It's scary to think how many defunct clubs have gone under since helping to shape our story...

At our level, defunct clubs are more of a feature than they should be. Unlike the bigger boys at the top table, there aren’t many with billions to burn and/or questionable reputations who are willing to come in and bankroll a smaller side. And what this means is that teams who endured for decades are suddenly finding themselves going to the wall. Some of them are “names” too; reminders that you’re not too big to go bust. Just not big enough. Here are five of the best sides that Boro’ have played – and football has then lost – over the years.

5 of the Best Defunct Clubs No Longer With Us…

Rushden & Diamonds

Not all defunct clubs had quite the rollercoaster ride that Rushden & Diamonds did...
Photo: “File:Nene Park home of Rushden and Diamonds – geograph.org.uk – 1248326.jpg” by Steve Daniels is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

For some reason, we think of the Diamonds and Whitney Houston’s Didn’t We Almost Have It All starts playing in the back of our mind. In the grand scheme of things, you could argue that they came and went in the blink of an eye. Created in 1992 when other past foes Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds joined forces, the financial backing of Dr Martens mogul Max Griggs catapulted them into the Conference inside just four years.

That wasn’t the limit to their ambition, however. It was always a case of when, not if, they went up to the Football League. How it took five years to achieve we’re not too sure. But it happened and they went from strength to strength to start with. Another two seasons under their belt and promotion to the third tier of English football followed. But then things went south. Relegations in 2004 and 2006 brought them back into the Conference.

Off the pitch, things were going awry too. Griggs passed over control of the club to a supporters’ trust, managers came and went, attendances fell, and the Diamonds’ shine was fading. But for a failed playoff campaign in 2009-10, they couldn’t revive their fortunes. Matters went from bad to worse off the pitch too and, in 2011, the club was expelled from the Conference. After a failed bid to join the Southern League, they went into administration and folded that same summer.

Iconic Moment: Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 Stevenage Borough, 27 December 1999
A heavyweight Conference clash between two promotion hopefuls in front of a packed Nene Park.

Macclesfield Town

We shared some big moments with the Silkmen over the years...
Photo: “Macclesfield Town Football Club” by thepicturedrome is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Too soon?

Much is made of the debacle that saw Boro’ stay in League Two at the Silkmen’s expense a mere two years ago. We’re not responsible for the off-field issues that saw players and staff go unpaid month after month. But those matters did have the unsavoury effect of – indirectly – forcing the club under. In doing so, 146 years of history came to an end as a new club was formed to take on the senior football mantle in the Cheshire town. And we’ve been there ourselves.

Our story with the Silkmen is picked up in 1994. After promotion to the GM Vauxhall Conference, Boro’ came up against a Macclesfield Town side who were reigning champions. Our last game of the season took us to Moss Rose; one in which we romped to a 3-0 win and gave a little sign that we meant business the following year. Of course, they shouldn’t have been in the division at the time; the club denied promotion due to those outdated ground rules that caught us out too.

Their 3-2 win at Broadhall Way in March 1997 is almost the stuff of legends. Two goals down and a man sent off, they stormed back to bag all three points. In doing so, they effectively ended our hopes of retaining our Conference title. Up they went this time and it took 13 years until we had the chance to meet again – ironically in our first-ever Football League match. After failing in their bid to remain in League Two in 2020, the club was wound up in the High Court.

Iconic Moment: Stevenage Borough 2-3 Macclesfield Town, 29 March 1997
A swing of the pendulum that threw our title defence off course and set the Silkmen’s path to glory.

Chester City

Chester City are one of the few defunct clubs who had their record expunged midway through the season
Photo: “Football Ground of Chester City FC” by chestertouristcom is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Out of all the defunct clubs we’ve played, the Blues are the most recent (and maybe the highest  profile) to go under midway through a season. Formed in 1885, their demise came about after a return to the Football League lasted just five years.

After being elected to the Football League in 1931, the Blues were relegated to the Conference in 2000. To their credit, they didn’t hang around too long. Within four years, they were back up and hoped their brief stay in non-league wouldn’t be repeated. The 2003-4 season is the one in which they completed their return; pipping Hereford United to the title by a single point. It was also the season in which we were the only visiting side to win at the Deva Stadium.

