Amateur and non-league football clubs are not usually featured too often in the mainstream newspapers in cartoon form, and whilst St Albans City may not be a regular in the national daily newspapers, we were, quite frequently, featured in the London Evening News at one time.
Through the pencil of their highly regarded cartoonist Harold Gittins we made more than the occasional visit to the sports pages during the 1950s. Down the years we have appeared in other publications following a big game whilst there has also be the odd occasion when an individual caricature has also made its way into print.
Here we offer a selection of City Life in Cartoon and Caricature from across the years.
1921-22 - Gillingham 3-1 St Albans City - F.A. Cup 6th Round Qualifying
The first time that St Albans City came up against professional opposition in competitive football was on 17th December 1921 when we travelled to Division Three South side Gillingham at Priestfield Road.
City put up a creditable display although Gillingham were said to be worthy winners.
Gillingham, went through to meet Division One side Oldham Athletic in the 1st Round but bowed out with a 3-1 defeat at home to the Lancastrians.
This is how the Gillingham cartoonist recorded City’s afternoon at Priestfield Road.
1922-23 - London Caledonians 2-0 St Albans City - F.A. Amateur Cup Semi-Final
This funereal card is may be something that is rare in the history of St Albans City Football Club but is something that has been produced probably for almost as long as football has been in existence. Certainly, this sort of dark humour was strong in the latter part of the 19th century and it was our turn to be on the receiving end in March 1922 after losing to London Caledonians in the semi-final of the Amateur Cup at Kenilworth Road.
After defeating us in front of 13,950 spectators the Calies went on to beat Evesham Town in the final at Crystal Palace, that match attracted a gate just 600 higher than saw City’s demise at Luton.
The original St Albans club were also sent these cards, albeit without the graphic of the grave, after losing to West Herts in the Herts Senior Cup semi-final in 1892. On that occasion the West Herts supporters sent one card after the first game was drawn and then a second card after St Albans had crashed 5-1 in the replay.
The remarkable goalscoring achievements of Wilf Minter not only caught the attention of the England selectors and several professional clubs, but also the cartoonists of the era.
His seven goals at Dulwich Hamlet on 22nd November 1922, when City lost 8-7 in the F.A. Cup, was recorded in various publications with all of them, doubtlessly, expecting him to leave the ranks of the amateurs to join the professionals.
He refused all offers that came his way and continued to work with his father in the post office and grocery store in Culver Road, St Albans, whilst also appearing each week for his hometown club.
Following the win over Brentford in the F.A. Cup in November 1924 City were drawn away to Hartlepools United (spelling of their name as it was at the time). City were touted to pull off a cup upset at West Hartlepool but were outclassed on the day by the Division Three North side and United strolled to a 4-0 win.
The appearance of Minter at the Victoria Ground is said to have aroused interest in the area and the Daily Mirror did its bit to promote Minter and the match with this cartoon. Unfortunately, though, the cartoon looks more like Edgar Kail of Dulwich Hamlet than our Billy.
The final caricature of Minter comes from much later in his career. St Albans City’s golden era had passed but the Hertfordshire Mercury did a caricature of him for City’s F.A. Cup 1st Round Qualifying defeat away to Hoddesdon Town on the 3rd October 1931. This was, technically, his final season as a City player. He did, though, make one final appearance five years later when injuries left the club struggling to put out a team against Nunhead in April 1937.
1926-27 - Professionals 3-6 Amateurs - F.A. Charity Shield. Maine Road, Manchester
The F.A. Charity Shield is an annual single-game competition between the Premier League champions (prior to the Premier League it was the Division One champions) against the F.A. Cup winners. This, however, has not always been the case and between 1913 and 1929 there were six games when the Amateurs played the Professionals. Those playing the game professionally at this time were not the moneybags of today and the gap between the top amateur players and Division One of the Football League was not as large as one would expect.
In 1926 the Amateurs lined up against the Professionals at Manchester City’s Maine Road ground and followed up the previous year’s 6-1 thrashing of the Pro’s with a 6-3 victory. In the Amateurs side was Dulwich Hamlet forward Edgar Kail who did play for the Full England team, and St Albans City’s Wilf Minter who was selected for the Full national team but turned down the opportunity due to ‘business commitments.’ Both players scored during the first half and Minter added a second after the break in front of a crowd of 4,000.
1949-50 - Oxford City 4-3 St Albans City - Isthmian League
In the first two seasons after the end of World War II City were a model of consistency in finishing bottom but one in the Isthmian League on both occasions. Our fortunes improved slightly towards the end of the 1940s but the improvement was minimal.
