1955/6-four minutes from Cup history

In the summer of 1955, Tim Kelly had a major clear-out of many of the players that Fred Stansfield had inherited or signed. Only Farquhar, Ted Duggan, Faulkner, Kinchin and Cyril Partridge remained; Billy Waugh had been Kelly’s own signing at the end of 1954/5, and Len Garwood had been re-signed at the same time after returning from Canada. So the new manager had to sign almost two new teams. It was even more important than before to have adequate cover, because the reserves had left the United Counties League in favour of the tougher Metropolitan League, consisting mainly of reserve teams of Southern League clubs and “A” teams of League clubs. The latter sometimes included already famous names-I remember seeing Mel Charles playing for Arsenal "A" when making a comeback after injury-or names which would become famous later, such as a certain G. Hurst who scored for West Ham "A" at the Eyrie early in 1958/9.

His own playing days being long past, Kelly cast his net rather wider than Ronnie Rooke had tended to do. His biggest coup was to persuade four members of the Headington team that had won the league title in 1952/3 and been runners-up the following year to move to Bedford. Bob Craig, a Geordie centre-half, Johnny Crichton, a balding Scots wing-half, Ronnie Steel, another Geordie who could play right wing or inside forward, and Harry Yates, a prolific goalscorer of Yorkshire origins, appear to have fallen out with the Headington management over the non-payment of appearance bonuses to injured players[1], but whatever the reasons behind their move this was an extraordinary piece of good business, effectively acquiring the “spine” of a whole new team; the players would have been out of contract and thus cost only their wages. Also, Kelly acquired a new goalkeeper, Terry Pope from Newport County, who was the only full-timer on the books and used to double as an assistant groundsman and odd-jobber during the week, two new full-backs, Billy Cooke from Watford and Des Quinn from Millwall, Bert Carberry, a wing-half from Gillingham, and two new goalscorers in Arthur Adey, a Scots inside-forward from Bradford Park Avenue, and Felix Staroscik, a Polish left winger who had arrived in the UK with his country’s Free Forces during the war and had played for Third Lanark and Northampton. Only Cooke had any previous connection with Kelly, having been at Luton earlier in his career. However, Dougie Gardiner, who had also been with Kelly at Luton, had retired to become first team “trainer-coach”, and he was to become Peter Taylor to Kelly’s Brian Clough, if that’s not too much of an anachronism.

It was still possible to recruit good players from Football league clubs by exploiting the absence of a maximum wage, in contrast to the one that existed in the Football League. John Plummer, who joined from Spurs the following season, recalled in correspondence in October 2010: “It was at the time when the pay was £18 maximum per week and outside the league it was possible to negotiate beyond that wage." It must have been easier still to do this with part-time players who could be found jobs in businesses owned by directors.

The 1955/6 playing staff seen a few days before the start of the season.

Back row: Paddy Watson (assistant trainer), Ted Duggan, Alf Rogers, Derek Williams, Ben Kinchin, Terry Pope, Harry Yates, Ron Steel, Dougie Gardiner (trainer-coach).

Centre: Tim Kelly (manager), W. Burridge (director), Frank Faulkner, N. Grey (director), Phil Nolan, H.L.Miles (director), Bob Craig, F.G.Wells (director), Roy Brandham, Harry Cosford (director), Arthur Adey, T.C.Eckstein (director), Des Quinn, Cyril Symes (director), Reg Cornelius (secretary).

Front row: Billy Cooke, F.French (director), Billy Waugh, F.Ambidge (director), Len Garwood, Cyril Folkes (chairman), Johnny Crichton, Len Noble (vice-chairman), Felix Staroscik, C.H.Goodman (director), Cyril Partridge.

