'FROM THE ARCHIVE'
1891 EARLY DAYS
Back Row (L to R) : Harry Childs, M. Charles, C. Cox, T. Axam, F. Deveraux and A. Fossey
Centre Row : Bill Davis, C. Wright, J. Bowskill and Bill Brady
Front Row : Archie Willliams, Alfred Page
Arlesey of the early 1800's was a small rural community divided into three along the areas of the old Manors, Church End to the north, Dean End mid village, and Green End to the south. The market, one of the earliest in the area, was long gone, but there were many small traders providing the essentials for life in the 19th century which for the majority would have been a pretty harsh existence.
Communications with the outside world would have been by footpath and cart track and most of the villagers would have travelled no farther than the nearby market towns. Things however were to change when the Industrial Revolution arrived in Arlesey in the form of the Great Northern Railway, with Arlesey and Shefford Road Station opening in the early 1850's and Arlesey Sidings Station (Three Counties) in 1866.
Villagers could now travel quickly to Hitchin, Biggleswade, St. Neots etc, London was only just over one hour away, and excursions to Ramsgate for 5s. 6d. would have given many their first glimpse of the sea. It was not, however, the ease of travel for the villagers that had the biggest impact on Arlesey, demand for building materials led to the arrival of Brick and Cement industries who used the railways to transport their products.
Engineering works also opened and the proximity of the railway led to the building of the Three Counties Asylum to the south east of the village. The population grew from 1,401 in 1851 to 2,106 in 1891 and new terraced housing was built for the workers of the newly arrived industries, with the business premises changing the character of Arlesey drastically.
At this time of great change throughout the Nation, the popularity of Association Football was growing, and with many of the new industries allowing workers Saturday afternoons off, became a popular attraction for spectators. Hitchin, Biggleswade and many of the larger local towns had already formed football clubs when in 1891 interest in Arlesey resulted in a meeting called in October for the purpose of forming a football club in Arlesey.
The meeting took place in the Brickground Hotel, one of the twenty-one drinking establishments in the village. The Club's first Secretary was Mr. R. W. Wright and Treasurer, Mr. W. Thompson. With it late in the season, Mr. Wright appealed for any secretary with engagements open to contact him.
On Saturday, November 14th, Arlesey Town F.C.'s first game was against Biggleswade Red Cross. The result a 3 - 1 victory which was most popular with the numerous company who witnessed the game. The next recorded game was against Hitchin Blue Cross on a field lent by Mr. Papworth. Again victory went to Arlesey, this time by 4 - 3. 'This result gave Mr. Wright, the Club's energetic Secretary, reason to be proud. Wright and Bowskill played well forward, though rather selfish. The halves, W. Davis and Childs, played in dashing style, whilst Jack Davies repelled numerous assaults of the opposing forwards with his well known ability', so reported the Biggleswade Chronicle in December 1891.
Much of what is known of the first few years comes from the local press, with the Biggleswade Chronicle, with whom we share 1891 as our Birthday, being particularly helpful and informative. Some things were learnt from talking to the older players and their decendants, which may have more to do with fable than fact, but reflect the atmosphere of the time.
Arlesey's last game of 1891 was a return fixture against Patton played on Mr. Papworth's field. The result, Potton winning with the only goal of the game. Jack Davies again playing in the most brilliant form. Arlesey played their first half uphill, in the second half Bowskill scored a goal, but this was disallowed as one of his own side called hand.
The first game of 1892 was a 6 - 0 home win over a Baldock XI and on February 13th, 1892 the Biggleswade Chronicle reported on the game against Mr. Paisley's XI (Waresley) - 'The match was played on a field near the Three Counties Station on Saturday afternoon in the presence of a considerable number of spectators. 0 - 0 at half time, the visitors won 2 - 0, Jack Davies again the best player on the field. The majority of the Arlesey team are by no means deficient in pluck and with more practice together should make a strong eleven.
