It is with much sadness that we have been informed of the death of one of our great players and captains from the post-war years, Fred Collings, at the age of 95.
Born in Aldershot, Fred moved to Hatfield with his family when he was nine years old and first played for St Albans City during World War II. His debut, on 8th May 1943, was an occasion that he probably never forgot. City were invited to partake in a one-off match against Cambridge Town for the Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cup and travelled to the game by train.
Having led 2-1 at one point, City went down 5-2 after extra time. Due to the delayed finish to the game, the players had to catch a later train home than previously expected. This led to them having to walk home after disembarking at Hatfield. It was not so much of a problem for Hatfield resident Fred, who worked in his hometown for De Havilland, but was less pleasurable for those from further afield.
Fred first exhibited his footballing prowess when playing at right-back for the St Audrey’s school team in Hatfield. Upon leaving school at 14 he joined St Audrey’s Old Boys in the Mid Herts League and from there he went on to play for the works team at De Havilland. Still a teenager, he collected representative honours for the Mid Herts League.
He made 31 wartime appearances for the City before being called up in the latter part of 1944, an experience that led to him playing football in various countries around the world. Once in the British Army he played for an Army XI against Spain in Gibraltar, Palestine at Tel Aviv and Italy at Asmara in East Africa. During his time in the forces he also gained Battalion and Divisional honours.
Prior to his call to arms Fred had played alongside some significant City players including Stan Kirkham, Dave Sayers and Ron Burke who later scored 16 times in 28 Football League games for Manchester United.
After being demobbed in 1947 Fred rejoined St Albans City and was immediately returned to his favoured right-back position at Clarence Park. His first game for the City in peacetime was on 1st November 1947 when two goals from Jack Coates secured a 2-0 Isthmian League win over Clapton at Clarence Park.
A tall, dominant player he cut an imposing figure and featured in 22 of City’s 35 games during the 1947-48 season. The post-war years was a time when football attracted incredible attendances. At the end of December, 3,964 saw City beat Wycombe Wanderers (Sayers 2, Jimmy Sperrin) at the Park and a month later 6,844 witnessed a 3-3 draw (Sperrin, Coates, Bill Saunders) between the same sides in the Amateur Cup. The replay at Wycombe saw Fred play in front of a five-figure crowd for the first time as 10,366 spectators saw Frank Adams score City’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat. Fred was also in the side that played in front of 7,500 against Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill in the latter part of the season.
He kicked off the following season by scoring City’s opening goal of the campaign as Tufnell Park conceded within five minutes of the start of the new season on the way to a 4-1 defeat at Clarence Park. His goal that day, a free kick just outside the penalty area, set the tone for the manner in which those who saw him play will remember him most; the possessor of a blistering shot.
Three weeks later he scored his first goal in the FA Cup during City’s 3-0 win over Polytechnic at the Park. Unfortunately, Fred missed a large chunk of the 1948-49 season after sustaining a knee ligament injury at the end of the December. He returned to action at the start of April and finished the season with his first appearance in the final of the Herts Charity Cup. It was the first of 17 cup finals in which he played whilst with St Albans, but he was made to wait for his first winners medal as Barnet won 2-1 at Clarence Park in front of a crowd of 4,000.
Fred made his first appearance for the county on 13th October 1948 when Hertfordshire beat Bedfordshire 2-0 at Kenilworth Road, Luton. Fellow City players in the Herts team were Sid Sullivan, Gordon Wilkinson (the City captain), Bill Saunders and Dave Sayers. Fred went onto to play 21 times for Hertfordshire. As can be seen from the matchday programme, his name was spelt incorrectly and this was a frequent occurrence during his early days in senior football with both the City programme and the Herts Advertiser leaving out the ‘g’ in Collings.
The 1949-50 season started well for City with a 5-1 drubbing of Romford at Brooklands in front of another huge crowd, 6,500. This campaign was a marked improvement for the club over the first two during which Fred had played. City finished sixth in Isthmian League, our highest placing since 1930-31. The club also reached the quarter final of the Amateur Cup, the best run that Fred enjoyed during his long association with St Albans City. The run ended with
a 4-1 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers at Loakes Park, the attendance was a club record 15,678 (the attendance was given on the day as 14,926 but later amended). The City support was highly impressive as 45 coaches ferried supporters to the game and in total almost 100 ‘motor-coaches’ carried followers from St Albans to Buckinghamshire.
Fred, City’s vice-captain at this time, ended the season with a second unsuccessful appearance in the final of the Herts Charity Cup but the season was made more memorable for him when he married Gwendoline, ‘Gwen,’ Jubb of St Albans Road, Hatfield, at St Ethelreda’s Church. The couple spent their honeymoon in Bournemouth. They had two children, Robert and Greg. Gwen passed away in 2005.
