 2nd Coldstream Guards 2-0 on 18th April 1914 – six years and five days after the formation of the club – St. Albans City were not to be seen in action again until 30th August 1919. World War I reared its ugly head during the intervening years and took the lives of seven players connected, however thinly, to St Albans City.
The seven to have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country have been honoured on a plaque in the City clubhouse and are recorded on the Spartan League Roll of Honour.
By the time football resumed the Saints had lost all ties with those who had represented the club for the first match on 19th September 1908. Leslie Hosier, a veteran of 145 games and scorer of 48 goals, was the last survivor of the original line up to wear the City colours when he played in that final match against the Guards. Born in St. Albans on 25th March 1888 Hosier, an electrician, passed away in 1970.
Football Ground Out of Bounds
Peace may have returned to these shores in November 1918 but St. Albans City went into the new season unable to play on their Clarence Park pitch due to the military still having a camp situated on the football ground. Although not ideal, certainly for spectators, the football club was forced to play its home matches on a part of the cricket pitch which, in one way, was more convenient for the players as they still had to use the dressing rooms inside the main Clarence Park pavilion.
Due to the Military being encamped on the football pitch and the football club based on the cricket ground, St Albans Cricket Club had nowhere to play or practice within the Park. The cricket club was forced to play all of its matches away from home but their situation improved slightly in January 1920 when the football pitch was moved closer to, and parallel with, the cricket pavilion. The cricketers were now able to get some practice in readiness for the forthcoming summer. It was not until the start of the 1920-21 season that the football club was able to move back into its proper home.
Bob Fox stands down as hon. secretary
The club held its seventh Annual General Meeting on Monday 28th July at the Abbey Institute under the guidance of Mr J. Roe, the City chairman. One of the duties of the meeting was to appoint a new committee. Mr. P.G. Staines was appointed as hon. secretary following the resignation of Robert Fox due to the pressure of business. Mr Frederick Martin was appointed treasurer.
The new hon. secretary, who was the assistant secretary before the start of the war, presented the annual report and statement of accounts, which were received and adopted. The statement of accounts showed an invested balance of £69 12s. 8d.
Staines (right) was a very useful member of the City committee who also assisted on the pitch when the need demanded. Prior to the war he scored four times in three games for the First team and added a further six goals in 11 appearances for the Reserves. He was also a keen cricketer and two days before the meeting played for the St Albans 2nd XI against North Mymms. Unfortunately, he did not have a particularly successful day and was bowled without scoring he did, however, take one catch. North Mymms won by exactly 100 runs.
His report at the AGM included the following;
“Since the year 1914, when the committee decided ‘that the club discontinue playing football until further notice, as so many of our players had signed on for active service,’ the St Albans City F.C. has existed in name only. A state of peace now having been realised, it has roused itself from its dormant condition and the committee has been busily engaged in reconstituting the club and preparing for another kind of ‘active service.’
At present, Clarence Park is occupied by the military, but it is hoped that they will relinquish it so that it will be available for the forthcoming season. The committee hope that the president (Alderman H.Slade), the vice-presidents, the hon. members and playing members, who have served us so well in past years and our enthusiastic band of supporters, will all rally round the club and so assure a successful future.”
A resolution was passed during the meeting asking the City corporation (the council) to do its utmost to secure the use of Clarence Park at the earliest possible date. It was established that around 300 soldiers were based at the Park for the protection of (German) prisoners. Just a handful of prisoners were actually being held at St Albans prison at the foot of Victoria Street (now known as Victoria Square) and the council questioned why there were any prisoners at all given that ‘we are not now at war with Germany.’
The council were granted a meeting with the General at the camp but, despite being received sympathetically, the Corporation did not get its way and the football club remained locked out for another year.
The City Committee
The full newly-elected committee was; J.Roe (chairman), Mayor Alderman A.Faulkner (president) Alderman Horace Slade (vice-president), PG Staines (hon. secretary), Frederick R Martin (treasurer), A.Welch, P.Browne, H.Gray, F.Rabone, WJ Green, E.Little, AT Marshall, W.Whyte, F.Halsey, H.Giddings, JH Lee, H.Cordell.
Harold Figg joins at dawn of City’s greatest era
The Spartan League had been suspended during World War I and when it commenced operations for the 1919-20 season it had one club fewer than before the war. Chesham Generals, Tunbridge Wells, Watford Orient and Woodford Albion were all gone from 1914, whilst new to the League were Chesham United (formed from the merger of Chesham Generals and Chesham Town), Great Eastern Railway (GER) based in Romford, and Wycombe Wanderers (from the Great Western Suburban League).
The League did actually begin the season with its full quota of 12 clubs but newcomers Hoffman Athletic, a Chelmsford-based ball bearings company, withdrew after two games, the first of which was lost 10-3 away to Wycombe Wanderers and the second ended goalless with the 2nd Coldstream Guards.
While the City hon. secretary, PG Staines, was confident of the club continuing on the upward path that it was scaling most impressively before the war, just which players would still be available to play for the new season was an unknown quantity. An editorial in the Herts Advertiser following the only pre-season friendly, at home to Tufnell Park on 30th August, gave a stark reminder that there would be familiar faces missing around the ropes as well as on the pitch.
