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Les Burgess

Les BurgessIt is great sadness that we have learnt of the death of one of our most influential players of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, centre half Les Burgess at the age of 81.

During almost five years at Clarence Park, Les appeared in 294 games for the City and scored 40 goals. The number of games in which Les featured season by season is quite remarkable; 73, 60, 66, 64 and 31. Signed by Sid Prosser in the summer of 1968, Les featured in 263 of the 281 games played by the club over the next four seasons, a figure unmatched by any other player during that period.

As a youngster Les was on the books of Watford and Queens Park Rangers and also played for Hendon and Hertfordshire Youth. He played in the Athenian League for Finchley and Wembley before joining fellow Athenian’s Chesham United as captain for the start of the 1967-68 season.

Chesham United’s Amateur Cup final captain

During his one season at The Meadow Les enjoyed great success as he led the Generals to the final of the Amateur Cup where they went down 1-0 to Isthmian League side Leytonstone in front of a crowd of 52,000. Chesham played 16 games to reach the final and it was a goal by Les that defeated Soham Town Rangers to put the club through to the competition proper. By the end of the 1967-68 season he had scored six times in 63 games for John Reardon’s side. (Reardon passed away in 2020 at the age of 87).

ACf prog 1968 Chesham v Leytonstone276

The move to Clarence Park

Les Burgess suited bootedLes left Chesham at the end of the season and was expected to join Wealdstone for whom he played in pre-season matches. On the eve of the season he decided to sign for St Albans instead of the Stones and teamed up again with Prosser, the duo having previously worked together at Finchley.

Les made his City debut on 10th August 1968 during a 3-2 Isthmian League defeat to, ironically, Wealdstone at Lower Mead. It was not until the fourth game of the season that Prosser’s highly rated side chalked up a victory with Burgess scoring following a Bill Ratty corner during a 5-0 win over Clapton at Clarence Park.

Following the win over Clapton, Les spoke to the Evening Echo and compared life in the Athenian League with the higher ranked Isthmians. “The Isthmians are a little faster but it is not so much their superior speed and fitness but the fact that they possess considerably more skill, which makes the difference.”

Talking to the press posed no problems for the centre half as he worked as a public relations officer for the Royal Navy at Whitehall, something that led to him having a good reputation for being impeccably dressed.

Left: Les Burgess in suit, bowler hat and carrying the obligatory briefcase and umbrella of a Whitehall city gent.



1968 69 copy

 St Albans City 1968-69

Dennis Gibbs, Mick Harman, Les Burgess, Ian Lomas, Dave Neville

Brian Francis, Bobby Childs, Phil Wood, Bill Ratty, John Butterfield, Ron Whiteaker

Peter Spittle, John Mann, Dave Lawrence, Bill Broomfield, Paul White

F.A Cup glory

After that slow start to the season City went on to have a successful campaign that saw the club lift three cups and gain national exposure in the F.A. Cup. The run in the F.A. Cup attracted some large crowds, as City progressed through four qualifying rounds to the 2nd Round Proper. A replay was required to see off Wycombe Wanderers in the 1stRound Qualifying, Erith & Belvedere and Hitchin Town were then removed before a John Butterfield goal away to Corby Town set up a 1st Round meeting with Wealdstone. A crowd of 3,505 attended a 1-1 draw at Lower Mead before a Dave Neville goal secured victory in the replay in front of 5,108 spectators at Clarence Park. Third Division Walsall grabbed a late goal to wipe out Bill Ratty’s first half strike in the 2nd Round tie at Clarence Park. The winners of the replay were to face Tottenham Hotspur in the 3rd Round but a 3-1 replay defeat in front of 10,626 at Fellows Park ended the City dream. A total 34,380 spectators had attended our nine FA Cup ties.

Les scored in each of our next four games after the cup exit and during the final weeks of the season collected winners’ medals in the Herts Senior Cup (3-2 v Cheshunt), the Wycombe Floodlight Cup (1-0 v Chesham United) and the Herts Charity Cup (2-0 v Bishop’s Stortford). By the end of the season he had appeared in 73 of our 80 games and with ten of our 151 goals he was the sixth highest scorer.

