Witham Town FC
Origins & Early History
Witham has a history of football teams going back to the 1830’s when the first recorded match involving a side representing the town was played at Lanham Green near Cressing. This was before the ‘modern’ game was
codified in England in 1863 following the formation of The Football Association, whose ‘Laws of the Game’ created the foundations for the way the football is played today. The first formation of a Witham side, post-FA creation, was in 1876 when Mr.H.Green, Mr.W.Rust, Mr.F.Bridge and Mr.E.Turner sought permission from a farmer to play football in a field next to the River Brain in the town, close to Saul’s Bridge. This site was Witham FC’s home for a few seasons with play later being transferred to The Park, a pitch nearby, which was shared with the town’s Cricket Club. The 1885-86 season saw the very first Witham player appear for the County side with that honour going to R.H.Stevens. After some years, however, the cricket side objected to the damage being done to the surface of the pitch, so another move was made, in 1894, to ‘The Grove’. The Grove itself was a large private house that was built in the late 1600’s, which was eventually demolished in 1932. The pitch, noted as one of the best in the county, was located to the rear of the property not far from the old Witham to Maldon Railway line,
which roughly corresponds with today’s Mayland Road and Abercorn Way. Mr.P.E.Laurence, a local sports enthusiast and President of the club at that time, owned this field. The entrance to the ground was via Chess Lane, which is now a short cut to an industrial estate. The occupants of the cottages there on ‘Finals’ days reaped a bonanza from the two pennies charged for bicycles left in their care. Witham’s first recorded appearance in a final, that of the very first Essex Junior Cup, came in 1893-94 when they lost 4-1 to Matlock Swifts (today’s Leyton FC). During this time the team enjoyed the reputation of being one of the strongest junior sides in the country and built up a large following. They were known in those days as the ‘Red Herrings’ because of their all red kit. Two days after the Great War broke out in 1914 (28th July) the entire team under the guidance of Reginald Brown went to Warley Barracks near Brentwood to enlist in the 5th Battalion of the Essex Regiment.
Between The Wars
Witham FC re-formed in July 1919 after a meeting held at the Spread Eagle Hotel in the town centre. Again, the side played in red shirts, and, i
n one season, Witham won 24 matches and only lost once. Postman Mr. Fred Perry used to pay Albert ‘Summer’ Bickmore one shilling for each goal he scored. Bickmore recalled with pleasure the day he scored five. The re-formed club, which changed its name to Witham Town FC in 1921, won the Braintree & District League Championship in 1920-21, appeared in the Divisional Final of the Essex Junior Cup, won the Braintree & District league again in 1924-25 and secured the Essex Division 2 Shield in 1925-26. During these years the popularity of football seemed to have grown in the town with a Crittal’s Athletic team also forming. Crittalls Windows Works, which opened in 1919, was one of the largest employers in the town and the site of the old factory is now occupied by Morrison’s supermarket. For a small town like Witham this was perhaps too much for both these clubs to thrive, and, with waning support largely due to the increasing prominence of the Crittall’s team, after less than a decade the re-formed Witham Town disbanded. However, local opinion must have been in favour of a true ‘town’ team, as after a meeting with the Spread Eagle again forming the backdrop, Witham Town FC re-formed again in July 1933. At this meeting, held by Mr.C.Ingram (who was elected club Chairman), Mr.S.Slinger and Mr.S.Howell (who was chosen to be Hon. Secretary) the decision was made to join two competitions, The North Essex League and the Kelvedon & District Junior League with club colours being red shirts and white shorts. In 1934-35 Witham reached the final of the Tolleshunt D’arcy Cup, losing to Tiptree United 4-2, and the following season they became Division 3 Champions of the North Essex League. That same year the club gained the use of the football pitch at Rickstones Road Recreation Ground. Unfortunately, as the clouds of war slowly gathered, and with falling support once more, in 1938 Witham Town folded.
A New Beginning
In 1948 the Witham Town FC of today re-formed thanks to the efforts of a small band of stalwarts who met in an old British Legion hut under the Chairmanship of Mr.Sid Rice who was the driving force behind the club re-forming. Although the pitch was only a cow pasture with a barn as changing rooms, these basic conditions did not seem to affect the team though as in their first season back playing they became champions of the Chelmsford and Mid Essex League Division 2, winners of the Tiptree Charity Cup and the Tolleshunt D’arcy Cup courtesy of a 1-0 win over Feering. During the following season the club moved to the Crittall Windows works ground at The Park in the centre of the town and they also became founder members of the Mid-Essex League Premier Division. Their first game at The Park was a friendly v Ipswich Town which the Suffolk side won 7-0. That year the Premier Division Cup was won. After two more seasons in the CMEL, a dispute with the League over a cup match played in blizzard like conditions, saw Witham Town switch to the South Essex League where they spent seven seasons winning the Championship in 1955-56. A supporters club was then formed and in 1958 the decision was made to join the Essex and Suffolk Border League and thus step up to an intermediate level of football, which came about in 1959.
