Epilogue


The club’s tangible assets raised £1,120 at auction; some of the turnstiles were bought by Bedworth United, Bridgnorth Town and Saffron Walden Town. Finally, in the second week of April 1983, the main stand which had been opened with such fanfare in 1956 was demolished by dynamite.

Going, then gone........these pictures from April 1983 don't really need any comment...

The winding up process took several years, possibly because the only worthwhile asset remaining was the club’s rights under Platnauer’s transfer. He soon “earned” the full £8,000 due from Bristol Rovers and when Bobby Gould, by then managing Coventry (then in Division One) went back to his former club to sign Platnauer again in August 1983 for £30,000, the Eagles, or rather now the liquidator, became entitled to some £15,000 in all once he had made a certain number of appearances for his new club. It seems that this meant that there was enough money to ensure that the Inland Revenue, who took priority over other creditors under the law as it then was, were paid in full, but there was very little left for the general creditors; when the liquidator made his final distribution in November 1988, it was £0.01463 in the pound. The directors were said, back in 1982, to have paid £20,000 under their personal guarantees to the bank, so it seems that they also lost whatever they had paid for their shares and all but just over 1% of any personal loans.

Did that also apply to George Senior, with his £8,000 loan (in an interview just after becoming Mayor this sum seemed to have grown to £10,000)? He was never to find out, because on Boxing Day, 1982, a few months after the club went out of existence and still in his term of office as Mayor, he died suddenly after a heart attack at the age of sixty.

Could matters have ended differently? There is little point in holding an inquest after all these years. Non-league football, then as now, was usually a hand-to-mouth business with very little margin for bad judgement or luck. By the 1960s, let alone the early 80s, the short-termism of Ronnie Rooke’s first spell as manager, involving paying big squads of mostly elderly players high wages in the hope that they would win a few trophies, was no longer an option.

Bedford were, of course, far from alone in suffering from drastically reduced attendances and recurrent financial crises from the early 70s onwards. But from where they were as a club in the mid-60s-one of the most successful and highly regarded in their sphere-why was it clubs such as Cambridge United, Hereford and Wimbledon that broke into the Football League in the next decade, and not the Eagles? The clubs that successfully climbed out of the non-league structure in the years before the “fifth division” route to promotion opened via the Alliance did so on the back of a consistently successful spell in their leagues, linked with a sound financial base (often via heavily subscribed pools schemes) and ownership of their own assets. Bedford never owned their own ground, never tried to acquire it when they might have afforded to do so, and at the exact point when they had a sound mixture of experienced and young players who promised more than they had already achieved, in 1966/7, they appointed the wrong manager and needlessly handicapped their finances by falling out with the Supporters’ Club, the source of most of their previous funds. From that pivotal cock-up there proved to be no way back.

But it would be too easy to cast all the blame on the directors. They may have erred in judgement but no doubt they acted from sincere motives and as noted above, those who were in office in the last years probably lost a lot of money by their involvement with the club. Others who might have helped steered increasingly clear; when the “new” board under Alan Holley took over in 1977, only 25 shareholders (out of some 1,400 on the register) could be bothered to attend the AGM. If the club could have found a benefactor prepared to refinance it properly the story might have had a much happier ending.

By 1989, enough enthusiasm was generated to establish a new club with the old name. Within a reasonable time the “new” Eagles had climbed back to approximately the level at which the old club had expired. Tony Luff and Nicky Platnauer, who had played for the old club in its last days, have both had spells (two in Platnauer's case) as managers of the new one. In its neat home at the New Eyrie in Meadow Lane, Cardington, the reborn club probably has the same sort of feel and scale that the old one had in its Northants League days before 1939. Seasons come and go, with occasional successes and the inevitable disappointments, and the loyal few hundred or so supporters still enjoy their football week by week.

Good luck, then, to the current club, about which you can read on its website at http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/bedfordtownfootballclub/news/. And thank you, and farewell, to the old one, to those who played for it, to those who founded and sustained it, and to those who watched its birth, life and death.

The name lives on...I spotted this banner at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, before the third Test between England and India in August 2018!

SOURCES

The local press has been the main source for the above, along with Dave Twydell’s Defunct FC, match programmes and personal recollections.