Jimmy Gray, "Our boys were inspired by that support"

St Albans & Harpenden Review: We're going up, the banner that says it all. Picture: David Tavener We're going up, the banner that says it all. Picture: David Tavener

Gallery: Saints secure promotion to Conference South

They turned up in their thousands, too many in fact and the police ordered the closing of the turnstiles as supporters of Chesham United and St Albans City flocked to The Meadow for Monday’s Southern League promotion play-off showdown between these two close rivals.

Twenty-one years ago, in February 1993, an astonishing crowd of 3,120 saw Chesham draw 1-1 at Clarence Park and go on to win the Isthmian League title with the Saints snapping at their heels as runners up.

That attendance would have almost certainly been smashed had the gates not been closed on Monday, but for those inside the home of the Generals, particularly the visiting fans, it was an afternoon to savour.

Chesham have, in recent years, acquired an unwanted reputation for falling at the last hurdle and missing out on promotion with defeat in the play-offs, and so it proved once again as St Albans City, under the astute, though still fledgling, management of Graham Golds and James Gray returned to the Football Conference after a three-year absence.

And it was achieved in front of some quite amazing support.

Away to Cambridge City in the play-off semi-final last Wednesday the travelling City supporters outnumbered those of the home side.

And again at Chesham, it seemed that the number of spectators with blue and yellow coursing through their veins was in excess of the home support.

Certainly there was no contest when it came to giving vocal support. Chesham’s followers were strangely muted throughout, save for when James Potton put the Generals into an early lead.

The City faithful - which included long lost followers, long distant followers, probably many first time followers, and the week-in week-out followers who usually can only dream of days such as these – were singing their hearts out from an hour or more before the kick off, and through until their throats could take no more.

The tales of the travellers were remarkable. One married couple walked to the game from Wendover. One supporter, after spending a week on the canals around Leicester, stopped off on his way home to Launceston in Cornwall.

Another couple brought their children with them as they travelled up for the day from the Isle of Wight. Other supporters who have moved away from St Albans returned from Merseyside, Boston and Preston to add their support.

The Norwegian branch of the Saints Supporters Club also got in on the act and having made a flying visit to Cambridge last week flew into England again for a brief stay on Monday. Their faith was rewarded.

Joint-City manager James Gray was full of praise for the exceptional support his side enjoyed at The Meadow.

“They made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We couldn’t actually see them but we could hear them outside the ground.

As soon as they were in here (the ground), what a crescendo of noise and they never stopped. You can see why playing in front of that every week gives you a lift. I don’t know what the official crowd was today but our boys were inspired by that support,” said the jubilant Gray.

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