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Sam Lawrence

Ely City Nostalgia – by Sam Lawrence

The late Sam Lawrence, who sadly died in 2007 sent us several articles sharing his memories of Ely City in the past and some comments on the modern game.  As a  former Ely City Football Club Secretary, Treasurer and Life Vice-President he was the unofficial Historian of the club. The articles ran from Nov 2004 to May 2005:

I made the mistake in my last notes of saying that I would write about Pegasus (among other things) but I’ve not been able to research that Club as I would like other than to say that we signed Johnny Race, one of their better players.

First and foremost even at this late stage I want, as does my wife, to say how sorry we were to learn of the death of Sheila Yates. She was in modern parlance a “cracking gal” supporting the Club off the field and Peter on the field in his outstanding (an understatement) football career. It was good to see Doug Cranwell and other former players present at her funeral to support Peter and his family. Sheila was an astute businesswoman and our family will miss her and her friendship.

What a fitting end it has been to win the First Division Cup and maybe it is a kind of celebration of the 120 years’ history of the Club. I noted that there was no rant about the decisions of officials for a change!!

But it cannot be often that the Club reaches the front and back pages of the local paper for such different reasons and I had to smile at a letter in which the writer asked which of the Ely/Chatteris people had won! Whether the fact that the Licensing of premises will, if not already, be transferred to the District Council will be significant I don’t know. I am far from being a prude but who authorised this so-called “entertainment”? And as I suggested in previous notes I said I would like to reminisce about some of our fund-raising efforts of the 50s.

What has to be remembered is that there was so much more community spirit in Ely and in Ely City then and there were many more public houses than now whose licensees who gave support. Someone came up with the idea that we should take a pumpkin around selected pubs in Ely and customers asked to guess the number of seeds in the fruit. Much Committee involvement was required as was the help of the licensees. We also had probably the biggest jumble sale in Ely held in the former Corn Exchange in Market Place. We worked out a rota for collection of jumble and leafleted every street in Ely (obviously less populated than now) to say when we would be in their particular street and with the help of Harry Oxer’s lorry we collected an unprecedented amount. That left over was taken to the “tat” shop and a deal was done.

Another wheeze was a two-day Fair over the weekend of the old August Bank Holiday (then the first Monday in the month). On the Saturday we held a Fete at the former Theological Gardens in Ely and we ran probably the first “bottle stall” in Ely. The lady in charge of that “promoted” a decent bottle of whisky plus other bottles. She was horrified when she was told not to put the bottle ticket in the box so that it could be carried over to the Monday! On the Monday we had a five or six-a-side tournament which meant that games had to be played west to east, thus balls might be kicked into New Barns Road.

A lady who lived in New Barns Road realised what we were doing and wanted us to put nets up as high as possible between the trees on the roadside of the Ground. She had just had new carpets laid and was worried that if the ball went over the fence her windows might be broken and the carpet damaged by glass. You’ve guessed it – very soon after the start the ball went over the high net straight through her window and there was broken glass everywhere all over the new carpet! My recollection is that we were insured but of course the type of ball then used was not of the beach type now used! Have a good Summer.

May 2005

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Connie and I learned with much regret of the death of Millie Simper. Her son Eric played for Ely with considerable distinction and had County honours when playing for one’s County (let alone one’s Country) meant so much. If my memory serves me correctly she was a stalwart of the Ely City Football Supporters’ Club in the 50s and subsequently and was an utterly reliable supporter and held in great respect by all at the Club . A fine upstanding lady, always a willing helper not just for football and may she rest in peace. May Eric, Joan and all the family be sustained by their Faith.

I don’t know how many “hits” this website receives nor where they come from, being a hater of computers I don’t know even if “hits” is the correct word! My point in asking this question is that so far I have heard nothing in response to the identity of the team in the programme which Ely were playing in the game mentioned in my last contribution. Even George Lawrence could not remember any of the visiting players’ names. Do many members of the Club access this Club site? Are other Clubs’ members having a look? Is there a county (of which Peterborough forms part) website to which contributions are sent? If not, why not? I’ve suggested to Bruce Badcock that the next League handbook provides details of Clubs’ websites. Regrettably Bruce has announced he is standing down as Secretary of the Ridgeons League to join the Isthmian League as Competition Secretary. I’ve known Bruce from his and my local government days of many years ago and I am very sorry to see him go. All the Clubs in the League have great reason to be grateful for all that he has done for them and have been very lucky that his life-style has enabled him to do all that he has done in years of great change.