‘It was distinctly encouraging to the Committee of the St Albans City Club to receive such excellent support from the football loving public for the opening match of a season which followed the “holiday” of five years. A thousand spectators will do to commence with, but the number should be merely a harbinger of considerably more handsome gates. The wrench the war has made in all departments of society and activity was never more clearly marked than in the complexion of things generally at Clarence Park on Saturday.
So many of the old faces were, alas, absent; those missing from the pre-war field of play came, of course, more prominently to the mind’s eye, but how many the gaps in the cheering crowd it would be impossible to estimate; but that scores of them are now at their last rest on fields of unutterably grim memory, hundreds of miles away, cannot be forgotten. Requiescat in pace’.
The point of how many familiar faces would be missing from the ranks of the spectators was highlighted by the Hatfield Road School that recorded that more than 500 of its old boys had served in the Armed Forces. Two of their number, both of whom perished, were awarded the Victoria Cross. It is believed that 66 former members of the school lost their lives including City player Arthur Gathard and Robert Fox, son of Robert William Fox, the former City hon. secretary.
The XI that took to the pitch against Tufnell Park included seven who had played for the club before the war, although, it must be said, only four had been First team regulars. City played six more friendlies once the season had started but the Tufnell Park game was the only one to end in defeat.
For the opening league games St Albans were boosted by the return of some more of the players who had turned out before the war and seen active service during it. Two new faces were missing though for the start of the season. T.Gibband and Bertie Beech had agreed to play for St Albans having just started work with the Gas Works Company. It was then discovered that their employer was keen on having both of them for their team in the Mid Herts League. Beech had played for City during the 1911-21 season (11 games, 5 goals) but did not pull on a St Albans shirt again while Gibband made just one appearance in December.
A crowd of close on one thousand greeted St Albans in their amber and black shirts for the opening Spartan League game at home to Wycombe Wanderers on 6th September. Wycombe won the toss and on a hot afternoon City kicked off towards the York Road goal. All was going well for the hosts at half time as they trooped off to the pavilion with a 3-1 lead. Wycombe were far from done though, and with F.Crooks adding a hat trick to his first half strike, the visitors went on to record their first of 18 wins in the 20-game Spartan League programme.
Struggle to find best form
Fielding a settled side was proving to be a problem and City took to the field with just nine players for a friendly at home to Luton Amateurs the following Saturday. Hon. secretary PG Staines again showed his versatility by helping to boost the numbers while WB ‘Billy’ Clark, who endured a most traumatic time during the war, also helped out. Clark ended his City career when playing in the next league game while Staines assisted in two cup ties, he even turned out in goal for the Reserves in one game and filled for the opposition (along with Billy Clark) when they turned up short of two players.
More changes were made as City faced Great Eastern Railway at Romford in the Spartan League for the first time on 20th September. Unfortunately, the Herts Advertiser reporter was not overly impressed with two of the new faces, H.Barnett and J.Fraser, and said of them, “Fraser and Barnett appeared to lack knowledge of the rudiments of the game, but they had a splendid view of the match.” City went down 4-0.
Better news came from Clarence Park where Herbert ‘Micker’ Smith played for the Reserves. Micker had been working in Gravesend but was now back in St Albans and immediately made himself available for his old club. After seeing City concede eight goals in their opening two games, he returned to the First team for the rest of the season and kicked off by keeping three consecutive clean sheets.
A nine-day national railway strike caused the postponement of City’s league game with Sutton Court on the 27th. City returned to action on the 11th October with the visit of Barnet (Alston having been dropped from their name) in the FA Cup 1st Round Qualifying. To give spectators a better view of the game, the rope around the pitch was moved back six feet from the touchline, something that would also aid the wingers. City recorded a welcome victory on the back of an Albert Furness goal.
George Meagher plays in front of 16,000 in Boulogne
George Meagher (left), a veteran of 95 games prior to the war, missed the first three games of the season due to being delayed by the rail strike on his way back from the Rhine. A football match was arranged to entertain those awaiting demobilisation, including George, and he was selected for one of the teams that played in front of around 16,000 other people also stranded at Boulonge. Meagher’s return coincided with the loss of recent recruit WF Scully, who was still in the army and after a spell at Markyate was moved to Woolwich and then onto Portsmouth.
A week after making progress in the FA Cup, City did likewise in the Amateur Cup with a comfortable 3-0 win over Luton Amateur at The Dell in Bedford Road, Luton. Tommy Christmas and H.Day netted their only cup goals for the club in a match watched by fewer than 90 spectators, the greater number of which were following St Albans.
Luton Clarence were met in a cup tie for the first time on 25th October and took City back to the Waterlow’s Sports Ground in Dunstable for a Wednesday replay that the Bedfordshire side won 3-2. It was one of three games in which the Paul brothers, Charlie and Willie, both scored.
City were back at the same venue the following Saturday to face Waterlow’s Amateur, the football team of a local print works company, in the Amateur Cup. Scully travelled up from Portsmouth to make his fourth, and final, appearance for the club in a 3-1 win for the Saints.
