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Mick's Football Memories

Mick’s Football Memories – part 28

Watching local football became the standard diet over the next few years as my health continued to improve.

Hitchin Town continued to compete well in the Isthmian League Premier Division and had more success in the FA Cup. During the 1976/77 season they reached the First Round Proper where they were drawn against Weymouth. After three drawn games Hitchin won the third replay 3-1. In the Second Round they were drawn at home to Swindon Town and I joined a capacity crowd of 6000 spectators in watching them draw 1-1. Swindon Town duly won the replay 3-1 but Hitchin competed extremely well and could be proud of their performance. The record attendance at Top Field had been set in 1955 when 7878 supporters saw them defeat Wycombe Wanderers 1-0 in the Amateur Cup Third Round. Hitchin reached the FA Cup First Round one more time during the 1970’s, in 1978/79 when they were drawn away to Bournemouth and after an excellent performance were narrowly defeated by two goals to one.

The 1975/76 season was to be Stevenage Athletic’s last, as the club finished bottom of the Southern League Division One (North) and folded. The club’s administration had been so bad that the secretary of the Southern League vowed never again to allow a Stevenage based team to enter the league. The ground was closed by the owner but a youth team coach entered the ground and played a youth match. This infuriated the owner and he sent contractors to plough the pitch up from goalmouth to goalmouth. The ground would stay in this condition until 1980 when the council took control and carried out the necessary repairs. A newly formed club Stevenage Borough had been formed in 1976 and played its matches on King George V playing field. It became the tenant at Broadhall Way in 1980 and after enquiring about joining the Herts. County League joined the United Counties League, where instant success was achieved, winning Division One and the League Cup. For the start of the 1984/85 season the club joined the Isthmian League and after some roller coaster seasons won the Premier Division in 1993/94. The club was promoted to the Football Conference for the start of the 1994/95 season. A year later they won the championship but were denied entry to the Football League being unable to meet facility requirements. They again won the championship in 2009/10 and, this time, were duly promoted to the Football League.

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Mick's Football Memories

Mick’s Football Memories – part 27

No longer able to play football I contented myself with watching local teams as I gradually started to recover my health. This meant watching Hitchin Town, Letchworth Town and Knebworth on a regular basis. Stevenage Athletic were in a very unstable state and I did not find the prospect of watching matches at Broadhall Way very appealing.

During the 1974/75 season I probably watched Hitchin Town more than any other club and saw them again reach the FA Cup First Round Proper, where they were drawn against league opposition in local rivals Cambridge United. I attended the match at Top Field where Hitchin played extremely well and drew 0-0. Cambridge United won the replay 3-0. Hitchin would again finish in a comfortable mid table position in the Isthmian League.

I also watched more matches at Letchworth Town where they won the Athenian League Division One title. This was the top division as the Athenian League had named its divisions One and Two when it reduced to two divisions after the Isthmian League had created a second division at the start of the 1973/74 season. This emulated their feat of 1957/58 when they won the Delphian League title.

Knebworth’s season in the Herts. County League was an anti-climax after their success of the previous season as they finished in lower mid table in the Premier Division, with the reserves finishing in mid table in Division One. Rolls-Royce Engines won the Premier Division and completed the double defeating Leavesden Hospital 3-0 in the Aubrey Cup Final. Chipperfield won Division one, Hatfield School Old Boys Division Two and Welwyn Garden United Division Three.

Stevenage Athletic finished in mid table in the Southern League Division One (North) in what was to be their penultimate season in the league as the club would fold and leave the Southern League in the most bizarre of circumstances.

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Mick's Football Memories

Mick’s Football Memories – part 26

In the early days of the 1974/75 season I was playing for the Reserves at Knebworth Rec. when I was involved in a clash of heads and momentarily knocked unconscious. As I lay on the ground blurry eyed I could see a figure coming towards me. This was the sponge man who doubled up as the linesman. He always wore a long brown macintosh and wellington boots no matter what the weather. He approached with a galvanised bucket full of cold water, a sponge and some smelling salts. I knew I was badly injured, as if I had taken a slight knock I would have run a mile at the sight of him approaching but I could not move. Eventually I was carried off and laid on the wet grass behind the goal while the game continued. When I did manage to get up I staggered around for a while, before feeling extremely embarrassed, I hurriedly changed and drove home. A large swelling appeared on the side of my face which would eventually require major surgery and post operative treatment. I would never play organised football again with one minor exception.

