Third elevens-Colts, "A" and Youth teams

Bedford and District and South Midlands Leagues, 1948-1953

Before the Second World War there does not seem to have been a formal third eleven, although the club may well have had friendly understandings with smaller local clubs from time to time that they could have first refusal on promising young players. There was a definite arrangement of this kind with Bedford Queen's Park Rangers between 1929 and 1931 when the Rangers played their home games at The Eyrie and no official reserve team operated. Immediately after the War there was a similar arrangement with Bedford Corinthians, who also played at The Eyrie.

After the war, as the club struggled to compete in the Southern League against richer clubs, there was a move to bring forward more local youngsters and create a level of football to bridge the big gap in standards between Bedford and District League football-essentially played on public parks and village greens-and the London League, where the reserves played. So in 1948/9, the first "Bedford Town Colts" team emerged, playing in the top division of the Bedford and District League to begin with-and the start wasn't exactly a great one, since the opening match was lost 0-12 to Shefford.

Things improved a little after that and according to the latest table I can find in the local press (which may contain errors) the Colts ended eleventh out of 16 teams. with eight wins in 30 matches. For the following season it was decided to rechristen the team Bedford Town "A" and move to the South Midlands League, where the reserves had played before the War, and this provided more success, as the tables below show, including a league title in 1951/2 by a clear nine point margin. The team started in Divison 2 B, which was effectively a regionalised third division for teams in the south of the county, while Division 2A covered the north. In 1950/1 they were admitted to Divison One (there was a Premier Division above that), which they won the following year, 1951/2, when they were often strengthened by professionals who could not get into the Reserves. At the end of the 1952/3 season, however, this feature rebounded on the club when the cost of Ronnie Rooke's policy of playing expensively paid professionals in both the first and reserve teams meant that the "A" team was scrapped-though as it turned out, only for a single season.

