St Albans-born Steve Oliver was one of a cluster of local players signed by manager John Mitchell just ahead of the 1983-84 season as the team was rebuilt following relegation. At 23, he was experienced in terms of local football having played for Sandridge Rovers, from whom he joined St Albans City, and Sunday League clubs Fleas and The Queen’s Head (Sandridge). Olly adapted quickly to life in Division Two of the Isthmian League and was one of three players that season to feature in 50 or more games. He was also a frequent goal scorer from midfield with his 14 goals including the strike at Epping Town on 28th April that clinched the first promotion in the history of the club. Despite the good number of goals that he scored he was outshone by forwards Paul Mayles (36), Laurie Ryan (20) and Rob Smale (17). Following a 4-1 defeat at Tring Town on 9th November, City lost just one league game between then and the end of the season, a run that included eight straight wins in the final eight games, City were still pipped to the title by Basildon United.
During the season City featured in a highly significant friendly against Tottenham Hotspur at Clarence Park. The game was part of Ossie Ardiles reintroduction to English football after the Falklands War. Steve Oliver, a Spurs supporter, had the honour of scoring City’s opening goal in a 5-3 defeat in front of 1,569 spectators. Also included in the Tottenham line up were Allan Cockram, Mickey Hazard, Garry Brooke and Tony Galvin.
Below: Steve Oliver, no.8, looks on during his home Isthmian League debut as Corinthian Casuals goalkeeper Chris Chapman smothers a low cross by Rob Smale (photo Brian Hubball).
With Clarence Park temporarily closed at the start of the 1984-85 season, due to drainage work on the pitch, City had to play their opening two home games away from the Park, but it proved to be just a minor irritation. A 3-1 win over Clapton at Clarence Park on 13th October took the Saints to the top of the Isthmian League Division. It was, though, a bad day for Steve who suffered a knee ligament injury and was sidelined for ten weeks. He returned for a Boxing Day win over Hertford Town and further wins over Chesham United and Boreham Wood ensured that City headed the table at the turn of the year. Unfortunately, City’s form tailed off and the side finished in sixth place. Olly scored five times in 31 games.
Steve was in the City side that bowed out of the F.A. Cup, F.A. Trophy and Herts Charity Cup before a ball had been kicked in a league game at the start of the 1985-86 season. It was the prelude to a remarkable season. John Mitchell’s free scoring side went on good winning runs then endured unexpected setbacks. Come the final day of the campaign and a win was required at The Dripping Pan, home of Lewes, to clinch promotion and a victory of sizable proportions to secure the championship. The tension was eased on six minutes when Steve Perrin opened the scoring, a minute later Olly put City two-up and Lewes capitulated. Perrin went on to score four times, Gary Keen added the sixth and Martin Gurney, fed by Olly, completed a 7-1 rout. Just two seasons after leaving County League side Sandridge Rovers, Steve Oliver was celebrating two promotions with St Albans City and a place in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League. He scored four times in 40 games during the 1985-86 season.
Below: Steve Oliver scores City’s second goal during the championship clinching 7-1 win at Lewes on 3rd May 1986 (photo Brian Hubball).
City’s first season in the top flight of the Isthmian League started poorly and Mitch was forced to make significant changes to the side that had made rapid strides up the Divisions. Oliver held his place in the side and on 9th December 1986 created a piece of club history when, during a 10-0 thrashing of Ampthill Town in the Wallspan Floodlight Cup, he become the first City substitute to score a hat-trick. Steve did, though, fall from favour in February and saw the season out in the City Reserve team.
John Mitchell stood down as manager at the end of the season and was replaced for the 1987-88 campaign by Mitch’s former Fulham teammate John Lacy. Olly spent the season with City’s Hertfordshire Rivals Hitchin Town and Bedfordshire side Vauxhall Motors. The Canaries suffered relegation at the end of the season but a late resurgence under new manager Doug Parkin saw the club almost avoid the drop. The upturn in Hitchin’s results did not go unnoticed at Clarence Park and City’s managing director Bob Murphy turned to his good friend Parkin, a former City goalkeeper, to replace Lacy after the towering defender stood down in the summer of 1988. Parkin wasted no time in attracting Olly back to Clarence Park.
