A history of senior football in St Albans - Part 9

The rollercoaster 1970s

By Derek Roft

After the successful late 1960s in the early 1970s it seemed that the club was going through a transition. The manager of that team, Sid Prosser, had left after a row with the committee. Most of the main players throughout this period had also left. By the start of the 1973-74 season the club had become a mid table team once again.

Relegated for the first time

They had finished 7th in 1971-72 and then 18th in 1972-73. Several managers came and went during this period. City struggled during the 1973-74 season. By January 1974 they were second from bottom with yet another manager sacked. Off the pitch there was even worse news. The playing surface resembled a mudheap. This was a far cry from the playing surface which England often trained on before the Wembley matches in the 1960s.

The new manager brought in eight new players in an effort to pull themselves away from relegation which was brought in after the Isthmian League was enlarged. Sadly the team were relegated for the first time in their history.

Prosser’s return

In 1975-76 Sid Prosser returned to the club. It took a few months but steadily the old magic returned to the team. The team rose steadily up the table for a seventh place finish. But just after the start of the following season the old arguments resurfaced and Sid Prosser left the club again. This time never to return. After Prosser the Saints had three managers in as many months and the instability unsettled the team. The club finished well down the table as a result.

For the next two seasons the club went into a transition with managers coming and going. The mainstay with regard to players was Phil Wood. He had made his debut back in 1962 and was approaching 900 appearances for the club. Apart from a season when he went to Enfield he had spent his whole career at St Albans.

Ron Duke: a no nonsense manager

In 1978-79 the club had a disastrous season by finishing second from bottom. Thankfully they were not relegated because Leytonstone and Ilford had decided to merge which would have left one team less in the division so the bottom team, Southall & Ealing Borough, were relegated. Close to the end of that season the club appointed Ron Duke as the manager. 

Duke was a brash and no nonsense man. He ‘told it like it was’. He was often very controversial with officials, players or the press. Suddenly though the teams fortunes began to take an upward turn. In 1979-80 the side finshed 7th in Division One. However when the team played badly there was the ‘lock ins’. After the game the team would be in the dressing room at the mercy of a 60 minute rant from Duke. These ‘lock ins’ happened on a regular basis even if the team had won the game.

Old players return

Before the start of the 1980-81 season Dave Lawrence and John Butterfield returned to the club. They had previously played in the Prosser sides of the 1960s. Lawrence, Butterfield and Wood formed the basis of another successful side. In the 1980-81 season they club had another FA Cup run. The club reached the FA Cup 2nd Round. Lawrence, Butterfied and Wood had played against Walsall in the clubs previous appearance in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup. Their opponents were Torquay United. After a 1-1 draw at Clarence Park the Torquay United manager complained that there was no soap in their dressing room. Duke heard about this and arranged for a box of Palmolive Soap to be taken with the team coach to Torquay for the replay. He presented the box to their manager who was not best pleased!! The Saints lost the replay.

As well as the best showing in the FA Cup for many years the 1980-81 season would be remembered for their best showing the league of 5th place. Phil Wood left St Albans after 981 appearances to joined Letchworth. It seemed that after nearly twenty years since his debut he would not reach four figures in terms of appearances.

This page was added on 11/07/2010.

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  • Phil Wood did spend a season with Enfield but he spent the next season with Wycombe Wanderers, with whom he won the Isthmian League championship, not mentioned in the text.
    Peter and Mark are correcting in stating that Phil played 900 times for St Albans City.
    Maurice Walby presented the soap to Torquay, not Ron Duke.

    By David Tavener (22/11/2019)
  • No, Phil Wood made 900 competitive appearances for City (579 League & 321 Cup) between 21st August 1962 & 18th August 1985.

    By Peter Taylor (19/08/2010)
  • Hi Mark. As you will see in my next part of the story he returned from Letchworth in the 1983-84 season to finally reach 1,000 appearances in ALL competitions.

    By Derek Roft (23/07/2010)
  • Hi. Phil Wood actually played 900 times for St Albans City and not 981 as stated.

    By Mark Jones (14/07/2010)