My comments about Millie at the top of this page drew my thoughts back to the very considerable efforts both the Football Club and the Supporters’ Club made to raise funds. The Supporters’ Club leased premises above what is now QS next to Boots. We hired record players and speakers from Millers who were then in High Street plus many 45 rpms and we ran Saturday night “pop dances” for a number of years. Where Boots is was the Rex Cinema and a decision was taken that we should have a reasonably then high profile live group. We hired “The Prowlers”. Such was the demand for tickets that we had to hire bouncers! But then of course other problems occurred – the loud noise from the pop group filtered through the adjoining walls of the Rex Cinema and interrupted the film sound. Not sure how that was resolved but other venues soon took up the challenge. There were other major fund-raising activities which I will include next time.

I hope too to write about Pegasus (who?) and the FA Amateur Cup – the predecessor of the FA Vase. The competition changed in 1975. Time was when Pegasus and Harwich & Parkestone played the final before 100,000 people at Wembley and last Saturday Didcot who beat Bury Town 2-1 at home with their largest ever crowd of 1220!! AFC Sudbury are the favourites but seem to me to have a difficult task. Didcot on the other hand have a lot going for them. They play in red and white shirts with a cannon in their badge and though now known as The Railwaymen were earlier called The Gunners.

March 2005

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This is “penned” on 8th February and last Saturday a friend showed me a programme he had been given of a match when Ely were in the Peterborough League. With family, Cathedral and Highfield School Governorship activities (and of course Arsenal!) virtually all falling together and my Ely City records having been passed on to various interested organisations it will be a while before an answer might be found. There are certain clues as to the period in which the programme was issued (my Father is listed as Secretary for example) but unfortunately the centre pages which had been run off on a duplicator (though the outside pages were obviously printed in advance for the whole season and it is important to note that Burrows Newsagents were in those days as now supporting the Club), though showing the players with their positions and the referee do not say which team Ely played against and it must not be forgotten that after Ely joined the Central Alliance League the Reserves were in the Peterborough League.

However my main point is that the teams were:

Goal – R. Pegler, B. Brown, R. Duke, J.Porker, J. Moore, J. Hopkins, J. Dudman, T. Dobbs, E. Greenhalgh, A. Smith, R.Pinney.

Referee: B.W. Everitt

Ely City: S. Woodgett, G Lawrence, K Pope, Flatt, M Hipkin, A Marshall, Drummond, Mcleod, Garner, G Docherty, Grieg.

Those with long memories will be aware of Ely’s goalkeeper Stan Woodgett (and his white jersey) and the “back five” as they are known now to some extent. Two of Ely’s forwards are names known to me, as is the referee and possibly one of the visitors’ forwards. My guess is it is a Club from Peterborough. So can anyone help identify? Doug Cranwell? And we had two Marshalls, Alf and Andy.

George Lawrence and I have frequent chats – he still plays squash but now prefers rugby to soccer. He recently drew my attention to the fact that one of Histon’s early post-war greats had died. I did see the death in the evening paper but thought that he might have been one of the Fairground Amusement family with whom I had to deal in many facets of my local government work but George told me there had been an appreciation in the local evening paper of Maurice’s services to football, Histon and County football. I missed that but maybe it was not in our regionalised edition.

I will conclude with a story which Bill Ling who was a top flight referee and was “in the middle” for the 1954 World Cup Final held in Russia and will couple it with my attitude. My son (now 41) had some wonderful years as a Minor Counties Cricketer and was a Nat West “Man of the Match” against Worcestershire – Botham, Hick and Company. I always taught him that even if an umpire is wrong he is right and you will accept the decision without question. I have told my two grandsons (11 and 8) exactly the same. Bill told me that he had been refereeing a Cambs. League game between top flight games and sent off a player for foul and abusive language. Bill had been appointed to referee an FA Cup Final and as he walked along Wembley Way he noticed that one of the policemen on duty was the player he had previously sent off. Bill said “Now what do you think?” The policemen replied “I still think you are no f…… good!”

And now I see that the Ridgeon’s League are proposing a Reserves’ League with some exceptions, a suggestion I and a few others made many years ago. Maybe those in the Ely Club were many years ahead of their time! Who was it who said “What goes around comes around”?

In conclusion I was somewhat taken aback by my name’s inclusion in a short note in the excellent Green ‘Un on the History of the Eastern Counties League nearly ready for publication. In my view all I have done is to confirm or query some of the author’s questions. Having seen the draft till 1959 I think we are in for a real treat.

February 2005

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One of the problems in writing notes is that one must always be aware that if the writer is not involved with the game locally but looks on from afar, there is always someone doing what you hope would be done! No sooner had my first contribution been on the website than Derek Oakey very kindly phoned to say that a braveheart of Impington is writing a history of the East Anglian Cup – so good luck to him. Derek has provided much information to him about facts involving Ely City. So much care has to be taken in writing histories (as I know) and I am aware (having seen first drafts of that of the ECL to 1958) the care Mick Blakeman is taking.