The eleven for the first match of the season, against Hereford at home, thus featured nine new players, plus Waugh who was almost new; only Faulkner had been on the books twelve months earlier, and he was only playing because Steel was unfit. It was a gamble of sorts to launch such a radically new squad, but the first five matches produced four wins and a draw, with attendances back into the 5,500-6,000 bracket as people sensed a new era. By the end of 1955 the Eagles had lost only five times in the league and were well up with the leaders; the summer signings had been joined by Bernard Moore, who was certainly an old Kelly contact from Luton via Brighton, but had gradually ousted Ted Duggan from the attack. Yates, Adey and Staroscik, a curly-headed incutter of a winger in the Finney rather than the Matthews mould, were all scoring steadily, and the defence, with Pope, Craig and Crichton the lynchpins, was a match for most of their opponents.

Arthur Adey (centre) heads the first of Bedford’s four goals in the FA Cup 1st qualifying round tie against Biggleswade at The Eyrie on 24 September 1955. Signed by Tim Kelly the previous summer from Bradford (Park Avenue), this tall Glaswegian played for numerous clubs and seemed to have a talent for getting into trouble at most of them; he launched his Bedford career with the considerable feat of getting into a fight (with Doug Farquhar) in the public trial match! Later in his wanderings, when he played for Chelmsford City, he scored the goal that denied Bedford the league championship in April 1958. Tony Butcher, a team mate there, recalled: “On one trip we were coming back by rail when one of the directors upset him. The next thing we knew, Arthur had picked up his bowler hat and thrown it out of the window”. (Wheel ‘em in, the official history of Chelmsford City FC by Steve Garner, 2001)

The first real test in the 1955/6 FA Cup run came in the 4th qualifying round on 5 November, with the visit of Walthamstow Avenue, who were the reigning Isthmian League champions and had won the Amateur Cup in 1952. However, they were thrashed 6-0 before a crowd of just under 8,000. Here their Polish goalkeeper, Stan Gerula, prepares to save from Billy Waugh, who was deputizing for the injured Ronnie Steel.

The first round proper brought a visit from Leyton (not to be confused with Leyton Orient), another east London amateur club, from the Athenian League, who were beaten 3-0 before about 7,000 on a grey 19 November 1955. This is the first goal, scored from long range by Doug Farquhar (out of shot), with Ronnie Steel watching as goalkeeper Mitchell and full back Fitch are beaten.

It was in the FA Cup that this team really made its mark. Comfortable successes against local opponents paired them with Walthamstow Avenue, the leading amateurs who had held Manchester United to a draw a couple of years earlier, in the fourth qualifying round; but with surprising ease the Eagles put six goals past them without reply to entertain an 8,000 crowd. Leyton, another east London amateur side, were beaten 3-0 in the first round proper to put Bedford further in the competition than they had ever advanced before.

10 December 1955 was a day of records; the first home FA Cup tie against a League club, a new record attendance of 13, 150, and Bedford’s first defeat of a League club, as Watford, of the Third Division (South) were defeated 3-2 in the second round. In this first half scene Watford keeper Ted Bennett saves under imminent challenge from Arthur Adey. The open terracing in the background, known as “Barrackers’ Hill”, was one of the flanks to the old seated stand (out of shot to the right) which was replaced the following year, thanks to the profits generated by this cup run, by a new stand running the whole length of the touchline.

Just before half time Bedford took a 2-1 lead against Watford when Felix Staroscik (centre) bundled this close range effort over the line. Staroscik had come to England during the war and played for the Polish Forces XI before joining Third Lanark, a long defunct Scottish League club in Glasgow, and then moving to Northampton until the summer of 1955. An aggressive, goal-scoring left winger in the Finney rather than the Matthews mould, he was “Starry” to the supporters who found pronouncing his name a struggle and ran his own electrical business for many years in the area, passing away in August 2009.

Early in the second half, Felix Staroscik put Bedford 3-1 ahead with a header and here he lands in the net while keeper Bennett looks accusingly at his defenders and Bernard Moore (9) turns in celebration.

On 10 December 1955, 13,150 people crammed into a ground whose capacity had increased by a few thousand since the Second World War thanks to W T Hobkirk’s expansion programme, and which now had a cantilevered concrete roof at the Ford End Road end, but with its primitive grandstand dating from the 1920s, it was still essentially a basic affair. The opposition, Watford, were only the second Football League team to have played Bedford in the competition, and were a struggling side in the Third Division (South), but two goals either side of half-time by Staroscik really clinched the tie after they had equalised Steel’s earlier goal for Bedford. The 3-2 win put the Eagles into the completely unknown territory of the third round with the First and Second Division clubs. At a time when the FA Cup was viewed as the premier competition at all levels of the game, the draw pairing them with Arsenal at Highbury was national news.

