It ain’t every day a Conference game is delayed by a bomb scare. But it ain’t every day you’re away to Cheltenham Town on Valentine’s Day either. Now, we’re sure there’s a gag hiding in there about “putting the spark into things” or “going off with a bang”. You’ll have to find and take responsibility for it yourself, however. Our trip to Whaddon Road on 14 February 1998 is just one chapter in this particular story. Mind you, it’s a pretty memorable chapter.
We’ll give you that.
Who are Cheltenham Town?
Formed in 1887, the Robins are now quite long in the tooth. There’s more than 130 years wrapped up in this club’s story. But it’s not ’til 1932 that we see ’em starting to spread their wings beyond the confines of local football. First, they joined the Birmingham Combination – despite being 50 miles down the road from Brum. Then, in 1935, they decided to join the Southern League. And this would make up the next major chapter in their history.
1932 is also the year the club first played at Whaddon Road. Or whatever it’s called now.
In 1985, the Robins marked 50 years of Southern League football… by leaving. After they claimed the title by just two points from Kings Lynn, they were promoted into the Alliance Premier League; the GM Vauxhall Conference, if you will, as it’d be renamed the following year. For six straight seasons, they were comfortable enough in mid-table. But the 1991-2 season not so much; Cheltenham heading back down to the Southern League.
Why do we know Cheltenham Town?
For the Robins, the next four seasons must’ve been some form of torture. Trying to get back to the Conference, they came second in each of their first three campaigns in the Southern League; Dover (1993), Farnborough (1994) and Hednesford Town (1995) all getting in front of them. The 1995-6 campaign saw them slip to third, before the 1996-7 season saw normal service resume as Gresley Rovers won the Southern League title.
There’s a twist, however.
The Moatmen couldn’t go up as champions because their ground wasn’t up to scratch in the eyes of Conference. So, the Robins were promoted instead; setting up the first-ever meeting between us and them during the 1997-8 season.
Let’s be clear – two things weren’t going in our favour at this point in time. For a start, the Robins were still on the charge; no doubt miffed about staying in the Southern League for four seasons longer than planned. And, second, the dominant Boro’ side of the mid-1990s was now falling apart; both Efe Sodje and Barry Hayles leaving in summer 1997.
What is our record against Cheltenham Town?
Our league form towards the end of 1997 had already collapsed before the Robins rocked up at our place; the last guests before Christmas. Stuart Beevor got our goal, but it wasn’t enough as the 2-1 reverse made it three league defeats on the spin for us.
The return ended up being much more eventful than anyone could’ve imagined. After both sides returned to the changing rooms before kick-off, things got put back. And back. Until a PA announcement asked fans to leave the ground. Suddenly, a Northern Senior League match taking place on Whaddon Recreation Ground had 2,500 more people watching it.
The Robins came second in the 1997-8 season, nine points behind Halifax Town. The next season saw them go one better with the title earning them promotion to the Football League. But we filled our boots before we left – starting with a 1-0 home defeat in the Endsleigh Trophy in early December, before going down to a heavy league defeat at theirs.
Again, our last match before Christmas.
We next met in early February; the FA Trophy Fourth Round draw putting us together. But things were different. Cloughie had left and Richard Hill was in. It may help to explain why we fared better; drawing 0-0 as neither side could book their passage through. The replay couldn’t separate us either; penalties ultimately deciding the tie in the Robins’ favour. Oh – did we mention that replay was originally abandoned with the visitors leading?
Oops. So, yeah. Their local MP lost the plot and tried to use Parliament methods to get us chucked out the Trophy. Seriously. How weird can this get?
Anyway, our fifth meeting of the season saw us earn a 2-2 draw indoors one month later.
Cheltenham Town: Boro’s Record
Our head-to-head: P 18 — W 8 — D 4 — L 6 — F 27 — A 17 — Pts 27 — WR 44%
Our last tango: Cheltenham Town 4-2 Stevenage, 07 September 2019
What happened to Cheltenham Town?
Hells bells, this is a long ‘un.
Up the Robins flew into the Football League in 1999. It took us a little while longer, but we did join them. And it was a bit of an anti-climax as they won our first clash in 11 years. But Boro’ kicked into gear in early 2011 and grabbed our first-ever win against them in February; running out 4-0 winners at the Lamex to do it in some style too.
You can call it a watershed moment for Boro’. After a short hiatus while we did our run in League One, we came back to League One and racked up a run of eight without defeat against the Robins (seven wins, one draw); notable results including a 5-1 home thrashing (2014), 4-1 indoors (2018) and a pair of 2-0 wins in the 2018-9 season. The Robins found time for a one-season stay in the Conference in that time too.
If you’re only as good as your last meeting, however, then we have work to do. In what we can take as a sign of the times for us during the 2019-20 season, the Robins beat us 4-2 at their place in September 2019. But we’ll never get that return game after the season was cut short by a global pandemic. And, as we write this, we’re still waiting to learn when we’ll be able to go back into battle against Cheltenham Town again.
• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Cheltenham Town club profile