We had started the 1949-50 season reasonably well and lost just one of the opening eight league games but by the end of November our league form had dipped somewhat. In the build up to the trip to Oxford City’s old White House Ground on New Year’s Eve we had collected just one point from four away games. The defeat at Oxford that Gittins sketched for the Evening News was one of six reversals in eight games as we headed back towards the wrong end of the table.
The result came as some relief for bottom of the table Oxford who had scored just ten times in 13 winless Isthmian League games prior to his match. The game attracted a crowd of 4,000.
Ken Facey converted both of the St Albans’ penalties that Gittins mentions with Dave Sayers scoring our other goal.
1949-50 - Wycombe Wanderers 4-1 St Albans City - F.A. Amateur Cup 4th Round
Having taken great delight in highlighting City’s achievement in being the first team to lose an Isthmian League match to Oxford City during the 1949-50 season, the Evening News now called upon Harold Gittins to record a rather more famous encounter with Wycombe Wanderers later in the same season.
For the first time since before the war City had made it through to the quarter final of the Amateur Cup but faced a daunting prospect at Loakes Park.
City, despite having won 2-0 at Wycombe in the Isthmian League earlier in the season, were very much the underdogs and Wycombe duly moved through to the last four with a 4-1 win (where they were beaten by Bishop Auckland at Brentford). The main story, though, was made by events off the pitch. The record attendance for Loakes Park was smashed but it was by far more than announced on the day. Wycombe announced a gate of 14,926, which was some 1,300 higher than their previous best. However, in later years this was revised to an even more incredible 15,678. St Albans City’s contribution to the attendance was considerable with the Supporters Club filling 46 coaches. Wycombe supplied us with 256 tickets for the main stand.
1950-51 - Oxford City 2-1 St Albans City - Isthmian League
Harold Gittins was back at the White House Ground on the 7th October 1950 and maintained his 100% record of seeing St Albans City lose whenever he was in attendance. Fred Fuller put us into an early lead but, as Gittins makes clear, we declined many opportunities to move into a secure position.
St Albans had attacked with the wind to their backs during the first half and when the teams changed ends Oxford showed that they were quite happy to take advantage of conditions that now suited them.
The trip to Oxford fell during a run of four weeks between home games. In the matchday programme for our next home match, on 21st October against Tufnell Park, the Supporters Club advertised that bookings were being taken for trips to Harringay Circus and Wembley to see ‘Tom Arnold’s Circus’ and ‘Dick Whittington on Ice’ respectively. Gittins sketching for either of these events would have been well worth seeing.
His account of our defeat at Oxford appeared in the Evening News on Monday 9th October 1950.
1951-52 - St Albans City 3-1 Maidenhead United - F.A. Cup 1st Round Qualifying
Harold Gittins sampled a new experience in his life on the 29th September 1951 when he finally got to see a St Albans City victory. An Isthmian League side defeating a Corinthian League side should not have been all that surprising and that Maidenhead United had just nine players for the opening four minutes, and ten players until the 22nd minute, helped to ensure that the senior ranked XI prevailed. The Magpies also had three Reserve team players in their attack due to injuries to their normal front line.
Slough Town, also of the Corinthian League, provided the opposition in the next Round and were not quite so obliging on the numbers front. After securing a draw at Clarence Park we were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition 4-0 at the Dolphin Stadium.
Supporters Club Membership had topped 1,000 in the week leading up to the Maidenhead match. The Supporters Club target was to get 3,000 members by the end of the season.
1954-55 - St Albans City 4-2 Ilford - Isthmian League
Peter Smith chose the perfect game in which to score his only hat trick for St Albans City, with Harold Gittins looking on and pencils in hand, the achievement was forever etched into the pages of the Evening News.
Peter had previously played for Luton Amateurs and secured a place with the City by impressing in two pre-season workouts in 1953. During two spells at Clarence Park he scored 37 times in 92 games.
The arrival of Ilford, fourth in the Isthmian League at the time, came two games after City had crashed out of the Amateur Cup at Woking. That blow was softened by City sitting at the top of the pile in the Isthmian League and with a run of 11 wins in 12 games (nine of which were league games) shortened the odds of the championship returning to Clarence Park after a gap of 27 years. It wasn’t to be though and Walthamstow Avenue pipped us to the title by four points, something that owed a great deal to the Green Pond Lane club completing the double over us.
Gittins cartoon appeared in the Evening News on the 10th January 1955.