Close to a return to Wembley

Prosser had now been manager for two years and the 1969-70 season arrived with the club believing that this could be their year in the Amateur Cup. There was, however, going to be no repeat of the F.A. Cup run as City, despite Les heading home a Bobby Childs corner, went out 2-1 away to Erith & Belvedere in the 1st Round Qualifying. The crowd numbered barely 200, the majority of which returned to St Albans shocked and disappointed.

But this side was one of the strongest City squads since the halcyon days of the 1920s and with the likes of Les, Tony Mackie, Phil Wood, Dave Lawrence, Dave Neville, John Butterfield, John Oxley, Bobby Childs, Bill Ratty and Tony Turley, in the side, the F.A. Cup flop was soon consigned to memory. Since taking over as manager, Prosser had done away with the Reserve team. He still, though, had eight knock-out competitions plus the Isthmian League, in which to rotate his squad.

A Herts Charity Cup winners medal was added to Les’ collection but City just missed out in the two major cup competitions. Three games were required to remove Wembley from the 1st Round of the Amateur Cup, Les missed the first replay against his old club. After that, City slipped into top gear and a run of 11 straight wins included moving through to the semi-final of the Amateur Cup. A 2nd Round win at Harwich & Parkeston was followed by a 4-0 rout of Northern League side Town Law Town, a game that many who attended rated as one of City’s finest performances during the Prosser era. The normally low-key City manager was moved to say, “I’m extremely pleased with our display.” Burgess had headed in the third goal following a Childs corner.

A crowd of 10,200 gathered at Loakes Park for the quarter-final tie with Wycombe Wanderers and then looked on as goals by Oxley and Butterfield removed the Isthmian League leaders and put City through to the last four.

The semi-final draw was considered to have been kind to City as they were pitted against Athenian League side Dagenham. Unfortunately, City’s form deserted them and we were thankful for a John Butterfield goal taking the tie at The Den, Millwall, to a replay. City gave an improved performance at Kenilworth Toad, Luton Town, but Les’ hopes of a second Amateur Cup appearances were shot down as the Daggers, under manager Ted Hardy, won 1-0.

City enjoyed better fortunes in the then prestigious London Senior Cup and removed Finchley, Sutton United, Leytonstone and Ilford to reach the final without conceding a goal. In the final against Hitchin Town, at Enfield’s Southbury Road ground, City were missing John Butterfield and Turley due to the pair being away on holiday. Hitchin led 3-0 at half time. Prosser pushed Burgess into the attack for the second half and was rewarded with a brace of goals from his centre half but City’s fightback ended in defeat, 4-2.

Despite wearing the no.3 shirt, Les was entrusted with leading the attack again three days later as City closed their season with an Isthmian League match against Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill. City bowed out on a winning note with Les scoring both of our goals in a 2-1 win. That game was our 64thof the season, of which Les and Bobby Childs had appeared in 60.

Les also appeared in four of Hertfordshire’s five Southern Counties Amateur Championship matches during the 1969-70, the semi-final and final of which were held over until the following season. With goals from John Butterfield and Les in the final against Lincolnshire at Sincil Bank, Hertfordshire lifted the trophy for the first time since 1948.

Title challenge, London Senior Cup success

Since last winning the Isthmian League in 1928, City, in 1954-55, had made just one serious challenge for the title. The 1970-71 campaign brought that wait to an end but even with the second best defensive record in the single Division Isthmian League (Enfield conceded 24 goals to City’s 26 in the 38-game programme) the Saints had to settle on finishing third behind champions Wycombe Wanderers and runners-up Sutton United. The quality of Prosser’s side was underlined by a record of three wins in four games against the top two sides.