South Midlands League

1949/50

Division 2B

1. Cranfield United 20 20 0 0 92 18 40

2. Harrold United 20 17 0 3 115 19 34

3. Bedford North End 20 11 2 7 52 54 24

4. Bedford Town 'A' 20 11 1 8 69 31 23

5. Wootton Blue Cross Res 20 8 1 11 42 50 17

6. Queen’s Works Res 20 6 4 10 39 55 16

7. Marston Sports 20 5 5 10 33 70 15

8. St. Cuthbert’s Reserves 20 6 2 12 45 61 14

9. Stewartby Works Res 20 4 6 10 25 58 14

10. Marston Shelton Rovers Res 20 4 5 11 33 73 13

11. St. Neots St. Mary’s Res 20 4 2 14 27 83 10

1950/1

Division 1

1. Luton Kents Athletic 28 22 3 3 131 29 47

2. Harrold United 28 19 6 3 95 33 44

3. Waterlows (Dunstable) 28 17 5 6 73 38 39

4. Cranfield United 28 17 2 9 95 63 36

5. A.C. Sphinx 28 14 7 7 71 49 35

6. Bedford Corinthians 28 14 4 10 98 70 32

7. Histon Institute Reserves 28 12 6 10 73 65 30

8. Luton Percival Athletic 28 11 4 13 53 83 26

9. Houghton Rangers 28 10 4 14 77 70 24

10. Electrolux 28 8 7 13 51 64 23

11. St. Neots St. Mary’s 28 9 3 16 52 97 21

12. Bedford Town 'A' 28 6 7 15 53 68 19

13. Biggleswade Town Reserves 28 7 3 18 39 82 17

14. Luton Davis Athletic 28 5 5 18 39 105 15

15. Baldock Town Reserves 28 4 4 20 35 119 12

1951/2

Division 1

1. Bedford Town 'A' 30 23 4 3 124 44 50

2. Dunstable Town Reserves 30 18 5 7 83 36 41

3. Biggleswade Town Reserves 30 16 9 5 89 50 41

4. Cranfield United 30 18 4 8 105 57 40

5. Electrolux 30 16 8 6 79 46 40

6. Histon Institute Reserves 30 16 5 9 88 59 37

7. Waterlows (Dunstable) 30 16 2 12 75 79 34

8. Houghton Rangers 30 14 4 12 91 90 32

9. Langford 30 12 4 14 69 75 28

10. Vauxhall Motors 'A' 30 11 6 13 57 66 28

11. Bletchley Town Reserves 30 8 8 14 51 80 24

12. Bedford Queen’s Works 30 9 5 16 68 90 23

13. St. Neots St. Mary’s 30 9 3 18 51 87 21

14. Luton Percival Athletic 30 8 1 21 72 114 17

15. Luton Davis Athletic 30 7 1 22 51 106 15

16. St. Cuthbert’s 30 3 3 24 40 114 9

1952-1953

Premier Division

1. Arlesey Town 30 24 4 2 145 41 52

2. Shefford Town 30 22 3 5 120 37 47

3. Bedford Town 'A' 30 18 2 10 97 69 38

4. Wootton Blue Cross 30 16 5 9 90 76 37

5. Luton Kents Athletic 30 14 7 9 68 48 35

6. Potton United 30 15 4 11 84 71 34

7. A.C. Delco 30 14 6 10 65 60 34

8. Ampthill Town 30 15 4 11 75 74 34

9. Peartree Old Boys 30 12 7 11 91 64 31

10. Baldock Town 30 14 2 14 69 72 30

11. Dunstable Town Reserves 30 9 6 15 68 91 24

12. Bedford Corinthians 30 10 3 17 62 113 23

13. Kempston Rovers 30 9 2 19 57 81 20

14. Stony Stratford Town 30 5 7 18 64 121 17

15. Harrold United 30 5 5 20 43 106 15

16. Letchworth Town Reserves 30 4 1 25 48 122 9


United Counties League, 1954-56

When Fred Stansfield became manager towards the end of the 1953/4 season he placed more emphasis on the production of local talent and restarted the "A" team for 1954/5 in the second division of the United Counties League-so they were in the division below the Eaglets, mostly playing reserve teams of those in the higher division. This lasted for two seasons before Tim Kelly, who had succeeded Stansfield in April 1955, decided once again to scrap the team. Like Rooke (only with more success) he had gone for professionals in both the first and reserve teams, and opportunities for youngsters were few and far between. An interesting sidelight on this arose a liitle later, over Christmas 1957, when Terry Pope, dropped from the first team, turned out for the reserves against Hastings at The Eyrie-not in his usual goalkeeper's jersey but at right half! This produced a very tetchy letter in the local papers, signed "Sportsman", complaining that, a local amateur (possibly the writer's son?), had been asked to play for the Eaglets in that match, only to be left out at the last minute to accomodate Pope. Some will have seen this as typical of a short-sighted policy of ignoring local youngsters. Results for these two UCL seasons were modest, as the tables below show.

It can't have been helpful to the "A" team in this period that they had no regular home ground. They were only occasionally able to play at the Eyrie, when there was no first or reserve team home game, or at the start and end of the season when they could play in midweek, or even on Saturdays after the senior fixture, kicking off about 5 p.m. Known grounds where they played include Oakley, Bromham Hospital, Howard Park and Hill Grounds in Kempston, and Polo Fields (now vanished beneath the Interchange Retail Park), and they may sometimes have had to play "home" games away.

