Twenty Key Players

RALPH CHAPMAN

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Telegraph

Ralph Chapman, one of the stalwarts of the early years of the club, appeared in the very first match at Wolverton in 1908 and played his last first team match for the Eagles in the 1927/8 season, when he was nearly 40, after well over 250 appearances. A full-back, he was always known as "Ginger", and had brief spells with Luton Town, Fletton United and Peterborough City before returning each time to the Eyrie. His brother, Percy (known as "Napper"), an inside forward, also played for the club. At one stage two other Chapmans, Harry and Jack, unrelated to Ralph and Percy and probably to each other as well, were all on the books at the same time, and newspaper reports didn't always distinguish between them, making the statistician's task difficult. This portrait appeared in the Pink ‘Un in 1912, and Chapman, who had been born in Sudbury, Middlesex and played for Bedford Church Lads’ Brigade, Bedford Excelsiors and Bedford Queen’s Park Rangers before joining the Eagles, may be wearing the gold and black colours worn by the club in its earliest days.

HARRY BROWN

Harry Brown was an inspirational leader of the team as it started to make a serious challenge for honours after the first two disastrous seasons in the Northants League when the club was clearly out of its depth. Born in Birmingham about 1887, his family moved to Kent when he was young and he played for Dartford Rovers before moving to Bedford. His next clubs were Luton Ferndale, Luton St Mary’s and Kempston Rovers where he spent three seasons , followed by a spell with Rushden Windmill. He played a few matches for the Eagles in their first two Northants League seasons, including their first match of all at Wolverton in 1908/9, but didn’t make a serious contribution until 1910/11. Then, usually playing centre-forward in the team that finished runners-up for three successive seasons as well as winning the Northants Senior Cup in 1913, he scored at least 99 goals in 138 matches and became club captain. He returned briefly after the Great War before ending his career with Lynton Works[1].


[1] See his profile in the Bedfordshire Mercury for 17 March 1911

FRED C SMITH

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph

Fred (Frederick Charles) Smith was a tall and angular full-back , described in 1913 as “that long-legged football genius”[1], and famous in local football circles for his powerful upfield kicking, in an era when this was one of the main requirements for a defender playing on pitches of highly variable quality and bounce. He was a team mate of Ralph Chapman at Bedford Queen’s Park Rangers before 1908 and like him, was part of the Eagles’ team in the first Northants League season although he isn’t recorded as appearing in the first team until February 1909. After that he was usually an automatic choice when fit, though he seems to have suffered from “water on the knee” for a while most seasons. “It is doubtful whether there has ever been a cooler or more brilliant back playing in the League”, wrote the Bedfordshire Times reporter on 1 May 1914.

He returned after the War as captain but moved to Biggleswade in November 1920 and didn’t return until the start of the 1925/6 season. After two more seasons he retired and took up refereeing, reaching the Northants League list by the early 30s. His stats are slightly clouded by the fact that in 1910/11 he played alongside an unrelated namesake who was referred to as Fred Smith No 2, but with 187 known appearances he is likely to have played over 200 times for the club. His son, also Fred, played for the Reserves just after WW2.


[1] Bedfordshire Times, 1 May 1913

HARRY MARDLE

With at least 70 goals in 98 appearances, Harry Mardle was one of the more effective strikers in the club’s early Northants League years. A Bedfordian, in 1911 he was living in Maitland Street, off Midland Road, aged 20, with his widowed father, and working as a brass moulder: 47 years later the Bedfordshire Times reporter, doing a piece about the club’s 50th anniversary[1], found him in the same street, and possibly the same house. Mardle had begun his career with Bedford Queen’s Park Rangers as a centre-forward and made his Eagles’ debut in the first Northants league season, 1908/9, but hadn’t really become a regular when he moved to Luton Town for 1911/12 season as a professional on 30 shillings a week. After a season at Kenilworth Road he returned to the Eyrie, taking a pay cut of 10 shillings a week, and 1912/13 was his best season, with 30 goals in 32 games as the team finished runners-up and won the Northants Senior Cup. “The dashing Mardle..has energised an already energetic line into a state of white-heat ability”, wrote the Times reviewer on 1 May 1913. He returned after the war but was now mainly in the reserves; when he came into the senior side at short notice in 1921/2 he was described as “that fine old sticker”. That summer he moved briefly to Biggleswade before ending his career, and turning to club cricket, where he played for many years and then stood as a leading umpire. Like Ralph Chapman he was known as “Ginger”, and like him he is shown above wearing the original amber and gold striped shirt.

