1952/3 in photos

It’s public trial day in August 1952, and the players representing the “Whites”-the probable first team-emerge from the newly built dressing rooms at the Ford End Road End, through the new tunnel and past the spectators on the new terracing. Leading them out is Joe Millbank, followed by Billy Butler, Joe Murphy, Vivian Woodward, Ken Fisher and (just visible far right) Johnny Holland, Murphy, a newcomer from Crystal Palace, was to keep Butler out of the team for most of the season. Millbank, captain for the last three seasons, also lost his place to another newcomer, Jack Wilkins. Many spectators are wearing collars and ties-it was customary to dress up for a match in those days.

Eagles' keeper Larry Gage, seen here in the opening match of 1952/3 at Twerton Park, Bath, goes full length to save from Bath City's Bolton (striped shirt) in the 1-0 win on 23 August 1952. Gage had joined the club from Gillingham the previous year and before that had been a Fulham team mate of player-manager Ronnie Rooke.

This first team group was taken early in the 1952/3 season, probably before the FA Cup tie against Potton on 27 September, in which this eleven played.

Back: Len Garwood, Jack Wilkins, Larry Gage, Joe Murphy, Dougie Gardiner, Jimmy Gray.

Front: Joe Dubois, Vivian Woodward, Ronnie Rooke (player-manager), Dougie Taft, Johnny Holland.

The photograph appeared in the Bedfordshire Times for 10 October 1952 below the headline “Bedford Town’s top-of-League side”. The novelty of this position was still taking some getting used to-the comment below the picture said: “A few seasons ago Bedford’s big worry was how to get away (at the best to keep away) from the bottom of the table. Now the club strives to remain at the top”.

Although Rooke had switched the club's colours from amber and black to a basic blue and white when he arrived, it was not until Tim Kelly took over in 1955 that plain blue shirts and white shorts became the norm. In Rooke's era the players wore blue and white quartered shirts with black shorts early in 1951/2, and then various permutations of white shirts with blue trimmings (sometimes blue sleeves) and black shorts took over, as seen here.

In the second qualifying round of the FA Cup on 11 October 1952, left winger Don Wade (left) beats keeper Sid Blow to put Bedford three up against Eynesbury Rovers, who were led by their recently departed colleague Freddie Hall. Over 6,000 watched this match despite the junior opposition (note the boys sitting on the grass in front of the railings) and this goal may have been a relief since it did not come until the 84th minute, after the Eastern Counties League side had put up a tough fight. Taft added another four minutes later to give the scoreline more respectability. Wade was a talented winger who had spent five years at Upton Park, but was unable to dislodge Johnny Holland from the left wing spot for very long.

The empty surrounds at Watling Street, Dartford tell us that this is a mid-week afternoon match, in the Southern League Cup on 15 October 1952, watched by just 600 people. Bedford’s share of this was a mere £25. Here Joe Dubois (left) puts Bedford 2-1 up in the second half, the first of three goals inside four minutes, which paved the way for a 5-1 success. Vivian Woodward looks on. Dubois was an Ulsterman who had been on Arsenal’s staff with Rooke, but had respectable spells with Doncaster, Grimsby and Halifax-the latter two, unusually, after his one season at The Eyrie.

Even the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup were highly prized fixtures in the 1950s, especially when there was a local derby element. At Hitchin’s Top Field in the third qualifying round on 25 October 1952, over 6,300 turned up, with many Eagles supporters swelling the crowd, and the gates were shut before the start, forcing latecomers to perch on the surrounding trees and buildings. Here Joe Dubois (left) puts Bedford two up after only seven minutes, streaking past what appears to be a rather late challenge by the defender on the right. Hitchin later reduced the arrears twice and were unlucky not to equalize in the dying seconds before going down 2-3.

Programmes from the early 50s are still around on ebay and similar places but are not cheap. The design was rather attractive as this example from October 1952 shows.

Bedford exited from the FA Cup at London Road, Peterborough on 8 November 1952, watched by an extraordinary crowd of 15,327, which beat the previous Peterborough record by a whole 5,000. The Eagles had been having an excellent run in the league but after going two goals behind early in the game they were unable to repeat their earlier form; Dubois pulled a goal back and just before half-time Taft had a goal disallowed for offside, apparently because Wade was in an offside position even though Bedford claimed he was “not interfering”, and therefore the goal would probably be allowed today, but there was no further scoring. In the final moments, a lively conversation seems to be going on here between Ronnie Rooke (right), Taft and some of the home defenders after a collision involving Posh’s goalkeeper and player-manager, Jack Fairbrother (on ground), with centre-half Norman Rigby, who had kept Rooke in check, looking over him. Rooke was attacked by a home spectator as the players left the field, although this seems to have created remarkably little comment. “The game included too much aimless kicking and roughness”, said the Bedford Record’s reporter. Fairbrother later told journalists that “another Bedford forward” and not Rooke was to blame. Until elected to the Football League in 1960, Peterborough competed in the Midland League, which was probably equal in standard at this time to the Southern League, although this season they finished only eighth. In the next round they beat Torquay before going out to Bristol Rovers. Even by the standards of the time they attracted tremendous support, and when Bedford visited London Road the following September in the Hunts Cup, the gate of over 6,500 was Peterborough’s lowest of the season so far.

