St Albans City FC is a non league football club from the beautiful old Roman city in Hertfordshire, twenty two miles north of London. 'The Saints' as the club are nicknamed were formed in 1908 and they moved into a ground in the splendid Clarence Park, where football had already being played for several years. A previous club St Albans FC had been formed in 1881, but met its demise in 1904.
The club first competed in the Spartan League, a competition they won on two occasions in 1909-10 and 1911-12, before joining the Athenian League in 1920. This would prove to be sage move, as Saints went on to lift the Athenian League title in their first two seasons, before progressing to the Isthmian League.
In 1923-24 St Albans were crowned as Isthmian League champions. The team showed their strength in the FA Cup the following campaign as Brentford were defeated 5-3 at Clarence Park. This was a glory period for the club as further Isthmian titles were racked up in 1926-27 and 1927-28.
A runners-up place in 1954-55 was as close as the club came to adding further major honours, for a long period, although several local and county cups were won. The 1968-69 season saw a fine FA Cup run as Saints battled through four qualifying rounds before dispatching Wealdstone after a replay. The run ended at Fellows Park against Third Division Walsall in a second round replay.
Cup form continued the following season as an excellent run saw the team battle through to the semi-final of the FA Amateur Cup, where they drew 1-1 with Dagenham at The Den, before going down 1-0 in the replay at Kenilworth Road as St Albans fell one step short of a Wembley appearance.
In 1974 Saints were relegated to what would become Division One. They reached the FA Cup second round in 1980-81, but lost a replay 4-1 to Torquay United at Plainmoor. A further demotion came in 1982-83. Former Saints and Fulham player John Mitchell was put in charge of team affairs, and he led the side to promotion in 1983-84 and 1985-86 with championship wins.
In 1993 the team finished as league runners up, but were denied promotion to the Conference because of an hundred and forty year old oak tree which stood on the terracing behind one of the goals. It was deemed a safety hazard. Five years later the tree was felled.
The 1996-97 campaign saw another fine FA Cup run all the way to the second round, before Bristol City put pay to any third round exposure with a 9-2 thrashing at Ashton Gate. Gary Hill took the team all the way to the FA Trophy semi-final in 1998-99, but Saints were once again denied a trip to Wembley as Forest Green Rovers won the tie 4-3 on aggregate.
The clubs future was put in doubt as they were taken to the High Court after six figure debts repayments agreed by previous directors had not been upheld. Sainsts were also threatened with expulsion from the Isthmian League until new owners stepped forward to save the day.
St Albans City became founder members of the Conference South in 2004 and two years later they were promoted to the Conference National for the first time in their history after a play off victory over Histon. Clarence Park was smartened up and rumours did the rounds that the club may look to move elsewhere.
Manager Colin Lippiatt couldn't keep the side up in their first season, while director and journalist Ian Ridley left the club over policy decisions. John Gibson was Chairman of the time who made his money through his building company William Verry. Richie Hanlon, Dave Anderson and then Steve Castle had time as team manager. Castle was not very popular with supporters, but he had to work with a reduced budget.
Castle did keep the club up on the final day of the 2007-08 season, while Gibson faced increased hostility from fans over the way he ran the club and his plans to move The Saints to a new home on Green Belt land. In the summer of 2009, Gibson's company went into administration, but he assured supporters that the clubs future was secure. Not everyone was convinced as rumours circulated of potential new buyers.
However, things were evidently not right. St Albans were deducted ten points and fined £7,500 by the FA for financial irregularities, which transpired to be illegal payments to players during the 2008-09 season. City were relegated to the Southern League at the end of the season.
On the 12th May 2011 local businessmen Lawrence Levy and John McGowan bought the club from Gibson for an undisclosed fee. Within weeks Castle had been replaced as manager by the highly respected Dave Howell who arrived from Harrow Borough, and Ian Ridley returned to take up the role as club Chairman.
However, Ridley soon departed and Howell followed after an unsuccessful spell to be replaced by joint bosses James Gray and Graham Gold, while the club once again looked into the possibility of moving from Clarence Park.
The 2013-14 season saw Saints regain their Conference South place through play-off victories against Cambridge City and then in front of a full house away to Chesham United. The Conference was renamed the National League for the 2015-16 season, with joint managers Gray and Gold departing in November 2015, with Harry Wheeler being appointed as interim boss.
City were under real pressure as the 2015-16 season progressed. The appointment of former Arsenal player and ex Boreham Wood boss Ian Allanson proved an inspired move as they put together a fine late run to quell any fears of relegation
St Albans City FC will compete in the National League South in the 2016-17 season.
St Albans City 0 Scarborough 1 (Saturday 6th February 1982) FA Trophy Round Two (att: 683)
Scarborough had to wait a week or two to find out who their next round opponents would be in the Trophy as City had to travel to Dulwich Hamlet for a replay. I told my pals at school that I was pretty confident that we'd be heading for South London, but that was probably my heart ruling my head. I really wanted to visit the huge Champion Hill ground.
However, City won four three, so it was to Hertfordshire we would go. Actually, I was close to not going. I had been suffering from a chest infection and desperately wanted to play for the school team on the Saturday. My parents were sensible and stood firm and as a sweetener to probably stop my whining, they booked me a place on the supporters bus to St Albans.
My first impressions were of a lovely place. We parked down the side of Clarence Park and walked to the ground. The park had hockey games taking place on what was the cricket ground in the summer. The cricket pavilion looked superb. The rest of the park had plenty of greenery and a large playground.