[1] 22 August 1958


BOB ABBOTT

Bob Abbott was a goalkeeper who had two spells at the club separated by the Great War and quite a long gap besides. He played throughout his career as an amateur, and had already represented Bedfordshire when he was signed from Luton Albions at the start of the 1911/12 season. He soon became the regular first choice but just after the start of the following season he moved to Luton Town. That was in their non-league days, and after war service Abbott played in Wales for Caerau and Llanelly, before heading homewards and rejoining the Eagles in December 1924.This time he stayed for two seasons and was captain in 1925/6.

In his first spell the Bedfordshire Times reporter described him simply as “the wonderful Abbott” [1] . “There are more than a couple of yards of him”, wrote the same paper’s profiler on 24 April 1925. “He fills up quite a lot of the space between the goalposts, and a cool head and a quick eye make him just the man for the job when those sharp-shooting Northamptonshire forwards get busy”.

[1] 1 May 1913.

CHARLIE SPARROW

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph

Usually a left-half but sometimes appearing at inside forward, Charlie Sparrow was one of the large number of Northants based semi-professionals who appeared for the Eagles in the 1920s, but he made a bigger contribution than some, with over 130 appearances between 1922 and 1927. He followed one of his brothers to the club, but unfortunately the brother, who played in 1921/2, was never credited with an initial, let alone a Christian name, like so many players of the period. We do however have an independent source of information about Charlie, because his Great War military papers have survived and give his civilian occupation as “professional footballer”. Born in 1895 in Northampton, he was on the Cobblers’ books before the War but doesn’t appear to have played for their first eleven which then competed in the Southern League. After the war he played for the “Northampton War Team” along with several others who joined Bedford, and signed for the Eagles in the summer of 1922. He was a popular figure with supporters but not always with referees-he was sent off for fighting against Luton Clarence in 1924/5, and after being dismissed in a reserve match at Bletchley in April 1927 he was suspended until 31 October that year, which brought his Eagles career to a sad end. In the War he joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a driver and served in France from 1916 until the end of the war.

HERBERT TOSELAND

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph

Another Northampton-based player who played for the “War Team” in the Northants League when it restarted in 1919, Herbert Toseland, known to supporters as “Tose”, had earlier played for numerous Northampton junior clubs and then for Market Harborough before joining the Army in the Great War, and joined the Eagles for the first time in 1920. He spent the next three seasons as the first choice centre-forward although he sometimes played inside-right. He left for a season with Higham Town in 1923/4 but returned the following summer for a further season. Toseland was one of the most dangerous forwards in Northants League football and for Bedford he scored some 110 goals in about 140 appearances-in his final season his record shows 35 in 38. His departure for Higham and subsequent return probably had more to do with the respective clubs’ fluctuating finances than his own merits-he was an example of the itinerant professional that some supporters wished to see replaced by “local” players, and then wondered why the team struggled without their presence. In 1924 he claimed that he had only missed four Northants League matches since the end of the War[1]. His younger brother, Ernie, also played for Higham but was sold to Coventry and then moved to Manchester City, where in the 30s he won League Championship and FA Cup winner’s medals.

[1] Profile in the Bedfordshire Times for 10 October 1924


HERBERT JEPHSON

With six seasons as a first team regular and at least 221 appearances, Herbert Jephson, known as “Jeph”, was a major figure at the club in the 1920s, starting as an inside forward but latterly playing as a wing-half. He was probably what would now be called a “playmaker”, creating chances rather than taking them. Born in Wolverhampton in 1897, he was said to have played for Wolves but didn’t make a first team appearance either there or at Luton Town, his next club which he joined after war service with the 46th Division in France. Bedford signed him on trial in January 1923 and his class stood out so clearly that by the start of the following season he had become club captain. “Supporters look to him to show what good football is”, said the Bedfordshire Times in their profile published on 7 September 1923.

