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1940-41: Woodware won

 In the Dagenham & Redbridge boardroom, there sits a wooden cup amongst the silverware and Hitchin Town’s name is the only name inscribed upon it. This unusual bauble is the Herts-Middlesex League Championship trophy, won by the Canaries in 1940-41, the first all-wartime season. Hitchin were runaway champions in that season, and the trophy, fashioned out of the mast of a ship, was handed to the club on May 3 1941, after a multi-talented Hitchin team had beaten the rest of the league 5-0 at Top Field.

The summer of 1940 marked the arrival of one Dennis Chapman, signed from Letchworth as a full back. But the rugged Chapman was forced to play up front shortly after his arrival and the result was astonishing. He scored 41 goals!

Dennis Chapman made his debut for the club on September 7 1940 at Barnet. It was a memorable game, for it Hitler’s Luftwaffe launched its first daylight raid on London. “We were leading 2-0 with about 25 minutes to go and then we had to shelter beneath the stand at Barnet. The game never restarted, but under the rules of the league, the result stood,” recalled Chapman.

Playing alongside legendary Hitchin names like Les Clarke, Jack Hoar, Bill Westwood and Larry Dolan, Chapman was switched to centre forward at the end of September due to Claude Brown’s absence. He remained there for the rest of the 1940-41 season.

In November, Chapman scored five against Golders Green in a 9-0 victory. The press was full of praise: “Chapman put in one of the best performances in the history of the club.”

Unbeaten until January 25 when they lost at Wealdstone, there was little doubt Hitchin would win the title. After Wealdstone beat the Canaries 4-3, Southall felt the backlash to the tune of 6-0. In March, Southall were pulverized once more, this time by 10-1 with both Chapman and Brown scoring hat-tricks.

In the final game, Hitchin beat old rivals Metropolitan Police 6-3 to win the tirle by seven points. And to cap a fine season, the Herts Senior Cup was lifted, a 3-2 win over Leavesden at Clarence Park.

In a year which was blighted by the threat of invasion, rationing, air-raids and grim news from abroad, the success of Hitchin Town did much to raise spirits locally and also underlined the view that if Adolf Hitler had not intervened, the Hitchin team of the late 1930s would have gone on to great things.

1941-42: Down to fourth

 Hitchin Town’s first eleven was largely unchanged from the title winning squad of 1941. “The team picks itself,” claimed the press. For the first Herts-Middlesex Combination game, players like Jack Hoar, Dennis Chapman, Les Clarke and Phil Chamberlain (pictured left) were all present. But it was a tame start to the season. Hitchin beat Leyton 2-0, but the performance disappointed. “The Canaries were not quite up to their usual standard of crisp ‘go for it’ football,” said one report.

The lack-lustre opening was attributed to a lack of training – war work had to be done and those that were not already aligned with one of the services had other priorities. Any player attached to the Home Guard or Air Raid wardens would have his work cut out.

The team followed that 2-0 win against Leyton with a 5-5 draw at Enfield. As in previous years, goals were never a problem. Eight flew in at Tufnell Park and seven were added against Slough. At Walthamstow, Hitchin grabbed a 1-1 draw against a team that was close to pre-war strength.

The general feeling was that the Herts-Middlesex Combination was as strong as anything served up in the years preceding the war. “Amateur football is nearer pre-war standard than it has been at any time since the war started,” said the local press.

Hitchin hit the top of the table in November and were unbeaten until March when Barnet won at Top Field in league game number 20. It was the first of five defeats that effectively cost the Canaries the title. Three of those defeats came against the teams that finished above Hitchin: Walthamstow, Barnet and Leyton. Nobody scored more goals than Hitchin’s 75 goals in 24 games. In total, Hitchin scored 86 goals, with Les Clarke topping the chart with 18. No prizes for the Canaries in 1941-42, but football still provided great entertainment for the Hitchin public.

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