While they were progressing in the FA Cup, Bedford had slipped behind in their league fixtures although their good start meant that they were still in mid-table when they put four goals past Cheltenham at The Eyrie on a very wet 27 December 1955. Here, Arthur Adey (left) heads the first goal past Cheltenham keeper Bill Gourlay, watched by Harry Yates (centre) and Felix Staroscik in the background. The attendance of just under 5,000 was a little disappointing, however-perhaps the bad weather tempted some to watch the film advertised in this edition of the Bedfordshire Times-Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan the Ape Man, at the long forgotten Picturedrome, on the south bank of the Ouse by the Town Bridge.

Bedford drew the “plum” tie of the third round against Arsenal at Highbury, and here Bob Craig (right) meets Arsenal’s captain Cliff Holton and referee Leo Callaghan on 7 January 1956; he was deputizing as captain for the injured Johnny Crichton that day but took over the captaincy the following season. 55,178, the biggest crowd ever to watch Bedford, were settling down for what proved to be one of the biggest shocks in the history of the competition. Below, the cover and centrefold of the match programme (with Crichton incorrectly shown as playing). Note the 3pm "floodlight" kick-off: at this time the Football League still didn't allow floodlights to be used but the FA was more progressive.

For most adult Bedford supporters of that era, Arsenal were still probably the biggest team in the country. Under Tom Whittaker, they had last won the League title only just under three years earlier, in 1953, and that had been their seventh Championship since 1930, during which time they had also won the FA Cup three times and only once finished lower than sixth. Nobody knew at the time that their 1953 title was to be their last for another 17 years, until Bertie Mee’s double-winning era. In The Eyrie Roar (1999), several supporters of the period told their stories of the events of 7 January 1956; so many excursions by bus and train[2] were run in addition to the official Supporters’ Club parties that their exact numbers can only be guessed at, but there may well have been 10,000 Bedford supporters in the crowd of 55,178 on a murky day-so much so that many supporters feared that they had had a wasted journey until the fog cleared in the outer suburbs.

In view of the weather perhaps it was just as well that Arsenal had been one of the pioneers of floodlighting, and that the FA had recently relaxed its rules to allow FA Cup ties to be played under lights (the first Football League match under lights, at Portsmouth, was played the following month). The match programme notes complained that Highbury spectators at their recent home match against Wolves had suffered from the early kick-off necessary without lights in mid-winter-"the kick-off was at 2.15 pm and at 2.05 pm there was little indication that there would be a very large attendance, yet in that ten minutes (and the following ten minutes) thousands of people descended upon the stadium and on entering the ground found difficulty in finding places to see" because everyone clustered round the entry points. (The crowd at that match was some 43,000 incidentally, well short of the capacity of over 60,000). Arguing that everyone would benefit from a later start and more time for a meal first, Arsenal asked Bedford whether they would agree to the use of lights, and despite their unhappy experience at Headington a couple of years earlier (see 1953/4 Summary), Bedford agreed readily.

Bernard Moore provided some reminiscences many years later to a local magazine. “The night before we were given seats to see a show at the London Palladium but the club had been allocated odd seats that were not all together and we were dotted all over the place. On the day of the match we visited the Palace of Westminster before going to the Arsenal. It was all a bit of a blur, but I do remember being very impressed with the under-floor heating in the dressing room and by the big plunge bath.”

Terry Pope about to clear his goal area in the first match of the third round FA Cup tie against Arsenal at Highbury. The Arsenal forward is Vic Groves and the defender in the background is Des Quinn. Pope, a former Newport County player, was the only full-time professional on the books at the time, and spent his days assisting the groundsman and doing maintenance work. After three seasons as first choice goalkeeper, he was dropped and released after a blunder against Kettering on Good Friday, 1958, had cost a vital league point. His later football career, if any, is unknown, but he became a market trader in Liverpool and died in 2003.

