It ain’t every day a Conference game is delayed by a bomb scare. But it ain’t every day you’re away to Cheltenham Town on Valentine’s Day either. Now, we’re sure there’s a gag hiding in there about “putting the spark into things” or “going off with a bang”. You’ll have to find and take responsibility for it yourself, however. Our trip to Whaddon Road on 14 February 1998 is just one chapter in this particular story. Mind you, it’s a pretty memorable chapter.
The following season, the Robins continued their rapid rise with promotion into the Football League. It took us a decade to catch them up and we made up for it since; enjoying some handsome wins along the way. But we let them out of our sight once more as they ascended into League One – leaving us behind in League Two. Just when you think you get the measure of a club, they make you rethink everything. But our time came once more when Boro’ were promoted to League One ourselves in 2023.
Formed in 1887, the Robins are now quite long in the tooth. There’s more than 130 years wrapped up in this club’s story. But it’s not ’til 1932 that we see ’em starting to spread their wings beyond the confines of local football. First, they joined the Birmingham Combination – despite being 50 miles down the road from Brum. Then, in 1935, they decided to join the Southern League. And this would make up the next major chapter in their history.
1932 is also the year the club first played at Whaddon Road. Or whatever it’s called now.
In 1985, the Robins marked 50 years of Southern League football… by leaving. After they claimed the title by just two points from Kings Lynn, they were promoted into the Alliance Premier League; the GM Vauxhall Conference, if you will, as it’d be renamed the following year. For six straight seasons, they were comfortable enough in mid-table. But the 1991-2 season not so much; Cheltenham heading back down to the Southern League.
Why do we know Cheltenham Town?
For the Robins, the next four seasons must’ve been some form of torture. Trying to get back to the Conference, they came second in each of their first three campaigns in the Southern League; Dover (1993), Farnborough (1994) and Hednesford Town (1995) all getting in front of them. The 1995-6 campaign saw them slip to third, before the 1996-7 season saw normal service resume as Gresley Rovers won the Southern League title.
There’s a twist, however.
The Moatmen couldn’t go up as champions because their ground wasn’t up to scratch in the eyes of Conference. So, the Robins were promoted instead; setting up the first-ever meeting between us and them during the 1997-8 season.
Let’s be clear – two things weren’t going in our favour at this point in time. For a start, the Robins were still on the charge; no doubt miffed about staying in the Southern League for four seasons longer than planned. And, second, the dominant Boro’ side of the mid-1990s was now falling apart; both Efe Sodje and Barry Hayles leaving in summer 1997.
How to get to Cheltenham Town – Travel Information – Distance: 111 miles
Let’s take the direct route for this one and keep things simple. Go south on the A1(M) and hook up with the counter-clockwise M25; you’ll be wanting the M40. After near enough 30 miles on the M40, bear left at Junction 8 and come off onto the A40. You’ll be following this all the way through Oxford and up to Cheltenham now.
As you get to Cheltenham itself, take a right onto Hales Road (B4075) for 0.7 miles. This will bring you to a roundabout, where you turn left (first exit) for Hewlett Road. You’ll only be on here for 0.2 miles before turning right onto Cleeve View Road. It’s another 0.2 miles on here, before you’re turning left onto Whaddon Road.
You might get a space at the club’s own car park at a cost of £5 if you pre-book – phone 01242 573558 to see if this is possible. Otherwise, the Parklands Social Club will let you park for £4 if not full. Some street parking might also be available in the area.
Station: CHELTENHAM SPA
Services to: LONDON PADDINGTON
Cheltenham Spa train station is the nearest to the ground. At around two miles, it might be 45 minutes until you get to the ground. It’s doable if you want, however, and takes you into the centre of Cheltenham for a pitstop on the way.
Exit the station onto Queens Road and cross over, following the Honeybourne Line Cycle and Footpath for around half a mile. Take the pedestrian tunnel; walking along the outside of Waitrose and onto Jessop Avenue. At the roundabout, go straight across and then turn left onto St George’s Place. Turn right at the library onto Clarence Street.
Go on past Primark onto North Street and turn right onto the A46 (Fairview Road). Soon after, it’s a left onto Winchcombe Street. This bends round to the right and then becomes Priestbury Road. Keep going along here until a right turn for Whaddon Road.
Stagecoach D bus leaves the station every 10 minutes during peak times.
From the train station car park to the ground, it might set you back £8-10.
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