We’re no strangers to getting on the wrong side of others over the years. And we’ve wound up some teams more than most – such as these five Stevenage rivals. And that feeling is, of course, mutual. You aren’t proper rivals if the irrational hatred doesn’t flow both ways – are you? It’s why we don’t get Port Vale. They really don’t seem to like us. But we don’t give ’em a second thought. Save your angst for Stoke lads and lasses – you might need it. One day.
So, let’s take a look at the Stevenage rivals who matter; the sides we look out for each time the fixtures come out. The double over Woking, after all, is better than winning the league…
5 of the Best Stevenage Rivals
If we’re talking about Stevenage rivals, the Canaries are the original and the best. But it’s now more than quarter of a century since we last met in a competitive game. That’s some wait for the grudge to be left to simmer. But it also explains why we’ll pack out the ground when we meet in a pre-season “friendly”.
For ages, we had to settle for county cup meetings; Hitchin Town getting top billing in the local football stakes during the 1980s. But it all changed in 1990s. First, we became their equals; marking the occasion with a 2-0 victory in October 1991. Then we became better than ’em – though the Canaries’ 2-1 win at Broadhall Way blotted our 1993-4 title-winning copybook somewhat. We’re still better than them, though.
The Old Firm, North London Derby and El Clasico had nothing on this derby ding-dong in the 1990s. And who knew that our first-ever meeting in October 1987 would be a prelude to the drama that followed. To be fair, it was circumstance that transformed the Cards into arguably the biggest Stevenage rivals going. We think they just didn’t like how we’d given ’em such a big headstart – and still won the Conference before them.
It became the stuff of legends; the Cards still pining for those days. But aren’t we all? The Surrey side had revenge enough times. The 1996-7 FA Trophy semi-final is a pretty major (and annoying) case in point. But then we both got a bit rubbish as we became part of the Conference furniture. The thing is we stopped being rubbish. They didn’t. And haven’t. We went up as they went down. And, yet, even our cat still hates Woking.
We don’t even have a cat.
Build a bonfire – put the Barnet at the top. Now, how do we frame this one. For us, maybe it’s that the Bees were the next Hertfordshire team to overhaul. After them, there’d only be Watford left before we could become the county’s number one side. For them? There was a decent enough gap between us at one point. And then we caught them up, overtook ’em and now dominate their fans’ every waking thought.
You’d think that Christmas had come early in whichever London Borough they now play in; the news of our impending relegation greeted with total relish by our flippered friends. This is despite the fact we’ve won our last four meetings (at time of writing). It’s a far cry from a time when they’d hammer us in the Herts Senior Cup. Then there’s also the story of how a pair of Boro’ icons (Cloughie and Graz) powered them into the League in 2005.
Now, we always say it but we can’t resist a debatable pick – are Kettering Town really one of the biggest Stevenage rivals going? Maybe our memory is on the blink, but we’re pretty sure that our encounters with the Poppies were turbo-charged back in the day. Before the Diamonds of Rushden came along, Kettering were the leading Northants’ non-league side; our first-ever clash coming in the 1993-4 FA Trophy.
Our memory of this particular Stevenage rivalry might be weak because the Poppies were absent for most of the 2000s. Their 1-0 win on Boxing Day 2002 saw us sink to the foot of the table – but GW came in and we rallied; surviving with ease. Kettering did not. Between 2003 and 2008, our only meeting came in an FA Cup tie that caught the media’s attention. But only because Gazza was in charge for them.
The Us are yet one more fine example of how the biggest Stevenage rivals can come out of almost nowhere. Our 1996-7 FA Cup exploits at their expense gave no clue to just how much we’d rile each other up in years to come. Cambridge United really struggled to deal with relegation from the Football League in 2005; one of the first Bitter Ex-League Tw..its (BELTs) as coined on the old Confguide forum.
Then, we guess, the Us got fed up with us for getting in the way of their efforts to go back up. We’re fed up they ended our record-breaking run of clean sheets in the early stage of the 2007-8 campaign. Then there was Scott Rendell after extra time. They won the battle; we won the war. Until they joined us in League Two.
At one point, we went five games without so much as scoring against them. But all’s well now; for all our faults in the 2019-20 season, we still took four points off ’em – including a hilarious 4-0 win at theirs. Seriously guys, it was an awful season for us and we still did an absolute job on them. You love to see it, as the kids say these days.
Honourable mentions to…
… Newcastle United and Royston Town. First, the Toon’s high-and-mighty attitude to us in the 1997-8 FA Cup put a rocket up the arse of our relationship. Not only did we have the audacity to want to stage a home tie at home, we then put an extra date in their diary by forcing a replay. It got niggly at Sid James’ park too; one brave Boro’ boy deciding to take on Stuart Pearce. Fair play son, fair play.
And the Crows? Well, we’re not sure if this counts. But we stuck ’em in because a) they’re normally great at letting us win and b) it seemed half their 1988-9 squad and management team had come from us.
Hey! Why didn’t you include…?
We’re going to guess that your question is going to end with the words “Luton Town“. Well, for us, they aren’t real Stevenage rivals. Yeah, there’s been some to-do between us. But the Hatters wound up in the Conference due to their off-field failings. It wasn’t a shock that we’d have to get past them to win the 2009-10 Blue Square Premier title. What came next was just part of their journey back to where they’d fallen from.
The same goes for MK Dons in our eyes. While one survey lists them as our number one rivals, it never was for us. They just happen to be local to us and rode roughshod over the history of Wimbledon. It doesn’t make ’em rivals as such. Not for us, Clive.