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Mick's Football Memories

Mick’s Football Memories – Part 16

Stevenage Town had joined the Southern League at the start of the 1963/64 season and finished a creditable sixth in Division One at their first attempt. The star player in the Stevenage side was Johnny Brooks, the ex Tottenham Hotspur player, who had been capped a couple of times for England and would, a decade later, manage Knebworth.

Hitchin Town in their first season in the Isthmian League finished fourteenth. As I was now playing regularly on Saturdays I would take every available opportunity to watch both Hitchin and Stevenage mid week matches played under floodlights.

The 1964/65 season was an excellent one for Knebworth. In our first season in the Herts. County League Premier Division we finished fifth behind champions Leggatts Way Old Boys. Runners up were Kings Langley who at that time played on a site at the old Ovaltine factory. They were later to lose this ground for development and would become nomadic for several seasons. Buntingford Town won Division One, Kings Langley Reserves Division Two and Hawker Siddeley Dynamics Reserves Division Three. Leggatts Way Old Boys completed the double defeating Leavesden Hospital 2-0 in the Aubrey Cup Final.

At the end of the season Knebworth played Woolmer Green in the “Denny Croft Trophy”. This was in aid of a gentleman of the same name who lived in Datchworth and was seriously ill. This game played at Woolmer Green recreation ground, was extremely well supported and would be played for several more seasons in the future. The reason for the large attendance no doubt was because the referee was Dave McKay and the two linesmen were Cliff Jones and Jimmy Robertson. After the match we all retired to the Red Lion pub, where Dave McKay proved he was as good a drinker as he was footballer!

Both Stevenage Town and Hitchin Town improved on their initial season in their new
leagues; Stevenage finishing fifth in the Southern League Division One and Hitchin
finishing eleventh in the Isthmian League.

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Mick's Football Memories

Mick’s Football Memories – Part 15

From the 1963/64 season onwards I played regularly, initially for the reserves and as time progressed more for the first team. Facilities were improving too. We used the gymnasium at Knebworth House for winter training and we had a coach to take us on some of the longer journeys for away trips. One such journey was to Saffron Walden in the middle of winter. As we set off the fog started to come down and got heavier during the journey. It seemed to take forever to get to the ground but eventually we arrived……..in Colchester, needless to say the game was postponed.

There were many works sides in the County League at this time with excellent facilities. The best amongst them were ICI (Plastics), Sun Sports, Tabulator Sports and all the de-Havilland clubs.

For our home matches most of us met up first at the Station Hotel, where a pre-match warm up involved consuming a couple of pints of brown and mild before arriving at the rec. in just enough time to get changed before kick-off.

One of the most successful teams in The Herts. County League at this time was Leavesden Hospital. They had previously played in the Spartan League and the London League and had excellent facilities with a stand. It was heavily rumoured that their first team consisted of individuals employed because of their footballing ability and not because of their skills in looking after mentally ill patients. Playing at the ground was always difficult as patients were allowed to run about in a fenced off area opposite the main stand. They were supposed to be supervised by staff but invariably they would hurl verbal abuse at the players and sometimes throw objects onto the pitch. Understandably play usually moved to the far side of the pitch where the stand was.

At the conclusion of 1963/64 season Leavesden Hospital were Premier Division champions, North Mymms won Division One, Colney Heath Reserves Division Two and Hitchin Town “A” Division Three. Leavesden Hospital completed the double defeating Rickmansworth Town 3-1 in the Aubrey Cup Final. Knebworth finished third in Division One, in which only two teams were promoted but as the second placed team was Marconi Instruments Reserves, Knebworth were promoted to the Premier Division. Knebworth Reserves finished a respectable fourth in Division Three.

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Mick's Football Memories

Mick’s Football Memories – Part 14

The 1962/63 season saw the first organised youth football as an under eighteen’s league was formed. Knebworth entered a team in the league which played it’s matches on Sunday afternoons. Most of the boys who had played up the rec. on Sunday mornings, since we were young, played for this team. The team played on the main pitch and some of us were now playing Saturday and Sunday afternoons. That was not the only progression, as we now had black football boots with white stripes and moulded multi studded soles.

The main issue this season was the harsh weather with heavy snow and hard frosts during January, which did not relent until late March and caused the Herts. County League competition to be cancelled. When the weather did relent an emergency competition was played. The Aubrey Cup competition did get completed however, with Marconi Instruments beating Borehamwood Saints 5-1 in the final.

