5 Of The Best: First-Time Fixtures

By Pete H

There’s a first time for everything. For every player who makes hundreds of appearances in a Boro’ shirt, there will be a debut at some point. No-one becomes top scorer without bagging that initial goal. And another club won’t ever evolve into a fierce rival without an origin story. As we moved up (and down) the pyramid over the years, it pitted us against new teams; ones we’ve never played before. Each team we’ve played, we’ve played them for a first time.

Some of our inaugural encounters didn’t go so well. Others, however, went much better than hoped. Here, we look at five first-time fixtures that were a storming success in Boro’s eyes.

Five fantastic first-time fixtures…

1. Stevenage 5-1 Sheffield Wednesday, 13 September 2011
Stevenage 5-1 Sheffield Wednesday: Craig Reid goal

Boro’ weren’t content with just reaching the Football League in 2010. A second promotion on the spin took us up to the third tier of English football. In doing so, it put us up against some pretty famous fallen giants. One such example was Sheffield Wednesday; formed in 1867 and four times champions of the land. Just 11 years before our first encounter, the Owls were still in the top flight. We, on the other hand, were bumbling around the Conference.

Our first fixture – a balmy Tuesday evening under the Lamex lights – promised an intriguing clash. The Owls were arguably the biggest team we’d faced in a run-of-the-mill league game at that point. To say we had no fear, however, was an understatement. Boro’ burst out of the blocks and put four goals on our guests before the interval. It remains one of the best Boro’ outings of the Football League era. We’d even go on to win at Hillsborough that season too!

2. Luton Town 0-1 Stevenage Borough, 29 September 2009
Luton Town 0-1 Stevenage Borough: A momentous victory for Boro' against the fallen Hatters

Can you believe Kenilworth Road became a Premier League stadium? Right, that 2023 cliche is now out of the way. In 2009, a succession of chunky points deductions had torpedoed the Hatters; relegated from the Championship, from League One, and then from League Two. We lapped up the idea of having a new near neighbour in our midst. It was also another ‘name’ for us to induct into non-league life.

Did the Hatters think they would coast to the Conference title at the first time of asking? It’s likely – and with fair reason. Strong support, solid squad, comfortable resources; they – and Oxford United – were the pre-season picks. Scott Laird‘s late winner on their own patch gave them a sharp dose of reality, though. Of course, the Hatters returned the favour as they tried in vain to stop our title charge in April. But we’ll always have the first time bragging rights.

3. Stafford Rangers 0-3 Stevenage Borough, 20 August 1994
Stafford 1994 is the only away day on our list, which probably says a lot about how we do on the road at the start of the season

The year is 1990 and Paul Fairclough is now in charge at Boro’. Ask anyone about the club at the time and we reckon no-one would have us down as getting to the top of the non-league tree in four years. But that’s what we did; three promotions in four campaigns taking us to a whole new level. Alas, preparations for our first time in the Conference didn’t go well, losing to Watford (Herts Senior Cup Final) and heavily to Chertsey Town (Diadora Charity Shield).

Our first assignment in the fifth tier was away to Stafford Rangers. It was our first time going up against them as you may expect. As an introduction to life at such a high level (relatively speaking), things couldn’t have gone any better. Boro’ swept our hosts aside that afternoon; Steve Conroy, Phil Simpson, and Dean Williams scoring the goals that announced our arrival in no uncertain terms. It turned out to be a false start – but we soon got things on track.

4. Stevenage Borough 3-1 ON Chenecks, 16 August 1980
If there were any nerves ahead of our first-ever senior game, they didn't show. This was the start of our journey from non-league to Football League

No – they weren’t the most illustrious of opponents. Sure – it wasn’t the most jaw-dropping of results. So, aren’t there worthier games to include in this list? Possibly. At the same time, not really. Let’s put this into context, you see. The start of the 1980-1 season was a fairly big milestone for the club – and for football in Stevenage. It was the first time since the demise of Stevenage Athletic that we had senior representation in the footballing pyramid.

It was a year behind schedule too; the lack of a suitable ground keeping us from entering a senior competition in summer 1979. When our chance finally arrived in the United Counties League, our first fixture was a home game against ON Chenecks. By this point, the side from Northampton had been in the competition for more than a decade. Boro’s inexperience did not show, however; a 3-1 win kicking off our journey that’d lead to the Football League.

5. Aston Villa 1-2 Stevenage, 08 January 2023

Back when we were a non-league side, the FA Cup offered the only real chance to taking on some of the bigger clubs in the country. Birmingham City, Newcastle United, er, Lincoln City – the list is modest, lets face it. Mind you, that dynamic didn’t change when got promotion to the Football League. In fact, it put Round Three and the country’s best teams a bit nearer to us; Newcastle United (again) and Tottenham Hotspur being prime examples.

In January 2023, Boro’ were drawn away to Aston Villa. It wasn’t the first time we’d played at Villa Park. But it was the first time we’d played the Villains. Everything hinted at a home win. They had the advantage of being three divisions higher than us, despite our strong showing in League Two. What they lacked was the dogged determination to see things through to the end; blowing a one-goal lead in the final moments to give us a famous victory.

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