The Bard Rabbie Burns once wrote “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” as the first line to the poem ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ It has now become synonymous with New Year’s celebrations and seems rather fitting as we prepare to host Stevenage for just the second time in our history.
Of course it is difficult to forget that first meeting, which came less than ten months ago at Adams Park. For some it is also difficult to forgive as the Borough lived up to their reputation with a vulgar display of power as they claimed the three points with a 1-0 victory. More of that later.
Stevenage itself 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.
Despite being the subject of mockery due to an aesthetically unpleasing design, 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 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 also 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 clash with Newcastle United in 1998.
Ironically the income received wasn`t enough to prevent the club from financial difficulties which saw Phil Wallace purchase the club from Victor Green. Fairclough left in the summer and Richard Hill, John Gregory`s assistant during his reign at Adams Park, was appointed as his successor.
Current boss Graham Westley was 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 in November.
Peter Taylor took over but failed to keep the club in the play-offs and left at the end of the season to become Paul Lambert`s replacement at Adams Park. Taylor was succeeded by Westley who returned for a second spell in charge after short spells at Rushden and Diamonds and Kettering Town.
The club were beaten by Cambridge United over two-legs in the play-off semi-finals in 2009 but became Conference Champions the following year. Last season they enjoyed a superb run of form after Christmas to finish in 6th place and joined the Chairboys in League One after beating Torquay United in the play-off final at Old Trafford.
In addition to the likes of Hill, Taylor and Westley, the following players have also played for both clubs: Mark Westhead; Gary Wraight, John Nutter, Luke Oliver, Mark Rogers; David Perpetuini, Dannie Bulman, Gavin Grant, Jason Solomon, John Mousinho, Paul Barrowcliff, Simon Stapleton, Steve Guppy, Stuart Lewis; Charlie Griffin and Drewe Broughton.
Westley began his career at Queens Park Rangers in the youth team whilst Gary Waddock was a first team regular. In September 1987 he signed for the Blues, struggling in the Conference under manager Peter Suddaby. He paid Barnet £7,500 for the left-winger who scored on his debut in a 2-1 win over Telford United at Loakes Park.
He also scored in his next two matches and was a regular until Suddaby resigned in January 1988. His successor Jim Kelman obviously didn`t fancy him as he picked him just once, in a 3-1 defeat away at Windsor and Eton in the Berks and Bucks Cup. Westley left soon afterwards to join Kingstonian. He made a total of 23 appearances and scored 5 goals as a Chairboy.
He suffered a broken leg in three places which effectively ended his 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.
During his reign at Cherrywood Road he changed the clubs` kit from their traditional yellow and blue to red and white stripes because yellow was a cowards colour and no successful team wore yellow (he obviously hasn`t heard of five time World Cup winners Brazil.) He also changed the ground name to the Aimita Stadium (named after his company) and he also tried to arrange a merger with Kingstonian.
In January 2003 the club reached the F.A. fourth round where they were drawn at home to Arsenal. Westley switched the tie to Highbury for financial reasons and after losing 5-1 to the Gunners he left the club, withdrew his financial backing and left his shareholding to other existing shareholders. He was soon announced as manager of Stevenage Borough.
The man who replaced him as chairman, Vic Searle, told the Daily Telegraph: “There was a reported £500,000 made out of the Arsenal game. As far as I’m aware, none of it came into the club. I was under the impression that I was taking over a debt free club, while in truth we owe around £180,000 – and that is crippling us.” Farnborough Town survived until May 2007 when it went into liquidation.
Westley has since created a reputation for himself as a no-nonsense agitator whose antics on the touchline have wound-up several of his peers. His team adopt an overly-physical style of play and can regularly be found feigning injury to excuse drinks breaks and winding-up both opposition players and the officials with constant sledging.
This kind of approach was no better illustrated than in our one and only meeting at Adams Park back in March. Stevenage were worthy winners with the Wanderers showing little attacking intent and were both out-thought and out-fought in what Gary Waddock described as a “very flat” performance. Had it not been for goalkeeper Nikki Bull, the visitors would have won by a greater margin.
Matt Bloomfield fired an early effort high over the bar before Rob Sinclair went close with a free-kick. Mousinho wasn`t far away with a diving header but six minutes before the break the so-called Wycombe fan dived in recklessly on Lewis and was lucky to only see yellow as he left his opponent writhing on the ground in agony.
Lewis wasn`t so lucky as he had to be replaced by Lewis Montrose at the break and left the ground on crutches with ankle ligament damage. Bull ensured the scores remained level at half-time with a fine save from Scott Laird`s free-kick. Just two minutes into the second half Mousinho fired a low shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards and proceeded to celebrate in an obnoxious manner.
Wanderers had no answer to the sheer hostility of the visitors and Bull again made a superb save to push away a powerful header from Darius Charles. Borough were reduced to ten-men when Laird cynically tripped Ben Strevens as he looked to run in on goal and was shown a second yellow card.
It made little difference and Bull pulled off his best save of the afternoon when he somehow denied Chris Beardsley. Foster was inches away from getting a touch to McCoy`s ball across the face of goal at the far post with just two minutes remaining and that was about as close as the hosts came.
Westley made no apologies after the game, saying “We are not a side that shies away from the physical side. There is never a complaint from me. If a game gets physical it is up to you to match and overcome that.” It would however be the last league defeat of the season for the Wanderers who went ten games unbeaten and celebrated automatic promotion on the final day.
“All that`s left are memories”