1953/4 in photos

On the opening Saturday of the 1953/4 season Bedford lost 2-3 at Whaddon Road, Cheltenham. Here new goalkeeper Charlie Bumstead is challenged by Cheltenham’s Ray Warne with Bedford’s centre-half and captain Jack Wilkins looking on.

Over 5,000 people saw this league match at Joseph’s Road, Guildford on the evening of 26 August 1953, but Bedford went down 0-1, thanks to a hotly disputed last minute penalty, to a team that would prove to be a “bogey” on their own ground almost to the end of the 1950s. Here Guildford’s centre-forward Jenkins is in an aerial tussle with Bedford’s Peter Hancock, watched by two new signings-goalkeeper Charlie Bumstead (left) and full-back Frank Morrad. This was the team’s third successive defeat at the start of the season, and they would win only one of their first eight matches.

Hancock had been another Arsenal reserve player recruited by Rooke from one of his old clubs, and despite staying three seasons he never really established himself. Bumstead had played for Rooke at Crystal Palace, while Morrad had been a colleague at Fulham, and later ran a chain of West London betting shops

In the same match, Guildford keeper Ray Drinkwater, later a regular at QPR, beats Bedford’s Don Wade in the air, with Johnny Jordan in the distance. Bedford were unlucky in that the fixture list compelled them to start with three successive away fixtures, and they were still without Ronnie Rooke, recovering from tonsillitis.

Jimmy Ayton is foiled by the Potton United defenders in this attack in Bedford’s 5-1 win at The Hollow in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup on 26 September 1953. The UCL side held their own in the first half, equalising at one point, but were gradually overwhelmed and were left to count the substantial gate as a consolation. Far left is Potton' s keeper Jack Bichener, who had played for the Eagles in the 1940s.

Ayton was a Scottish inside forward who was in and out of the side during his two seasons, competing with Rooke’s other expensive signings. He scored the two second half goals that finally sunk Potton.

I’ve included this match because it was probably the first Eagles game I attended, but my only memory is of getting lost somewhere in what seemed like a huge crowd on the open side of the ground, and being rescued by my father. Perhaps, at three and a half, I was a bit young to appreciate the scene.

In the second qualifying round of the FA Cup against Biggleswade at their Fairfield ground on 10 October 1953, Bedford drew a record attendance of 2,330, but were also nearly embarrassed by their United Counties League hosts who held them to a goalless draw. It was a match where both attacks missed chances, and this one was missed by Bedford’s Johnny Jordan (left), seen here advancing on the Waders’ keeper Morrison. Bedford won the replay comfortably enough, 5-0.

Jordan had been with a bizarre variety of clubs, including Juventus, since the end of the war, and his signing from Tonbridge was one of the few a cash-strapped Rooke (seen here with hands on hips to Jordan’s right) could afford in the summer of 1953. He hit 15 goals in 44 appearances but was released at the season’s end by new manager Fred Stansfield.

On 12 September 1953, Bedford’s troubled start to the season had turned disastrous when they were beaten by eight clear goals by Barry Town in South Wales, one of the worst defeats in their history. The return match at home on 17 October was therefore very important, especially after the previous week’s wobble at Biggleswade in the FA Cup, and 4,695, the best attendance of the season so far, saw them gain revenge 2-1 despite being a goal down after four minutes. Here, Jimmy Ayton (centre), scorer of one of the goals, has escaped his marker but his effort was saved by goalkeeper Nethercott. Either side of Ayton are Vivian Woodward and Ronnie Rooke. “Play was so gripping”, wrote the local scribe, “that onlookers made no mass shuffling towards the exits before the final whistle-they stayed to the end”.

Charlie Bumstead saves from Gorleston Town’s Neville Coleman-who later had a long league career with Stoke City- in the fourth qualifying round FA Cup tie at the Norfolk club’s ground on 7 November 1953. He later made another vital save from the same player when Gorleston were awarded a penalty 20 minutes from time, after Jimmy Gray had punched the ball off his own line. Nowadays, of course, that would have reduced the team to ten men, regardless of the outcome of the kick. Against their Eastern Counties League opponents the Eagles eased through 2-0 with goals from Jordan and Holland, both in the first half, watched by over 4,000.

Bedford’s reward for reaching the competition proper of the FA Cup for only the third time was a long trip to meet familiar Southern League opponents at Weymouth’s Recreation Ground on 21 November 1953. Once again they helped to create a record attendance, 6,552, but went down 0-2 in a disappointing display. In this early Bedford attack wing-half Ken Fisher (left) has joined Jimmy Ayton, but Ayton’s header from Ian McPherson’s cross hit the bar-the nearest the Eagles came to scoring. They were unable to pick Ted Duggan, their high-scoring recent signing, because he had already played for Worcester in an earlier round. Weymouth were dumped out of the competition 0-4 in the next round away to Leyton Orient.

Weymouth’s centre-forward Dave Massart hammers home his team’s second goal from close range, past the despairing defenders Ken Fisher, Jack Wilkins (on ground), Charlie Bumstead and (on the line) Jimmy Gray, who was much better known as a very long-serving batsman for Hampshire, and was not available at the start or end of the football season. Weymouth’s first goal had come from Andy Easton, a key member of Bedford’s championship side five years later.