United Counties League Division Two

1954-55

1 BRITISH TIMKEN (DUSTON) RESERVES 28 24 3 1 146 38 51

2 WARBOYS TOWN 28 19 6 3 76 37 44

3 ROTHWELL TOWN 28 19 1 8 121 63 39

4 WELLINGBOROUGH TOWN RESERVES 28 16 5 7 73 51 37

5 FINEDON TOWN 28 14 2 12 89 64 30

6 HUNTINGDON UNITED 28 11 6 11 76 83 28

7 BEDFORD TOWN "A" 28 12 4 12 76 85 28

8 BEDFORD AVENUE 28 12 3 13 62 68 27

9 EYNESBURY ROVERS RESERVES 28 9 6 13 69 63 24

10 ST NEOTS & DISTRICT RESERVES 28 12 0 16 71 87 24

11 KEMPSTON ROVERS 28 10 3 15 71 89 23

12 RUSHDEN TOWN RESERVES 28 8 2 18 62 105 18

13 DESBOROUGH TOWN RESERVES 28 5 7 16 49 82 17

14 RAUNDS TOWN 28 7 2 19 44 110 16

15 HIGHAM TOWN 28 6 2 20 62 122 14


1955-56

1 KEMPSTON ROVERS 32 23 6 3 127 44 52

2 NORTHAMPTON TOWN "A" 32 23 3 6 127 51 49

3 ST NEOTS & DISTRICT RESERVES 32 20 4 8 84 43 44

4 WOOTTON BLUE CROSS 32 18 6 8 97 84 42

5 FINEDON TOWN 32 17 7 8 93 68 41

6 HUNTINGDON UNITED 32 16 3 13 82 80 35

7 BRITISH TIMKEN (DUSTON) RESERVES 32 15 4 13 94 80 34

8 HIGHAM TOWN 32 13 7 12 91 85 33

9 DESBOROUGH TOWN RESERVES 32 13 6 13 79 104 32

10 WELLINGBOROUGH TOWN RESERVES 32 12 7 13 68 75 31

11 WARBOYS TOWN 32 12 6 14 61 69 30

12 RAUNDS TOWN 32 12 2 18 61 77 26

13 BIGGLESWADE TOWN RESERVES 32 9 4 19 61 116 22

14 BEDFORD TOWN "A" 32 7 6 19 53 79 20

15 EYNESBURY ROVERS RESERVES 32 8 4 20 58 89 20

16 BEDFORD AVENUE 32 7 5 20 57 101 19

17 RUSHDEN TOWN RESERVES 32 5 4 23 56 104 14


Youth Teams, 1964-82

(Thanks to Martin Goatley for substantial contributions to this period)

Few players graduated successfully from the "A" team to a regular first team place in the 40s and early 50s. Apart from lack of opportunity because of so many professionals on the books, the "A" team though consisting mainly of youngsters, competed in adult leagues with no age limit. By the early 60s players like David Skinn, Norman Cooley, Ray Bailey, David Lovell and Steve Miles had come through from local football via the Eaglets under Reg Smith and Basil Hayward, but Hayward realised that there was also a need for a proper youth team competing in under-18 football. With floodlights now installed this team could have a regular midweek slot at the Eyrie, and players could play for their parent clubs, or the Eaglets, on Saturdays.

In 1964 he took the bold step of entering an under-18 team in the Mercia Youth League, which included teams from Ipswich Town and Colchester United, providing a big challenge in standards. Attendances for their games were similar to those for reserve matches, and some decent tussles were seen both in the League and a separate League Cup competition. The young Eagles struggled against the League clubs but everyone agreed the move had been worthwhile and was extended in to 1965/6. Unfortunately however, towards the end of that season it became impossible to field a worthwhile team in away matches because players could not get time off from work early enough to travel, and the club had to withdraw. Tables for 1964/5 (league and cup) and 1965/6 (Cup only) appear below. (4 points for an away win, 3 for a home win, 2 for an away draw and one for a home draw).

Players who graduated from this team included Trevor Marriott who represented England at youth level, Peter Massey, David Lawson and three who were whisked away to Gillingham by Basil Hayward-Bobby Folds, David Quirke and David Peach. Sadly, of these only Folds, much later, played for the Eagles at senior level, though Quirke had a decent career at Gillingham and Peach went on from there to win an FA Cup winners' medal and England under 23 caps at Southampton.

