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1931-32: Hail the conquering heroes
Armitage scoresAt the end of the 1931-32 season – Hitchin’s finest to date – Tom Wooding, the club’s popular chairman, took his players and officials onto the stage at the Hermitage cinema and milked the applause of a grateful public. The club had made rapid strides and had just completed its most successful campaign. “This has been achieved through enthusiasm, loyalty, hard work and by giving a straight deal every time,” he claimed. Hitchin enjoyed a spectacular season – two trophies, fourth place in the Spartan League Premier Division and good runs in the FA Cup and FA Amateur Cup. It really was a golden period for the club.
But the Canaries’ debut in the Premier Division was something of a rude awakening. There were not many new faces in the squad, only Dick Dunkley added to a side that had been together for more than a year. At Slough, Hitchin lost by three goals which led many supporters to fear the worst. But in the very next game, Crittall Athletic were demolished by 5-1. Eddie Armitage scored four times, the first in his record 84-goal haul for the season.
Armitage went one better in the FA Cup against Davis Athletic. The FA Cup was interesting and included a 3-1 win against professional Bedford Town. But Hayes ended hopes of a first round place, thrashing the Canaries 7-1.
The FA Amateur Cup promised much with one of the most satisfying results coming in the form of a 5-1 win against Enfield, in front of 3,798 people. In the first round, Armitage was in great form as he scored all four in a 4-2 victory against the famous London side, Nunhead. The next round saw Hitchin host another great amateur institution, Walthamstow Avenue, at Top Field. A crowd of 3,350 saw Hitchin pull off a 2-1 win, a penalty from Jim Walker settling the tie. The press crowed: “Hitchin are now the premier amateur club in Hertfordshire.”
On February 6 1932, Top Field’s attendance record was broken when 6,377 turned up to watch Alf Amos’ men take on Wimbledon in the third round. Such was the attraction of the game that hundreds of people were turned away – despite the addition of some temporary wooden terracing was added to the ground for the first time. Many who failed to gain entry were from London.
Wimbledon soaked up the pressure and scored twice to win 2-0. The club was not downhearted, judging by the reaction of well-known journalist ‘Birdseye’. “The size of the crowd demonstrates that the Hitchin Town club is supplying a long felt want in the district for the best class of amateur football and that the progressive policy of the club is fully justified.”
It was the AFA Senior Cup that brought glory to Top Field. It started to get interesting in round four, when the club travelled to Cricklewood, home of Hampstead Football Club (later Hendon). Goals from Armitage and Walker, in front of another big crowd, secured a semi-final place for the second time in three years. Hitchin’s opponents in the penultimate stage of the competition? Letchworth or Midland Bank.
While the club kept several cup runs going, they had fallen away in the league, however, and by the end of February, they had played 10 games fewer than league leaders Chesham United. Between the end of September and late February, Hitchin played just three league games. When they resumed, they struck form, beating Colchester twice, Hounslow and then drawing with highly-fancied Slough. Then came the AFA Senior Cup semi-final with Midland Bank at Cambridge.
The local crowd, who had come up against Hitchin two years earlier, were right behind the Bank side. In fact, Cecil Cannon, a former Cambridge player, received a torrent of abuse. It mattered little, for the Canaries won a thrilling game 3-1 against a team dressed in the slightly dubious combination of ‘Chocolate, Green and Gold’.
Hitchin were to face Derbyshire Amateurs, members of the Midland Amateur Alliance, in the final at Dulwich Hamlet’s new Champion Hill ground. The game attracted 4,000 people and controversy was in the air from the start. Cannon was stretchered off after the Derbyshire side’s captain, Blair, charged the Hitchin keeper, leaving with facial and stomach injuries.
Hitchin took the lead after 11 minutes through Armitage and it was not until the 72nd minute that Blair equalised . Shortly afterwards, Cannon was injured and George Pateman went in goal. He kept the opposition at bay until extra time arrived. Armitage and Blair scored again in the first period and to the surprise of the crowd, Cannon returned, “amid loud cheers of friend and foe.”
The game ended 2-2 and the two teams dragged their weary limbs back to Dulwich a week later for the replay. This time, it was not a contest – Hitchin won 6-0 and Armitage grabbed four.
If the scoreline was remarkable, the reception received by the team on that Saturday night was incredible, and has probably not been matched since. The Hitchin team caught a train out of Kings Cross at 7.45pm and when they arrived home, a huge crowd was waiting. A band played rousing tunes and a procession marched through the towns as people waved nd cheered. “The Hitchin Town FC has done more than any other organisation or body of people for a good many years,” said an emotional Tom Wooding. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Hitchin Urban District Council, Mr G.H. Halsey, said: “You only have to travel through the streets as we did tonight, to see the wonderful amount of support you have in Hitchin, and the great enthusiasm taken by the people of this town in the team’s winning of this cup. Never has there been a prouder day in Hitchin than today.”
A week later, Hitchin did it again, beating Apsley 5-1 at St.Albans in the Herts Snior Cup final. It was that kind of season and Eddie Armitage rounded things off with a hat-trick. Halcyon days!


The Herts & Beds Pictorial records Hitchin's 2-2 draw with Derbyshire Amateurs

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