Here Weymouth’s Belgian winger Marcel Gaillard, who had helped Portsmouth to win the First Division title in 1950, has outjumped Eagles centre-half and captain Jack Wilkins, who missed only two matches in his two seasons with the club, only to be discarded by Fred Stansfield. He and Dougie Gardiner were soon to take over team selection after Ronnie Rooke’s departure, and Wilkins rejoined Rooke the following summer at Hayward’s Heath.

After Ronnie Rooke’s effective dismissal early in December, the captain, Jack Wilkins, was put in charge of selecting the first team and Dougie Gardiner the reserves. Perhaps they should have been given these jobs permanently because the team now embarked on a run of seven wins in their next eight matches, taking them well into the top half of the table. The run started on 12 December 1953 with a 3-1 home win against Gloucester, and here visiting keeper Ron Coltman saves from Bedford’s Ted Duggan, whose marksmanship was a key element in the revival-he scored twice in this game and hit five of the six which beat Cheltenham the following week. By the end of the season he had hit 25 in 33 matches. Johnny Jordan is nearest the camera.

Two scenes from Bedford’s 2-0 defeat of Lovell’s Athletic at The Eyrie on 16 January 1954, before a crowd of just over 5,000, which continued the excellent recovery following Ronnie Rooke’s departure. (Top) Ted Duggan, who score both goals, in a race with Lovell’s defender Sillett. (Below) Lovell’s goalkeeper Ray Cross punches clear under a dual assault by Frank Faulkner (in air) and Vivian Woodward. Lovell’s were effectively a works team, sponsored by a Newport toffee manufacturing firm, but managed to give a good account of themselves for many years and often included several Welsh amateur internationals. During World War II they played in the wartime western section of the Football League.

The recovery continued with this 3-1 win against Weymouth on 20 February 1954, in which for once Duggan didn’t score. Here (far right) he has climbed above the defenders and his header ended up in the net but the effort was disallowed for a foul. Frank Faulkner, who scored the second goal, looks on.

Bedford’s outside chance of extending their recovery to have a chance of the league title ended with a 2-3 defeat by Kettering at The Eyrie on 13 March 1954, watched by 5,303. In the lower scene, Ted Duggan tries to burst between Kettering defenders Bill Barron (left) and Ken Walker, while in the top view, Kettering keeper George Nimmo fists away from the airborne Johnny Holland while Duggan waits, with Barron-whose son Roger played in goal for Bedford from 1969 to 1971- on the goal line.

All five goals in the Kettering match came in the last 23 minutes. Here Holland (third from left) catches Nimmo out of position to convert a cross from Vivian Woodward (second from right on goal line) for Bedford’s second goal, in the final few minutes, which reduced the arrears to 2-3, but they were unable to force an equaliser and lost at home for the first time since the end of October. Duggan (left) and Jordan are the other Bedford forwards. The Bedford Record’s reporter thought that some of the tackling was excessive even for a local derby and wrote: “On one occasion the spectators were treated to a brief display of fisticuffs without the slightest intervention from the referee”.

This picture is rare example of one taken from the eastern side of the ground and the crowd in view are standing to the Ford End Road side of the small original stand, out of shot to the left.

Any remaining illusions supporters may have had about league honours were ended on 27 March 1954, when 5,200 saw Bedford go down 1-3 to Merthyr Tydfil, who were already almost assured of their fifth post-war Southern League title. The Welsh side were held to 0-0 at half time but two goals by centre-forward Reynolds in the first ten minutes of the second half settled matters. Here Merthyr keeper Sellick catches a corner with some ease, watched by Bedford’s Ian McPherson (second from right). McPherson had won the Distinguished Flying Cross in the war before moving south from Rangers to Arsenal where he played alongside Ronnie Rooke. After being released at the end of the season he rejoined the RAF. This was to be the last season of Merthyr’s golden epoch before they embarked on many years in the lower reaches of the table.

Acrobatics on Good Friday, 1954 before 6,300, the best league crowd of the season, as Ted Duggan (centre) tangles with the Yeovil defence, watched by Ian McPherson (right) and Ken Fisher in the background. McPherson hit a hat-trick as Bedford won 3-0. The airborne defender to the left of Duggan is Mick Nagy, a Hungarian centre-half who was a regular in Yeovil’s side throughout this period but made just a single first team appearance when Tim Kelly brought him to Bedford in 1958, and no 4, with his back to the camera, is Brian Edwards, who was signed by Ronnie Rooke in his second spell as manager in 1959, but likewise rarely figured in the first team.

The season ended with the satisfaction of a first outright win for Bedford against Luton in the County Invitation Trophy on 22 April 1954 before just over 7,000. Ian McPherson, who ended the season strongly but wasn’t retained, scored the only goal against a Luton team including nine of their regular Second Division line-up. This is the successful Bedford team.

Back row: Charlie Bicknell (trainer), Jimmy Gray, Len Garwood, Charlie Bumstead, Frank Morrad, Ken Fisher.

Front row: Frank Faulkner, Ian McPherson, Ted Duggan, Jack Wilkins, Johnny Jordan, Johnny Holland.