Snorbans? Stalebuns? The people who (claim to) pay our benefits? Oh yes – we do enjoy this thing we’ve got with St Albans City. From one of the leafier corners of the county, it probably wasn’t ’til the early 90s that we got a second thought from the Saints; Boro’ storming up the pyramid. By then, of course, it was too late. We powered past them – and they couldn’t keep pace. And, at least for a while, we’re not sure they were too happy about it.
Who are St Albans City?
Go back 112 years and you have yourself the start of the Saints’ journey; formed in 1908 and straight into two leagues: the Spartan League Eastern Division and the Herts County League Western Division. This arrangement carried on up until the First World War. After, there’s a bit of a gap in the records until 1920 when they pop up in the Athenian League; clocking up a run of two titles in their first two seasons, followed by a second-place finish.
The 1922-3 season would be their third and final campaign as an Athenian League side. But it’s also a season that’s notable for a bit of FA Cup history. In their Fourth Qualifying Round replay at home Dulwich Hamlet, their goalkeeper didn’t turn up. It meant reserve half back Alf Fearn went in nets and conceded eight. For Saints, all seven goals in reply were scored by Wilfred Minter; the most goals scored by one player on the losing side of an FA Cup tie.
Why do we know St Albans City?
What’s that got to do with us, you ask? Well, nothing. But the following season (1923-4) saw the Saints take a step that would – ultimately – affect us. They joined the Isthmian League; keeping up their form of hitting the ground running by claiming the title three times in their first five seasons – including their debut campaign. It took an age for them to come close to the summit again, however; finishing second at the end of the 1954-5 season.
Then, as now seems to be the case with the Saints, came a little bit of unwanted history. At the end of the 1973-4 season, the club were relegated to a new second tier in the Isthmian League. Together with Corinthian Casuals, they were the first clubs ever to be relegated in the competition. In 1983, they went down again; this time to a new third tier (Division Two).
If it wasn’t for their instant return to Division One at the end of the 1983-4 campaign, our paths may have crossed much sooner. As it was, the Saints just about kept their noses ahead of us for the rest of the decade; going up to the Premier Division in 1985-6 as we went up to Division One. So, it would be cup competition that’d finally give us a chance to meet.
What is our record against St Albans City?
To start with, the story between them and us seemed a familiar one; the Saints defeating us 2-1 in the 1988-9 Herts Charity Cup and 2-1 in the 1989-90 Herts Senior Cup. But, we made it third time lucky with our 1990-1 Herts Senior Cup win. We then took a break from one another for a couple of seasons; a gap that let Cloughie‘s Boro’ side catch up with the Saints in the pyramid. Now, we’d be fighting on level terms.
Yet, we didn’t get it off to a brilliant start. After two wins from our first two Isthmian League Premier Division games, the Saints brought us back down to earth with a 2-1 win (again!) at Clarence Park. Four meetings, four 2-1 scorelines. And we made up for our two-season break during that 1992-3 campaign too; three cup meetings coming in-between the return league encounter.
First, we had a game that didn’t end 2-1 – and it didn’t in some style; Boro’ and Saints in a thrilling 3-3 draw in the FA Cup Third Qualifying Round. Of course, that meant going down to theirs for a replay. And guess what? It finished 2-1. To them. Not content with putting us out of one cup competition, they followed it up with a 1-0 win in the Herts Charity Cup two months later. And, to rub it in, they completed a league double over us in January 1993.
You can guess the score yourself.
The 1992-3 season saw Saints come second; five points adrift of promotion up to the GM Vauxhall Conference. And that marked the end of their hold over us. The following season saw us win 2-1 at theirs and 3-0 at home as we made no mistake with our own promotion bid. Up we went and – but for a couple of Eastern Floodlit League ties and a Herts Charity Cup final win (for us) – that’d be that for some time.
St Albans City: Boro’s Record
Our head-to-head: P 16 — W 7 — D 1 — L 8 — F 30 — A 27 — Pts 9 — WR 44%
Our last tango: Stevenage Borough 4-1 St Albans City, 13 December 2008
What happened to St Albans City?
It’d be more than 10 years before we took on the Saints again. That’s their fault, not ours. It’s not like we’d gone anywhere. For them, however, they just couldn’t push on and earn that promotion that eluded them in 1993. The formation of regional Conference divisions helped, however. And, after winning the 2005-6 Conference South playoffs, the club were – at last – in with the big boys of non-league.
The authorities knew how big a deal it was. That’s why they sent us to Clarence Park for the Boxing Day ding-dong derby day. And we had to work for our turkey dinner; finding a way past stiff opposition to come away with a 3-2 win. The return fixture, however, didn’t happen on New Year’s Day – but a random Wednesday at the back end of January. And they stunned us; somehow beating us. The score?
Still some of this one to go…
Saints went straight back down to Conference South after one season with us. Life down a division wasn’t easy either. But it didn’t stop us meeting in the 2008-9 season; drawn in FA Trophy Round One. Just 737 turned up to see us ease to a 4-1 win. And when we say ‘ease’, we mean ‘score three times in the last six minutes’. The third was a peach too; the Saints’ keeper Paul Bastock coming up for a corner on 87 minutes and getting marooned up top.
Did we have eyes on a bigger prize than bragging rights? The 2010-1 season made it appear that way; us going up to League One and the Saints going down to the Southern League. Of course, St Albans City made it back into the National League South as its now called after a three-season break.
For a few seasons, it felt as if they were edging closer to the National League again. But the 2019-20 campaign wasn’t going well and the relegation battle was well underway. It’s not ideal in the grand scheme of things – but coronavirus and the premature end of the season helped them; keeping them in National League South for another year.
• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – St Albans City club profile