Photographs by kind permission of Johnston Press plc

Three more scenes from the Peterborough cup-tie. (Top), Jack Wilkins just fails to dispossess

Posh’s Andy Donaldson in the move that led to their second goal. (Middle) Larry Gage is beaten by Fred Martin’s shot for the first goal. (Bottom) Gage and his backs, Joe Murphy and Jimmy Gray (on the line) defend a corner against Martin and Paddy Sloan.

How some supporters travelled to Peterborough for the cup-tie, for five shillings (£0.25). The special train used the old line from Bedford St John’s to Cambridge and probably then went via March to Peterborough. The arrival only 45 minutes before the kick-off makes one wonder how many people missed the start as they queued to join the 15,000 crowd at London Road.

Dougie Taft (left, white shirt) heads home a cross from Vivian Woodward (out of shot) for the Eagles' second goal at home to Kidderminster on 29 November 1952, when 3941 saw a 5-1 win. Ronnie Rooke observes, right, with Johnny Holland in the distance

Vivian Woodward (centre) heads for goal against Worcester at The Eyrie on 13 December 1952, with Dougie Taft waiting, left, for any mistake by Worcester keeper Newman. The Eagles won 2-1 in what was said to have been one of the best games of the season so far, coming back from a goal down at half-time with goals by Rooke and Wade. As Worcester pressed for a late equalizer, “some people confessed that the excitement of the last ten minutes was too much for them and that they turned their heads away!” according to the Bedford Record correspondent.

Taft was a very useful capture for Rooke and hit 29 goals in what was to be his only season with the club-he was too expensive for them to keep once the directors clamped down on the wages budget the following summer, and moved on to Peterborough and, later, to Kettering.

Photograph courtesy and copyright of the Worcester News.

In the return fixture with Worcester at St George’s Lane on 3 January 1953 City got their revenge with a 3-1 win. Here Bedford keeper Frank Boulton watches a cross sail harmlessly wide, watched by full-back Joe Murphy (left) and captain Jack Wilkins (centre).

Boulton, who had been Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper for a while in the late 1930s, was nearly 34 on his arrival but stayed for another three seasons, mainly in the reserves since first Larry Gage, and then Charlie Bumstead, was usually first choice. On Easter Monday 1953, he played for the reserves at home in the morning against Kettering Reserves (attendance 3,500), and then turned out for the first team at Kettering in the afternoon, keeping successive clean sheets. While with Derby in 1945/6, he had been very unlucky not to get a FA Cup winner’s medal-he had been first choice up to the fourth round but was then injured in a league game and missed the final against Charlton.

After topping the table at Christmas 1952, Bedford lost their way in the new year and this match against Cheltenham at Whaddon Road on 19 February saw their fourth defeat of 1953, by 1-4, their heaviest defeat so far-which would be followed three days later by a 0-5 thumping at Hereford. Here even centre-half and captain Jack Wilkins (left) has joined the attack to help Jimmy Ayton (left) challenge Cheltenham keeper Nicholls.

In an era when reserve matches attracted regular crowds in the 2,000-3,000 bracket and often more, supporters attached importance to a strong second eleven, and in Ronnie Rooke’s first spell as manager his policy of expensive signings meant that the Eaglets were normally too strong for United Counties League opponents. This team beat Northampton “A” 7-0 at The Eyrie on 3 January 1953 on their way to the league and cup double-it includes several players who clocked up a lot of first team appearances.

Back row: Tommy Ruff (trainer), G R Evans*, Billy Butler, Maurice Woolgar, Joe Millbank, Peter Hancock, Joe Bell.

Front row: Frank Faulkner, Jimmy Ayton, Brian Perkins, Joe Campbell, Johnny Summers.

*Amateur who never appeared in the first team. Another unrelated defender with the same name and initials played for the club before and just after the war.