The first half went according to expectations and Tapscott put Arsenal ahead within the first five minutes; a volley from Groves five minutes after half-time made it two and but for Pope’s saves, Arsenal would have wrapped up their expected victory before the remarkable final 13 minutes. Then Steel pulled a goal back after a fine individual run down the right wing ending with a cross shot past Sullivan, and with six minutes left Staroscik, Adey and Yates combined from the left to play Moore in to equalise from close range. In the last seconds Yates had a goal-bound shot deflected into the side-netting by Arsenal’s giant centre-half, Jim Fotheringham; an eye-witness once told me that Fotheringham’s outstretched leg seemed to go on for ever until it finally made contact to deny the Eagles an historic win.

Bernard Moore also recalled the low-key aftermath: “When the whistle blew our chairman [Cyril Folkes] came on the pitch and kissed every one of us. Unlike today we didn’t celebrate; there was no party afterwards and we quietly packed our kit into our bags and went back home to the various parts of the country where we lived. It was as if nothing had ever happened”.[3]

Arsenal dominated the first half. Above, on the left , Pope is beaten by a shot from Holton that skimmed the bar, and (right), having been beaten by a Bloomfield shot that hit the post, he is on the ground and unable to stop Tapscott putting Arsenal one up. Craig (left) and Farquhar can't get back in time.

Below left, Vic Groves beats Terry Pope for Arsenal's second goal, with Bob Craig looking on .

Below right, from the second half, Arsenal keeper Con Sullivan saves in an Eagles attack, with Harry Yates on the ground possibly appealing for a free kick while referee Leo Callaghan waves play on.

With 13 minutes left, Arsenal goalkeeper Con Sullivan is stranded as Ronnie Steel (out of shot) reduces the arrears in the Highbury cup tie, with centre-half Jim Fotheringham chasing back in vain. Arsenal had taken a two-goal lead with goals from Tapscott after 5 minutes and Groves shortly after half time.

With six minutes left in the first match at Highbury, Bernard Moore (who died in July 2014 at the age of 90) has just scored the equalizer from close range after an interchange between Staroscik and Adey on the left wing. Moore can just be seen wheeling away, right, arms outstretched, behind Arsenal’s Fotheringham. Full back Dennis Evans is grounded by the far post and Ronnie Steel is about to converge on Moore. A few minutes later, Harry Yates was denied a winner when Fotheringham deflected his goal-bound effort into the side netting with the goalkeeper stranded.

The same scene a split second later as seen from the stands, with the players identified.

Celebrations at Highbury after Bedford have just held Arsenal to a 2-2 draw, 7 January 1956.

At back: Terry Pope, Billy Cooke, Harry Yates, Desmond Quinn, Doug Farquhar.

Front: Felix Staroscik, Len Garwood, Bob Craig (behind), Ron Steel, Arthur Adey, Johnny Crichton#, Bert Carberry*, Paddy Watson (assistant trainer), Dougie Gardiner (trainer/coach).

# Injured. *Reserve.

Bernard Moore, who scored the equalizer, is the only missing member of the eleven that played. He gave a radio interview after the game so that probably explains his absence.

In the programme for Arsenal's next home match, against Spurs on 14 January, the "Voice of Arsenal" column reported: "Several spectators have expressed themselves on the fact that both the goals scored against us were in the floodlit period and that if the match had been played in daylight completely, those goals might never have been scored". But as the columnist pointed out, the conditions were the same for both sides and Bedford had even less experience under lights than Arsenal.

Arsenal’s Welsh international keeper, Jack Kelsey, who missed the first match, saves from Harry Yates in the replay at the Eyrie the following Thursday, 12 January 1956. Bernard Moore is the other Bedford forward and Arsenal backs Denis Evans (left) and Stan Charlton look on. The goalmouth looks as though a snowstorm has just passed by but in fact it was spread with sawdust, much to Arsenal’s disgust.

