Tuesday 3 January 2012

St Albans City - Clarence Park

St Albans City FC
Clarence Park
York Road
St Albans

01727 848914
Official Website

Ground Number: 42
Monday 2nd August 1999
St Albans City 0-5 West Ham United XI
Steve Clark Testimonial


The club were established in 1908 and moved around various leagues during their early years, playing in the Spartan, Athenian and Hertfordshire leagues, Amid a highly successful period for the club, they won the Isthmian League in 1924, 1927 and 1928. Although their league form tailed off around the second world war it wasn't until the mid 70's, when the Isthmian League expanded, that they would see relegation. 1974 saw them drop to the second tier, then 10 years later in 1983 they would experience relegation to the 3rd tier after years of mediocrity. Two quick promotions would see them get back to what, at the time, was the second tier of non-league in the Isthmian Premier. They'd come close to making the Conference at the end of the 1992/93 season when they finished second behind Chesham United. Both clubs were denied promotion due to ground grading - St Albans due to a protected tree that they had growing out of the terrace. They would go on to maintain their second tier status in the non-league pyramid following the establishment of the Conference South and would even spend 2006/07 in the Conference Premier, finishing bottom, albeit with a credible 40 points. They never really recovered from this and dropped further down to the Southern Premier. Three seasons were spent here before they won promotion back, with a 4-1 victory against Chesham United after a 4th placed finish. They've been in the Conference South ever since, though have generally struggled, finishing in the bottom half every season.

In the FA Cup St Albans have reached the 2nd Round on 3 occasions, taking Walsall to a replay in 1968, Torquay United to a replay in 1980 and the latest occasion in 1996 which saw a 9-2 defeat to Bristol City. The club were three-times FA Amateur Cup semi-finalists, also making the same stage of its replacement, the FA Trophy in 1998-99. That year they narrowly lost 4-3 to current Conference high-fliers Forest Green Rovers.


My first visit to St Albans was in August 1999. I went with my brother and some of our mutual friends to the pre season friendly/testimonial game against West Ham United. At the time I was a West Ham fan, having done that thing that all youngsters do and choose a "big team" to support (though big is a pretty loose definition in West Ham's case!) This match was being played as a testimonial for St Albans City striker Steve Clark , who had scored 322 goals in 488 games for St Albans, including 6 goals against Hillingdon Borough in 1994, the game ending in an 11-1 thrashing.

West Ham fielded a mixture of youth teamers and reserves for this game, whilst St Albans played what I assume was their normal side. Gary Alexander, the future Leyton Orient striker scored all 5 goals. It was a pretty one-sided affair, but the attendance was decent meaning a substantial kitty for Clark.


I'd been wanting to revisit Clarence Park for ages, as it was really well regarded amongst hoppers. I barely remembered it as at the time of my original visit digital cameras were not yet commonplace and normal photography was an expensive business. It was fairly local to me so a revisit would have been fairly easy. The town was also very good for pubs, something I discovered when visiting the local theatre to watch Dave Gorman a couple of years ago. However, the thing that put me off was the high admission prices - £15 for Conference South football - which is the same price as you can get a seat on the halfway line at Wycombe for. So I was leaving it for a big game and was delighted to when they were drawn against Carlisle United in the FA Cup, I had a good friend who was an ardent Carlisle fan called Josh, and it would be nice to have a catch up as well as taking in a really decent game in terms of occasion.

The day of the game came and I was really looking forward to revisiting a ground I barely remember, especially with the magic of the FA Cup thrown in. I woke at 9am on the last day of my week off, and the first task was a gloomy one - setting my alarms for my 4am start. I had a healthy breakfast of grapes, then had a bath before popping down the shops to get the non-league paper. There was no time to read it though, and after a lemsip to try and ward off a cold, I left at 11.10. There was a couple of traffic strewn areas but generally it was a good journey. I arrived at 12.05, initially disappointed that my intended car park was full. However I found free street parking just around the corner from my pre-match pub. The Mermaid was a fantastic place, Hertfordshire cider pub of the year and I really enjoyed my pint of Pearsons Perry. The North London derby was on, packed with Spurs fans singing about Arsene Wenger being a paedophile, which of course is totally untrue. Not fussed about the match, I opted for the beer garden to have a bit more space. I completed the cider board by having a half of Barbourne Blackcurrant cider and that put me in a good mood for the game, getting to the ground just before 1.

The ground was as majestic as the descriptions I'd seen and after picking up a programme for £3 I went in. I had myself a portion of chips for £2 before settling on a spot near halfway, opposite the main stand. What followed was a real FA Cup cracker and it was former Wycombe man Junior Morias that opened the scoring after just 4 minutes. His 30-yard wonder strike flew past the visiting keeper to give St Albans a shock lead. They could have gone further ahead too, but a long Carlisle throw into the box caused all sort of chaos, a penalty was awarded and Danny Grainger squeezed his effort past James Russell to make it all square. Carlisle's top scorer Jason Kennedy nodded in from a corner to give the Cumbrians the lead for the first time in the game but it was some fancy footwork by Morias that set up his, and St Albans second. A 3 goal salvo by Carlisle turned the tie on its head. Theys seemed to have a real problem dealing with crosses, Jabo Ibhre profiting more than most by grabbing 2 goals and only being denied a hat-trick when Reggie Lambe deflected his shot in. The hosts would have the final say though - Louis Theophanous, a Cristinano Ronaldo look-alike belted in a strike that his more famous doppelganger would have been proud of. It gave his side an air of respectability, and that was the least they deserved after doing their city proud.

So, St Albans City very unlucky then and a sterling performance from former Wycombe man JHunior Moria proved to be just not enough for them. I made my walk, half a mile through the drizzle, back to my car. I listened to all the other scores coming in on my journey home which apart from the M25 being slow for it's entirety. I got in just before 5, determined to enjoy the last few hours of my freedom before I had to go back to work. I had a couple of cider with my Sunday roast and football highlights before having a reasonably early night, having enjoyed a great day of FA Cup Football.


CLARENCE PARK is one of the older and more traditional grounds left in non-league football. The ground has a capacity of 6000, with an old wooden stand, seating around 900. The rest of the ground is mainly open terracing, though there is a decent-sized area of cover on the other side. It's likely that the ground would require redevelopment should the club make it to the Blue Square Premier, but at the moment it is one of a dying breed, which is sad to see. It's situated near the town centre which has a number of decent pubs and plenty of takeaways to choose from. The pick of these pub wise is the Mermaid, which has a great range of real ales and ciders on offer.


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