For us as a young team, the 1980-1 campaign was a milestone moment; the very first time that Stevenage Borough Football Club took the step up into senior football. After starting out in the open surrounds of the King George V Playing Fields, Boro’ came ‘back home’ to Broadhall Way. We’d be strutting our stuff as paid-up members of the United Counties League – joining its new Division One. But you’d never believe that we were new to this level of the game based on how it all panned out. Boro’, confident and assured, didn’t half seem as if they had it all worked out.
1980-1 United Counties League Division One: The background
Up until 1980, Boro’ competed in the Chiltern Premier and Wallspan Combination leagues. The former was very much a youth structure; putting us up against sides such as Cambridge United and Luton Town’s youth teams. We also took part in the FA Youth and Herts County Youth cups. Well, we had to start somewhere. And the foundations had to be laid. The time came, however, as a new decade dawned to take that next step up. The UCL, it seemed, was our perfect fit.
1980-1 United Counties League Division One: As it unfolded…
Any notion that Boro’, new to senior football, would be cowed into submission was soon put to bed. An opening day 3-1 win at home to ON Chenecks was the first of five on the bounce. And it wasn’t as if these wins were close either. A 2-1 victory away to British Timken Athletic (we’ll get back to them) was the tightest scoreline. In other instances, however, we were sweeping teams aside; clubs who had been around a lot longer and who knew the landscape a little better.
The visit of Ford Sports on 6 September 1980 gave us a little bit of a reality check, to be fair. Our 3-2 home defeat had the potential to derail our promising opening. Instead, we came back even stronger. Sharnbrook felt the full force of our swagger the following weekend as we put five past them without reply. It also started another winning run. This time, it’d be six on the bounce. The run included a buccaneering 7-2 win away to Geddington Montrose among others.
By the time Olney Town came to us on 11 October 1980 (in the middle of that six-game winning stretch), we’d scored 32 times in nine outings. Our Goals Against count had strayed into double figures, but that wasn’t a huge concern. Not when we were putting them away for fun.
November, however, wasn’t a straightforward month. Our run of wins came to an end with a 1-1 draw at Newport Pagnell Town. We made up for that disappointment on the following gameday; beating the Swans by three goals. But it was our only victory in four matches. We had our noses put out of joint in the Herts Senior Cup First Round as Isthmian League side Berkhamsted Town pulled rank and saw off our challenge. Then Corby Gainsborough held us to a 2-2 home draw.
1980-1 United Counties League Division One: The rise and records
It’s all OK though. You have these ‘down’ moments in a season. And we sparked back into life in the weeks after that draw. It started with a 5-2 win away to Burton Park Wanderers. That’s not a shabby result in itself and was still one of our biggest of the season to date. But this didn’t even come close to our next result. On an afternoon that still sits at the top of our record wins list, we put British Timken Athletic to the absolute sword; scoring 11 (eleven) times. We’ll never beat it.
Call it complacency, but we didn’t exactly follow that up particularly well. Towcester Town took advantage of our giddyness to thrash us; to do to us what we’d done to others. It finished 4-1.
Boro’ settled back down after that. Two successive victories included a United Counties League Cup Quarter Final over Higham Town, before two straight draws took us into the New Year. This included our first blank of the season; Irchester Eastfield holding us to a goalless draw. It was a bit of a culture shock for a Boro’ side for whom goals had come so easily. It wasn’t a sign of how things were going to go in 1981, however. Predictably, we got back into the winning groove.
And it started on 24 January by returning the favour to Towcester Town – and then some (5-1).
1980-1 United Counties League Division One: Marching on…
It wasn’t going to be all plain sailing. John Downes received a 56-day suspension in late January for poor discipline, which ruled him out for most of what was left of the season. Mind you, Boro’ kept the results rolling in. By the time we went to Olney Town and won 6-0, only British Timken Duston were still in pursuit of us. And it just so happened that we had back-to-back fixtures with them coming up. Well, once we’d shared the spoils with Thrapston Venturas on Valentine’s Day.
A 2-0 win at our nearest title ‘rivals’ all but secured the championship for us. So, the fact that we then drew 0-0 with them at Broadhall Way the following week was no great disaster. From that point on, we started strutting on; winning six of their remaining seven games in all competitions. We say that, because one of those victories came in the United Counties League Cup Semi-Final and put a historic double on the table. First, however, we needed to mop up the league fixtures.
Ford Sports were due to host us on the final day of the season at their place. After beating us at Broadhall Way earlier in the season, they must’ve fancied their chances. In an act of generosity and kindness, however, they agreed to move the fixture to our place; our fans given the chance to see us lift the league trophy on home turf. We didn’t exactly repay that nice gesture, however; Boro’ running out 5-0 winners and underlining just how dominant we had been that season.
1980-1 United Counties League Division One: What next?
Boro’ completed the league and cup double with victory over Thrapston Venturas on Monday 4 May 1981. Apart from all those plaudits, it brought with it promotion to the Premier Division at the first time of asking. The next step up, however, proved to be a little tougher to conquer. The fact is that sixth position (in 1983-4) was the highest we ever finished in the Premier Division. It didn’t stop us joining the Isthmian League in 1984. But it feels like a bit of unfinished business.
Maybe the most important fact was that Boro’ showed the town of Stevenage that a successful senior football side wasn’t too much to ask. It set us off on a long and historic journey that saw us gradually rise up through the non-league structure; ultimately joining the Football League in 2010. For all those who put the hard yards in to get Boro’ off the ground in the first place, it was just rewards. And it perhaps defined us as a club who dared to dream of life at a higher level.
Boro’s position in the pyramid today is the lasting legacy of those lads who delivered success in 1980-1. And it owes much to the sensational foundations first laid by that iconic set of players.
With thanks to the Stevenage Football Archive.
1980-1 United Counties League Division One: Stats…
- Goals For: 122 (106 league and 16 cup)
- Goals Against: 37 (32 league and 5 cup)
- Most Appearances: Danny Dance (35)
- Top Goalscorer: Trevor Metcalfe (29)
- Players Used: 27
- Points Per Game: 1.66
- Average Attendance: 529
Season Details: 1980-1 United Counties League Division One