The Blues fell back out of the Football League in 2009, however. And that was just the start. They arrived in administration; not the first time they’d suffered that fate. A rescue package saw them let into the Conference – albeit minus 10 points. But that became 25 points after HMRC rejected a CVA with the club owing around £7 million. It got chaotic off the pitch and, somehow, the club were allowed to kick off the season.

They limped on until February when they were kicked out of the league – and wound up in the High Court. Their record was expunged, losing us six points. Not that it mattered in the end…

Iconic Moment: Chester City 1-2 Stevenage Borough, 13 December 2003
Rocky Baptiste turns in a blinder as Boro’ are the only side to defeat the Blues on their home patch.

Runcorn

Our once-a-week dose of nostalgia continues to punt you through the Covid crisis – and our latest edition is placing Runcorn FC centre stage

Runcorn had worked hard to establish themselves at the top end of non-league football; a level they reached in 1981. They even won the Alliance Premier League title in 1982, but were denied their rightful place in the Football League due to the election system. Even in the mid-1990s, it’s not as if the Linnets weren’t competitive; finishing fifth in the 1993-4 campaign. Yet, this was the season in which things started to turn sour.

Canal Street had been their home ground since 1918. Yet, it suffered a series of unfortunate and tragic events during that season. And it hung around the club’s neck like a millstone. First, there was the collapse of a perimeter wall as they entertained Hull City in the FA Cup. A roof then blew off in high winds. And then the main stand was gutted by fire. The Linnets plummeted from fifth to 21st over the next two years; Boro’ romping to an 8-0 win there during our 1995-6 campaign.

After relegation in 1996, the Linnets continued on in the Northern Premier League. To be honest, things weren’t all that bad. They finished fourth on one occasion. In 2000, Canal Street was sold and the club moved to Halton Stadium in Widnes. With that, they added Halton to their name in honour of their new home. And a place in the Conference North came their way in 2004. But this only lasted for a season and their demise sped up over the following year or so.

The 2005-6 season saw them suffer extreme cashflow problems. Amateur players turned out for the club, which lost heavily and frequently. At the end of the campaign, they resigned their place in the league and went out of business. A phoenix club had already been started in protest.

Iconic Moment: Runcorn 0-8 Stevenage Borough, 25 November 1995
Boro’ run riot at Canal Street; scoring eight goals without reply as our title credentials were noted.

Vauxhall Motors (Luton)

Vauxhall Motors (Luton) joined the Isthmian League in the same year Vauxhall started its sponsorship of the competition

Not all defunct clubs on our radar are from the ‘north’ – and, yes, that counts Rushden.

Some are more local. Quite local, in fact. For a time during the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Boro’ had a rivalry with Vauxhall Motors (Luton). Though not seen as a ‘works’ side for the eponymous Luton factory, there was definite involvement that supported the Motors in their time among us. That started in the 1985-6 Vauxhall Opel League Division Two North campaign – their first at that level and the first where the Isthmian League was sponsored by Vauxhall-Opel.

After clinching the Division Two North title that season, it wasn’t until the 1988-9 season that we bumped into them again. Of course, that was the result of our relegation – not any promotion of theirs. It didn’t change much, however. We kept on beating them and we finally said goodbye to them for good in 1991 after winning Division Two North again. They actually came up with us in second place, but never made it; their time as a club coming to an end in summer 1991.

Iconic Moment: Stevenage Borough 3-0 Vauxhall Motors (Luton), 07 April 1986
Boro’ make light work of a team once seen as title contenders to march towards the league crown.

 

What about…?

Of course, defunct clubs litter our story. More the five clubs we’ve name-checked here met a sad end. Bury, for example, are one of the more recent examples. And then there’s clubs like Farsley Celtic and Salisbury City who went under and started again from our Conference days. Not that we should forget Tring (against whom Martin Gittings scored four times in a 4-4 draw) or British Timken Athletic; the victim of our biggest-ever win.

And, as you can see, none of them got the breaks that bigger teams seem to enjoy. Is it one rule for them and one for the rest? Maybe. But that’s not a debate we’re qualified to weigh in on…

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