The third in a six-part series of articles looking at the “new” sides we’ll be facing again in the 2014/15 season, by Dale Hurman.
Stevenage has been a small town since Roman times but grew considerably after the Second World War. It formed part of the Government's Abercrombie Plan to build new towns around London and is similar to nearby Welwyn Garden City, Milton Keynes and Hatfield with its array of roundabouts and concrete.
The town can boast some famous alumni including 2008 Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton and current Premier League footballers Ashley Young and Jack Wilshere. Author E.M. Forster, actor Denholm Elliott and golfer Ian Poulter have also lived in the town.
The history of Stevenage F.C. goes back to 1894 when a club of the same name was formed. They soon changed their name to Stevenage Town but became Stevenage F.C. again in 1956 when they merged with Stevenage Rangers. They reverted back to Stevenage Town in 1960 and moved to their current home at Broadhall Way in 1961. The club folded at the end of the 1967-68 season.
A new club was formed and they were called Stevenage Athletic F.C. but they lasted just eight seasons before being declared bankrupt in 1976.
The current Stevenage F.C. were subsequently formed later that year and moved back to Broadhall Way in 1980 when they added the name Borough and took on senior status. Paul Fairclough was appointed manager in 1990 and he led the club to three promotions in four years.
They won the Conference in 1996 but were denied promotion as their ground wasn’t considered up to scratch. Many will remember their F.A. Cup fourth round tussle with Newcastle United in 1998, which saw them lose 2-1 in a replay at St James Park.
Current boss Graham Westley was first appointed in January 2003 and led the club to safety in the Conference. They were beaten by Carlisle United in the Conference play-off final in 2005 and Westley’s contract wasn’t renewed at the end of the 2005/06 season.
Mark Stimson was named as his successor and they won the F.A. Trophy in 2007 before he left to take over at Gillingham. Former Wanderers boss Peter Taylor took over but failed to keep the club in the play-offs and left at the end of the season to succeed Paul Lambert at Adams Park.
Westley returned for a second spell in charge after short spells at Rushden and Diamonds and Kettering Town, and Stevenage were beaten by Cambridge United over two-legs in the play-off semi-finals in 2009 before being crowned Conference Champions the following year.
“Borough” was dropped from their name at the start of their inaugural Football League season and they enjoyed a superb run of form after Christmas to finish in 6th place and joined the promoted Chairboys in League 1 after beating Torquay United in the play-off final at Old Trafford.
The links between the two clubs continued when Westley left to take over the hot-seat at Preston North End in January 2012 and he was replaced by former Blues midfielder Gary Smith. 14 months later he returned for his third spell in charge of Boro, following Smith’s sacking, but struggled to rediscover the form that had seen them enjoyed back-to-back promotions.
The 2013/14 campaign was one to forget as they struggled from the start and despite encouraging spells in both October and March, they remained in the relegation zone for most of the season and their inevitable relegation was confirmed on Easter Monday when they were beaten 3-1 at home by Bristol City.
The first meeting between the two clubs didn’t come until October 2010 when the Chairboys made the relatively short trip to Broadhall Way for a League 2 clash. Gary Waddock’s side recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory with Kevin Betsy meeting Gareth Ainsworth’s cross with a looping header before Stuart Beavon slotted home from close range after Ainsworth’s shot had come back off the post.
The last meeting was in March 2012 with the Blues battling against the drop from League 1. The game remained goal-less until five minutes from time when Boro midfielder Michael Bostwick appeared to have snatched the points when he drilled past Nikki Bull from the edge of the box.
The visitors weren’t done however and rescued a point two minutes into injury-time when loan midfielder Craig Eastmond was brought down in the area by defender Mark Roberts and defender Grant Basey slotted the resulting penalty past goalkeeper Chris Day.
Long standing Blues fans may remember Westley’s short spell at Loakes Park as player. Manager Peter Suddaby paid Barnet £7,500 for the left-winger back in September 1987 and he scored on his debut in a 2-1 home win over Telford United. He also scored in his next two matches and was a regular until Suddaby resigned in January 1988.
He played just once under Jim Kelman, in a 3-1 defeat away at Windsor and Eton in the Berks and Bucks Cup, before signing for Kingstonian in March 1988. He made a total of 24 appearances and scored 5 goals for the Wanderers. He suffered a broken leg in three places whilst with the K’s which effectively ended his playing career at just 28.
He managed both Kingstonian and Enfield before buying a controlling interest in Farnborough Town in 1999. He appointed himself as manager and led the club to the Isthmian League Premier Division title in 2001 and promotion to the Conference. He left in February 2003, shortly after an F.A. Cup fourth round defeat to Arsenal at Highbury, to begin his association with Stevenage.
Having endured a miserable campaign last time around, Westley has wasted no time in overseeing something of a revolution during the close season with more than twenty players leaving the club. Former Wanderers goalkeeper Steve Arnold and midfielder Sam Wedgbury have both joined Forest Green Rovers, midfielder Jimmy Smith has signed for Crawley Town whilst strikers Craig Reid, Dani López, François Zoko, Jordan Burrow and Lukas Atkins have all departed for pastures new.
Former Chairboys scholar Sam Beasant has arrived from Woking to provide competition for first choice goalkeeper Chris Day whilst defender Harry Worley and midfielder Andy Bond have been signed from Newport County and Chester respectively. A number of promising young players are also coming through into the first team squad.
Defender Jon Ashton, midfielder Dean Parrett and the versatile Darius Charles have all signed new deals, as has Luke Freeman but the former Arsenal winger has attracted plenty of suitors after putting in some impressive performances last season and Boro will face a battle to hold onto him as they begin life back in League 2.
We will travel to Broadhall Way on Saturday 23rd August 2014.
We host Boro’ at Adams Park on Saturday 28th February 2015.