1956/7 Summary

Tim Kelly had naturally retained most of the players who had contributed to such a successful season in 1955/6, apart from Adey, a talented player who had a habit of falling out with managers and moved on to Worcester, and Waugh, who had been marginalised by the others. In the summer he acquired some more seasoned players in Gwyn Hughes, a wing-half who had been a regular member of Northampton’s side since the war, Micky Bull, a fast and tricky little winger from Hastings, Gordon Hepple, a full-back from Middlesbrough via Norwich, and Terry Murray, an Irish international winger or inside forward from King’s Lynn-all four of whom were to become regular first teamers-along with the veteran former West Brom and West Ham full-back, Harry Kinsell, who was to feature only rarely after being injured at Lovells in only the second match, and Don Adams, a centre-forward signed from Northampton but based in Oxford, who soon found travelling too much and joined Headington.

This initial disruption was compounded by an injury that kept Steel out of the team until early October, and although in the League it was to prove another season of good performances in which Bedford were normally up with the leaders, Kettering Town, under their player-manager Tommy Lawton, opened up a large gap that was never to be made up. By early October the team had more or less settled down, with Hughes and Bull well established, and was sitting in third place to Kettering’s second, only three points adrift, when the Poppies won 2-1 at The Eyrie, watched by 8,728 people-a match that marked Murray’s debut. Soon afterwards Moore was allowed to leave, having failed to regain his place after the final weeks of the previous season, and was briefly replaced by Micky Reid, recently signed from Tonbridge, though he too was not destined to stay long. Tim Kelly was never reluctant to dabble in the transfer market and was no keener than Ronnie Rooke had been to consider promoting locally produced reserve players, but the financial boost of the previous season’s Cup run may have given him more scope than Rooke had been allowed. The briefly revived "A" team had now been disbanded, although for some years the club appears to have helped to fund the London Road Boys' Club youth side, probably on the understanding that they could have first call on London Road's players to fill gaps in the reserve team.

Once again it was FA Cup action that energised supporters. For the only time in their history Bedford were excused even the fourth qualifying round[1], and were drawn at Norwich City in the first round proper. Norwich ended the season bottom of the Third Division (south) but to beat them 4-2 on their own ground was still a major achievement before a crowd of 14,500. In the second round Bedford attracted nearly 23,000 at Reading, but Kelly was criticised for deciding to leave out Steel in favour of Bowie on the right wing, a position where he had never previously appeared for the club, which in the view of many cost Bedford the game by the only goal.

A week before the Reading trip the club had formally opened its “new” main stand, in fact a second-hand model acquired from a bankrupt London greyhound track for £16,000, almost all raised by the Supporters’ Club (see The Eyrie in photographs.) The tiny 1922-built stand that held at most 400 was removed and a comparative monster seating 3,500 took its place. It was well filled for its opening on 1 December before a 1-0 win against Gravesend, watched by 7,000 people, and all the instalments due on it were paid off by December 1957[2]. The capacity of the ground now therefore approached 18,500, and building such a large structure really presupposed that the good times would go on rolling. The board, under a new chairman, Ted Ashdown, owner of an engineering business who had taken over from Cyril Folkes earlier in the year, obviously thought they would.

After exiting from the FA Cup Bedford lost only three more league matches for the whole season, and only Guildford were able to complete a double over them. There were away wins at Barry, Headington and Weymouth, all grounds where Bedford had never previously won. The Headington effort, a 6-0 thrashing on Boxing Day, must have been a particular high spot. One of the best efforts was against Merthyr at home in October, when Pope went off with a broken jaw after only 17 minutes; the ten men, with Crichton in goal, recovered from one down with less than 20 minutes left to win 2-1 [3]. Although Kettering were well out in front Bedford became the only team to beat them at home when they won 2-1 at Rockingham Road in February before a local record 8,700 crowd. Even the Southern League Cup, a competition which rarely favoured the club, brought some success, including a 3-2 defeat of Kettering in the second round, but although the semi-final was reached for the first time, this brought a surprising five-goal bashing at Hereford, the team’s heaviest defeat. By now Hepple had taken over from the injured Cooke as the regular right-back and soon after the new year, Farquhar decided to emigrate to the USA, leaving Hughes and Garwood to contest the right-half place, with Hughes playing more often. Craig, who taken over the captaincy from Crichton, missed only one match at centre-half and Bull was ever-present in the attack; although he temporarily ousted Staroscik at outside-left earlier in the season, the Polish favourite reclaimed his spot when Bull moved to the right, marking the end of Steel’s regular first team place.

In the end Kettering finished eight points clear but with their best ever total of points, 58, and only nine defeats, Bedford finished a worthy second. The reserves also finished second in their league, two points behind Chelsea’s third eleven, and again reached the league cup final although this time they lost, to Guildford. At the end of the season Kelly released two of the “Arsenal” team who had slipped out of regular first team contention, Cooke and Steel, but the strong “spine” of Pope, Craig, Crichton and Yates, who hit 39 goals in all competitions, was still looking very solid. Attendances averaged 5,298, almost as good as the previous season, and the final action of the season was a sparkling 6-1 defeat of Third Division Wrexham in a friendly on the eve of the FA Cup Final.

In July, the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, visited The Eyrie for a Tory Party rally, and made what was to become known as his famous "You've never had it so good" speech*. Whether or not that was true of Britain as a whole, it was certainly true of Eagles' supporters at that time. There seemed every reason to look forward to even better things in 1957/8.

*Thanks to Mike Crisp, who was there, for the memory. This is a well-known misquotation since he actually said "Most of our people have never had it so good".

· Llanelly resigned at the end of the season, joining the Welsh League, and were replaced by Poole Town from the Western League

[1] At the time the previous season’s FA Amateur Cup finalists were exempted until the first round proper, but Corinthian Casuals, beaten finalists in 1955/6, did not enter and Bedford were given their place as the most successful non-league entrants of the previous season.

[2] A copy of the invoice appears in The Eyrie Roar, page 48.

[3] Thanks to Mike Crisp for this recollection.