Part Six – into September 1919 and United’s first FA Cup campaign
After Chesham United’s first league game as a newly formed club, a 4-2 Great Western League victory over Yiewsley, the next game saw a ‘friendly’ visit to face arch rivals Aylesbury at the Printing Works Ground on September 13th 1919. A crowd six deep “that lined the ropes . . . had no reason to complain of either the quantity or the quality of the fare provided . . . the ancient rivalry showed itself anew, there was as much partisanship upon the part of a section of the crowd as there ever was.” With admission of eightpence the gate was declared as £18 10 shillings which would have produced a crowd of around 550 for this friendly. Sadly an experimental Chesham side went down to a 4-3 defeat against a full strength home team and an editorial in the Examiner was horribly reminiscent of our recent meetings with the modern-day Ducks: “After seeing it I should certainly be inclined to back Chesham, if only Chesham could reproduce any of its proper form at Aylesbury, but there’s the rub . . . My recollection of games at Aylesbury is that I have never seen a Chesham team reproduce a tenth of its true form.” So, looks like little changes – let’s hope this year we do see Chesham trounce the “ancient enemy!
The following week, September 20th, United entertained Newportonians at the Cricket Meadow in front of around 750 people (a ‘gate’ of £25 was announced) in a Spartan League fixture. A fine Chesham performance saw them 3-0 up by half time with a final score of 5-0. As a much-changed Chesham line up dominated their visitors, Gomm in particular stood out as he was, “in his real trim, and that means that he is a box of tricks whom all opponents have to beware of – he does some surprising and disconcerting things for an opponent, including a clever back-heel trick, and his passing is as good as his tackling.”
On 27th September 1919 the new United made their debut in the FA Cup with a Preliminary Round tie at the Cricket Meadow against Tufnell Spartans. The preview was cautiously hopeful: “Judging by the ‘paper’ form – a very unsafe guide by the way – Chesham should win, and that easily, but one never knows. Chesham are inclined to be cautious and methodical: Tufnell Spartan may be fast and dashing; a contrast in style and anything may happen.”
The previous week spectators had been held up entering the Newportians game and changes were recommended: “Given a fine day there should be a £30 gate. To give ‘change for a bob’ (or a note!) in almost every case will require some doing and double attendants at the gate are needed.” So, it may be 90 years ago but let that be a message to us all – think of George and Nobby and bring the right change!
In fact the game was held up for entirely different reasons as the railways were hit by a strike that created a “long and anxious wait” before the Spartans finally arrived in their “motor lorry”.
In the end there was no need for caution in the optimism. “Goals Galore. And plenty of Dash and Excitement” was the headline as Chesham eased to a 6-0 victory (2-0 at half-time) in front of a £34 crowd that was “one of the largest seen at the meadow.” By my calculation that would translate into a paying attendance of at least 1,020 but could well be more if junior or concessions rates were available. United lined up as: Webb, Redding, Brandon, Sawyer, Gomm, Stillman, Wright, Carter, Keen, Barnes and Vine. The win earned Chesham a First Round Qualifying tie away at Enfield on 11th October.
The goals were certainly flowing that weekend. 6-0 to the first team, the second team playing an Aylesbury League match at the “Chesham Second Meadow” beat Thame 7-1. In other local FA Cup matches Maidenhead beat Henley 12-1, Wycombe Wanderers won 6-2 against Reading Town and Newbury beat Uxbridge 6-0.
With a first FA Cup tie win under their belts, Chesham United entered the FA Amateur Cup for the first time the following Saturday 4th October. The first month of competitive matches for the new club had provided four games and three wins – 4-2 away at Yiewsley, then at home 5-0 against Newportonians and 6-0 against Tufnell Spartans. It was reported that the people of Chesham anticipated a good result against another team of old pre-war rivals as Uxbridge were the visitors: “Small wonder that there was a thousand people to watch the Amateur Cup-tie at Chesham Cricket Meadow, and that the crowd lined the ropes as thickly as wasps round a honey pot.” The opening three wins had seen 15 goals scored by United with Keen scoring 9. He was to add another 4 to his personal tally against Uxbridge and the crowd’s confidence was fully justified as Chesham went on to win the game 8-0.
This set up the following week’s FA Cup visit to Enfield nicely. “What supporters are asking themselves now is: ‘Can Chesham win at Enfield?’ They are due there tomorrow in the First Round of the FA Cup. With a full team Chesham should give a good account of themselves, but a win – well, that’s another matter, but by means a hopeless one.”
With the draw being regionalised the difference in travelling convenience at this time is clear from the discussions that took place about how Chesham should be placed in a west of London draw as it was so difficult to get to Enfield! However, plans were afoot to address the dependence on rail travel for away games: “Chesham are endeavouring to lessen the toil and trouble of the out-journey by fixing up a motor service. If arrangements could be completed with the Amersham Bus Company and they utilise one of their roomy buses, there would be room for plenty of supporters to accompany their side.”
Once the team made it to Enfield they found that, “It was a fine old rough and tumble, Enfield are heavy and bustling, but very wild: they played in a manner to sweep Chesham off their feet in the closing stages of the game.” United went already ahead through G.H. Barnes’ goal before that closing onslaught brought a penalty for Enfield as Brandon handballed. “The kicker did not mark well, however, for he struck the crossbar, but he caught the rebound and drove the leather home. A goal was signalled, but the Chesham players protested, as they had a right to do, and the decision was reversed.” Ah, finally proof that it does pay to argue with the ref! As the ball had not been touched by another player following the spot kick the penalty taker was not entitled to score from the rebound.
So, a 1-0 win away from home and into the draw for another possible pay day. The reward was a Second Qualifying Round tie away at Leavesden Asylum. Rather than providing a pay day this was expected to leave Chesham out of pocket as, “the Asylum men take very little gate.” An approach was made by United to host the game instead, but, in a statement entirely of it’s own time, “Leavesden will not listen to the blandishments of Chesham, and so, tomorrow Chesham face the Mental Hospital Men upon their own ground.”