Les enjoyed a productive F.A. Cup run as he scored in victories over Marlow, Bedford Town (an absorbing 3-2 replay win at the Eyrie) and then Spartan League side Leighton Town. The last of these three games saw Les pushed forward as City struggled to overturn a single goal deficit. Burgess headed the equaliser from a Tony Roberts corner before fellow defender Roger Grant hit the winner. The run ended in the final Qualifying Round with Hendon winning a stormy replay at Clarence Park in front of 2,351 spectators.

The Amateur Cup provided little cheer for Les as a 1st Round replay win over Bromley was followed by a humbling defeat away to Athenian League side Boreham Wood, a match that attracted the ground record attendance of 2,500 to Broughinge Road. A runners up medal was collected in the Herts Senior Cup while the Herts Charity Cup, the final of which was held over until the start of the next season, did come to rest in the Clarence Park trophy cabinet.

Having missed out in the final of the London Senior Cup the previous season, City reached the final for a second time in 1971 and had the satisfaction of beating Dagenham in the semi-final in front of a gate of 3,100 at the Park. On 1stMay 1971, at Underhill, Les collected the most significant winners medal from his time with St Albans when a Bobby Childs header in extra time saw off Enfield 1-0.

Phil Wood Les Burgess John Oxley Enfield LSCf

Above: Phil Wood (no.4), Les Burgess and John Oxley in action against Enfield in the London Senior Cup final at Underhill.

Les again topped the appearances chart in turning out in 66 of City’s 70 games during the season, he also contributed another eight goals to the cause.

200th game in just three years

The first game of the 1971-72 season saw City lift the Herts Charity Cup from the previous season with victory over Cheshunt at Clarence Park. The game came just three years after Les had made his debut but during that time he had amassed a staggering 200 games for the club. Curiously, the Charity Cup was not the only held-over final from which Les picked up a winners medal, as City defeated Baldock Town – over two legs – in the Hitchin Centenary Cup from 1970-71.

City continued to play a high number of games but the magic of the previous three seasons was fading. Les scored City’s opening goal of the league season during a 2-1 defeat at home to Barking but with just one win from the first six league games, Prosser’s team was already as good as out of the title hunt. The prospect of a good F.A. Cup run also vanished at this time with a 3-0 defeat at Brooklands to the Southern League professionals of Romford.

6 SAC 1 2 Barking 21 08 1971 Burgess scores

Above: Les (no.3) heads home City’s first Isthmian League goal of the 1971-72 season.

As Prosser’s reign began to draw to a close, City’s grip on the London Senior Cup ended with a 4-0 3rdRound defeat to Hendon at Claremont Road. One week earlier, with Dave Neville as caretaker player/manager and Prosser in the background, Les was picked as a forward for City’s league game at Hendon. Not for the first time, he responded with a goal as Hendon lost at home for the first time in a year, Steve Moss added a second goal.

With the league programme completed, the season ended with City playing five consecutive cup ties. It was a productive spell with two more winners’ medals being added to the Burgess collection. Firstly, in the two-legged Mithras Cup (a 4-2 win over Tilbury) and then for the second time in the same season, the Herts Charity Cup with Boreham Wood beaten 2-1 at the Park. Les also picked up a representative award during the season when he played for the Middlesex Wanderers during a 2-1 defeat to Dagenham at Victoria Road.

7 SAC 2 1 BW 20 05 1972 Burgess

Above: Les Burgess challenges Boreham Wood goalkeeper Smith during the Herts Charity Cup final at Clarence Park. City players John Dixon (left) and Geoff Anthony look on.

By the end of the season, with Prosser gone, the side continued to break up. Turley, Butterfield and Childs had already left, Oxley retired and then, most dramatically, Phil Wood departed from the Park. John Drabwell was appointed to replace Prosser.