The ground had terracing round three sides, with the ends curving away behind the goals. The Park Side had a basic cover over the half way line while the Railway Side had a lovely old low Main Stand with bench seating along the whole touchline. A clubhouse stood behind the roof.
Boro had their usual bus load of enthusiastic rowdies with them, as well as two official coaches. The team, under the managership of Jim McAnearney were the better side but they could not break the deadlock. During the first half the figure of a travelling fan (who was later become a good friend and travelling companion of mine) appeared on the clubhouse roof with a large Scarborough Union Jack!
The second half followed a similar pattern until Pat Olney pounced to send us home happy. The unofficial bus, AKA Fez's International Tours (they'd once gone to Bangor City!) entered legend amongst those travelling on it when it took part in the 'Battle of Newport Pagnell'. By all accounts it was more of a bunfight than a battle as the fans entered the services and had a food fight while couples and families sat down to their evening meals.
St Albans City 1 Molesey 1 (March 1984) Isthmian League Division Two (att: approx 200)
I was at college in Borehamwood, and staying in Radlett which wasn't very far from St Albans. I wanted to revisit the city after hearing lots of nice things about it as well as being impressed on my previous visit.
I took the train the few stops and then went exploring in the city centre where a market was in full flow. I had a walk to the Cathedral and generally enjoyed the place, grabbing some food at one of the market stalls, before heading to Clarence Park.
The ground was just as I remembered, and even better there was a super programme shop where I bought some local editions. I also went to the clubhouse for a pre match drink. I stood on the terraces with the home fans who cheered on their team playing in an all yellow kit.
City were going for promotion, whereas their visitors from Surrey were further down the table. A home win was roundly expected, but Molesey spoilt the script by going ahead. Well into the second half the City fans were growing with frustration. One fan shouted, "I see you've got your IQ on the back of your shirt, number three", to a time wasting full back. I found that very amusing at my tender age!
City bought a lanky sub on who looked far better than anyone previously on show. His name was Robbie, but I can't remember his surname many years later. He netted the equaliser, but a winner wouldn't come.
I headed back to the station after thoroughly enjoying my day out. City went on to win the division two championship at the end of the season.
St Albans City 1 Dagenham & Redbridge 3 (Monday 24th January 2000) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: approx 1,100)
I was now back in London full time and staying in Willesden Green. After finishing work at Lord's for the day I got changed, headed for the tube to West Hampstead and took the train to St Albans.
I headed for the clubhouse straight from the station trying to remember where the footbridge was over the railway line. This game promised to be a cracker with The Daggers top of the league and City pushing them close. They really needed a home win to close the gap.
I had a couple of beers and then went to enjoy the decent atmosphere, with a couple of hundred away fans making the journey.
In truth the game was abit of a let down as a neutral as Gary Hill's team were far the better side. Danny Shipp was a real handful up front as Dagenham sealed another victory on their road to the Isthmian League title.
A good thing about a visit to Clarence Park was the vicinity to the railway station and I was in good time for a fast service back home with several happy Daggers.
St Albans City 3 Margate 3 (Saturday 20th November 2004) Conference South (att: 280)
On the Friday night before this game I was drinking with my good friend Colm in Lulas in Willesden Green with the following day off work, as well as it being my birthday! I suggested that he might like to go to a nice place for the day, with the promise of some good pubs.
He agreed, even when I mentioned the match. so we met to go to Cricklewood station before midday. We were soon heading into St Albans city centre and into O'Neills for our first drink. The lunchtime game in the Premier League was Manchester United against Charlton Athletic, but ideally we wanted to watch the Celtic v Rangers game. Sadly we couldn't find a pub showing it, despite much research!
We tried a couple of pubs by the market when we bumped into a City fan and real ale buff who was a real character! We headed down to the fine pub, The Mermaid where the beer was top drawer. It was busy as England were about to play rugby, so we went on our way rapidly down to the ground.
The clubhouse was friendly and met with Colm's approval. It was showing Soccer Saturday on the TVs as I had a pre match beer before heading outside. Colm came with me, but he retreated after about ten minutes to watch the scores come in.
He missed an absolute cracker as both sides went for it hammer and tong. Margate had the county cricketer Peter Trego playing in goal, who's skills I was to enjoy on many a summer afternoon while he played for Middlesex. The visitors from the Kent coast started the season on minus ten points owing to a financial transgression, but their performance on the day must have encouraged the handful of fans who'd made the trek north.
During the game I'd rung Bunner to tell him of my location and how I could still picture him appearing on the clubhouse roof! I popped back inside at half time where Colm had made himself most comfortable.
After the game we went back to The Mermaid and another couple of pubs, including the lively Robin Hood near to the station, where many locals seemed intent on celebrating my birthday all day! The Wales rugby match seemed to attract many afficienados, as any sporting event does when people have been on the pop all day.
We got the train back. I couldn't be tempted to stay out for the Barcelona v Real Madrid game, but young Colm filled his boots. It had been yet another cracking day in St Albans, where I'd yet to see the home team win in four attempts!
Thursday 23rd June 2009
I had the day off work and wanted some exercise to repair my hamstring, which I'd managed to tear through a combination of a lack of fitness and trying to relive my youth as I'd scrambled through for a single in a twenty twenty cricket match.
I'd been to Bedford, where I'd overdone things, and then Harpenden. I was determined to get the photos I required from Clarence Park, hobbling or not.
Inevitably the ground was locked and since Mr Gibson had taken over the club, a huge fence surrounded it. I did my best to get some shots from all angles, getting some very strange looks in the process.
I managed to get lost and go the wrong way up to the town centre, and when I got there I decided I didn't really fancy a beer anyway! At least it was a lovely sunny day.