Hello old person, feeling your age? OK, let’s take it back 20 years. Prince rides the royalties wave ‘cos we really were partying like it was 1999. After all, it was 1999. And the Millennium Dome is shaping into a “beacon to the world“. One that’s way over-budget and behind schedule, obviously. But closer to home, things aren’t so rosy and the future of Stevenage Borough Football Club is a little iffy. In fact, talk is another Stevenage club could be going to the wall were it not for the arrival of a businessman called Wallace. Phil Wallace.
To be honest, we’ll put our hands up and say we had no idea exactly how bad things had got by the end of the 1998-9 season. Victor Green was at the helm and Boro’ were 18 months down the line from a lucrative FA Cup run that saw us take Newcastle to two 1-1 draws (OK with that assessment Geordies?). Yet, apparently Boro’ were in a bit of financial poo-poo and might not see it into the new Millennium. There was even chat of being absorbed into some sort of entity bossed by Barnet “to preserve” our name”. It was that bad, then…
Enter Phil Wallace…
From our ignorance to a patchy memory. We can no more reliably tell you what we did last week than we can how the last 20 years took shape. But the fact is it’s now two decades on the nose since Phil Wallace saved us. And, by all accounts, he did. We’ve been unable to locate contemporary Comet reports from the time due to logistical issues. But one source places Phil’s leadership of the club starting on 3 June 1999, buying 90% stake of Boro’ and never looking back.
Maybe it’s fitting, ironic or deliberate that, this summer, Phil is opening up ownership of the club through this new Tifosy share scheme. The timing seems a little too perfect, in hindsight. Not that it’s any problem, mind.
Who is Phil Wallace?
Right, bear with us. This could sound a lot like what you might read on Wikipedia. If you didn’t already know, Phil is head honcho at the Lamex Food Group – helping what was a small food importer transform and evolve into a multi-national business that’s still going from strength-to-strength. So, when he says he’s in the States on business, you can take that to mean he’s doing the day job.
Before stepping in to save Boro’ in 1999, Phil was chairman at Boreham Wood. With him, Bob Makin; the two uniting to give the Wood a period of success in the Isthmian League Premier Division during the 1990s. In May 1999, however, Phil decided to move on from south Herts to, er, north Herts. Their loss was our gain, big time. Phil’s first programme notes for Boro’ came ahead of a pre-season friendly indoors against Aston Villa. You’ll be able to read ’em over at the excellent stevenagefchistory.com, saved for posterity.
The early 1990s had been a time of rapid growth for Stevenage Borough FC. From Isthmian League Division 2 North in 1990 to the peak of the Conference in 1996, it’d been quite a ride. Yet, the wind had been taken out of our sails by archaic promotion regulations and the inability to defend our Conference title. So, once Victor Green was out the door and Phil was the new man in town, it was time to go again.
And there’s a helluva lot to recount from the last 20 years.
- Phil, in his role as Nationwide Conference director, presents a case to the League for two-up, two-down. The turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. But this one isn’t going to be let go quietly…
- The three-step South Stand becomes a shiny new all-seater stand for the away ‘erberts.
- If you don’t do it, Sky will – Channel 4 rock up at Broadhall Way with a novel idea that’s well before it’s time, if we’re honest. Given we get Love Island and all that pap to swallow nowadays, You’re The Manager really didn’t seem like much of a drama. Sadly, our Conference brethren said no.
- Also in 2002, a Mr Phil Wallis becomes chairman of Premier League side Harchester United after winning the lottery and buying the club. He then gives it away in a raffle in May 2003. The two people are not related.
- And a wedge of money is spent on a brand new training facility at Shephalbury Park.
- Financially sound, but in a bit of footballing poo-poo. Boro’ are rock bottom of the Conference and Wayne Turner’s out on his ear. In comes Graham Westley as boss; a move that was completely accepted by everyone outside the club as uncontroversial. It’s the move that drags us back from the brink. GW’s Boro’ surge to end up finishing 12th.
- We’re 99pc sure Phil lands a blow in Barnet’s general direction as the Bees romp to the Conference title. We’d rather go up via the playoffs, says Phil, which we very nearly do. But the gods conspire to put Michael Warner in on goal instead of Anthony Elding, Dino Maamria, Brian Quailey or even a traffic cone. Carlisle go up instead.
- GW can’t repeat the trick of getting us in the playoffs. His contract ain’t renewed. In comes Stimmo. He’s done great stuff at Grays. Who wouldn’t want him in charge?
- Boro’ win a pot for the first time in more than 10 years – casually coming from two-zip down to become the first side to win a trophy at the No-Longer-New Wembley in the process.
- Stimmo has a huff about not being allowed to go to Gillingham. He walks out.
- In comes Peter Taylor, who takes us – as defending champions – out of the Trophy at Dorchester. A decent points buffer that was keeping us in the playoff also fades away and we end up nowhere in the promotion reckoning.
- We don’t see eye-to-eye with Phil in summer 2008; the second coming of GW not going down well across the board it must be said. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing usually, but (for us) not in this case. Phil was right. And we were very wrong.
- A six-figure sponsorship deal means Broadhall Way becomes the Lamex Stadium.
- Boro’ are promoted to the Football League. Everything else is just a footnote.
- That includes the decision to drop the Borough from our name as we prepared for life as the newest member of the 92.
- Newcastle are put to the sword in the FA Cup. How do you like them apples, Toon?
- Promotion to League One is it?
- GW’s second spell as gaffer ends as he heads north to Preston. Gary Smith replaces him, swapping the MLS for the FL1.
- We narrowly miss out on promotion to League 0, or the Championship. So do Sheffield United. Ho hum.
- Shephalbury Park is old hat as our stunning 42-acre Bragbury End training ground opens.
- Smiffy flounders in his first full season and gets the boot; GW comes back for round three.
- We go down for the first time since 1988 as we lose our battle for League One survival.
- GW’s out again; replaced by former England, Man Utd, Tottenham, Colchester, West Ham and Nottingham Forest striker… er, we forget his name. Teddy something? Phil’s call, or guided by the other members of the board?
- The Teddy Experiment (or ExTeddyment) fails; Phil calls on Darren Sarll to step up from his role as coach to take charge.
- Sarll can’t push the club on, winning just four out of 26 league games between October 2017 and March 2018. He’s axed as gaffer, but kept on in a technical role for a few months – before leaving for good.
- Dino Maamria returns to the club, becoming the 10th manager appointed by Phil Wallace. That obviously counts GW as one boss.
- The club enters into a battle with UK Power Networks over a substation and ends up playing a season with a three-sided ground. This is how it feels to be Oxford.
And there’s some stuff we’ve no doubt left out. Shoddy memory, see…
Back to the future…?
So, there’s your whirlwind tour through the 20 years of Phil Wallace’s custodianship of Stevenage Football Club. It’s backed up by some half-arsed research too, so don’t say we don’t treat you. The question is – where next? Truth is, you can’t dispute the fact we have been fortunate to have such a steady hand in charge. It’s like how people talk about how the Queen has been a constant for a UK that’s seen it all and a bit more since 1952.
We’ve seen a lot at Boro’ since 1999, most of which will have ticked off the wish-list of anyone looking ahead into this Millennium. Phil Wallace has supplied the business acumen, financial backing and determined support anyone could wish for in a chairman. It feels difficult to imagine the club without him now, but there’ll come a time when that happens. Hopefully that’ll be in another 20 years though. Here’s to more progress in that time.