The replay was played on the following Thursday afternoon and 15,306 people, many probably taking illicit time off from work or school, crammed into the little ground to see it. If anything Bedford exceeded their achievements in the first match, and had the better of a goalless first half; then in the first minute of the second, Yates fastened on to a botched clearance by Fotheringham (or Holton according to some accounts) to beat Kelsey from ten yards. The Eagles held their lead until four minutes from the end, and meanwhile a second Yates effort had been disallowed for offside. Tom Whittaker later told the Bedfordshire Times reporter that he’d resigned himself to an embarrassing defeat by then- “I was ready to pack up and go home”-but Groves saved his blushes with probably the best goal of the tie, a diving header from a left wing cross. Two minutes into extra time, a Tapscott header put Arsenal ahead, and their superior fitness saw them through despite a second disallowed goal, from Staroscik, in the last few minutes.

The best film footage of the replay available on line is a BBC "Sportsview" production, with Kenneth Wolstenholme commentating, about 12 minutes' worth, now on YouTube at Bedford Town v Arsenal FA Cup replay 1955-6 - YouTube . It shows the buildup to Yates's disallowed goal and although you can't see when the linesman flagged because he was on the same side as the camera, it does suggest that it was Moore who was adjudged offside (see the Daily Sketch photographs below). This clip also suggests that Fotheringham nowadays might have been shown a red card for a foul on Moore when he was clean through in the closing minutes. There are also brief highlights at http://www.britishpathe.com/video/arsenal-win-bedford-replay, and a shorter clip, with commentary by David Jacobs (later compere of Juke Box Jury!), from Movietone News at youtu.be/pTW68U8tLRE. [4]

A minute into the second half, (left), Fotheringham (5) failed to clear a Staroscik cross and Harry Yates (out of shot) beat Kelsey with his left foot from ten yards out to put Bedford ahead. Here the goalkeeper is grounded as Fotheringham contemplates his mistake and the ball hits the back of the net.

(Above) the view from the other side, as Yates turns away to celebrate. The open banking to the right of the old stand (out of shot) can be seen with the rather precarious looking platform for the TV cameras.

This is how Laurie Pignon, of the long defunct tabloid the "Daily Sketch", saw Yates's disallowed second goal in the 59th minute. Bernard Moore (9) has been carried beyond the touchline in his run and Yates (8), to whom Moore cut the ball back, surely can't have been offside when Moore passed to him. So was Moore interfering with play? Referee Leo Callaghan told the "Bedford Record" reporter that he'd already blown his whistle three times before the ball entered the net. Had the linesman flagged Moore offside when he originally received the ball? The surviving video footage (see the links above) doesn't provide a clear answer.

Arsenal’s Jimmy Bloomfield advances on goal in the replay, with Bob Craig (right) moving across to cover and Des Quinn in pursuit. The attendance of 15,306 was the highest in the club’s history to date and was surpassed later only by the Carlisle (1963/4) and Everton (1965/6) attendances, after the capacity of the ground had been increased by the larger main stand which was built in the following season. Bedford received £3,553 as their share of the gate at Highbury and £1,500 from the replay.

The Eagles were £5,000 richer for their efforts in the two matches, and had materially raised the profile of a club at that stage little known outside its own sphere. “When the ball hit the net [for Yates’s goal]”, wrote “V.M.H.” in the Bedfordshire Times, “the crowd broke all barriers of sound and decorum with a cheer that must have startled the rooks in Pavenham churchyard. Even the gasometers seemed to grin through the mist....”. One telling statistic buried in the reports is that only 30 additional policemen were on duty, although no problems were reported. Today’s sport fitness experts might be surprised to read that the Bedford players, at a special pre-match lunch at the Embankment Hotel, had “chicken with tea and toast to complete the meal-no vegetables were allowed”.