Jephson did not have a lot of luck off the field, it seems. In April 1924 supporters collected nearly £6 for him when he was out of work, and at the start of the following season it was announced that he would be leaving the club because he was moving to Chatham to find work and would be playing for the local team, but he was back by the end of September, having failed to find a job. On one occasion when he was in work, in spring 1926, he missed a vital match against Rushden because he was on nights and had overslept-as he lived in Luton there was no time to go and collect him when the problem was realised, and the team played, and lost, a vital League match with only ten men because nobody had picked a 12th man.

He was released at the end of 1928/9, along with several other professionals who had obviously become too expensive, but was allowed to depart without a single word of praise in the local press, despite six years of good service.

LEW STOCKWELL

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Telegraph

A speedy right-winger who emerged from local football via the Lynton Works team in the mid-1920s, Lewis Stockwell had two spells with his home town club, preceded by short spells at Kettering and Biggleswade, and later spent time with Wolverton and Wellingborough, but in between he managed at least 140 first team appearances for the Eagles and 42 goals. His first spell lasted from the start of the 1925/6 season to February 1927, when he moved to Wolverton, going on to Wellingborough in 1929/30, but in summer 1930 he came back home and was a vital member of the club’s first championship side in 1930/1. He remained for the next two seasons before bowing out but his efforts in his last season, 1932/3, which were the most decisive even though he only made 13 appearances; he was badly injured at Rushden in November and could not regain his place, which was usually filled by Sid King, until after Easter. Then he returned and played in the last six matches, scoring six goals including the only goal of the game at Rushden on 1 May in the match that virtually clinched the championship.

JACK CHESTER

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph

Jack Chester, always known as Doughy[1], was almost born into Bedford Town FC, since his father, Charlie, had been trainer to the club since it had restarted in 1908. Jack emerged via Bedford Queen’s Park Rangers at the very end of the 1914/18 War, and the first appearance of his name I have been able to find in the local sports pages is when he played on Christmas Day 1918, representing the wartime Bedford Combination in a match in Russell Park in aid of Lord Roberts’ Fund for Disabled Sailors and Soldiers, when he would have been about 17. He made his Eagles’ debut the following season when the Northants League restarted, and the first appearance I can trace was at Raunds in April 1920 when he scored in a 1-1 draw. He didn’t establish a regular place until 1922/3 but after that became a fixture for much of the next ten years. His normal position was outside-left until the signing of Dickie Gunnell in 1927 and after that he spent most of his time at left-half, but he could play anywhere if required and frequently did: in December 1928 he turned out in goal at Kettering when nobody else was available. The team’s regular penalty taker who rarely missed, he won championship medals in all three of the title winning seasons, but after the third, 1933/4, he was released when he declined the offer of playing for expenses only as the club looked for newer and cheaper blood. He had spells with Higham and Arlesey before returning briefly in 1936/7; he scored from the penalty spot on his return at St Neots, and hit two more penalties in his second match, on Christmas Day at home to Biggleswade, but he bowed out at the end of the season after at least 420 appearances, one of only three Eagles players, along with Norman Watson and Bert Rogers, to top 400 between the wars.

[1]As a young man he worked in a bakery before spending most of his working life at WH Allen’s (thanks to his daughter, Jose Tingey, for the information).



