It was thrilling to make our way over the pedestrian railway bridge to enter Clarence Park via the York Road entrance to see St Albans City FC, second in the National League South, take on Forest Green Rovers FC, clear leaders of the English League two in the first round of the FA Cup. Although over an hour before kick off the ground was more than half full in anticipation of the game and to join in the carnival atmosphere that the club has worked so had on with the brightly lit food and drink kiosks. The light at ‘The Park’ seemed brighter than usual and it was soon evident that a giant mobile temporary flood light has been installed to bathe the ground and ensure that the cameras who were there from BBC 2 can catch the whole game in clear quality. This is the first time that St Albans had appeared on prime time TV sports coverage and there was a tingle of excitement that you could tangibaly feel.
St Albans have never beaten a professional League team in the FA Cup so a win against Forest Green would be an exceptional achievement. There was more at stake in the encounter though as older fans rememember the FA Trophy semi final of the 1998/99 season. St albans having drawn the first leg at home 1-1 were two nil up in the away fixture at Forest Green and went in at half time leading 2-1. Forest Green eventually won 3-2 and went to the final after referee Andy D’urso disallowed St Albans a third on 72 minutes, those that played and were there are still mistyfied today and footage on You Tube will increase the confusion. That goal would have put St Albans ahead before the home side scored on 82 minutes. St Albans then threw everything at it and were pessing confidently when full time was blown which seemed not to have been the right amount of added time. This was another semi final St Albans had not won having been previously involved in dissapointment in the old Amateur Cup at the same stage.
Since that semi final Forest Green have strived on with the backing of Dale Vince OBE (Ecotricity) and are now world leaders in running a football club to the least detriment to the environment and climate. St Albans have remained at around the same level and are pushing via their energetic Chairman, Lawrence Levy, to relocate the club to enable it to expand its fan base, profile, ameneties , communituy involvement and youth football development.
Forest Green Rovers will further their green credentials when they move to a new wooden stadium near to the M5 which now has planning permission. St Albans though have their own wooden stand that will celebrate its 100 years next year in 2022 and some of the ground features have been recycled form elsewhere, one turnstile at the York Road End came from Old Trafford, seats in the wooden stand have previously watched games at Rochdale as did the segregation barriers and the crush barriers are from the Old Plough Lane, Wimbledon.
St Albans City 3 Forest Green Rovers 2
A small band of Forest Green Rovers made the trip having returned some of their allocation but theses were soon snapped up to give a full house of 4150. The tension before the start was hightened by the playing of the last post before kick off with rememberence day the following week.
Forest Green started strongly playing down hill and their speed and witdth of play caused the home team trouble. An example of this was that John Goddard the St Albans wide right player was unable to get forward as he had to hold back to defend. City did have an early chance when Jeffers shot was blocked and cleared away. On 17 minutes though Stevens put the visitors into the lead as he swept home Nicky Caddens cross. Forest Green continued in the same vein and St Albans did well to clear numerous chances and hold on.
John Goddard had switched to try his luck on the left and his cross found Mitchell Weiss whose slight headed touch was enough to guide it into the net at the far post. The Clarence Park crowd could not believe it and their emotions were hightened when long serving Zane Banton received the ball on the left and skipped past three defenders before hitting a perfect shot under the goalkeeper. Scenes of delirium on and off the pitch ensued but Forest Geen came back and created good chances that on another day may well have gone in.
As added time ticked away Ebou Adams placed a beatifull ball through the St Albans defence and Aitchison swept it into the net at an angle across Johnson.
A half time score of 2-2 was good for St Albans athough they had conceded just at the break passing the momentum back to the visitors.
St Albans were now playing down hill for the second half and if you have stood at the corner post at the York Road end by the turnstile and looked diagonally down the pitch you will know that it is a slope.
The frenetic pace of the game seemed to subside and although Forest Green had more possesion they were matched for chances. Johnson saved an effort and quickly unleashed a lonfg kick to the left where Mitchel Weiss controlled the ball and left the full back on the ground after slipping on the now dewy surface. Weiss cooly passed to Shaun Jeffers who chipped the ball into the net for St Albans to take the lead on 78 minutes.
Although Forest Green made strong efforts to level some brilliant tackles, blocking and saves kept them out and I didn’t feel any tension until the board for 5 minutes added time was shown. St Albans though saw out that time comfortably and finally defeated a proffesional League team and put to bed that Trophy semi-final horror of the past.
The chips were large, cooked in a deep fryer. hot, tasty, not oily and scoring a good 80. The speed of service though was very slow.