It is to be regretted that few of the players of both teams have yet to learn the rules of the game, and were continually wrangling and disputing the decision of the referee, who to the great annoyance of the home captain, left the field shortly before half-time. Mr. Wright thinks it would further the interest already taken in the game if players and spectators would quietly abide by the decision of the referee. In March, Arlesey won the return with Bedford Swifts 3 -1, and their final match of the season was a 3 - 2 defeat at Baldock.
The results very successful for a newly formed club. Arlesey's record for their first season being -
Played 12, Won 5, Drawn 3, Lost 4.
A typical team of that season being:
M. Charles T. Axam
Harry Childs A. Fossey Bill Davis
C. Wright Bill Brady Archie Williams Alf Page
Jack Davies at full back played when not required by Hitchin, where he had built a considerable reputation, and on retirement, he became a respected referee.
Club colours were dark and light blue stripes, although little was available in the way of kit as players took to the field in an assorted collection of shirts, long trousers and working boots. School teacher Archie Williams an exception, as he posed for the Club's first team photo in 1891 immaculately attired.
THE NEXT FEW YEARS
Arlesey established themselves as a senior club, and whilst remaining in the shadow of the Hitchin and Biggleswade teams their ambitions saw them as respected opponents for any of the local clubs.
In those first few years the team played on Long Meadow, Lamb Meadow and the Common.
That the fields were very much in use was evident when, following a 4 -1 home defeat by Biggleswade in November 1892, the visitors complained that the manure had not been removed prior to the game. Later that month Arlesey recorded their first win in their second season by defeating Shefford 5 - 0, scorers A. Williams 2, Davies, Rawlings and P. Pearce. Another victory followed with a home win by 3 goals to nil against St. Neots in December.
In October 1893 Arlesey lost to Potton 2 - 0 on the Potton recreation ground, and for the return fixture, early in November, Arlesey had the use of another ground. Borrowing the field lent by Colonel Fyler the Club played its first game on the Bury Meadow when the following side avenged the earlier defeat with a 4 - 0 win.
Team: W. Young, J. Davies, R. Stamper, A.W. Fossey, T. Devereux, T. Axam, J. Tasker, W. Brady, H. Tasker A. Kitchener, A. Page
Scorers: Kitchener 2, Page and Brady.
The last game of 1893 was a controversial affair at St. Neots, when playing on the St. Neots common, the result was a 6 - 0 win for the Saints. Mid-way through the second half a penalty was awarded against Arlesey and the entire side left the field.
A 2 - 0 home defeat by Biggleswade in January 1894 was followed a week later with a visit to Shefford which brought forth the following report in the Biggleswade Chronicle:-
SHEFFORD v ARLESEY
'The return match between the above teams was played at Shefford before a fair number of spectators. A very high wind spoiled accurate play, the ball continually going out of bounds, still allowing for that, it was a very fast and interesting game, Shefford again winning by the one goal.
Pryor having started the game Arlesey immediately pressed, but not getting through, the play was transferred to the right centre, for some time neither side being able to gain any advantage until E. H. Lang made a long shot from the touch line, the visiting goalkeeper fumbling the ball, thus giving the first goal to Shefford. Immediately after the restart Arlesey retaliated and after a very pretty combination among the forwards, Tasker put the ball through, the home custodian not allowing for the wind. Nothing more was scored before half-time, the teams changing over level.
The ball being put in motion by Tasker for Arlesey, the play for the first quarter of an hour being very even, then Lang ran clear through his opponents scoring a good goal for Shefford. From this until the finish Arlesey did most of the pressing, being at times within an ace of scoring, but failed, thus retiring defeated by two goals to one.
Lang, Pryor, Ewbank and Ludfoot were the pick of the home team and Tasker, Stamper and Brady the visitors.'
Games were still played on a friendly basis with the matches against Biggleswade drawing the most support -the players and supporters making the short journey by train. Few would have returned overjoyed with the 8 - 1 reverse in November 1895, the club's worst recorded defeat at that date.
Games played between 1891-95 were on a friendly basis, but in 1896 the Club were looking for competitive football and with this in mind became affiliated to the Bedfordshire Football Association with Mr. Askam,
8 Asylum Road Secretary.
In November 1896 Sandy travelled to Arlesey and defeated Mr. Brady's team 3 - 2, the Blues gaining revenge with a 2 - 1 victory at Sandy in January 1897, with Brady and James the Arlesey backs doing yeoman service for their eleven.
