This piece was written for the Stevenage v Newcastle United programme in 1998, before their controversial tie at Broadhall Way that was broadcast around the world on TV.
Stevenage Borough FC was founded in 1976; the year of Kevin Keegan curly perms and the kind of fashions you tend to quickly clam up about in front of your kids. The Boro’ took their first faltering steps – as a youth team – in front of a handful of supporters on a roped-off park pitch. Paul Fry dusted off his cream flares and dodgy platform heels to go back in time. It was only later he’d realise that, if everyone else was wearing them, they did nothing to mask his shortness.
1976: The Year Of The Boro’
IN early summer 1976, a group of local football supporters, anxious to see the town back on the football map after the debacle of a bankrupt Stevenage Athletic, sowed the seeds of the club we see today. Athletic, managed during the their death-knell days by Spurs legend Alan Gilzean, the fans’ proclaimed ‘King of White Hart Lane’, spiralled into debt and their discredited Maltese chairman ‘sent the boys round’ with a digger to smash up the stadium and carve giant trenches into the pitch to prevent a phoenix club from using the facilities.
A youth team bearing the name Stevenage Borough FC later took part in the Chiltern League. Four championships, more than £2.8m of public money invested in the facilities and 22 years later, Stevenage faced Newcastle United in a controversial FA Cup Fourth Round tie.
What else happened in 1976?
If you can’t quite remember the year Boro’ was born, the big movie was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson, which won Oscars, as did the 80-year-old George Burns, some 37 years after his last film. All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now (which could have been filmed at Boro’ back then, such was the state of the place) were all playing at the local Astonia cinema, which later became a snooker hall and then offices.
So too did Rocky; The Outlaw Josey Wales; and a poor King Kong remake.
The charts were full of Dancing Queens, courtesy of Abba, then Elton John and Kiki Dee hit No.1 with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. The Wurzels had a Brand New Combine Harvester, while Showaddywaddy; Chicago; and Demis Roussos kept Radio 1 DJs such as Tony Blackburn embarrassingly busy.
Hitting the headlines in 1976
Liz Taylor divorced Richard Burton (no change there, then) and the reclusive mega-rich Howard Hughes and J Paul Getty both died, just to prove you can’t take it with you.
Other notable departures in 1976 were Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung; painter LS Lowry of the matchstick men, cats and dogs fame; Carry On funny man Sid James; and author Agatha Christie – though not in mysterious circumstances. Field Marshall Monty – Lord Bernard Montgomery of el-Alamein – also departed the battlefield of life.
The world news was dominated by the elections of US President Jimmy Carter, James Callaghan as Labour Prime Minister, plus riots in Soweto, South Africa, and an Israeli commando raid on Entebbe, Uganda, to liberate a hijacked French airliner. Britain and Iceland were slapping each other in the chops with herring, Monty Python style, in a fishing war.
… and on the pitch?
The football world belonged to Keegan. The Footballer of the Year led Liverpool to their ninth League title plus the UEFA Cup. Newcastle lost in the League Cup Final, while Southampton stunned Manchester United to lift the FA Cup thanks to pint-sized Bobby Stokes.
In the European Championship, the Czechs beat the Germans on penalties. Yes, penalties. Check out Panenka on YouTube. Bobby Charlton quit as Preston North End manager, West Ham lost the Cup-winners’ Cup final to Anderlecht and Ted McDougall, then of Norwich City, was the League’s hotshot with 23 goals.
And me? I was a trainee reporter on the Stevenage Gazette, losing my innocence and, judging by my clothes, all sense of style forever. But what a year!
BoroGuide wants to thank Paul Fry for letting us reproduce this wonderful piece for today’s audience. To know where you’re going, you gotta know where you’ve come from – right?