There was one other point about Bill Nicholson – he came here in season 1951/52 and gave a talk on tactics at a meeting organised by the Club. Back in the mid-1950s Ely entertained then Midland League side Peterborough United under the Club’s not so good training lights. If my memory is correct they were managed by one of Arsenal’s greats, George Swindin – now aged 90 – and I took a scrapbook with me showing all about Arsenal and at the after-match “do” he pointed to a photograph of him talking to Arsenal players “and”, he said “I can tell you what I was saying”! I think we lost 2-4 with goals coming in the gathering gloom Don’t forget that 2005 season is an important milestone in the Club’s history (as it is for me in that I first saw my beloved Arsenal at West Ham on 6th September 1945) as will be 17th November 2006.

Happy New Year to you all.

January 2005

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Perhaps sometime and somebody might research (and it won’t be me!) the history of the East Anglian Cup. I am sure that in its post-war days if not before (and Ely and many Clubs treated it seriously) it was a very important and prestigious competition – and valuable (cashwise and footballwise). My late Father became President of the Cup Competition for one year in rotation and I can recall – but not the final result – being with him when he presented the Cup at Bishops Stortford who had played Dagenham Town not then combined with Redbridge. Those semi-professional non-league clubs provided a very stirring encounter. But now do Clubs feel it is an additional burden on their schedules with little financial reward – or is it an opportunity for other members of their squads to play?

Christmas approaches. Now matches are played on days and at times which are not family affected for players. But back in the late 40s and early 50s Ely used to play at Downham Market on the morning of Christmas Day. Afterwards the “hospitality” flowed and eventually we got home in time for the traditional lunch. On Boxing Day the return fixture took place in the early afternoon and some players were, shall I say, a little bit worse for their celebrations yet some played their best games. There was a tremendous camaraderie between players, Club Officials and supporters and a great atmosphere. Huge crowds, not many cars, little of interest on TV (as now!), great fun, no moans about referees as now. Enjoyable days though very busy.

December 2004

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Sam sent the following article to the League following the death of Billy Nicholson, former Tottenham Hotspur manager.

Both my paternal and maternal families were ardent Tottenham supporters to such an extent that on the day of the burial of one of my Grandmothers her husband responded “Yes” immediately to the question “Do you want to go to Spurs this afternoon?” within a few hours of the funeral. Of course being the youngest I had to go along and our war-time holidays were always at Edmonton coinciding with the start of the football season. In 1945 I rebelled and told my father I wanted to see Arsenal and after much persuasion he took me to see West Ham vs. Arsenal (September 1945) and I can recall the holes in the roofs of the stands caused by bomb damage. I’ve supported them ever since.

Wonderful years followed for me in administrative capacities with Ely City and after many applications (especially after Ely City vs. Torquay United in the FA Cup in 1956) Ely were eventually admitted to the Eastern Counties League for the 1960/61 season. In those days Spurs and West Ham ‘A’ Teams were members of the League and Billy Nicholson and Ted Fenton of West Ham United always attended important League meetings. We only met Ted Fenton once, in his last year as Manager of West Ham. Billy Nick always sat with my Father (Bill Lawrence) (whom he knew as a Spurs fan) and I sat next to him. In Ely’s first year in the Eastern Counties League Spurs won the Double and European Trophies and it said much for the standing of the League in those days that he should be present.

Mr. Nicholson in his clipped northern tones only spoke whenever he had a point to make – and delegates took notice. He got on so well with people who, as now, he knew were doing their best at “grass-roots” level. And of course during his playing career he coached Cambridge University, wishing that the players did not have other (academic!) matters on their minds and how hard he trained them. (Didn’t Cambridge and Oxford have some wonderful players at both soccer and cricket?).

Even as a passionate supporter of Arsenal who on so many of their good days can be unstoppable I do often wonder how Billy Nick’s excellent team of the “Glory Days” with the old leather “T” ball and the perfect playing surfaces now produced would be. In his tribute in the Sunday Times last Sunday, Hunter Davies wrote of Mr. Nicholson’s privacy in that he never told his wife or family of his appointment as Manager and banned his wife and daughters from attending matches. His wife knew from his mood on returning home how things had gone.

In the years after the Second World War soccer owed much to people like Billy Nicholson. How many of the top Managers would attend meetings involving their “A” or equivalent sides now I wonder and perhaps they together with the young players of Clubs might reflect on the way in which Billy Nick, Brian Clough and Keith Miller behaved.

November 2004

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Written by: Sam Lawrence
Article date: 1 June 2005

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