1954-55 The St Albans City Hierarchy
Given the frequency with which he saw St Albans City in action it was probably of little surprise that Harold Gittins got to know the club officials at Clarence Park . He was very kind with his sketchings and declined to exaggerate any facial or physical imperfections; he would never have got a job on Spitting Image.
At the same time that he committed the committee to paper he also did a separate sketch of the club captain, Freddie Collings, that appeared in a different publication from the Evening News. Given the high esteem with which his fellow players and supporters held him, Freddie was very much worthy of this honour.
Fred first played for the club during World War II and went on to make 367 peacetime appearances, scoring 28 times.
1954-55 - Essex 3-1 Hertfordshire. 28thOctober 1954
Gittins was far from the only cartoonist back in the 1950s and another noted cartoonist of the period was on hand to record Hertfordshire’s defeat to Essex at Romford in the Southern Counties Amateur Championship. Although Tom Webster did not name any of the players in his artwork, there was a strong St Albans City contingent in the team.
Given that City were the Isthmian League runners up this season it is not much of a surprise that Hertfordshire called upon a good number of our players. The six in action at Romford’s Brooklands ground were: Fred Collings, John Lay, Ron McCormack, Fred Turner, Johnny Richards and Jim Nottage.
1956-57 - St Albans City 3-1 Oxford City - Isthmian League
City played Oxford City at Clarence Park on 15th December 1956, something that presented Harold Gittins with an opportunity to reacquaint himself with some old friends.
After twice having seen us lose to the Blue & White Hoops from Oxford he was finally given an opportunity to sketch us in a positive light against them.
Oxford were above St Albans on goal average going into the game, they also had the small bonus of having five games in hand. The win, thanks in no small part to Jimmy Norris’ two goals, propelled the Saints to second in the table. But, as most sides had a lot of games in hand, it was not to last and we ended the season in 10th place in the 16-team Isthmian League.
As for Gittins, he was clearly quite taken by the pocket dynamo Ginger Norris. His reference to Ginger making nylons is to do with Jimmy working for the Ballito Stocking factory in Hatfield Road. He also played for the company football team.
1956-57 - St Albans City 4-0 Tooting & Mitcham United - Isthmian League
Having enjoyed some Ginger Pop in December 1956 Harold Gittins was back at Clarence Park in November 1957 to sample some Ginger Tonic. This latest play on words came after Jimmy Norris got his name on the scoresheet again as City romped their way to an emphatic victory over Tooting & Mitcham United.
Just under two months earlier City had perished 5-0 to Tooting at Sandy Lane. The turnaround was remarkable, not least because Tooting were second in the table and City were rock bottom. Fortunately, City’s form improved considerable during the second half of the season and come the end of the campaign we could look down on five other teams below us.
This was the final St Albans City game for which Gittins would sketch our boys. Born in Manchester in 1895 he served in the Manchester Regiment, the South Lancashire Regiment and the Royal Flying Corps during WWI. It is said that he was shot down by the Red Baron after being sent to France but does not appear in the Baron’s list of victims. Harold did, though, attend the Red Baron’s funeral in 1918.
After the war he, as we have seen, sketched cartoons for the Evening News and also submitted work for the magazine Blighty. Harold Gittins died in Willesden in 1959. With thanks to Mark Bryant: Dictionary of Twentieth Century Cartoonists and Caricaturists.
1957-58 - Devizes 3-1 St Albans City - F.A. Amateur Cup 1st Round
Losing to a Wiltshire League side is about as bad as things can get for an Isthmian League club in the Amateur Cup and that is the fate that befell our club on the 11th January 1958. Still, it kept the Devizes cartoonist happy as they progressed through to the 2nd Round for the first time in their history. Unlike Gittins though, this cartoon has left out a couple of significant points.
Firstly, that City’s Tim Godman missed a penalty after several players that had been selected ahead of him to take it had turned it down. And, secondly, when a linesman from Bath, Mr. A.W. Peacock, signalled a goal for Devizes when not one other person amongst the record crowd of 1,700 at Nursteed Road thought that the ball had gone anywhere close to the goalline. Gittins would, no doubt, have given Peacock the bird for that one.
Allan Cockram & Martin Duffield
On the pitch, Allan Cockram and Martin Duffield formed one of the great partnerships in the middle of the City midfield. Off the pitch, as a management duo, they worked as a unique and unorthodox team. But one that, generally, got results and with a style that entertained along the way. When Cockers wrote the manager’s article for the programme it was under the heading of, “oooohh aaahhh COCK-ER-AM.” And when it was Duff’s turn to put pen to paper the heading ran, “THE SKINHEAD SCRAWLS.” Yup, unorthodox.