The summer of 1960 brought another crop of new signings but these proved to be one of the most undistinguished intakes on record. Rooke’s leading recruit was Leslie Stubbs, a very experienced inside-forward who had started and ended his Football League career with his home-town club, Southend, but had won a First Division championship medal with Chelsea in 1955; he was soon made captain, marking the end of Bob Craig’s long tenure of the job, but was unable on his own to spark his nondescript colleagues into anything inspired. Peter Smith, a wing-half from Gillingham, did his best and John Mills, a tall centre-half from Rhyl, finally ousted Craig after five seasons when the faithful servant’s pace and fitness began to dwindle. Joe Short, a tiny winger from St Neots via Lincoln, was always popular on the terraces but too lightweight to get far against the giant backs of the period. Of the players who made their debuts in the opening match, a 3-4 home defeat by a much quicker Romford side (despite a Hukin hat-trick), one, Terry Bolton from Manchester United, never appeared again and another, Carlo Nastri (Crystal Palace) only did so twice. Brian Whitby (from Luton) proved a more reliable right-winger although he too lacked a strong physique.
Three defeats in the first three league matches, including a six-goal thumping at Weymouth, were followed by a revival of sorts, with a 5-0 home win against newly-promoted Folkestone, but an exit from the League Cup against relegated Kettering, a 1-1 draw at amateurs Barking in the East Anglian Cup and then successive league defeats by Gravesend and Yeovil took the Eagles into the FA Cup in an undistinguished lower-mid table position. By now Howe was out injured, Hawksworth had been temporarily dropped in goal, Craig was playing right-back and a short-lived triallist, Dick Pearson, was in the attack; it was a largely unrecognisable side and against King’s Lynn in the FA Cup on 22 October they were dumped out 1-4 on a miserably wet day before only 2,966, the lowest FA Cup crowd anyone could remember at The Eyrie, after being a goal up. It was Bob Craig’s last home first team appearance and his last but one of all; he had seen many better times than this. Only Terry Murray now remained in the first team of Tim Kelly’s old guard-Hawksworth, Brittan and Robinson were still around but in the reserves. The following week only 1,500 turned up, although they did see a fighting draw against a much stronger Chelmsford side.
Things slowly improved, and one or two new names started to appear which promised better, and showed that now Rooke was unable to afford to throw money at older ex-Football League players he could sometimes spot useful youngsters; two Essex amateur products, full-back David Coney and left-winger Ronnie Southgate, started to catch the eye. A more typical Rooke signing who was past his best but still good for a few goals was Peter Cleland, a Scots striker who had played for years for Cheltenham but lived within a stone’s throw of The Eyrie. With the experienced promptings of Stubbs and the marksmanship of Hukin enough results were cobbled together to avert any serious threat of relegation. Notable successes were the 2-1 Christmas defeat of the eventual champions, Oxford (Headington as was), a 4-0 mastering of the old champions, Bath, on a storm-drenched day in late January, and a remarkable 6-4 win against Cambridge City a month later. Goals were plentiful at both ends, including an extraordinary 5-5 draw at Romford in December.
The visit to Yeovil on 4 March produced the same aggregate score but all ten goals were at the “wrong” end in a horrible mauling, equalling the club’s worst Southern League defeat, although the team were reduced to ten men early on when Cleland was injured, and even the ten included Rooke, a few months short of his 50th birthday, who had to include himself when Mills missed his train. But it made little odds in the end , with the team finishing in ninth place, two places lower than the year before, scoring 94 goals but conceding 97. Whatever else you could say about the season, it wasn’t dull.
At the season’s end supporters said goodbye to Craig, Murray, Brittan, Hepple and Robinson, leaving only Hawksworth and Thompson of the championship-winning team still on the books. Stubbs and Cleland were also released- despite being popular and effective they were probably relatively expensive-and Peter Smith preferred to move nearer home, joining Margate. Once again the manager would have to rebuild. The average attendance was 2,499, down another 700, an inevitable response to an indifferent and inconsistent season. The next major ground project, floodlighting, was now well under way, but did the club have the support to make the investment worthwhile?
To see photos of this season go to 1960/1 in photos
To continue the story go to 1961/2 Summary
For full results and teams go to Results and teams, 1950-67
· Boston United resigned at the end of the season and joined the Central Alliance.
· Only Dartford, Hastings United and Wisbech Town were relegated, but the top four clubs in Division One were all promoted.