From a trench across the pitch to a proud Football League club – 40 years of Stevenage FC
- Credit: Archant
Younger fans of Stevenage Football Club may not remember a time when Boro were anything but a Football League club – but joining the elite 92 could hardly have seemed less likely back in 1976.
A crew of enthusiasts banded together to form a fledgling youth side after Stevenage Athletic of the Southern League went bust.
Keith Berners was chairman and Vic Folbigg manager of the new club, Stevenage FC, the committee of which first met at Stevenage Swimming Centre on September 30, 1976 – 40 years ago today.
Vic organised a curtain-raising match against Hitchin Town youth at the former Stevenage Athletic ground, Broadhall Way – and volunteers prepared the pitch for an inaugural fixture on November 6, 1976.
But in the fallout from Stevenage Athletic’s demise there were unresolved disputes over the stadium, which was leased from the Stevenage Development Corporation by Athletic’s chairman Javier Revuelta.
He was pushing for approval to use the ground for commercial enterprises such as a market – and he refused the development corporation’s calls for him to forfeit his lease.
Matters came to a dramatic climax when to end any prospect of football being played, Revuelta had a digger desecrate the pitch with a 6ft deep trench from end to end.
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This thwarted a Stevenage FC launch at Broadhall Way, and the club instead started life at King George V playing fields on a pitch owned by Stevenage Borough Council – which gave consent for the club to call itself Stevenage Borough FC and use the town’s coat of arms.
The team eventually moved into Broadhall Way in 1980, after the borough council inherited the ground from the wound-up development corporation.
Boro became a senior club, left the Chiltern Youth League for the United Counties League, and in 1984 became members of the Isthmian League.
Ten years later, following a succession of promotions under manager Paul Fairclough, the club joined the Football Conference, which is now the National League.
Stevenage Borough won the Conference in 1996, eight points clear of arch-rivals Woking, but were denied promotion to the Football League because of a technicality over stadium criteria.
The club mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge, which led the Football League to relax the rules for future seasons – but for Stevenage fans this was scant justice.
Two years later came one of the most memorable days in the club’s history, when Premier League giants Newcastle United visited Stevenage in the FA Cup.
The fixture captured the imagination of both the town and the nation, with The Sun sponsoring the game – and a temporary stand was erected to house Newcastle supporters as more than 8,000 people packed into Broadhall Way.
The match programme is an interesting read, with columns from Jimmy Greaves and Andy Gray following a common theme. Greavsie urged Stevenage to ‘strike a blow for all of football’s little people’, while Gray exhorted them to ‘Get lucky, Stevenage!’
And Boro achieved a creditable 1-1 draw against Kenny Dalglish’s millionaire army, with loan man Guiliano Grazioli cancelling out Alan Shearer’s opening goal.
Dalglish griped afterwards that the ball was too bouncy, prompting Jeremy Paxman to enquire: “Are you a big girl’s blouse?”
The replay at St James’ Park was won 2-1 by Newcastle, with two Shearer goals – though any Boro fan will tell you the first effort didn’t cross the line.
In 2003, after a 2-0 win over rivals Barnet, Stevenage boss Graham Westley said: “Stevenage Borough will be a Football League club. Destiny will always take over.”
And the Boro faithful will say it has done – Stevenage were the first club to win a trophy at the new Wembley Stadium in 2007, and in 2010 the club were finally promoted to the Football League as Conference champions.
‘Borough’ was dropped from the club’s name at that time, but to Stevenage’s red and white army – especially the die-hards of the ‘86 Club’, who attended the Oxford away game in 2008 – the boys from Broadhall Way will always be ‘the Boro’.