1964/5 Summary

Basil Hayward offered terms for 1964/5 to all the regular players he’d inherited, but the club was unable to match whatever Hereford offered Wallace, who left to the great disappointment of supporters to whom he was the biggest personality to play at The Eyrie since Len Duquemin. Brian Wright (to Corby) and Banham (King’s Lynn) had been released towards the end of 1963/4 and there were no other significant departures, but Hayward initially said that he was quite happy with Tony Hawksworth, who hadn’t played regular first-team football for two years, in goal. When Hawksworth gave two very unhappy displays in pre-season friendlies the manager rapidly changed his mind and signed Derek Bellotti, an 18-year old from QPR, who immediately impressed with his agility and handling and was inked in for the first league match at once. Earlier in the summer, Hayward had recruited Alan Wright from Weymouth, an aggressive ball-winner at wing-half, Mike Benning, a right-winger who had been a regular in Cambridge City’s championship-winning team in 1962/3, and two full-backs, Peter Morgan, another young former QPR player, and Bob Davis, from his old club, Yeovil. All five of these newcomers started the season in the first team, the new full-back pairing ousting the old retainers Coney and Avis, and Hayward stuck with Cooley at centre-forward. Emery was initially preferred to his fellow-veteran Heckman at inside forward. At this stage the club had six full-time professionals[1], and Hayward envisaged a squad of ten to twelve eventually. Several of them lived in houses owned by the club in the Putnoe area.

The season got off to a reasonable start, with only two league defeats, both away, by the end of September, and a position hovering just behind the leaders. Sturrock, operating from a deep-lying inside right berth, enjoyed a purple patch, hitting two home hat-tricks against Cambridge City in the league cup and Wellington in the league, and two braces, against Nuneaton on the opening day and another against Yeovil. However, much of the football was indifferent in quality and despite Sturrock’s efforts the forwards continued, as they had done for at least the last four years, to lack a cutting edge; eleven games to the end of September produced only 18 goals, of which Sturrock had scored 12. Cooley was doing his best in the middle but to most supporters the team was crying out for a 30-goal a season conventional striker.

Any illusions about the team’s quality were shattered in mid-October when in successive weeks supporters first saw the eventual champions, Weymouth, coast past Bedford 2-0 with embarrassing ease, and then (swelled to 5,090, 3,000 more than had turned up so far), groaned as Cambridge United swamped them 4-1 in the FA Cup. The latter was a truly dismal performance in which the defence was shredded three times in the first half alone, and as usual in those days, so much importance was attached to the Cup that virtually all the extra supporters disappeared for the rest of the season.

Hayward promptly ditched Davis and Miles (the latter was to spend most of the rest of the season injured), and recalled Coney, Lovell and Heckman. Emery was also now injured and as matters turned out that was the end of his career. But things did not greatly improve, and for the rest of the season the team’s form mainly limped along. There were only two more wins before Christmas, one of them by 2-1 in a tough home battle against Bath, when the referee created headlines by calling all 22 players into the centre circle for a long lecture, but nobody was so much as booked. There were very poor displays ending in home defeats by lowly Folkestone and again by Cambridge United, which tipped the Eagles into the fringes of the relegation zone, followed by a 0-4 thumping at Worcester and a 0-3 exit in the league cup at Cheltenham. Only one attendance between the Cup exit and Christmas topped 2,000 and although everyone was urging the manager to sign new players, he had some justification for his reply that there was no money for big signings and there was no point in wasting money on players who were no better than those he’d got. Even so, several players, including Wright and Sturrock, were now full-time professionals, something virtually unheard of in the Rooke and Kelly eras. In December he experimented with the reserve wing-half Ray Bailey, who had a kick like a mule and certainly looked the part, at centre-forward and Bailey obliged with both goals against Tonbridge in a 2-2 home draw on Boxing Day, but it wasn’t a long-term answer.