In the Amateur Cup Hitchin Town again reached the semi-finals but were soundly beaten 4-0 by Sutton United, who in turn were beaten 4-2 by Wimbledon in the final.

There were to be some major changes in amateur football at the end of the season.

The way it was structured in the south east was such that the Isthmian League was regarded as the top league, followed by the Athenian League, the Corinthian League, the Delphian League, the Spartan League and the London League. For the start of the 1963/64 season Enfield, Hendon, Hitchin Town and Sutton United were invited to join the Isthmian League and transferred from the Athenian League. The Athenian League then incorporated the Corinthian and Delphian leagues into its set up. The original Athenian League became the Premier Division, the Corinthian League Division One and the Delphian League Division Two. All the teams in the Corinthian and Delphian leagues transferred to the Athenian League, with the exception of Stevenage Town, who moved to the Southern League and turned semi-professional. They had moved from their old London Road ground to a new ground on Roaring Meg South at Broadhall Way.

While all these changes were taking place I continued to watch Hitchin Town, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

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Mick’s Football Memories – part 13

The football club committee always sat on a Monday evening at the pavilion to select team(s) for the following Saturday. There was no such thing as a manager or coach at this level.

Not only did I get to train with the players on that August evening (mentioned in memories number 12), but I was also invited to join the club. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity.

I got to play a few games for the reserves that season, when they were short of players. The first of these was the very first game of the season, when many regular players were away on holiday. It was against Leggatts Way Old Boys Reserves, for whom this would be their very first game in the County league. Leggatts Way Old Boys first team had joined the league the previous season and won Division Two at their first attempt. This fixture was to be a double header with both Knebworth teams visiting. Leggatts played on an enclosed piece of grass on the corner of Courtlands Drive, Watford, and the A41, which has now been developed on. Their changing rooms were at the old Leggatts School and once changed you had to walk along the service road adjacent to the A41 and in front of a row of houses to the pitch.

Knebworth first team played first and lost 3-1, the reserves then played and lost 10-1. I played left back that day and spent most of the afternoon chasing shadows. Leggatts Way Old Boys would become arguably the most successful team in the post war history of the Herts. County League, winning 7 Premier Division titles and 4 Aubrey Cups.

The 1961/62 season concluded with Leavesden Hospital winning the Herts. County League Premier Division and their reserves Division One. Longwell (Stevenage) won Division Two and Leggatts Way Old Boys Reserves Division Three. Knebworth first team finished a very creditable fourth in Division One and the reserves finished third from bottom in Division Three. St.Albans City Reserves defeated Leavesden Hospital 2-1 in the Aubrey Cup final.

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Mick's Football Memories

Mick’s Football Memories – part 12

In the August of 1961 I started work at the age of 15 and felt like an adult. Like many boys of my age I was now smoking and drinking alcohol. There was no knowledge at this time of the damage smoking could do to your health.

One evening during August I went up Knebworth Rec. and sat on the brick wall at the entrance to the old pavilion changing rooms, puffing on a cigarette and waiting for players to turn up for training, as I wanted to join in.

At that time the layout of the recreation ground was a bit different to what it is like today. The first team pitch was in much the same position as it is today, a little shorter (more about that in about ten years time) and the only pitch available for the football club’s use. Next to that was a cricket table and next to that, parallel to the football pitch, was a hockey pitch. Every Boxing Day the football club played the hockey club in a friendly football match, before retiring to the Station Hotel to socialise. The only other football pitch was the one at the north end of the rec., adjacent to the swings and that was used for school football only.

The old pavilion had two changing rooms, one on either side of the building at the front, which had wooden floors. The entrance to them was partially enclosed by 4ft high brick walls. There was a large glass double door at the centre front of the building, which was opened up on match days and where you were able to get a cup of tea. At the rear of the building there was a rather basic shower room and a very small referee’s room. There were 2 toilets (a ladies and a gents) externally at the rear of the building. The pavilion was situated further east than the current building and the centre of it was directly in line with the bottom goal. Where the equipment is stored today was a wooden building which housed the local fire engine.

The main access to the recreation ground was from the Stevenage Road, which was the main A1 as the Stevenage by-pass (A1(M)) had not yet been built.

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