Former Romford goalkeeper Bown’s clean sheet record still unbeaten one hundred years on!
PUBLISHED: 11:31 27 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:32 27 March 2020
Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton, Kasper Schmeichel, Herbert Bown – Herbert who? A hundred years have passed since former Romford goalkeeper Herbert Bown cemented his name into Leicester City football folklore.
In 1920 Bown kept six consecutive clean sheets for the Foxes, creating a club record that still stands today, despite the efforts of latter-day City goalkeeping legends Banks, Shilton and Premier League winner Schmeichel.
Born Herbert Bone (though he would later spell his surname Bown) on May 3, 1893 at 96 Stamford Road, East Ham to parents William James Bone, a printer, and Sarah Ann, he had an older brother Albert Edward.
By 1908 the family had moved to May Villas in Clydesdale Road, Hornchurch but little is known about Herbert’s boyhood footballing exploits until, aged 15, he joined Squirrels Heath FC.
Herbert and brother Albert were both employed at the nearby Roneo works, a large manufacturer of duplicating machines and office equipment. For the 1909 season Herbert played for the works team, Roneo Athletic, in the Romford & District League.
There he was spotted by Romford United, one of two senior football clubs in the town at that time. Recognising his ability, they signed young Herbert as understudy to first-choice keeper William Watkins.
Herbert made his first-team debut on 10 September 1910 in a 3-3 draw with South Weald, but despite a promising performance he was back in the reserves the following week.
He bided his time and was rewarded during November when, with Watkins injured, he was given another opportunity which he took with both hands.
Herbert eventually made the goalkeeper’s jersey his own, helping Romford United win both the West Ham and Romford Charity Cups.
Before the start of the 1911/1912 season, following the demise of local rivals Romford FC, Romford United changed their name to Romford Town and Herbert was elected vice-captain, helping them win the Essex Senior Cup (the first time the handsome trophy had come to the town) and retain the Romford Charity Cup.
At the season’s end he was selected to play for South Essex in a 2-2 draw with North Essex.
In 1912/1913 Herbert became Romford Town’s captain and nominated penalty taker and converted a spot-kick in their South Essex League game at Barking.
During this period the team endured a lean spell, winning just three out of 20 games but despite this, the press were full of praise for Herbert, with a typical comment being “had it not been for Bown’s heroics in goal the score against Romford would undoubtedly have been much higher”.
Those performances hadn’t gone unnoticed by professional clubs and the question was how long would Romford Town hold onto their prize asset?
West Ham United were the first professional club to approach Romford for Bown’s services, taking him on loan for their reserve team while the regular keeper recovered from injury.
He played in two London League Premier Division fixtures for West Ham reserves, both at the Boleyn Ground, and celebrated a 9-2 win against Waltham on January 11, 1913 followed by a 3-1 victory against Walthamstow Grange on February 8.
Returning to the Romford ranks, Bown was selected to play for Essex against London on March 13, with the press praising his sterling work in goal during Essex’s narrow 2-1 win.
After the game Romford were approached by Second Division club Leicester Fosse, asking to play Bown in their Alliance League match against Sutton Junction at Filbert Street on April 17, 1913.
Unfortunately, Herbert had picked up a thigh injury playing for Romford at Leytonstone the previous week and arrived at Filbert Street with his leg heavily strapped. He had a good game considering his injury, but the Fossils reserves still suffered a 4-3 reverse.
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Returning to Romford, Bown had just nine days to get fit for the Essex Senior Cup Final against Ilford at Leytonstone. Alas, the holders lost their grip on the trophy following a 3-2 defeat.
During the close season of 1913, Leicester Fosse signed Bown on a permanent basis as their reserve team goalkeeper, just beating West Ham to his signature.
The annual balance sheet for Romford Town suggests that no fee was involved, so after three seasons and 85 known first-team appearances for Romford Town, Brown headed to the Midlands.
Bown made his Football League debut for Leicester on November 8, 1913 against Notts County. But although he was performing well for the reserves, there was little chance of an extended run in the first team as the first choice was Ronald Brebner, a former Sunderland, Huddersfield, and Chelsea goalkeeper.
Brebner was an England amateur international who had won a gold medal with the Great Britain football team at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
However, Bown was promoted to the Fosse first team under tragic circumstances. On Boxing Day 1913 Brebner was seriously injured playing at Lincoln City and carried off the pitch unconscious. He never fully recovered and died the following November, aged just 33.
By 1915, with the First World War raging, football was regionalised, with Leicester Fosse playing in the Football League Midland Section.
By then Herbert, now employed in munitions work, had made 42 first-team appearances, and went on to play in 112 war-time games, during which he converted a penalty at Hull City.
In 1919, with the war over, Leicester City Football Club was formed, and Leicester Fosse dissolved. Bown was immediately signed up to continue protecting the Leicester goal and proved a worthy choice as the team went on their record-breaking run.
Between February 28 and March 27, 1920, Leicester City went on a club record run of six matches without conceding a goal.
The run began with a 1-0 win at Barnsley, followed by a 0-0 home draw with Barnsley and goalless draws home and away with Nottingham Forest.
They were followed by a 3-0 victory at Lincoln City, culminating in a 4-0 win over Lincoln at Filbert Street.
All six games were in Football League Division Two, now known as the Championship, and Bown was in goal for all six.
In fact, Leicester and Bown also achieved another club record at the same time of seven consecutive league games without conceding, having beaten Stockport County 2-0 on 14 February, with a defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup interrupting the run. The record run ended with a 1-0 defeat at Bury.
Leicester City rewarded Bown for “eight years of good service” with a benefit match on Easter Saturday 1921, when 18,000 spectators saw the Foxes play South Shields at Filbert Street. Bown kept a clean sheet on his special day as Leicester ran out 2-0 winners.
Bown played his last game for the Foxes on May 6, 1922 against Sheffield Wednesday and during his nine years at Filbert Street he had made 154 first-team appearances and kept more than 50 clean sheets.
He also played in 112 war-time matches for the club, including a run of 100 consecutive appearances, during which he scored one goal!
One hundred years on from that marvellous achievement by the Leicester City team, and 61 years since his death, let’s not forget Herbert Bown.
*Compiled by Terry Felton, with access to the collection of Havering Local Studies Library.
Romford Football Club 1876-1920 by John Haley and Terry Felton (Heathway Press) is available from Amazon and details Herbert Bown’s three seasons with the club.
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