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© Chris Byrne 2010


The start of the new season saw momentous changes to the Isthmian League. Not only had the league expanded to two divisions and the introduction of promotion and relegation but, together with the Western League, Hellenic League and Northern League, the Isthmian League was to become one of the first major leagues in the country to be commercially sponsored: by Rothmans the tobacco giants. Initially, in the case of the Isthmian League at least, this would run for one season until the disappearance of amateur status. Not just would winning the championship bring monetary reward, but there was also an incentive to score goals, as teams winning by three or more goals would win £40. There were also awards for sportsmanship, each side beginning with eight points and then losing one for each yellow card and four for a sending-off: any points remaining at the end of the season would bring a cash bonus. Another incentive for attacking football was the introduction in the four ‘Rothman Leagues’ of the now-universal ‘three points for a win’ in place of the traditional two. Yet another innovation was allowing a club to use a maximum of two ‘permit players’ in any match.
At the AGM ‘Mac’ McGowan, the Secretary, announced he would step down at the end of this, his 25th, season, and Chairman Ray Barlow applauded all the hard work behind the scenes the previous season but was increasingly concerned about the falling gate receipts: down from £6500 in the 67-8 season to £1700 in 72-3.
Ex-City player Vic Mobley, who had gone on to play for Sheffield Wednesday and to captain the England U-23 side, returned to the club as Maurice Kyle’s assistant, and City were further cheered by good wins in friendlies, 6-0 against Aylesbury and 3-1 against Southern Premier side Atherstone United.
A 5-0 loss on the first day of the season at Amateur Cup winners Bromley was not an auspicious beginning, but results after that took a turn for the better and by September they were up to sixth position, their highest for four years, and only two points behind the leaders.


The Reserves reappearance in Division One of the Hellenic League began well with a 5-2 defeat of Walcot, the previous season’s Division Two champions, and continued in a similar vein as they surged to the top of the table after ten games having scored 42 goals: only three fewer than the 1st XI would score in the whole season. A three-horse race developed over the season between the Reserves, Cirencester Town and Newbury Town, each of whom would score more than 110 goals in the 40-match season, which was eventually won by Cirencester with City a point behind: all three were promoted.
City entered the FA Cup in the First Qualifying Round again and were again drawn at home against local rivals Witney Town who were enjoying their first Southern League season: a good crowd of nearly 800 saw the professionals win by the only goal of the match.
In a season of many changes, the next home match saw another when City took the field in their new strip of royal blue with white trim. The change from the famous blue and white hoops was at Maurice Kyle’s request, but he had put off the change while the team were still winning in the hoops: the old kit was to disappear mysteriously during a visit to the launderette later in the year. A new away strip of red and white had been unveiled at the Wycombe match earlier in September.
Though the 1st XI’s defence had tightened up considerably since the previous season, the lack of punch at the front was still a cause for concern and that City were the only team in the league not to win a goalscoring bonus was a fair reflection of this shortcoming. Elsewhere it was agreed that the ’bonus’ idea had led to a more attacking approach, and, equally encouraging, the ‘sportsmanship’ awards seemed to be having the desired effect. At the turn of the year there had been three sendings-off, compared with ten in 72-3; and 65 bookings compared with a massive 150 at the same point the previous season.
City came within two minutes of winning a £40 bonus at perennial strugglers Corinthian-Casuals but allowed their hosts a late goal to bring the score back to 3-1. There were few losses and even high-scoring Bishops Stortford – they had already won £200 in bonuses – were beaten 1 0 at the White House. The visitors, however, had been delayed when the “Rothmans’ Coach”, with its bar and two “Rothmans Hostesses”, had broken down and hadn’t arrived until 2.55. This other perk of the Rothmans involvement with the league could be used by each side for one away game during the season.
In December Maurice Kyle was picked to play for the Isthmian League XI, the first non-amateur ever to be chosen for league representative honours. Eric Metcalfe was also chosen for the league side and in the last match of 1973 played his 400th game for the City, against Pressed Steel in the Senior Cup. The end of the year was reached with just seven losses in twenty-nine matches and with City in eighth position.
The first game of the New Year matched City with league-newcomers Slough Town at the White House in the First Round of the last ever Amateur Cup competition, and in a physical game it took a Bob McCrea goal to take the tie to a replay. The national fuel crisis had put a temporary halt to floodlit matches so the morning of January 13th 1974 saw City’s first ever competitive match on a Sunday. It was certainly a winner in terms of revenue as almost 1600 attended another bruising encounter and witnessed a single-goal victory for Slough. And City were in cup action the following Sunday as well: a 1-0 Senior Cup win at Clanfield.
A twelve match unbeaten run kept the team in single-figure positions into March with the high spot being a 1-0 home win over champions-elect Wycombe in front of a crowd of over 1000: just like old times! Too many draws saw them slip to eleventh in the final table but they finished the league campaign on a high-note with a 3-1 win at Sutton United.
The Smith Memorial Cup was won against Clanfield (1-0 on aggregate) and they regained the Senior Cup with a 3-1 win over Bicester Town in what was to be, for a while at least, their final appearance in a competition that was restricted to amateurs.
The club, along with thirty-five other Isthmian clubs had voted to go ‘open’ the following season, a year ahead of the FA’s deadline for the disappearance of the distinction between professional and amateur players. Two clubs, Kingstonian and Corinthian-Casuals, initially held out against the change, but the former soon joined the majority and, of course, the latter are amateurs to this day.
After cancelling the Whitsun tour the previous year the players had been holding fund-raising events all season and set off for Italy at the end of May. The original plan was to play in a tournament, but with growing concern over its organisation, or lack of it, Maurice Kyle and Pat Quartermain, the manager of Clanfield who were also flying to Italy, suggested the possibility of a City v Clanfield clash in Imperia. Eventually they both played in the tournament which also involved AS Vence, the hosts, and Antibes. Both sides acquitted themselves well though the goalkeepers in particular had certainly had reservations when the sides arrived to find a gravel pitch!

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