A history of senior football in St Albans - Part 12
On to the present
By Derek Roft
Steve Clark, the legendary goal scorer for the previous decade, had left the Saints to play for Canvey Island. Goalkeeper Noel Imber, Rob Haworth and John Pollard had also left the club. Gary Ansell joined the club from Barnet to try to replace Clark. Junior Sammuels came from Stevenage Borough. Corey Campbell came from Gravesend & Northfleet. Midfielder Andy Adebowale joined the Saints from Chesham United. Another midfielder by the name of Spencer Knight came from Arlesley Town.
A Difficult Start
It was a difficult start to the 2000-01 season and after a few games and bad results there was a change of manager as John Kendall took over. Saints managed to stabilise themselves and were mid table. They had a difficult run in the FA Trophy after beating Chelmsford City, Bashley and AFC Newport they were knocked out by Chester City. There were rumours surrounding the club chairman Lee Harding as to whether how he was running the club. Some supporters also became as to how he ran the club affairs. Matters came to a head when Harding was interviewed by the police regarding the financies. By April the club was in crisis mode off the pitch. This affected matters on the pitch as the club seemed to go into free fall. Their final position was 14th which was their lowest final position since 1990-91. It was just as well that they had had a half decent start to that season otherwise they could well have been relegated. A total of 62 players were used in all matches during the season. At the end of that season manager John Kendall left the club.
As the 2001-02 season opened Gary Roberts and Steve Cook were appointed as joint managers. Lee Harding was re-elected as chairman but the supporters were still not happy. Striker Simon Martin was signed after a tribunal put his fee at £10,000. Despite the goings on off the pitch the club were in 7th place at the end of September. Lee Harding put the club up for sale shortly after this. It was just at a time when the Saints were putting a decent run of results together. Soon after this off the field the Saints were issued with a winding up order which could have seen the end for the club. In early January the club were suspended from playing. In early February 2002 the supporters breathed a sigh of relief when a new owner was found in the shape of John Gibson.
Thankfully the team was high up the table and the loss of four matches to catch up did not take them down too far. When the team re-started after suspension they were around mid table. A youngster made his debut at around this time by the name of Craig Mackail-Smith. He went on to play for Dagenham & Redbridge and now plays for Peterborough United. At the end of a nightmare season off the pitch the team finished around mid table. But they were just thankful to be playing football.
The season of 2002-03 might well have been known as the new beginning. Miguel De Souza, a striker with plenty of Football League experience, was signed. Another player with Football League experience was Midfielder Steve Castle who came from Leyton Orient. A new beginning it was with the team being unbeaten in their first seven games. Seven games and seven wins. The Saints were top of the league until the end of October when Aldershot took over. In the F A Cup the Saints went on a decent Cup run by beating Wingate & Finchley, Chelmsford City and AFC Sudbury before losing at Stockport County in the 1st Round Proper. As the season went into 2003 City were lying 4th and in a good position owing to their games in hand. But sadly they could not put those games to good use and they ended the season in 4th place.
In the 2003-04 season the non league pyramid began to take shape and the Saints were in the third tier below the Conference and then the two regional leagues (Conference North and Conference South). If they were promoted from the Ryman League (formerly the Isthmian League) by winning the title or through any play offs they would go into the Conference South.
A Nightmare Match
A striker by the name of Lee Clarke joined, at first on loan then permanently, from Peterborough United. By September Steve Cook had left and Steve Castle took over as caretaker boss. Shortly after this came a nightmare match against Grays Athletic which was Castle’s second as manager. Everything that could go wrong in the build up, before and during the match DID go wrong. As a result the Saints lost 1-9, their worst away defeat since 1946. The Saints were in the bottom half of the table for most of the second half of the season. They finished 19th and would have to go through a semi final and final play off to join the Conference South. They met Heybridge Swifts in the semi final. In an exciting match Saints won 4-3 to meet Bedford Town away in the play off final. In a remarkable match City won 5-4 against Bedord Town to join the Conference South for the 2004-05 season.
The 2004-05 season got off to a bad start with City 3rd bottom after a few games. They signed Paul Bastock, a goalkeeper with plenty of experience. By November things were no better as Steve Castle resigned. There was a little manager merry-go-round as Stuart Cash, then Colin Lippiatt who finally took over within seven days. After a couple of games the Saints’ form seemed to pick up and eventually they finished 15th. When you consider the position they were in at Christmas then it was a great finish to the season.
Two Horse Race
In the 2005-06 season a key player, Matt Hann, was signed. He came on as substitute against Eastbourne Borough and scored a hat trick. Lee Clarke scored regularly during this season and by November 2005 City were second in the table. Only a year earlier just before Colin Lippiatt took over they were bottom of the table. By January 2006 the title developed into a two horse race with Saints and Weymouth. A couple of cruical defeats saw City finish second and they needed to beat Histon in a play of to go into the Conference National. City went on to defeat Histon 2-1 to play Conference National football for 2006-07. To celebrate the achievement there was an open topped bus parade throughout the city.
The first game in the 2006-07 season was away to Kidderminster Harriers. The Saints won 3-1 and with the other results City were top of the table after one game. Sadly this did not last long as results began to go against them. They slowly slid down the table and soon they were in the bottom four. Finally they were relegated and back in the Conference South. Colin Lippiatt left to manage Woking.
Since their return to the Conference South the Saints have been basically a mid table side. After Colin Lippiatt’s departure there was an unsettling time regarding changes of manager. Steve Castle has since taken over for a second time.