The 1950-51 season was Fred’s most personally rewarding so far. He collected his first cup winners’ medals as City defeated Hitchin Town at Underhill, Barnet, in the Herts Senior Cup, and then saw off the Canaries again in the Herts Charity Cup semi-final on the final day of the season. The final was held over until the start of the following season but it was worth the wait as City duly completed the county cup double for the first time in our history.
City came close to making to making it a hat-trick of cup finals but lost out in the semi-final of the A.F.A. Invitation Cup to Cambridge City. During the season he was appointed as City’s penalty taker and converted the two that came his way against Hemel Hempstead Town and Dulwich Hamlet. On the 27th January 1951 he became the 27th player to complete 100 games for the club.
The 1951-52 campaign was a slightly disappointing season for the club although it had started promisingly with that victory over Barnet in the Herts Charity Cup final held over from the previous season. Barnet gained their revenge on the final day of the season by reclaiming the cup with a 4-3 win at Clarence Park. City finished tenth in the 14-club Isthmian League. Fred safely tucked away five penalties during the season, including two in one game against Tufnell Park, but also missed two towards the end of the season, one of which was in the Charity Cup final. Just after the turn of the year, on 27th January, he had the satisfaction of scoring his first goal for the county, a penalty, when Hertfordshire went down 4-2 to Bedfordshire at Top Field, Hitchin. Just over a month later, on 1st March, he made the first of two appearances for the Isthmian League Representative team when he lined up alongside fellow City full-back Harry Rawlings during a 2-1 win over the Royal Navy & Marines at Ilford.
The 1952-53 season continued in much the same vein for the cub with little progress made in the national cup competitions and a mid-table position obtained in the Isthmian League. Berkhamsted Town defeated City at Barnet in the final of the Herts Senior Cup but another Charity Cup winners medal was added to the collection with victory over Barnet at the Park.
St Albans may not have set the footballing world alight but Fred gained wider recognition with a second appearance for the Isthmian League Representative side and also one game for an F.A. XI against Oxford University at Oxford on the 19th November.
Fred’s popularity at Clarence Park was rewarded with him being handed the captaincy at the start of the 1953-54 season, his seventh with the club. City’s league form remained as so-so with eleven wins and eleven defeats while good runs in the FA Cup and Amateur Cup eluded the club once more. However, Fred did lead the side in an interesting tie in both competitions. At Wealdstone, in the 2nd Round Qualifying of the FA Cup, City played in front of 6,559 spectators while in the Amateur Cup they faced a daunting trip to Dartmouth in the 1st Round. City headed off to Devon at midday on the Friday and had an overnight stay at Torcross, seven miles from Dartmouth. The Supporters Club coach departed at midnight and returned immediately after the game that City won 2-1.
Fred appeared in all of City’s 36 matches this season, it was the only time when he achieved this feat; Ron McCormack and Eric Skipp were also ever present. On the 14th November he celebrated becoming the fourth City player to reach the 200 games landmark by scoring from the penalty spot as City saw off Barking 4-1 at the Park.
It had been many years since St Albans City had mixed with the elite of the Isthmian League on an equal footing but the 1954-55 season saw the Citizens push Walthamstow Avenue all the way for the championship. Avenue completed the double over St Albans within the opening four games of the season and those two games went a long way towards deciding the destiny of the title.
The side had not changed greatly from previous seasons but the introduction of the Finchley duo of Fred Turner and Jim Nottage, and John Lay (Leavesden) and the return of Johnny Richards, after spells with Hendon and Walthamstow, certainly boosted City’s fortunes.
Fred’s season, though, got off to a painful start when, on the third Saturday of the campaign, he suffered an eye injury during a friendly against Northern Nomads that saw him taken to hospital after just ten minutes. The injury kept him out of City’s 1-0 FA Cup win at Eton Manor and also an appearance in the Isthmian League Representative side against the Corinthian League at Bromley on the 8th September.
City moved to the top of the table in November and stayed there for much of the season but had played several games more than Walthamstow and the east London club took the title when winning their games in hand late in the season. In spite of their success in the league St Albans still made little impact in the FA Cup and Amateur Cup, the latter being exited at the first hurdle. Some success was enjoyed in the A.F.A. Invitation Cup before bowing out in the semi final to Pegasus at Iffley Road, Oxford. At the same venue eleven months earlier Roger Bannister had become the first man to run a sub four-minute mile.
