Part One - “Some of us, if not all, will live to line the ropes again” – the effect of the 1914-18 War on football in Chesham
To begin, let’s go back a couple of years further and take a look at how the Chesham United that we all know today first came into being.
Chesham Town Football Club had been established since 1879 (originally as just Chesham FC) with Chesham Generals being formed eight years later. Both clubs had enjoyed success having played in the early Southern League, Spartan League and having won the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup and competed in the early FA Cup and Amateur Cup. As early as 1902 there had been discussions about merging the sides but it wasn’t until World War One that an amalgamation became a reality. By 1915 most structured league football in England had been suspended, as a correspondent in the Examiner noted in November 1917: “Football in this locality since the war commenced has been of a make-shift character. What few matches there are and have been are mostly in the hands of the Juniors.”
During the 1914-18 war a number of players from both clubs were to lose their lives and by September 1917 a correspondent in the Bucks Examiner disclosed that; “It is by now an open secret that the two Chesham football clubs have made good progress with an amalgamation scheme. The members of both clubs have met and given consent to the scheme, which provides for a coalition of forces in all ways.” By November 1917 the news had reached Chesham-based troops serving on the battle lines and “A Soldier’s View “, by an un-named contributor, was published in the newspaper:
“I have seen in the Examiner about the amalgamation of both the senior clubs of the town. Well, there is much to be said for that and very little against, for after the war it would be very difficult to put out two first-class senior teams, and it would be difficult to find subscriptions to keep two senior clubs going. . . . From what some of us can see out here they have a kind of little revolution on in Chesham, and we in Belgium and France have no say in the matter. Never mind, some of us, if not all, will live to line the ropes again, if we cannot do anything better. There is one thing certain, and that is that we are the winning side out here, and when the whistle blows for the ‘cease-fire’ we shall all be there. It may be rather slow but it is sure.”
By the middle of November the local paper was able to report that: “The scheme for the amalgamation of the Chesham Town and Chesham Generals Football Clubs is now finally sealed and settled, and that the clearing up meeting of the Advisory Committee was held last weekend (10th-11th November 1917). The new club ’officially’ commences upon December 1st: it has received the official sanction of the Football Association and the Berks & Bucks FA.” In fact, a week earlier on Saturday 3rd November, a game had been arranged by the new club against the Royal Garrison Artillery Signal Depot. Although not yet officially formed as a club this could be seen as the first game played by a Chesham United side. The game was played on Chesham’s second meadow, known as the ‘pig trough’, and the visitors, who were described as, “Hefty, with plenty of weight to cope with the heavy ground”, won 5-2 against a Chesham team that had been hastily assembled after the army team contacted the club seeking a game. The Chesham line up that day was: “Webb (in his old position in goal); King and Wingrove; Joe King, C. Moulder (once more in his old place) and Brandon; Horace, Reading (still with plenty of vim), Sid Gomm, Wright, Frank Hayes and George Hawes. The ‘whistle holder’ was Mr G. Darvell.”
Apparently there was some debate about the name of the new club. Some had suggested simply using Chesham FC “but apparently there were certain objections,” possibly relating to the fact that the origins of Chesham Town lay in the original Chesham FC. The old colours of Town had been amber and black, with the Generals playing in blue and white, “colours that did not make for an artistic combination, and claret and light blue have been chosen as the colours – the jerseys to be claret with light blue cuffs and necklets, and the knickers white.”
Many familiar names associated were the old clubs were to continue their involvement. Lord Chesham, Capt. Ivor Stewart-Liberty (of the Liberty’s of London retailing family) and Mr William F. Lowndes were invited to be vice presidents. The committee consisted of six members from each of the former clubs: “Chesham Generals nominated for their share, Messrs W. Hawes, H. Lacey, E. Hunnibell, W. White, C. Webb, and W. J. Humphrey, all strong ‘footballites’ and workers; and Chesham Town nominated equally strong and well-tried men – Messrs R. Buckley, W. Holliman, H. Smith, J. Wood, F. Keen and G. Darvell.” The committee was sanctioned to stay in place until the 1st August in the third year following the re-commencement of official football, at that time still unknown, and a neutral Chairman was appointed who had not been associated with either of the previous clubs, Mr H. A. V. Byrne.
The first committee meeting of Chesham United was held on Tuesday 20th November 1917. It was decided that the cups and trophies held by the old clubs should be transferred to the new committee. Applications for membership of the new club were invited and the annual membership fee was set at two shillings and sixpence. On Saturday 29th December 1917 the first official match for the new Chesham United took place at the Cricket Meadow when the visitors were once again the Royal Garrison Artillery from Halton Camp who this time ran out as 3-2 winners. However, it was to be another eighteen months before United started to compete in competitive League matches when they entered teams into the Spartan League and the Great Western League when they recommenced after the war.