For the next two seasons there was no competitive youth football although some youth friendlies were played in 1967/8. The club returned to the Mercia League in 1968/9, with fairly mixed success-no league table survives-and also entered the FA Youth Cup for the first time, beating Wellingborough and Rothwell in the preliminary rounds before going out to Dunstable by the only goal in the first round proper. For the next few seasons the FA Youth Cup seems to have been the only competition the club entered at this level, and the furthest they progressed was a 1-5 defeat by Watford in the first round proper in 1971/2. However, by this time the Eaglets team that appeared in the United Counties League (see The Eaglets) consisted mainly of youngsters who no doubt gained valuable experience at that level.

It was not until 1977/8 that the club again entered a youth league, when manager Barry Fry decided to join the Chiltern Premier Youth League, which included teams representing Luton Town and Cambridge United. Bedford finished runners-up to Luton in 1977/8 and third in 1978/9 (tables appear below). In that season they also had a very good run in the FA Youth Cup, beating Hitchin, Histon, Corby and Aylesbury before going down to Luton in the second round proper after a replay. Progress continued in 1979/80 when the very experienced Frank O'Hagan was brought in by manager Trevor Gould to look after the youngsters, who now played in the Northants Senior Youth League; they finished runners-up to Kettering in both the League and League Cup, and went out of the FA Youth Cup honourably in the second round by the odd goal in three at home to Stoke City, watched by over 600 people, more than the first team were attracting by then.

By now, however, the financial troubles of the club were affecting all levels and after 1979/80 there doesn't seem to have been a regular youth team. On the other hand, with no money now available for expensive signings of the kind that had kept local youngsters out of the team 20 or 30 years before, many such players had now come through the ranks to appear in the first team and the Wallspan team, so in that sense the various youth sides of the latter years had fulfilled their purpose.


Mercia Youth League-1964/5

P W D L F A Pts

Ipswich Town 12 10 2 0 47 19 38

Colchester United 12 8 0 4 35 15 27

Cambridge United 12 6 1 5 46 21 21

Cambridge City 12 5 3 4 22 23 20

Bedford Town 12 4 2 6 22 33 15

Chelmsford City 12 2 1 9 19 32 8

Romford 12 1 3 8 14 62 7

Mercia Youth League Cup 1964/5

Colchester United 12 12 0 0 50 7 42

Ipswich Town 12 8 0 4 52 21 27

Cambridge United 12 6 1 5 31 27 22

Bedford Town 12 6 0 6 28 29 20

Cambridge City 12 4 1 7 21 32 14

Chelmsford City 12 3 2 7 23 45 13

Romford 12 1 0 11 17 81 3


Mercia Youth League Cup 1965/6

Bedford resigned from the 1965/6 League competition having played only 5 of their 12 league games, producing one win and 4 defeats, and their record was expunged.

Above is the Bedford Youth team that played Cambridge United in the Mercia Youth League at The Eyrie on 1 September 1965, losing 1-3. back row, left to right: Vernon Avis (coach), F Brown, Trevor Marriott, Mick Faulkes, M Yawn, B Byrne. Front: David Meaney, Gerry Horseman, Peter Massey, J Donald, R Harper and Bobby Folds. Marriott and Massey both went on to play a number of first team games in later seasons, but not as many as Folds, who followed Basil Hayward to Gillingham at the end of the season and turned professional for them. After later spells with Northampton and Telford he returned to The Eyrie in 1972 and went on to make over 400 appearances between then and 1981. Mick Faulkes, who passed away in 2015, became a professional entertainer in Blackpool and told me how he was ordered to stand by later that season for a first team debut against Everton in the FA Cup when Alan Collier was doubtful, although in the end he wasn't required.

CHILTERN PREMIER YOUTH LEAGUE 1977/8

CHILTERN PREMIER YOUTH LEAGUE 1978/9