Finally Hayward managed to land a signing in January when he recruited Danny Paton, a Scottish winger or inside-forward from Oxford who’d played for him at Yeovil while doing National Service (on loan from Hearts). Paton was a very skilful schemer with a hard shot but he was not an out-and-out striker and also tended to retaliate when thumped by the larger defenders of the period, but he soon had the crowd on his side after scoring on his debut in a decent 3-2 win against Cambridge City at Milton Road. But three more successive defeats persuaded Hayward to remodel the team again, recalling the faithful Avis at left-back, dropping Heckman-as it turned out for good-bringing Bailey in at left-half and moving Skinn to inside-left, with Paton in the middle and Cooley wide on the left. This produced the best spell of the season with four wins on the trot, including an excellent 1-0 win at the leaders, Weymouth. It also prefigured some of the manager’s ideas that would bear richer fruit the following season.

Consistency, however, continued to elude Bedford and their Easter typified the season, with two defeats by relegated Wisbech yet a win at the much stronger Cambridge United. They could at least look back with satisfaction on the development of younger players such as Skinn, Cooley, Bailey (now about to start a second career opening the bowling for Northants), Morgan and Bellotti, plus the proved class of Paton and Benning. Tenth position was again a fair reflection, and as the manager announced that he was releasing Coney, Goundry (who had played just once all season), Heckman and Emery he was clearly determined to make a clean break with the past. Heckman started in management with Dorking, Emery retired to become second team trainer, Goundry and Coney both moved to Hastings, and Anderson, always dependable when called on, decided to move to South Africa to rejoin Reg Smith, the manager who’d signed him in 1962. The saddest release of all was that of Tony Hawksworth, the last link with Tim Kelly’s Championship side, who had played cheerfully in the reserves for the last three seasons and now joined Terry Murray at Rushden.

One significant step during the season had been the creation of a youth team in a new competition, the Mercia Youth League, consisting of the youth teams of several other Southern League clubs as well as Ipswich and Colchester . One of the earliest members of this team was Bobby Folds, who was to be a regular first team player over a decade later after several wanderings round other clubs. The creation of this team-which drew average home crowds of about 600 in its first year- reignited the perennial debate about home-grown versus imported players. The advocates of the home-grown policy pointed to the worsening financial problems at this level of football; Bedford’s average crowd for Saturday league matches this season had plunged below 2,000 for the first time since (at the latest) 1950, but their figure of 1,956[2] was about par for the competition, with twelve of the 22 Premier Division clubs reporting worse averages. Nevertheless, with at least twelve[3] home league attendances failing to reach the 2,000 mark, the message was clear; playing success was the only way to improve interest in the club and thus its financial health. At the AGM in July, chairman Ted Ashdown reported match receipts (of course in the absence of a cup run) plummeting from over £14,000 to £7,152, and a loss of £8,311, the worst result in the history of the limited company formed in 1951. So hand-to-mouth was the financial operation of the club that in March the Supporters’ Club had agreed an emergency loan of £500 in March, and the directors had decided to increase the basic admission price from 2s 6d to 3s (£0.15[4]) immediately rather than waiting for the new season.

Later in the summer, Ashdown handed over the chairmanship[5], after nine eventful years, to George Senior, a cafe owner who had been on the board since 1960, and Reg Cornelius, who had been full-time secretary since 1952, also retired. So a new regime began off the field, and the next 12 months were to see some memorable moments on it.

To see photos of this season go to 1964/5 in photos

To continue the story go to 1965/6 Summary

For full results and teams go to Results and teams, 1950-67

· Barnet (who turned professional from the Athenian League) and Dunstable Town (Metropolitan League) were elected to the First Division for 1965/6

[1] Bellotti, Morgan, Davis, Wright, Bailey and Sturrock.

[2] Quoted in the Bedfordshire Times for 6 May 1965. The average for all games may have been slightly higher, since the Good Friday home match produced the best gate of the season in the league (3,098).

[3] Several attendances for the second half of the season were not recorded in the papers.

[4] About £2.20 in 2010 prices. Ground season tickets were £3 and stand tickets £5. The Supporters’ Club at their meeting in April 1965 claimed to have given some £13,900 to the football club in the previous eleven months.

[5] He had been in poor health for some time and retired from the board at the end of the following season, passing away in November 1966.