When George Haigh was 21. . The story of County's 1936-37 campaign-Part 1 by Ian Watts
This new part-work will cover the championship that sent the Hatters back to division two after their then longest spell outside the second tier of English football since election to the Football League. I've picked this season for a few reasons, firstly County centurion George Haigh was on the books at the time - although he will not feature too frequently during the story as he was plying his trade mostly in the 'A' team. Secondly, the club was dealing with the ongoing loss of the main stand - including thoughts of selling the ground to the Council! Thirdly, I have reasonably detailed research notes from local newspapers.
This first part isn't going to cover the football, but gives details of the on-going impact of the day in the summer of 1935, 23rd July, when the club stand was destroyed. A detailed REPORT had appeared in the Stockport Advertiser of 26 July 1935.
The blaze started at 12.30pm after the manager and secretary had gone home, and whilst there were only a few people in the ground, including Groundsman Harold Allcock and player Billy Bocking.
They were in the dressing room alongside the Main stand nearest to the Cheadle End when someone rushed in to report smoke issuing from the far end of the stand. Allcock and Bocking plus others raced to the spot with an extinguisher but the stand was already in flames that were spreading rapidly. These were too strong for the extinguisher to be useful but they tried to slow the spread of the fire. Allcock went to the club offices at the dressing room end of the stand to ring for the Fire Brigade, just getting through before the heat melted the wires. Soon all 90 yards of the stand were alight with a mass of flames. Two engines raced to the scene but water had to be taken from hydrants on Castle Street, through the side streets, to the ground. Traffic was stopped and trams blocked from reaching the Edgeley Terminus. Hoses ran along Booth Street, Worrall Street and Caroline Street, some over quarter of a mile in distance. Helpers rescued furniture from the threatened houses, 73-89 Hardcastle Road and 18-19 Arnold Street. Staff at the Edgeley Press tackled a fire that affected their building. The grandstand was now destroyed as the firemen concentrated on the houses The 22 year old 1,500 seat stand being left as a row of tottering girders with no directors' enclosure, groundsman's stores or press box
Aside from the massive impact on families who lived in the 12 houses rendered uninhabitable - a row of 12 new houses on Gorsey Bank was made available to them - - there were impacts throughout the 35-36 season, including:.
Initial negotiations with the Football Association the mortgagees of the ground, re Arrangements for a new stand
Temporary seating for 240 behind the goals on the stand side, which later encouraged Plymouth to push for an FA Cup tie to be switched to Home Park,, or Old Trafford, due to the lack of a grandstand.
The recreation room )behind the goal became a dressing room, with a slipper bath and geyser installed in the adjacent checkers room to serve as a bathroom.
Last but not least, ongoing negotiations with the Council regarding the proposed sale of the ground which were first reported in early December 1935.
The months of discussion on that last subject and column inches are probably worthy of a book of their own - However to summarise:
County's first suggestion was
The Council at first rejected this outright - then decided to come up with an alternative proposal, This was made at the end of April, and consisted of. £3,000 with a 50-year-lease at £80 per year. It included the promise of a £5,000 stand within 6 months.
The Directors objected to this offer and came back with another proposal - which proved to be the clincher.
The local papers confirmed agreement had been reached at the start of June 1936 when the Council approved a payment of £2,000 to buy a strip of land off the club to enable the widening of Hardcastle Road and improvements to sewers, etc. The option to buy the ground had been abandoned and, the Council were effectively giving up their preferential bidder option for ever.
The ground clearance work started at the end of May for the new stand - a modified design only covering three quarters of the pitches length but could be extended later! By mid-June the foundations were ready and steel work ordered.
Into July good progress was being made and the Advertiser reported that "Hardcastle Road has been visited by hundreds of people to watch the erection of 110 tons of steelwork". It went on to give further details. The stand will be in two bays each 112 feet long and apart from two central support stanchions will offer an uninterrupted view. The two beams that carry the roof will be 112 feet long, 11 feet deep and 10 tons in weight. Meanwhile staff were erecting new goalposts and working on other improvements with the help of members of the playing staff. Bocking was one of the helpers as he finds working at Edgeley Park on a voluntary basis is an excellent way of keeping fit during the close season.
Steel work erection by Herbert Parkes & Nephew was completed at the end of July. Building contractors Hibbert & Penn, whose works was adjacent to the ground, then began their part of the job.
The AGM which took place around this time, saw more info regarding the cost of the development work. "The new stand will cost £6,000, £1,250 of which has already been paid. The club has drawn £1,600 from the corporation for Hardcastle Road but £800 of that was used to pay off the mortgage to the Football Association. This left £3,900 to be found. The club have borrowed £4,000 from Wilson's Brewery in Newton Heath at 4% interest. The loan is to be redeemed at £250 per year. The indebtedness on the ground has thus been increased from £800 to £4,500 but its value is much higher at £7,500 so the club is better off. It is hoped the stand is the first of many improvements and the plan is to add two wings ideally for next season if promotion is gained."
Oh yes, and entrance to the new stand would be charged at 2 shillings.
The stand was not completed by the start of the season but many took advantage of what shelter it offered as County met Darlington for football under tropical temperatures. When Gateshead visited a second half thunderstorm saw many spectators run across to the new stand for shelter during a break in play.
The work fitting out the stand continued and eventually the club was ready for the official opening.
This was done by League President CE Sutcliffe at half time on Saturday 24th October versus York City9835 attended as the Hatters won 6-0. .
Speeches were broadcast to the crowd with Chairman Ernest Barlow said he regarded the new stand as a vast improvement on the previous ones where he was a little ashamed of the stands and dressing rooms. Sutcliffe attended instead of accepting an invite for the same day to open Arsenal's new £100,000 stand. Presentations were made to Sutcliffe and Barlow by the contractors to commemorate the opening.
George Haigh got his first chance to play in front of the stand soon after its opening, as on 14 November 1936 the 'A' team played a rare home game at Edgeley Park, with Glossop their opponents.
George returns to EP for the Kidderminster Harriers match as the club's guest to celebrate the stand's 80th Anniversary.
Next up, I will switch to look at the first few months of the season on the pitch