Hitchin Town removed the Herts Charity Cup from City’s grasp with victory in the final at Top Field but Fred did step forward to collect the Herts Senior Cup when a Peter Smith goal accounted for Bishop’s Stortford in front of a crowd of 4,400 at Underhill. At the time of that game City were six points clear of Walthamstow but the Avenue held six games in hand on the side coached by Bertie Butcher.
The 1955-56 season saw an almighty turnaround in City’s fortunes as the club went from title challengers to bottom of the pile and without a league win until January. Just two of the opening 24 games were won, both of which were cup ties, and even Fred scoring in three successive games failed to improve matters. The Hertfordshire competitions gave some respite during the
second half of the season and Fred added two more winners’ medals to his collection as both the Senior and Charity Cup returned to the Park. This was also his most successful season with the county. He appeared in all five of Hertfordshire’s Southern Counties Amateur Championship matches, taking his total of games to the county to 21, but Herts lost out in the semi-final to Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds.
City recovered to secure a more familiar mid-table position in 1956-57 and retained both of the county cups. After a stuttering start to the season, City fielded Fred at centre forward for the trip to second placed Wimbledon on the 29th September. The move was unsuccessful, and the captain was then switched to inside-right later in the game. Fred appeared in 38 of City’s 39 games, it was the highest number of games in which he figured in a single season. He made another entry in the City history books on 1st September when, during a 1-1 draw with Tooting & Mitcham United, he became only the third City player to make 300 appearances for the club. The first two to that landmark were Harold Figg and Wilf Minter, and Figg was significant in Fred’s career in that he was on the team selection committee at the time that Fred was playing for the City.
The 1957-58 campaign was Fred’s last full season at Clarence Park and it closed with him, once more, captaining the side to both county cup finals but only the Charity Cup was returned to the trophy cabinet at Clarence Park. The Isthmian League now had 16 teams with City finishing five points clear of bottom side Romford in 11th position.
Fred appeared in City’s first three games of the 1958-59 season but it was a disastrous time for the club as 5-0 defeat at Clapton was followed by an eight-goal drubbing at home to Wycombe Wanderers and a 5-4 reversal against Walthamstow Avenue at the Park. After losing his place in the First team he made three appearances for the Reserves before deciding to end his long association with St Albans City and joined Hatfield Town, as he felt that he could continue playing for another two or three years.
Following on from his 31 wartime appearances he went on to play 367 games for St Albans City and scored 38 times. His 38 goals included 14 penalties but he missed a further seven times from the penalty spot. He made twelve appearances for the City Reserves, scoring once.
He scored once in his 21 games for Hertfordshire. Fred made two appearances for the Isthmian League Representative team and one for the F.A. XI.
In recognition of his long service at Clarence Park, St Albans granted him a Testimonial Match against Hatfield Town on 30th April 1959. City won the game 5-0 but after the final whistle the City club president, Alf Hobbs, made a short speech and presented him a wall barometer. Fred gave a short speech in response during which he thanked everyone for the gift.
He was a hugely popular player at Clarence Park and was always referred to with great affection by those who knew him. Derek Christmas was the club historian when Fred played at St Albans and said of him, “Fred was a great character, full of fun. He was the finest dead ball kicker that City ever had.”
Former City player, manager and chairman, Bob Murphy has many happy memories and recalls the impression that the City right-back made on an eight-year-old supporter. “I remember meeting Fred (and Ron McCormack) after a game against Dulwich Hamlet in August 1954 (City won 3-1). To an eight-year-old he was a colossus and my favourite City player. I also had the pleasure in meeting him when I started work at De Havilland, Hatfield.”
Another former City player, Mick Pestle, revives a time when he and Fred played for De Havilland. “He played for the machine shop in the inter-departmental tournament. Fred took a free kick which hit the underside of the bar, it went up and hit it again and still didn’t cross the line – it was the only time that I have ever seen a shot hit the bar twice.” Mick added that in addition to playing for De Havilland towards the end of his career Fred also played for Hatfield side Marshmoor.
Life-long City supporter Barry Hilliard, whose father Len played eight times for City before the Second World War, also paid tribute to the City captain. “The first game I was taken to by my Dad was against Barking on 5th February 1955 and Fred played in that game (again City won 3-1). I saw him play many times during the late 50s, I remember he had very dark hair, slicked back and quite a lot of it! He was a tough, no nonsense right back who took no prisoners. He always wore No.2 and took the penalties for us. More often than not the ball and the goalkeeper finished in the back of the net!”
Fred was born on 1st July 1925 and passed away on 28th July 2020. We send our condolences to Fred’s sons Robert and Greg and all family members at this sad time and trust that they will take comfort from the many wonderful memories that he has left with those who knew him.