We do like to focus on our neighbours from Bedfordshire. But what about Essex, and its chief county town reps – Chelmsford City?
Photo: "Chelmsford City Line up, 1949." by sludgegulper is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We do like to focus on our neighbours from Bedfordshire. And why not? In our part of the world, it’s a short jaunt across the border to Luton or Biggleswade. But how often do we look the other way? On the other side of our county (and not that far away) is Essex. We don’t seem to have the same inter-county rivalry there. And it’s not like we haven’t had our run-ins with sides from over there. This includes Chelmsford City – a team who we’ve met at various points over the years.

Have we stuck it to the Clarets from the county town of Essex? Or does our record make for grim reading. After all, we are – self-professed of course – the pride of Hertfordshire? Let’s discover…

Who are Chelmsford City Football Club?

The start of the Clarets’ tale? Technically, it’s 1938. Now, there was a ‘Chelmsford FC’ before this point – formed long ago in 1878. But, in 1938, that club were in the Essex County League and the powers that be (so we understand) wanted to go pro and join the Southern League. After seeing how such a move had badly affected the old Colchester Town when Colchester United was born, it called for bold action. The old club closed down and the new professional one opened.

From the start, they were known as Chelmsford City too. But Chelmsford wasn’t named as a city until 2012. That’s firmly in “ideas above your station” territory. What next? Stevenage City FC?

Why do we know them?

The Clarets started as members of the Southern League. And that’s how things remained for the next few decades. Sure, there were some high points on the way; four times lifting the Southern League title. There was even an appearance in the Anglo-Italian Cup, if you can believe that? But don’t be fooled. The Clarets had loftier ambitions. And the best way to prove that is with the 15(?) bids to join the Football League between 1938 and 1976.

The old marvellous election system, however, was in their way; the Clarets unable to gain the popular support for their proposed membership.

Of course, that’s all very well and good. But they were stuck in the Southern League. We never chose that route. So, how did our paths cross? Well, it’s all due to a little side-show called the East Anglian Cup. To be exact, it was the 1981-2 edition at the semi-final stage. At the time, Boro’ were getting used to the United Counties League Premier Division after promotion in 1981. The Clarets were clearly our superiors at the time…

What is our record against them?

Our respective roles in the footballing food chain was brought to bear across two semi-final legs in April 1982. A spirited home display in the first wasn’t enough to stop us from going down by a two-goal margin. It left us with a mountain to climb in the second and we simply couldn’t do it – this time losing by three goals to suffer a comprehensive defeat on aggregate.

After that, it’d be a looooong time before we’d end up meeting again. And the landscape had changed a lot in what turned out to be a 27-year hiatus. The Clarets swapped life in the Southern League for the Isthmian. And then the Conference South came calling. For us, meanwhile, we scaled up through the Isthmian to become a long-time member of the Conference proper. The league never threw up any opportunities to meet them again.

The 2009-10 FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round did. And, this time, we were the superiors. For the Clarets to retain their 100% record against us, they’d need to pull off a shock.

To be fair, they almost did. Our hosts took the lead against the run of play in the first half. Boro’ came back strong in the second, however; Charlie Griffin levelling – before a red card left them with 10 men. We eventually completed the turnaround to record a first-ever win over the team from Essex. But we had to wait on it; Peter Vincenti‘s decisive goal coming a couple of minutes into stoppage time. Heartache for them, perhaps. Relief for us. And a place in the next round.

Chelmsford City: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 3 — W 1 — D 0 — L 2 — F 2 — A 6 — Pts 0 — WR 33%
Our last tango: Chelmsford City 1-2 Stevenage Borough, 24 October 2009

What happened to them?

Since that afternoon, not a lot has changed on their side. They still remain in what’s now called National League South. And, for the most part, the Clarets are normally challenging at the right end of the table. Since 2009, they’ve fallen short in the playoffs on six separate occasions. After all the Covid-19 disruption, can they finally get over that line – and into the National League? If they can, it’d bring a long-standing dream of Football League status one more division closer.

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Chelmsford City club profile

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