Remembering Welwyn Garden City Football Club
SIR – Welwyn Garden City Football Club, until the move to Herns Lane at Panshanger around 1970, played its games at Springfields. The undulating pitch was marvellously drained by underlying gravel so that only frost or snow prevented games from being play
SIR - Welwyn Garden City Football Club, until the move to Herns Lane at Panshanger around 1970, played its games at Springfields. The undulating pitch was marvellously drained by underlying gravel so that only frost or snow prevented games from being played on what is now Marsden Close.
The club played in what was the Spartan League travelling as far Tring, south London (to play the Metropolitan police - always a dirty side) and Reading (the Huntley & Palmer biscuits works team) where a post-match dinner was often provided. Travelling away via coach always resulted in a visit to a pub on the return route.
Few players, like the population at large, had motor cars. Most arrived at the ground by bicycle or Shanks' Pony.
They were all amateurs - the 'shamateurs' played in the higher leagues such as the Southern, Isthmian and Athenian, where they received 'boot money'.
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Home games attracted only a few spectators, who were charged a small entrance fee and a few boys, like myself, who lived locally and shinned over the timber fence out of sight of officials.
The club was essentially run by the affable and ever-optimistic Bert Binz, a native of Jarrow. Bert was the secretary of the club, his main, unpaid, interest outside of his daily work.
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Later, George Hunt, a cigarette eternally clamped between his lips, assisted in everything from laundering kit to running the line.
Players trained each Tuesday and Thursday evening overseen by manager Jack Mustard, a former Queens Park Rangers and Preston North End player, who, I remember, as the he goaded the players in sprints across the pitch roared "Get up there! Ten Woodbines* for the winner!"
Jack died from a brain tumour at a relatively young age.
Being the Garden City, the players were originally from all corners of the British Isles; Scotland, Wales, London and the north-east particularly figured.
And what players!
Frank Glossop at centre forward possessed the winged heels of Achilles while Dougie Mimms at inside right had thunder in his boots.
The avuncular Ted Catlin vied with the eccentric Alan Freestone, then later, Brian Duffy for the custodian's jersey, quicksilver Tom McGovern, canny Davie Gorrie and the Douglas brothers, Norman (full back) and Alan (right half) a pair of tough tackling defenders never, ever booked.
The most unfortunately named player was goalkeeper Bob Smellie.
I first saw him play on Christmas morning around 1953. Christmas Day league games were common then as Britons had very few public holidays and every opportunity to stage a match was taken up.
Clad in white shirts and dark blue shorts (quaintly called 'knickers' in the printed programmes) they were heroes to us local boys in the days when the only televised matches were the Cup Final, Amateur Cup Final and England internationals, which were played on Wednesday afternoons because Wembley had no floodlights.
Later, as is normal in amateur football, new players arrived as the older players retired, moved or simply faded from the scene.
I well remember Russell Fleming mesmerising full backs, Gordon Guile, a flying winger who soon was spotted by Isthmian league club St Albans and Tony 'Jock' Brewster who was full of tricks and always keenly watched by his doting mother. Mrs Brewster was not shy of putting in her tuppence-worth when Tony was upended by a dizzied defender.
But the king of them all was Derek Quarterley. A gifted and fiery midfielder he never spoke a word off the field, but couldn't keep his mouth shut on it! Quarterley was always in the thick of it.
Occasionally, the club was entered in the preliminary round of the FA Cup.
I remember the London club Clapton visiting Springfields and at other times the club visiting Histon (the Chivers jam works team) and Gorleston in Norfolk. As I remember, these games all ended in decisive defeats.
In the 1960s, as I approached adulthood, I too turned out for the town side at Springfields.
First, it was in the reserves when they played in blue and white quartered shirts, along with men such Alec Phythian, a talented but quick-tempered, midfielder and Big Bob Eagles.
I later graduated to the first team, but by then the club had dropped from the Spartan League and into the Hertfordshire County league.
It was getting harder to convince players to turn out on a Saturday as Sunday league football mushroomed. It was easy to understand why: wives often required their husbands on Saturdays for shopping and/or chores while a Sunday morning - in the days when the Sabbath was exactly that - was more relaxed and permitted men to have a few pints after the game before making their way home for the Sunday dinner.
A sea change was overtaking British life and the mass cult of physical exercise, so popular before and immediately after the war, began to diminish.
I played into the 1970s and noticed the game became less sporting, but harder and dirtier: a result, I am certain, of amateur players copying what they saw happening in televised matches.
Welwyn Garden City has always been a sporting town due to its many and well-appointed facilities. I hope that is always the case.
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* A small, cheap cigarette.