NORMAN WATSON

Norman Watson was always known as “Paddy”, for reasons which have long disappeared, but he came from the north east of England rather than Ireland, being born in Gateshead about 1903. His first traceable appearance was on the left wing on 28 February 1925 against Luton Frickers in the Beds County League, when he was described as “a youngster from the Newcastle area”-he had come south in search of work rather than football it appears. He steadily increased his appearances until by the end of the decade he was a regular choice, by now normally at right-half. He was a key member of all the successful teams of the first half of the next decade and could play in most forward positions, though he left goalscoring mainly to his younger brother, George, who followed him south in the early 30s. In his last season, 1937/8, with George now gone to Rushden, he played more often up front and scored ten times, the most productive season of his career. At the season’s end he and another veteran, Tommy Cummings, were released and he decided to step down to more junior football, but in the wartime programme of 1939/40 he played at least once for the Eagles again. In the first season after the War he helped his old captain, Bert Rogers, who was in charge of the reserves, by playing in the first few matches. Having at last stopped playing, he remained involved on the coaching side of the club and under Tim Kelly’s management he was reserve team trainer in the mid-50s. Along with his appearance tally of at least 444 matches, second only to Bert Rogers, he served the club one way or another for over 30 years.

DICKIE GUNNELL

I can still remember older supporters in the 1950s and 60s telling anyone who wanted to argue the point that Dickie Gunnell was the best winger who had ever played for the Eagles. His record of getting on for 160 goals from perhaps 290 appearances certainly commands respect and he was immediately recognised as a key capture when he arrived shortly after the start of the 1927/8 season. Born in Harpenden in 1899, he started with Hertford Town, and was picked up by Northampton in 1926 but released after only 13 senior appearances and one goal. He certainly found his niche at the Eyrie where his pace and eye for goal made him very popular. He was remembered for brilliant individual efforts such as his first half hat-trick against Peterborough Reserves and the 88th minute winner against Rushden, both in April 1931 as the Eagles closed in on their first championship- a season when he scored at least 30 goals from 38 appearances. He missed part of the following season through injury but played a full part again in the second title season of 1932/3, scoring another 21; it would have been 22 had the referee not blown for half time seconds before he netted at Rushden in another title decider in May. The single goal of the last match of 1933/4 which he scored against Westwoods not only won another championship, but marked the end of his Bedford career since he was released, along with Jack Chester, at the end on grounds of age, to his great annoyance. He ended his career with short spells at Higham and Biggleswade.

BERT ROGERS

With at least 464 appearances over 12 seasons from 1927/8 until the outbreak of war, many of them as captain as he led his team to three championships in four years, Bert Rogers’ record stands supreme for the club between the wars and rivals some of the longest serving players after 1945. Tall and with a shock of spiky-looking hair, he must have been an imposing figure in his favourite position of centre-half. From a large footballing family in the east of the county, he started with his native Langford in the early 20s and then moved to Biggleswade, having had trials with Luton Town and West Ham. In those days and when he first joined the Eagles he played mainly inside-left and it was to help out with injuries that he first played centre-half in a disastrous 2-6 defeat against Waterlows in the Beds Cup in January 1928. That was also Ralph Chapman’s last match and thus the pair between them provide a link between 1908 and 1939. After that Rogers soon made the position his own and played either there or at wing-half for the rest of his career, although in his early seasons centre-half was tactically a more attacking position than it became later. Even Hitler couldn’t stop him as he played in most of the games in 1939/40, and was involved in coaching the reserves when the club restarted in 1945. “A gentleman both on and off the field”, was secretary Bob Baker’s opinion[1].

[1] Bedford Record, 2 July 1935.

JACK WICKS

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph

A popular goalkeeper who remained an amateur throughout his career, Jack Wicks was born in Gloucester and played a few Football League matches for Reading, where he had been brought up, Nottingham Forest and [London] Queen’s Park Rangers in the early 20s, but spent much of his career with Wycombe Wanderers and (in summer 1927) Wolverton Town before joining the Eagles in the summer of 1930, just after Dick Spencer had rescued the club from oblivion. He had originally been a centre-forward and played there in military football during his Army service in the Great War-having joined up as a volunteer under the age of 16[1]. An injury caused him to go in goal and he made the position his own. At the Eyrie he was the regular first team keeper throughout, winning a championship medal in 1930/1, and became acting captain for a while in 1932/3 when Bert Rogers was injured, but it was in that role that his career was brought to a sad end in the FA Cup tie at Romford in November 1932. He suffered a bad hand injury soon after half time trying to prevent an equaliser and that proved to be his final appearance for the club. He had turned down an offer to join Aylesbury (more convenient for his home in High Wycombe) as player-coach in the summer of 1931 in order to stay with the Eagles.