There were only four minutes of normal time left in the replay when Vic Groves headed Arsenal level. Here Pope sprawls as the ball passes him watched by Bob Craig (left) and Doug Farquhar. Bedford might have been two up by then, but an earlier goal by Yates had been disallowed for offside. Two minutes into extra time, Derek Tapscott put Arsenal ahead, and they held out to win 2-1 despite another disallowed effort, by Staroscik, in the second period; referee Leo Callaghan later called his house in Merthyr Tydfil “Offside”. He told reporters that Staroscik’s “goal” was offside by two yards. The photograph below, showing Staroscik a split second after his shot had beaten the grounded Kelsey and the linesman with his flag held high, is, of course, inconclusive, although Staroscik remained convinced that he had scored a good goal as late as 1999 when he was interviewed by the compilers of The Eyrie Roar.

Reproduced by kind permission of Bedford Community Arts

Even after their replay defeat, Bedford's players had a consolatary drink-here, left to right, are Des Quinn (pouring champagne), Billy Cooke, Bert Carberry, Arthur Adey, Felix Staroscik and Len Garwood.

[Thanks to Mike Crisp for finding this photo]

Below, Arsenal's cheque for Bedford's share of the gate at Highbury, £3,553 and four old pence, equivalent to about £80,000 in 2018 terms. By comparison, their share of the gate at Dunstable in the second qualifying round was £27 2s 11d!

How Arsenal's programme editor saw the outcome of the replay (from the programme for their next home match, v Tottenham, two days afterwards).

Back in the league, Kelly immediately spent a little of the cup cash on two new forwards, George Stobbart, one of his old Luton charges who had meandered on to Millwall and Brentford, and Jimmy Bowie, a Scottish winger from Watford who had once been a regular at Chelsea, and this pair by the end of the season had displaced Moore and Adey from the cup side; now Kelly was also able to release Ted Duggan, who returned to Luton in a coaching role. A splendid run of only one defeat and two draws in the next 13 fixtures, including a 5-1 thumping of Kettering at home watched by 9,200, took them into third place by mid-March; at that point they were six points behind the leaders, Guildford, with two games in hand. But the strains of so many matches now took their toll; the final eleven matches, including the customary three matches in four days at Easter, produced only two wins and three draws. Bedford made Guildford fight hard to secure their title in the penultimate match at Joseph’s Road when they came back from four goals down to lose only 3-4, but by then they were well out of contention themselves and had to settle for fourth place-their second best finish-by nine points, having scored one short of a hundred league goals. The reserves also did well at their new level, beating Headington in the final of the Metropolitan League Challenge Cup.

After their FA Cup exit, Bedford won their next four league matches to give themselves a decent chance of challenging the leaders. At the top of the table in the fourth of those matches, at The Eyrie on 28 January 1956, were Guildford, the eventual champions, who were defeated 3-2 in front of over 7,500. Here Bernard Moore (right) outjumps the defenders, watched by two players who had been signed just after the Arsenal ties, George Stobbart (8) from Brentford, and Jimmy Bowie (centre), who had played for Watford in the FA Cup at The Eyrie a few weeks earlier.

After defeating Kidderminster 5-2 at The Eyrie on 17 March 1956 (having won by the same score at Kidderminster ten days earlier), Bedford stood third in the table, only six points behind the leaders, Guildford, and with two games in hand. This was a particularly good result given that they were two goals down inside the first quarter of an hour. Here Ronnie Steel (right) challenges goalkeeper Crowther, with Felix Staroscik backing up.

Bedford’s league aspirations for 1955/6 were ended by a poor Easter when they took only two points from the three matches that they played, as was customary, in four days, starting with this 1-1 draw with Weymouth at The Eyrie on Good Friday, 30 March 1956, before 7,496 people. Harry Yates saved a point with an equalizer ten minutes from the end, and in this shot, taken after that, defenders Bert Carberry (left) and Des Quinn have joined the forwards to try a force a winner, but Weymouth keeper Stan Hayhurst holds firm, watched by George Stobbart (9).

I’ve included this Reserve team group from April 1956 because it includes some players who made first team appearances but aren’t shown elsewhere.

Back: Peter Whiffin, Bernard Moore, Bert Carberry, Ben Kinchin, Phil Nolan, Cyril Partridge.

Front: Jim Taylor, Arthur Adey, Alf Rogers, Les Champion, Billy Waugh.

