The Rise of Stevenage Football Club: From Non-League to League Football

By Pete H

It won’t be something that you’ll forget too much in a hurry. Our 2-0 win over Grimsby Town on 29 April 2023 meant that Boro’ were promoted to the third tier for the second time in the club’s (relatively short) history. It took the number of Stevenage FC promotions to a running total of seven – plus the whole 1996 thing. In context, we’ve been relegated just twice. That’s how the rise of Stevenage Football Club has been so meteoric – and what we’ll look at here.

The Early Years of Stevenage FC in Non-League Football

In 1976, Stevenage Borough was born; starting life on King George V Playing Fields
Photo: The Comet

If you didn’t already know, Boro’s journey from non-league to league football started in very inauspicious times. The year is 1976 and Stevenage Athletic had just gone under. Boro’ came in response to Athletic fans who wanted to keep football going in the town. But that start of the story was met with hostility from those who did not want the club to use Broadhall Way. So, King George V Playing Fields became home to the new side; taking flight as a youth side.

For the 1979-80 season, Boro’ would become a senior side. The ongoing wrangle over the use of Broadhall Way, however, meant no senior league would accept them. Instead, we kept our journey going in the Wallspan Combination against local reserve teams. And it’s also why the BoroGuide records originally started at 1980; the year we joined the United Counties League and finally wrestled back the keys to Broadhall Way from those with different ideas for it.

For us as a young club, the 1980-1 campaign was a milestone moment. But you wouldn't know it was our first as a senior side...
Photo: The Comet

The first few Stevenage FC promotions

The first of our Boro’ promotions came instantly; the 1980-1 United Counties League Division One title won at a canter. After three modest years in the Premier Division, however, we took our next step up. It doesn’t count as a promotion though. We applied to the Isthmian League and we were allowed in. And it coincided with us moving up a gear with their on-pitch ability. Inside two seasons, we were Division Two North champions and on our way up again (1986).

Phil Driver's goal clinched the 1985-6 Division Two North title at Barton Rovers

We lasted two seasons in Division One before coming back down. But the rise of Stevenage Football Club wasn’t checked for long. Boro’ regrouped and won the Division Two North title for a second time in 1991. And handsomely so. From there, the upward momentum sped up frantically. Three promotions in four campaigns saw us reach the heady heights of the non-league elite: the GM Vauxhall Conference.

From non-league to league football

The rise of Stevenage Football Club was so close to being even more meteoric. But for those archaic Football League rules at the time, we’d have been a Football League team within two years of reaching the Conference. Instead, we’d have to wait 16 years. Now, that’s not such a bad thing in the grand scheme of things. Some sides go 116 years without achieving much at all. The euphoria that came with our promotion to League Two in 2010 won’t be forgotten.

And by that time we’d also added the FA Trophy to the honours list.

No doubt its detractors will say it's a Pompey knock-off or something like that. It is, however, much more than that
Photo: Matt Ranson

As you can tell by some of the key milestones on the Boro’ timeline, we don’t hang about if we don’t have to. In 2011, we almost stunned ourselves by storming straight through League Two and into League One. As far as Stevenage FC promotions go, it was by far the biggest at the time; equalled now only by the events and achievements of the Class of 2023. Is there a next upward step in the rise of Stevenage FC? It’d be a push – but it wouldn’t be impossible.

Stevenage promoted. That's all the history books will say. Everything else will be a footnote...
Photo: Jim Steele/Stevenage FC

The people who made it all happen

This section could turn into a massive long list of names; a list that might have names you don’t agree with and one that might leave off (unintentionally) others. So, we’ll try to avoid going down that wormhole. Of course, there are some headline names that will forever stay aligned with Boro’s various promotions and achievements over the years: Cloughie, Wallace, Westley, Gittings, Daintree, Dance, Roberts, Piergianni, Evans, Henry, Cox, Smudger, Hayles

You see – we could go on. Montgomery, Vale, Morison, Berners, Briscoe, and the A-Team.

We’ll resist the urge to go further with the list. Suffice to say, there are hundreds (probably) of folk at all levels of involvement within the club who contributed to the rise of Stevenage Football Club. From the initial committee that got the young club off the ground to the full-time administration that has delivered a modern Football League team on and off the pitch; ours is a story to be proud of – no matter what the attendance polizei and naysayers claim.

Haters gonna hate. Boro’ gonna Boro’.

Boing Boing.

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