[1] Profile in the Pink ‘Un for 28 March 1928

FREDDIE GARRATT

Like Jack Wicks, with whom he had played at Wolverton, Freddie Garratt had played a few Football League matches for Reading and also had a spell on Brighton’s books. However, when this led nowhere he returned to Wolverton, his home town club, before moving to Bedford in the summer of 1929. In 1928 he was said to have been 5ft 8 inches tall but weighed 13 stone, and photographs certainly suggest that he was a formidable physical obstacle on the pitch. Most of his career had been spent at right-back and he played there for the Eagles regularly until, on 8 November 1930, after several players had been tried at centre-forward without success, someone had the bright idea of putting him there against Peterborough and Fletton Reserves at the Eyrie. Bedford won 7-0 and Garratt hit four of them. That season he went on to score an extraordinary 52 goals in not much more than half a season up front, including six against Kettering Reserves in March and five against Rothwell the following month. Despite these feats the local press sometimes suggested he was too slow to play up front! After that remarkable season he played less often in the forward line, especially after Maurice Carr arrived in 1932/3, but still scored another 55 goals in the remainder of his Eagles career until 1934/5. Latterly he acted as reserve team player coach before moving to Arlesey in 1935. His son, Boris, was a regular Eaglets player who made one senior appearance in the 1940s.

TOMMY CUMMINGS

Freddie Garratt’s full-back partner for much of his career, Tommy Cummings like the Watson brothers, arrived in Bedford from the north east, having been on Newcastle’s books as a junior. Like George Watson, he played for Forders of Elstow before signing for the Eagles as an amateur in 1929/30, not turning professional until 1931. By then he had established himself as the first choice left-back and although he missed about half the 1931/2 season after an appendix operation, he went on to make nearly 300 appearances, being a key part of all three championship-winning teams and becoming captain in 1936/7. Threatening to retire after that season, he came back one more time before moving to Kettering in the last peacetime season.

LEN POTTER

Reproduced courtesy of the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph

Standing over 6 feet and with fair hair, Len Potter may well have been a heart-throb with female supporters when he first emerged in the first team aged about 18 at the start of the 1930/1 season. He had been an outstanding schoolboy footballer at Ampthill Road School and then assisted Southend WMC (from the south end of Bedford, not the seaside town) and Lynton Works. “His weight is, as opponents possibly know, 12 stone 4 pounds, and he uses every ounce of it fairly”, wrote a Pink ‘Un profiler[1]. He made his first team debut in the first match of 1930/1 and scored twice against Westwoods at home-but from centre-half. He was to spend as much of his career there as he did at inside-left, although he told the Pink ‘Un that the latter was his preferred position. He scored 50 goals from 40 appearances in 1931/2-when he was mostly a forward-and at least 134 from 198 appearances over his whole Eagles career. It was inevitable that he would attract bigger clubs and signed amateur forms for Luton in 1931, but although he made some appearances for their reserves, it was Northampton who secured his professional signature in the summer of 1934, after he had played a big part in all three Northants League championship sides. In three seasons with the Cobblers he made 20 League appearances, scoring six times, but never established a regular place and moved to Kettering, where he became player-manager, at the youthful age of 25, in 1937. The following summer he returned to the Eyrie as player-coach, and now played almost always as a centre-half. With very little money to spend he was unable to make much difference to the team’s now ordinary record, and at the end of the season his contract as coach was not renewed. He declined an offer to stay on as a player and moved to Biggleswade as player-manager, but the War put an end to those plans. During the War he turned out for Bedford QPR when on leave from the RAF, and was one of the stars of their victory (as Bedford Avenue) over the Eagles in the FA Cup in September 1945. In May 1947 the local press reported that he had rejoined the Eagles, only for chairman Jack Salsbury to announce a few weeks later that the club had “changed its mind” about signing him; Potter told the papers that “as an old servant he had been discourteously treated” [2]. He joined St Neots instead as player-coach, and later acted as trainer-coach at Shefford in the early 50s. His older brother Percy played a few times for the club in 1930/1.