Of these only Rogers and Taylor, an amateur, never appeared in the first team. Nolan and Rogers were both very experienced defenders (with Watford and Aldershot respectively) who were never able to break into regular first team spots, but in the days of the maximum wage in the Football League they may well have been better off playing part-time reserve football while working at their normal jobs in the week. Partridge, who moved to Rotherham in the following summer, later worked for Don Revie on Leeds United’s coaching staff in the 60s. Adey doesn’t look too pleased to be playing at this level, however.

This picture was taken before the first leg of the Metropolitan League Challenge Cup Final at The Eyrie against Headington reserves, who were defeated 3-0; the second leg was drawn 1-1 so Bedford won the trophy on aggregate. This was the Reserves’ first season in the competition, having previously competed in the lower level United Counties League, and attendances of two or three thousand were quite common-2,500 watched this game. By the mid 60s, 250 would be a more typical turnout.

For more on the Reserves see The Eaglets.

There had been a few problems along the way. The 0-1 defeat at home to Chelmsford in November must have included some contentious refeeing decisions, because in his programme notes for the FA Cup match against Leyton the following week, chairman Folkes thanked supporters "for the control you had on your tempers". He went on : "I am sure there is no other official who provokes the public and players as the one it was our misfortune to have last week. Attempts by the Board to keep this official away from the Eyrie have been made before, but if you remember it only made matters worse for we had the same official three or four games straight running...We are not the only club to make this same complaint, last Saturday a Chelmsford director was telling us they had the same trouble at their ground". The referee in question, Mr A B Lamb of Ilford, was one of the longest-serving officials in the League and the chairman's words brought down the full wrath of the FA on the Eagles for the cardinal sin of "bringing the game into disrepute". A grovelling written apology was offered and the club was forced to reprint the offending notes, plus the apology, in the programme for the match against Worcester in April. What the FA would have made of some of the things managers say about referees today one can only wonder.

That apart, it had been a superb season, watched by the best crowds ever seen at The Eyrie, averaging over 5,500 for league matches[5]. Looking ahead, the directors had set out a number of strategic objectives including a new main stand, floodlighting, ownership of the ground and Football League status. Meanwhile, Kelly’s management had more enjoyments in store.

To continue the story go to 1956/7 -bigger and better

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

[1] See A. and R.Howland, Oxford United-A Complete Record (Breedon Books). They had refused to play in Headington's county cup final against Banbury at the end of the previous season.

[2] Adult excursion tickets by train cost 7s 2d (£0.36) . There were thought to have been 200 busloads as well. The basic admission price was two shillings (£0.10).

[3] Interview in Discover Bedfordshire, issue no 13. Copyright JNB Publishing, reproduced by their kind permission..

[4] I'm grateful to Mike Crisp for the links to the archive footage here.

[5] 6,126 including the FA Cup ties.

LEAGUE TABLE 1955-1956

1. Guildford City 42 26 8 8 74 34 60

2. Cheltenham Town 42 25 6 11 82 53 56

3. Yeovil Town 42 23 9 10 98 55 55

4. Bedford Town 42 21 9 12 99 69 51

5. Dartford 42 20 9 13 78 62 49

6. Weymouth 42 19 10 13 83 63 48

7. Gloucester City 42 19 9 14 72 60 47

8. Lovells Athletic 42 19 9 14 91 78 47

9. Chelmsford City 42 18 10 14 67 55 46

10. Kettering Town 42 16 11 15 105 86 43

11. Exeter City Reserves 42 17 9 16 75 76 43

12. Gravesend & Northfleet 42 17 8 17 79 75 42

13. Hereford United 42 17 7 18 90 90 41

14. Hastings United 42 15 10 17 90 76 40

15. Headington United 42 17 6 19 82 86 40

16. Kidderminster Harriers 42 14 7 21 86 105 35

17. Llanelly 42 14 6 22 64 98 34

18. Barry Town 42 11 11 20 91 108 33

19. Worcester City 42 12 9 21 66 83 33

20. Tonbridge 42 11 11 20 53 74 33

21. Merthyr Tydfil 42 7 10 25 52 127 24

22. Bath City 42 7 10 25 43 107 24