I was working at ICL Letchworth at the time and as I started to recover from the operation I joined four workmates in competing in the Letchworth Inter Works Sports League. This was where we competed against other works side in a sporting quiz on a monthly basis. On one occasion however they decided to organise a five a side tournament at Stevenage Leisure Centre and we decided to enter. On the day of the tournament I played in defence and really struggled as I had lost one of my salivary glands during the operation and the more I tried to run the drier my mouth became and the more liquid I needed to intake. If there had been substitutes I would not have continued to play but as there were not I had no choice. Despite me, we somehow managed to reach the final and I decided to play up front and just stand around in the opposition’s half. In the event I scored two cracking goals, the first when I received the ball just inside the opposition’s half, I knew I could not run and so hit it as hard as I could and watched it fly into the net past a startled keeper. During the second half I hung around by the other team’s goal area and my mate found me with an inch perfect pass out of defence which unmarked, I side footed first time past their keeper. The match ended 3-3 and would be decided by a penalty shoot out. I was left until last hoping the match would be decided before my kick. In the event the penalty shoot out was level at 4-4 with them having taken all their kicks and mine to come. I duly dispatched the kick and we won the trophy which I was given to bring home for the evening. That really was the last time I played any sort of football and I contented myself with watching local football, mainly Hitchin Town.

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Mick’s Football Memories – part 25

The 1973/74 season saw Knebworth become Herts. County League Premier Division Champions, this is something they have been unable to repeat ever since. Mount Grace Old Scholars won Division One, Bedmond Social Reserves Division Two and Mount Grace Old Scholars Reserves Division Three. Rolls Royce Engines prevented Knebworth from completing the double by defeating them 2-0 in the Aubrey Cup Final. Knebworth Reserves finished disappointingly near the foot of the Division One table.

Hitchin Town again finished in mid table in the Isthmian League Division One with Stevenage Athletic finishing a much improved seventh in the Southern League Division One (North).

In the FA Cup Hitchin Town reached the Second Round Proper losing narrowly at Boston United by one goal to nil. If they had won that match they would have been drawn at home to Derby County in the Third Round. Derby County were at this time one of the top teams in the country, managed by Brian Clough and Peter Taylor.

This was also the year of the very last Amateur Cup with Hertfordshire side Bishop’s Stortford defeating Ilford 4-1 in the Final, as amateur status was then abolished. A new competition for clubs which were not eligible to enter the FA Trophy was introduced for the following season, to replace the Amateur Cup, this was the FA Vase.

Two other items which did not escape my attention were firstly that Wolves won the Football League Cup Final, defeating strong favourites Manchester City, who included Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee in their team by two goals to one and secondly that a very good Dutch side led by Johann Cruyff, playing wonderfully attractive attacking football were edged out 2-1 in the World Cup Final by hosts West Germany. Four years later the same thing would happen again in Argentina, where Holland still playing the same entertaining football lost out to the hosts 3-1 in the final after extra time.

Little did I know it at the time but as the 1974/75 season approached it would prove to be life changing for me.

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Mick’s Football Memories – part 24

In the Herts. County League the conclusion of the 1972/73 season saw Rolls-Royce Engines win the Premier Division title with Leggatts Way Old Boys runners up and Knebworth third. Royston Town won Division One, Bushey Rangers Reserves Division Two and Bovingdon Reserves Division Three. Knebworth Reserves finished in mid table in Division One. Rolls Royce Engines achieved the double defeating Sun Sports 2-0 in the Aubrey Cup Final. The boot was on the other foot however in the Reserve Cup Final as Knebworth Reserves again won the competition defeating Rolls-Royce Engines Reserves 3-0 in the final. In the Amateur Cup Rickmansworth Town beat Hazells, Aylesbury in the Preliminary Round 2-1 after a 0-0 draw and then lost to Marlow Town 3-0 in the First Qualifying Round. This was the last time a Herts. County League club would be accepted into the Amateur Cup competition.

In the Isthmian League at the end of the season Hitchin Town again finished in mid table, with Stevenage Athletic finishing in the bottom half of the Southern League Division One (North).

Major changes were afoot however for the start of the 1973/74 season, as the Isthmian League would form a second division, with the two divisions known as Division One and Division Two. Division Two had been created by taking fifteen clubs from the Athenian League and one, Hertford Town, from the Eastern Counties League. Hertford Town had left the Athenian League a year earlier to join the Eastern Counties League and thought this move would seriously jeopardise their chances of joining the Isthmian League, however this did not prove to be the case. In its inaugural season Hertford Town would finish third, the nearest they ever came to playing in the top flight of the Isthmian League. Letchworth Town were not accepted into this new division as they could not meet the facility requirements, not having any floodlights. The Athenian League was considerably decimated by this action and reduced its constitution to two divisions.

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