1954/5 Summary

Fred Stansfield had announced soon after his appointment that he intended to give more opportunities to local players, and invited anyone who fancied their chances to apply for a trial. To encourage them, the “A” side was revived, competing in the second division of the United Counties League, one level below the reserves. Despite this policy declaration, Stansfield spent his summer, as Rooke had done, looking for and signing former Football League players-even putting adverts in the national press seeking players in all positions. That way or otherwise, he acquired Douglas Farquhar, a Scots wing-half from Hereford, Peter Fisher (no relation to Ken), a defender from Wrexham, Ray Haddington, a very much-travelled inside forward from Halifax, Edgar Duffett, another inside forward who’d played for the club as an amateur just after the war before going on to Norwich and Carlisle, Harry Lunn, a Northern Irish inside forward from Swindon, Ron Anderson, a defender from Tonbridge, Les Horne, a central defender from Walsall, and perhaps surprisingly, only two Welshmen-Hugh Evans, a forward from Watford, and Mel Bines, a defender from Swindon. Only Lunn, Duffett and Bines were under 30, and only Farquhar would outlast this season to be retained by Stansfield’s successor.

It was eight matches before the team managed a win, by 3-2 against Gravesend at home on 16 September, and that was also the first time they had managed to score more than twice. A crowd of 5,500 for the opening home match, against Hastings, had slumped to 3,600 by the Gravesend fixture. Of the new players, Evans had been out with a broken wrist from an early stage and Haddington had been discarded after only three appearances. Peter Fisher, Farquhar and Duffett had established themselves as regulars but otherwise Stansfield was relying on the players he had inherited.

An extraordinary 9-0 defeat of Weymouth (the club’s biggest win since the war) in the Southern League Cup on 25 September paved the way for four more successive victories, but as far as Stansfield was concerned this was as good as it got. This sequence was followed by just three league wins in the next 20 matches. The league defeats were barely enlivened by FA Cup success. Ironically, having complained for several seasons about how unfair it was to be forced to slog through the qualifying stages, Bedford were finally exempted until the fourth qualifying round, but having defeated March Town United fairly easily at home, they were forced to travel almost as far as the previous year in the competition proper-one stop less, in fact, on the railway took them to Dorchester Town of the Western League where they were defeated 0-2. Like the exit at Weymouth the previous season, this was the worst of all worlds-not much from the match financially, and the loss of possible further revenues from the later rounds. Stansfield decided to use this match to give first team debuts to two recently signed players-goalkeeper Ben Kinchin from Gillingham (a national serviceman on loan) and Irish winger Jim Kelly, whose brother Paddy, a defender, had arrived a few weeks earlier. It was hardly the right choice of occasion; the new players were all found to be at fault in various ways, and this defeat by a team from a lower level was the beginning of the end of Stansfield’s reign.

After further league disappointments, in December 1954 the manager was “instructed to go forth immediately and strengthen the side”, to quote the Bedfordshire Times’s presumably well informed source, with “no reasonable expense to be spared”. With the team again in the re-election zone, this seemed to make sense, but the manager does not seem to have recruited any other players, with the exception of Ted Duggan’s younger brother, Percy, who arrived from Biggleswade in exchange for the long-serving Vivian Woodward, one of Rooke’s earliest signings. It was reported that the club had tried to sign Arsenal's Scottish international inside forward Jimmy Logie for £2000 (an enormous fee by their standards) but in the end he went to Gravesend instead.

As 1954 gave way to 1955, things merely went from bad to worse; a five goal defeat at Barry on New Year’s Day was followed by two 3-6 defeats, at Kidderminster and Hastings, by the end of the month, and then successive 1-6 thumpings at Llanelly and Hereford by mid-February. Stansfield did belatedly turn to a few local players, such as Frank Faulkner, Brian Kirkup, Maurice Walby and Peter Whiffin, but it made little difference. A 0-1 exit from the Southern League Cup at Yeovil early in March was followed by a 0-3 home defeat by Tonbridge in a match described by the local reporter as perhaps the worst seen at the ground since the war. Bearing in mind the lowly positions attained in the immediate post-war years, this must have been about as damning as you could get, and the following week Stansfield was given three months’ notice.

Grumbling about the lack of time in which to make an impact, Stansfield seems to have left immediately. Perhaps bizarrely, Ronnie Rooke was among the applicants to succeed him; the former manager was clearly a club shareholder since he was, several times in the mid-50s, noted as having attended the AGM. But after a short gap the directors appointed Thomas (Tim) Kelly, assistant manager at Luton, who were not far away from clinching an historic promotion to the old First Division. Already an experienced coach with the Vauxhall Motors amateur side and then at Kenilworth Road, he was to become the most successful manager the old club ever had.

Second from bottom of the table when Kelly arrived, the club rallied under his leadership to lose only two of their last thirteen matches and raise themselves to 18th place, as well as holding his old club to a creditable draw in the County Cup. His only signing in the short period before the season’s end was Billy Waugh, an experienced Scottish winger who had been at Luton among many other clubs. It was clear that he would need to cast his net a lot wider in the close season, and with the average attendance dropping to only 3,657-nearly 20% down on the previous season-he would not be able to splash money around.