Having played, and lost, just two league games by the middle of November, City were in the bottom three when the 2nd Coldstream Guards played their home league game at Clarence Park. The Guards were no longer the force that they had been before the war and went down to a 3-1 defeat. By the end of the season they had amassed just five points.
Local youngster Herbert ‘Bertie’ Butcher (right) made his debut against Wycombe and held his place at inside-left against the Guards. The younger brother of George Butcher, now with West Ham United, Bertie scored in both of his first two games for the club. He went on to be one of the great City stalwarts. He made 93 appearances before standing down in November 1923 and then served as the club trainer from 1945 to 1961. Bertie did actually add one game to his list of appearances when, in January 1949, at the age of 52, he stood in during a league game against Corinthian Casuals when City were short of players.
City looked to have bowed out of the Amateur Cup a week later when Vauxhall Motors won 2-0 at the Park, but the Luton-based side were removed from the competition following an F.A. investigation after it was discovered that the club had fielded some ‘reinstated professionals’ who had not been correctly registered.
The let-off in the Amateur Cup was one of few pieces of good news to come out of the club until the middle of February. By then City had lost six of the 11 league games played and had been knocked out of the Herts Charity Cup by Leavesden Mental Hospital (Cox hat trick) on a virtually flooded Clarence Park pitch. Chesham United forward Keen became the second player to score four times against St Albans during this season when helping the Buckinghamshire side to a 6-1 win at New Road.
The start of the New Year saw City back in Luton where Luton Clarence completed a cup double with a 4-3 victory in the Amateur Cup. A 3-0 win over Great Western Railway followed but it was the only success in a run of five defeats in six game, the poorest run suffered by the club since its formation. One of the defeats, 4-1, was in front of a crowd of 3,000 at Loakes Park, as Wycombe continued to run away with the title.
With nine games to play City looked set for their lowest placing in the Spartan League but the side was starting to change and build towards the greatest period of sustained success in the club’s brief history.
Harold Figg makes explosive start to City life
Phil, also known as Peter, Pierce made his debut at outside-right during a 2-0 defeat at home to Great Western Railway on 14th February, and just one week another local boy, Harold Figg, played the first of his 370 games for the City. It was total that was not surpassed until Phil Wood chalked up his 371st appearance in January 1970. Just like Bertie Butcher, Figg was one of a number of players to emerge from the Bernard’s Heath area of the city.
Figg, who served in Lancashire Fusiliers during the war and was a week away from his 21st birthday, scored on his debut as City beat Polytechnic 2-1 at the Quintin Hogg Memorial Ground, in Grove Park, Chiswick. The pitch at Chiswick was described as being ‘as smooth as a billiard table.’
City were getting into their stride and right-half Figg was a revelation. Just one point was dropped from the final nine games with goals being scored at will. Figg scored three hat tricks including four goals on the final day of the season as Tufnell Spartans were beaten 11-1 at Underhill, Barnet, for City’s record away league win. The Spartans cause was not aided when losing goalkeeper Newman with internal injuries early in the second half, City were, though, already five goals to the good. The win secured third place for City behind champions Wycombe and runners-up Great Eastern Railway. The Reserve team finished bottom (five teams) of the Western Division of the Herts County League. Figg ended the season with 15 goals in just nine games.
Team photo below: Harold Figg pictured in the middle of the front row for Abbey School Old Boys in 1916-17.
Willie Paul joined Figg in putting three past Newportonians during a 9-1 stroll at the Park while he and Alf Furness also scored three times against Tufnell Spartans. That game was Paul’s final match of the season for the Saints. He had a trial for Gillingham in the summer but returned to play another eight games (taking his total to 50) for City during the 1920-21 season. Willie’s brother Charlie also made 25 appearances for the club with the duo scoring 26 and 15 goals respectively. The brothers had a direct link to the original St. Albans club as their father, Horace, played from 1884-94.
One match that was short of goals, a 1-0 success away to Great Western Railway (Furness) on 13th March, was also lacking spectators, as the Hertfordshire News match report states it was played, ‘before half a dozen spectators, the majority of whom were City supporters.’
Club accepted into the Athenian League
The club staged its annual dinner at the White Hart Hotel on 17th April with the 11-1 thrashing of Tufnell Spartans earlier in the day putting everyone in convivial mood. After reflecting on the Saints fortunes club secretary Frederick Richard Martin pointed the way forward when he announced that the club had applied to join the Athenian League. Six weeks later, on 29th May, confirmation was received that City had been accepted but it was only by the narrowest of margins with the vote in their favour being one more than those received by the vanquished clubs. Gaining membership of the Athenian League along with St. Albans were West London Old Boys who then struggled and left after just one season. The losers in the vote that brought in the Saints were Cheshunt and Uxbridge.
Final Standings 1919-20
|2||Great Eastern Railway (Romford)||20||17||1||2||88||19||35|
|3||ST ALBANS CITY||20||13||1||6||64||35||27|
|10||Great Western Railway||20||3||0||17||20||79||6|
|11||2nd Coldstream Guards||19||2||1||16||19||93||5|