City decline, end of the road for Les

Les Burgess 1972 73Les stayed with St Albans City for the start of the 1972-73 season, as did long serving colleagues Dave Neville, Bill Ratty, Paul White and Roger Grant but all were to leave before winter arrived. Burgess joined the exodus following a 2-0 league win over Walton & Hersham at Clarence Park on 23rdSeptember 1972, and Walton was the club that he joined. However, unable to command a regular place at Stompond Lane, Les applied to re-join St Albans in December and new manager Mickey Hunter, who had replaced Drabwell, was delighted.

A month after returning to Clarence Park Burgess was in the City side beaten 5-0 at Walton in the Amateur Cup. Just over a fortnight later, 13th February 1973, he scored his final goal for the club as City put two past Hitchin Town during the final six minutes of extra time in the semi-final of the Hitchin Centenary Cup. City lost in the final at home to Loughborough Colleges and Hunter was sacked the following day.

New manager Tommy Coleman made multiple changes to his squad at the end of the season and one of those not retained was 32-year-old Les. In an interview with Rob Holmes for the Evening Echo he said, "Tommy Coleman and I discussed the situation on Monday evening, and we felt it was for the good of the club and myself that I should leave."

"We parted amicably and I must say that I feel he is going to do well. He is a disciplinarian with a lot of character, and he is going to bring success to the club. Quite honestly, I'm not too bothered about leaving St Albans. Thinking about next season I realised that if I did stay with them it would only be for convenience as it takes only 20 minutes to get from my home in Stanmore to Clarence Park.” 

Les returned to one of his former clubs, Chesham United. Coleman was sacked the following December and City were relegated for the first time in the club’s history at the end of the 1973-74 season. 

Les played his final game for the club on 23rd April 1973, it was a second 5-0 defeat to Walton & Hersham at Stompond Lane inside three months. He made 294 appearances for the City, scoring a highly creditable 40 goals. He appeared in 13 cup finals winning the London Senior Cup (1), Herts Senior Cup (1), Herts Charity Cup (3), Wycombe Floodlight Cup (2), Mithras Cup (1) and the Hitchin Centenary Cup (1). He won a Southern Counties Amateur Championship medal with Hertfordshire (4 appearances) and guested for the Middlesex Wanderers.

He had a younger brother, Eric, who, in addition to being captain of Middlesex Schools at cricket, was one of the first two apprentices taken on by Watford in September 1962. He joined Torquay United in 1965 and later had spells with Plymouth Argyle, Plymouth City, Colchester United and Wealdstone.

Born in Edgware, Les Burgess passed away on 12th August 2021. Married to Margaret, they had two children, Tim and Emma.

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Les Burgess's playing record
Season Started. Used Sub. Goals Yellows Reds
Season 1968-69 72 1 10 0 0
Season 1969-70 60 0 9 0 0
Season 1970-71 66 0 8 0 0
Season 1971-72 64 0 11 0 0
Season 1972-73 31 0 2 0 0
Total 293 1 40 0 0
By season | In opening squad | Substituted in | Goals | Yellow cards | Red cards

Les Burgess's full debut
10.08.1968 at 15:00 Isthmian League A Wealdstone 2 - 3

Latest opening squad appearances (max.10)Les Burgess started
23.04.1973 at 15:00 Isthmian League A Walton & Hersham 0 - 5
21.04.1973 at 15:00 Isthmian League H Leytonstone 1 - 2
17.04.1973 at 15:00 Isthmian League A Corinthian Casuals 0 - 0
07.04.1973 at 15:00 Isthmian League H Clapton 0 - 0
31.03.1973 at 15:00 Isthmian League H Barking 0 - 3

Latest matches where player has scored one or more goals (max. 10)Les Burgess scored
13.02.1973 at 15:00 Hitchin Centenary Cup / S/F (r) H Hitchin Town 2 - 0
05.09.1972 at 15:00 Isthmian League H Bishops Stortford 2 - 1
20.05.1972 at 15:00 Herts Charity Cup / Final H Boreham Wood 2 - 1
11.04.1972 at 15:00 Isthmian League A Corinthian Casuals 1 - 0
08.04.1972 at 15:00 Isthmian League H Woking 2 - 1
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