[1] 29 October 1932

[2] “The Strange Case of Len Potter”, Bedfordshire Times 4 July 1947


PERCY BOWLES

Percy Bowles arrived from Biggleswade in November 1931 as reserve goalkeeper to Jack Wicks, but became the first choice keeper when Wicks was badly injured in the FA Cup tie at Romford a year later, and kept the position for the next five years, winning two Northants League championship medals and clocking up at least 161 appearances. In 1933/4 he was part of an outstanding defence that conceded only 35 goals in 24 League matches. He seems to have been a safe rather than spectacular custodian, to use a word then in vogue. In the summer of 1936 he returned to Biggleswade. He had occasionally played for Bedford Reserves in the forward line, and not long after returning to Fairfield he played inside-right for the Waders against the Eagles in the UCL knock out cup in September 1936.

MAURICE CARR

Maurice Carr seen here in full attacking mode in the FA Cup win against Vauxhall Motors at the Eyrie on 27 October 1934. The visiting keeper is Arthur Slater who was the Eagles’ regular keeper for the last two seasons before the War

Maurice[1] Carr, like Len Potter, was a local player who had the class to compete with the best Northants-based professionals. Born in Flitwick in 1910, he joined the Eagles from Biggleswade at the start of the 1932/3 season and immediately made a huge mark as a dashing centre-forward. In his first season he hit 46 goals in 38 appearances and in his second, 1933/4, an incredible 63 goals in 44, including five against Arlesey in a 12-0 rout in December 1933 . In 1934/5 he managed a mere 55 in 43 but his career tally, of at least 188 goals in 145 games, is far and away the best strike rate in the entire history of the club down to 1982. His photographs suggest he wasn’t a six-footer but he clearly had enough pace and shooting ability to demolish most defences at Northants/UCL level. However, when he moved to Northampton in the summer of 1935 he found the step up too much and moved on to Wellingborough the following year without making a first team appearance for the Cobblers. He returned briefly to the Eyrie in December 1936 but moved on again, to Kettering, in summer 1937 where he stayed until the war ended his career.

[1] His entry in the GRO Births index indicate that his first name was originally spelled MORRIS. Did he change it because it looked too much like a motoring advert?


GEORGE WATSON

Norman’s younger brother, George Watson was said to have played in his native north east for Percy Main Amateurs in the FA Amateur Cup quarter-finals of 1929/30, when they lost to the eventual winners, the intriguingly named Bournemouth Gasworks Athletic. George followed his brother to Bedford in the early 30s and started playing for Forders of Elstow, a brickworks team, as well as the Eaglets. His prolific scoring and speed soon got him noticed and he made his first team debut early in 1934/5, when he scored on his debut against Spalding at home. Usually playing inside-left with Maurice Carr in the centre and Ken Ward on the wing, he soon fitted into the team that achieved the best FA Cup run in the club’s history so far, and he ended the season with 35 goals in as many appearances. In 1935/6 he went even better with 43 in 39, but at the year’s end he was lured off to Rushden where he won UCL championship medals in both the next two seasons. Like Norman, he came back to the club at the start of the war and appeared in some of the 1939/40 matches, and after a season at Bedford Avenue (for whom he played later in the war) he returned to the Eyrie in the early Southern League days. Later he became player-manager at Eynesbury and then Kempston, continuing to manage the latter club until 1958 after finally hanging up his boots in the mid-50s. In some early newspaper references he was given the nickname “Vic”, probably after the famous West Ham striker of the period, Vic Watson[1].


[1] There is a lot of material about him in R Wood and P Burnage, The Walnut Boys, Rosetta Publishing, 2011 (the history of Kempston Rovers)