The railways were still the easiest form of transport, but roads were improving and people became more used to the idea of travelling around. Most local villages now had football teams and were keen to form a competitive league, which resulted in the following meeting held in the Crown Hotel, Biggleswade in January 1897.
A meeting was held respecting the formation of a Football League for the Northern Division of Bedfordshire. The following clubs were represented, Biggleswade, Arlesey, Sandy, Langford, Stotfold, Southill and Warden, Mr. Flitton of Stotfold presiding. On reading of the minutes it was decided to alter the name of the combination from North Beds. to the North East Beds. League. Mr. Jones (Southill) having written and received permission to form the league from the English Association.
It was decided to ask the clubs in the following Parliamentary Polling Districts to join the League, Biggleswade, Sandy, Warden, Arlesey, Potton, Langford, Dunton, Shefford, Eyeworth, Henlow, Meppershall, Shillington, Southill, Tempsford and Blunham. The fee for joining the League was fixed at 2s. 6d.
In February 1897 Arlesey travelled to Biggleswade recording a 1 - 1 draw.
The return in March resulted in a 3 - 0 victory for Biggleswade. The players of both teams and their friends met at the 'True Briton' near the Three Counties Station, and held an impromptu smoking concert in which several of the company contributed songs, duets, trios and recitations, and a very convivial time was spent.
On Friday 1st October 1897 the Biggleswade Chronicle published the fixtures for the Biggleswade and District Football Club.
October 9th v Baldock Home
16th v Huntingdon Away
23rd v Arlesey Home
30th v Hitchin Town Away
November 6th v St. Neots Home
13th v Blue Cross at Hitchin
27th v Asylum Away
December 4th v Ashwell Home
18th v Hitchin Home
January 1st v Potton Away
8th v Stevenage Home
15th v Sandy Away
22nd v Huntingdon Home
29th v Cambridge St. Marys Home
February 5th v Arlesey Away
12th v Blue Cross Home
26th v Baldock Away
March 5th v Sandy Home
12th v St Neots Away
19th v G.N.R (AA) Kings Cross Home
26th v Peterboro’ Loco Home
April 2nd v Windover at Huntingdon
9th v Ashwell Home
In October 1898 Arlesey, Biggleswade, Sandy and Potton applied to join the Bedfordshire County cu-- condition that a northern division be formed. In theon event, Potton broke ranks withdrawing their objectiorm and were accepted. Arlesey would have to wait for season 1899-1900 for their application minus any amendments to be accepted.
The games against Biggleswade were becoming more competitive, the match at Arlesey in January 1899 resulting in 5 - 2 home victory, had a penalty awarded against Biggleswade with the visitors complaining that the referee could not be sure the ball was in the area as the 12 yard line was not marked (or any other for that matter). The present pitch markings were not introduced until 1904.
Arlesey's team that day:- C. Cox, J. Jackson, C. Robinson, A.A. Williams, E. Page, C. Clarke, W. Brady, F. Favell, T. Albone, F. Goodwin, R. Burbage
In the return game in March Arlesey were again victorious by one goal to nil, with the Biggleswade Chronicle reporting: 'Played in beautiful weather. Though defeated Biggleswade were singularly unfortunate, whilst on the other hand, their opponents were very lucky.'
Playing on the Common at the time Arlesey were unable to charge a gate, and for the start of the season 1899-1900 returned again to the Bury Meadow. The opening game on the 'new' ground on 22nd September resulted in a 0 - 0 draw with Hitchin. Arlesey defeated Leighton C.S.R in the first round of the County Cup to earn an away tie at Biggleswade. Before the cup tie in January, Arlesey sent a side to play Biggleswade on the 22nd December 1899. The result a 1 - 1 draw, and the last team to represent Arlesey in the 1890's being :-
A.Robinson, C. Robinson, J. Jackson, C. Clarke, F. Mills, F. Stimpson, F. Brady, T. Goodwin, F. Favell, A. Hartley R. Fordham