In His Own Words-Bob Baker

Transcript of an article by Bob Baker, BTFC secretary 1930-35, in the Bedfordshire Times for 22 August 1958, part of a series marking the club’s 50th anniversary, with notes by me


By R A Baker

In writing an account of the happenings of Bedford Town AFC from 1930 until 1935, it is difficult to know what to include and what to leave out. So many things happened during that period but I think that in this Golden Jubilee we ought to pay tribute to those who did so much to make the Club.

So let me at the outset pay tribute to the loyal support given by such stalwarts as “Curley” Campion, Billy Braybrooks, George Sparkes, Dick Proctor, Tommy Goldsmith, Bert Wise, Fred Chambers, who were always ready to undertake any task to help the club both in and out of the playing season, and the ladies in the canteen who dispensed the tea etc. They all had one aim, to save or make money for the club by doing what was needed in and around the ground.

Then there was “Dick” Spencer. A straighter man I never knew, and although I could not agree with his politics, I always found him a true friend ( I know he helped many in a quiet way). I was indeed sorry when owing to his business he was removed from the chairmanship of the club in 1930 by the County FA.

The service he gave to the club at that time has never been recognised. It was he who reconstituted the club in 1930. On his removal from office his wife became chairman. She, poor lady, had to put up with a bunch of committee men in her front room every week (she never complained) until we built a committee room on the ground.

Encouragement, advice

The reserve secretary, Tom Barley, was one of the shrewdest assessors of a player’s ability I have known and one of the hardest workers for the club. He had with him a good player as guide to the reserve side, Bob Graham.

He gave encouragement and advice to our local boys, such as Lawson, Branson. Kimble, Dixon, Barfoot and Golder to mention but a few; they were then in their twenties, and never once when brought into the first team did they let the side down. Fred Garratt eventually joined Bob in this task and they did a good job.

Successes of the club during this period were winners of the Northants League 1930/31, runners-up 1931/32, winners of the East Midlands League 1931/32[1], winners of the Northants League 1932/33 and 1933/34. In addition the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup was reached in all these seasons except the first, and the first round proper was entered for the first time in 1934/35. These were due in the main to keeping a team together that respected their own fitness, respected each other’s playing ability and respected the club’s reputation.

They were treated with respect and they responded; amateur players were amateur in the truest sense of the word; they received what they were entitled to, no more and no less; I feel that every player, professional and amateur, respected me and responded to whatever I suggested.

Players got 10s a week

I put a query against the word “professional” because their agreement with club was for 10s a week, not a match, plus bonuses of 10s for a win and 5s for a draw in the East Midlands League and 5s for a win and 2s 6d for a draw in the Northants League, and, of course, return fares to and from their homes.

Their playing ability would have drawn top scale today; from goalkeeper to outside left there was not a weak link.

The half-back line of “Paddy” Watson, Rogers and Chester was as sound as any and, should any injury occur, Len Potter, Bidgood, Dixon and Lawson[2] could fill the gap.

Jack Wicks, Percy Bowles and Tom Kimble were top class goalkeepers, Tom Cummings, the canniest tackler of them all, Bob Latheron, Bob Graham, Fred Garratt and Ron Branson were backs fit to play in any company.

The forwards were outstanding, for in this line we had at various times Louis Stockwell, Dick Jones, Eric Harrison, George Henson[3], Colin Baucutt, Bert Lawson, Cyril Foster, Horace Stapleton and the incomparable, dynamic Dick Gunnell.

Bert Rogers was captain during this period and right well did he do his job. Bert Wise, our baggage man and linesman, was always there wet or fine, and gave his decisions without fear or favour. Charlie Chester (father of Jack) was trainer and served the club in that capacity for a great number of years.

It is true to say that no players were more respected on and off the field by our opponents and all spectators than those who represented the club during those years.

On the financial side every shilling had to be looked at twice before it was spent. Every legal means was used to raise funds. The Supporters Club, with the limited opportunities open to them, did a great job, ably led by Les Warn, Les Lay, and Arthur Briden.

In addition to meeting the annual playing expenses and cost of equipment, the club built dressing rooms behind the old stand, with hot and cold water laid on and a heating system, a committee room, and shelters on the north and east side of the ground with banking.

Judged by today’s standards, these were unpretentious developments, but 28 years ago they were accepted as the best possible and many sides envied our possessions; they were the result of much thought and effort by those involved.

I think that the income of the club in any one year was about £1,270 from all sources. This will give some idea of the difficulties under which football laboured but despite the hard work we had our fun, our thrills, our disappointments. That is football!

On two occasions we lost £300 half shares in the next round of the FA Cup through accidents over which no-one had any control-the £600 would have been very useful[4].

With it all, I look back with happy memories of a grand lot of chaps and of the leg pulling that went on. Jack Wicks, when told that all goalkeepers were mad, remarked “Watching the efforts of forwards trying to score cases them to go mad”.

Then there was the player who after a game would bath, put on his socks, shoes and bowler hat and solemnly announce that he was now ready for dinner; another imitated a bus conductor on away journeys; Cyril Foster always used old programmes as shin guards; Bert Rogers, when asked if he could play on Saturday, Monday, Thursday and Saturday, replied that if he could not play one-and-a half hours every day he would see a doctor; Jack Chester used to remark regularly before each game “Come on chaps, let’s shine ‘em up”.

Once Fred Garratt, a great sportsman, having lost his place to Tom Cummings, was asked to watch Tom play and give an opinion. He said “You can’t move him but I think that I can play better than the centre-forward you are trying and would like to have a go”-with the result that he was top Northants League scorer in 1930/31. But he always gave the credit to the other members of the team for his success[5].

These are the things that typified the spirit among them. Yes, a great lot of chaps. Some have now passed over. To those who are still with us I wish them all “Good luck”. You ought to have a place each Saturday in the centre of the stand, for you in your day helped to make Bedford Town Association Football Club.

I still feel that there is a lot left unsaid, people left out who deserve mention, league officials, referees and a host of other details. My apologies to all I have missed; they can be happy with a good conscience.

[1] This should be 1934/5-they finished bottom in 1931/2!

[2] He probably means here Cyril Lawson rather than Bert

[3] Baker is getting confused here with the immediate post-war team in which George Henson played; it was his brother, Bill, who played very briefly for the club in the 30s.

[4] One of these occasions must be the defeat at Romford in 1932/3 when Jack Wicks’s injury reduced the team to ten men when they were one up. The other is probably the defeat at Kettering the following year when the Poppies’ late winner was an unlucky deflection. Both defeats came in the fourth qualifying round.

[5] Garratt was left out as a full-back after the FA Cup defeat at Peterborough on 20 September 1930. He made his first appearance in the attack on 8 November, scoring four of the seven goals against Posh’s reserve side, adding another 48 goals in the rest of the season.