Gaining Senior Status
During the 1964-65 season Witham won the Essex & Suffolk Border League Championship and they decided to seek new playing facilities suitable for senior football. The following season, 65-66, they won the E&SB League Cup after beating Whitton United 3-0 and were runners up in the E&SBL in 66-67. 1967-68 saw Witham just miss out on their second League Cup honour when they lost 3-2 to close rivals Tiptree United in the final. In 1970, the club was finally offered its present ground at Spa Road, although the move did not happen until after the end of the 1974-75 season due to the allocated plot being under cultivation. The last game at The Park ground was a 1-0 win against Basildon United on the 19th April 1975. In the meantime, Witham Town again won the Essex & Suffolk Border League (in 1970-71), and were invited to become founder members of the Essex Senior League and were the inaugural Champions in 1971-72, pipping Billericay Town to the title by just one point. Witham went on to spend more than 15 seasons in this league, usually finishing in the top half of the table. In 1981 Witham won the Essex Senior League Cup by defeating Sawbridgworth Town 4-2 at Chelmsford City’s New Writtle Street ground. The mid 1980’s provided several top 3 finishes including runners-up in 1984-85 and 1986-87, with the Championship being won for the second time in 1985-86. March 1985 saw the Spa Road grounds’ new floodlights ‘officially’ switched on in a friendly versus Colchester United. 1986 saw more success as Witham won the Essex Senior Trophy, defeating local rivals Heybridge Swifts 3-2, after extra time. During the following 1986-87 season Town enjoyed their best run in the FA Vase when they reached the last 16 (the 5th round), before losing 2-1 at home to Falmouth, and they also secured the Harry Fisher Memorial Trophy (the predecessor to the Gordon Brasted) after beating Sawbridgeworth Town in the final. This good run of form in league and cup competitions again led the club to seek a higher level of football to play at. They applied to join the Isthmian League and this was accepted in 1987.
The Isthmian Years
Their first match in the Isthmian League (Division 2 North) in 1987-88 saw Witham win 6-0 at Ware which ended with the club finishing in 7th place. During this time, former Southend United manager Steve Tilson started his career with the club before moving on to the Shrimpers as a player. The end of the 1990-91 season would see the two Isthmian Division 2’s (North and South) ‘de-regionalise’, therefore making a top half finish imperative if Witham were to retain their Division 2 status and avoid the drop into what would be the next seasons new Division 3. A good finish saw Witham end up in 6th place, thereby ensuring their position in the restructured division and the club also made a semi-final appearance in the Loctite Associate Members Trophy. In 1993-94 Witham had their highest ever league finish, 5th in the Isthmian League Division 2. Back in the mid-90’s there was no 2nd tier to the Conference so this was their best finish at what was then Step 4. Unfortunately, this could not be built upon and Town were relegated at the end of the 1999-2000 season to Division 3 after 13 years in Div 2. However, during the previous season, 1998-99, Witham saw their best run in the FA Cup, to the 3rd Qualifying Round, before losing out to Havant & Waterlooville in a replay. The next few years saw further restructuring of the Isthmian League culminating in a runners-up spot in Division 2 (formerly Div 3) at the end of 2005-06 as Witham took their place the newly formed step 4 Division 1 North. A goal difference of just +1 separated Witham from Brook House and 3rd place. In 2007-08 they achieved their best run in the F.A.Trophy, making it to the 3rd Qualifying Round. After beating Chatham Town away 3-0 Spa Road saw a giant killing over Horsham who at that time were leaders of the Ryman Premier Division. Town crashed out in the next round though after losing at Hayes & Yeading. During 2008, one of Town’s rising stars, top scorer Cody McDonald, moved on to Maldon Town and then Dartford, before being bought by the then Championship side Norwich City. This move to the Canaries makes Cody our highest profile ex-player.
A Return to the ESL
At the end of the torrid 2008-09 season Witham Town finished 21st out of 22 teams consigning them to relegation to the Essex Senior League. Despite the obvious disappointment at being relegated the club had the chance to start afresh in the same league where their senior aspirations were initiated back in 1971. Off the field, former player Olly Murs became the TV show X Factor’s runner up in December 2009. As the 2009-10 season drew to a close, and on the back of eight straight wins, Witham earned the necessary point on the last game of the season at Barkingside in a tense 2-2 draw that guaranteed runners-up position just ahead of Burnham Ramblers. Unfortunately, this was not enough for Town to regain their spot in the Ryman League. Last season, for the last 4 games, new manager Garry Kimble took over the reins as the club finished third.
The WTFC emblem of a phoenix justly represents the forming and reforming over the last century of the club by dedicated supporters and personnel that has ensured the continuation of senior football representation in Witham over the decades.
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