The tireless, left-sided, midfielder scored on his return to the City as Tring Town were removed from the Herts Charity Cup. Olly also appeared in the final later in the season but was on the losing side as Boreham Wood lifted the cup. By the time of the cup final Parkin had been replaced as manager by his assistant Roy Butler. Former City striker Butler brought in Steve Perrin to be his assistant. City had poor run-in at the end of the season with eight defeats in ten games and Butler and Perrin were duly sent packing. Olly made his 200th appearance for the club during that bad run.
Below: Steve Oliver bursts into the Croydon penalty area to tee up Tony Kelly for the opening goal during a 2-0 win at the Croydon Sports Arena on 15th October 1988 (photo Brian Hubball).
Peter Lawrence, who had held a number of positions during an earlier spell at Clarence Park, was recruited from Hitchin Town as City sought to arrest the slide. Unfortunately for Lawrence, City made a poor start to the 1989-90 season but did enjoy success in two cup competitions. City’s run through to the final of the League Cup was particularly praiseworthy, as it included a semi-final 2nd Leg victory at Woking following a draw at Clarence Park. Steve scored in the semi-final of the Herts Senior Cup as City removed Hemel Hempstead Town with a 5-2 win at Vauxhall Road, it was his 37th and final goal for the club.
Olly retained his place in the side for the County Cup final but it was a bad night for the City as Hertford Town, from Division Two of the Isthmian League, won 2-0 at Broughinge Road, home to Boreham Wood, in some comfort. Lawrence was dismissed after the game and denied the opportunity to lead City in the League Cup final against Aveley at Dagenham’s Victoria Road the following Monday. New manager Jimmy Howard included Olly in the final on 7th May, but it was another poor display and led to another Division Two side beating City in a final. The game was Steve Oliver’s 253rd, and final, one for St Albans City.
After leaving St Albans, Olly moved to Macclesfield and had spells with Congleton Town, Kidsgrove Athletic and Middlewich. Prior to his retirement from football in 1998, Steve enjoyed a good deal of success with his friends in the north.
He was Player of the Year with Congleton in 1992-93 and won the Macclesfield Saturday Cup with them two years later. More success came his way with Kidsgrove Athletic; they were North West Counties League Division One Cup Winners in 1996-97 and, a year later, he collected a Mid Cheshire Challenge Cup runners-up medal with Middlewich Town.
Before he joined St Albans City, Olly was also successful with a number of local clubs. Playing for Sandridge Rovers, he was a member of their side that won the Herts County League Premier Division in both 1981-82 and 1982-83. They were Herts Intermediate Cup winners in 1981-82 and finalists a year later. Sandridge were also Aubrey Cup finalists in 1982.
Further success was enjoyed with St Albans Sunday League side Fleas. The Challenge Cup was won in 1980-81, a year after being runners up, Fleas were runners-up in the Sunday League Premier Division in 1979-80 and winners of the Knock-Out Cup the following year.
Whilst growing up in St Albans, Steve attended Bernard’s Heath School, Spencer School and, finally, St Albans Boys Grammar School that later became Verulam School. As a youngster he was a City supporter and recalls running onto the pitch after games to get autographs of the likes of Bobby Childs, Les Burgess, Bill Ratty and many others from that late 1960s early 70s team. He went onto further education at Loughborough University of Technology where he gained a BA Hons degree in Business Administration and French. He worked for BAE Systems for 37 years before taking early retirement in 2018, since then he has filled his time supporting five Christian charities that aid young people and, from 1st April, 2021, he is to be chair of the Just Drop-in charity.
Olly is married to Lynn and they have three children – Matthew, Sian-Marie and Stephanie – and, as of March 2021, five grandchildren.