An historic day-Good Friday, 3 April 1953, when 10,184 people crammed into The Eyrie to set a new record and see a vital Southern league clash with Kettering, who were lying second in the table to Bedford’s third and separated only by goal average-with the leaders, Headington, only a point ahead of both. A goalless first half ended with Kettering keeper Peter Pickering denying Jimmy Ayton a certain goal with a superb save, and then Powell gave the visitors an early second half lead, hitting a second two minutes from the end. Although Bedford beat Chelmsford next day and won at Kettering on Easter Monday, this defeat did much to dent their chances of the title-just as a dropped point against the same opponents, also on Good Friday at home, was to do in 1957/8.

Here Pickering takes a cross to foil Ronnie Rooke, a lone warrior it appears, with Kettering resorting to such deep defence that even their inside right, Jackie Whent, is on the goal line.

This record was never beaten at The Eyrie for a league fixture, and the next three best league attendances were all for Kettering’s visits; 9,200 (approximately) saw them beaten 5-1 in March 1956, 8,728 saw Kettering win 2-1 in October 1956, and 8,800 saw the 2-2 draw on Good Friday 1958.

Even after losing to Kettering Bedford were still in the hunt for the title, and when the leaders, Headington United (later Oxford United) visited the Eyrie for an evening match on 16 April 1953 they were outplayed as Bedford won 4-2 before 5,600 supporters. This is the Eagles’ second goal, scored through a packed defence by Joe Dubois (extreme right), who had fastened on to partly cleared free kick by Vivian Woodward. All six goals came in the first half. Left to right are Ronnie Rooke, Headington’s keeper Jack Ansell, their centre-half Bob Craig, who was to give Bedford such splendid service a few years later, Dougie Taft, Tom Potter, Headington’s right-back who had been with Bedford from 1949 to 1951, Cyril Toulouse (4) and Jimmy Ayton, next to Dubois.

Headington recovered from this setback to win the title on goal average from Merthyr, who threw away their chances by losing three times in the run-in to teams at the other end of the table, and Bedford had to settle for third place by two points. Two years later, four regular members of this successful Headington side, Craig, Johnny Crichton, Ronnie Steel and Harry Yates (who didn’t play in this game), moved to Bedford to participate in the club’s most successful era.

This is the reserve line up (with ball-boys) that beat Spalding 6-1 at The Eyrie on 18 April 1953 to win the United Counties League Cup. Results elsewhere on the same day also assured them of the league championship. The attendance was 4,910, higher than for a number of first eleven matches that season. (See The Eaglets for more on the reserves in this period)

Back row: Tommy Ruff (trainer), Ronnie Rooke (player-manager), Jimmy Ayton, Frank Boulton, Billy Butler, Eddie Painter.

Front row: Frank Faulkner, Joe Bell, Joe Millbank, Peter Hancock, Joe Campbell, Johnny Holland.

The first team were still in the running for the Southern League title and had a match that day at Gloucester (attendance 1,600!) which was drawn 1-1. Rooke might nowadays have some explaining to do as to why he omitted himself, Ayton, Holland and Boulton, all of whom had played against Headington for the first team two days earlier, from the team at Gloucester in order to play them in this match, but nobody seems to have complained.

Photograph by kind permission of the Cambridge News

Partly concealed behind a cap which appears about to come off, Bedford’s young reserve keeper Maurice Woolgar, who was on loan from Brighton, punches clear under challenge from a Cambridge United forward in the Hunts Premier Cup semi-final at Newmarket Road on 20 April 1953, with Ken Fisher in attendance on the right. This match ended in a 1-1 draw and Bedford squeezed home 2-1 in the replay. United were then only in the Eastern Counties League and their ground was very undeveloped, but this match attracted a 3,300 crowd and within 15 years they were one of the strongest non-league clubs in the country. In 1970 they reached the Football League while Bedford were sinking into obscurity.

After their best ever league season, Bedford supporters will have fancied the team’s chances of landing the County Cup against Luton at The Eyrie on 27 April 1953, but two goals in the first six minutes, from Bernard Moore and Jesse Pye, spoiled what was then regarded as one of the highlights of the season for the crowd of 7,557. Luton went on to win 4-1. Here Dougie Taft (foreground) seems to have beaten keeper Ron Baynham to a cross but headed wide as Ronnie Rooke looks on.

I'm grateful to Ian Hands for this little curiosity from 1952/3- "Players' Instructions and Training Rules" issued by the club under Ronnie Rooke's managership. This one belonged to defender Billy Butler and acted as a pass into the dressing rooms as well as a stern reminder of how much training was expected. Ronnie Rooke at this stage appears to have had homes both in London and Bedford, the latter being in Lynton Grove and christened "Highbury".