IN THE BEGINNING…
One man was instrumental in Aldershot forming a football club in 1926, Mr Jack White. White was a sports journalist working on national newspapers, upon moving to the area he starting discussing the forming of a club in the town with local businessmen. Little progress was made during a period of at least two years until he met with Aldershot Town Clark Mr Llewellyn-Griffiths, the two men together with local businessman and Chairman of the Hampshire F.A Mr Norman Clinton got to work. Progress now became swift and the Aldershot Football Club was formed in December 1926 in the Council Chamber. The next steps were quickly made a board of directors and limited company formed with initial capital of £2,000 in five shilling shares, and an application to join the Southern League (Eastern) section was accepted. The clubs home ground was to be the Council owned Recreation Ground in Aldershot High Street, where Aldershot Town F.C (1992) still play today.
Grays Thurrock were the first Southern League opponents on August 27th 1927, a crowd of some 3,500 filled the “Rec” and went home happy as the “Shots” won 4-0, takings amounted to £154 and after expenses a profit of £75 was made. Progress during the clubs first season was excellent eventually finishing in 7th place, and averaging an attendance of 2,500. Top goal scorer was Albert “Sonny” Walters with 36 league goals in 23 league games (including six hat-tricks), a superb tally particularly as he only joined the club in December from Portsmouth. Sadly he was transferred to League side Luton Town in the close season. An excellent F.A Cup run was also achieved preliminary qualifying match victories were achieved against Guildford Amateurs, Addlestone, Guildford City, Thornycrofts Athletic and Kingstonians.
The prize for making it to the first round proper was a home tie against Queens Park Rangers then of the Football League Third Division (South), over 7,500 packed the “Rec” however the game was abandoned due to fog with the visitors one second half goal to the good. The midweek replay saw the Shots take their first league scalp by two goals to one thanks to strikes from Hugh Collins and Jimmy Martin. The second round draw took Aldershot to fellow Southern League (Eastern) side Peterborough and a 2-1 defeat.
The 1928-9 season again saw the Shots make good progress in the Southern League (East) ending in 6th position, however the F.A Cup proved a disappointment losing a qualifying round tie at home to Guildford City 1-0. Another prolific scorer was found in “Sonny” Horton managing 27 league goals in one fewer appearances. Work was also started on the South Stand, still in use today. Although the board stated in the club programme and press that the gates were disappointing and would not sustain League football, surprisingly only 913 were present when the Shots visited eventual champions Kettering Town and came away with a 4-0 win. An application to join the Football League was made, however only five votes were gained.
The 1929-0 season began with a home match against Norwich City Reserves and the opening of the South Stand, a good attendance of 3,522 witnessed a 2-1 victory . This was to be a sparkling campaign seeing the Shots crowned champions finishing three points ahead of Millwall Reserves, once again Sonny Horton was the danger man scoring 31 league goals in only 21 games before joining Millwall for £1,000 in January. Only five games were lost and 84 goals scored including four goals or more in 12 games, with Horton bagging four in a 7-1 rout of Northampton Town Reserves. The FA Cup also saw goals flying in with the Shots overcoming Kingstonians by 11-1 in appalling conditions of torrential rain and even snow!, not surprisingly only a little over 1,400 were there to see it. The first round proper took the Shots to Northampton Town and a narrow 1-0 loss ended interest in the competition for another year. Despite winning the title and the Horton transfer the club still made a loss of over £700.
Aldershot’s first Football League season ended with a 17th place in the Third Division South and a year later they improved slightly to finish 14th. They failed to make much of an impact in the league until they finished 11th in 1935–36, but in 1936–37 they finished bottom of the league and had to apply for re-election in order to avoid slipping back into the Southern League. Good progress over the next two seasons saw them climb to 10th in the league in the 1939 final table. Their 18th-place finish in 1958 meant that they would play in the new Football League Fourth Division in the 1958–59 season, following a restructuring of the Football League which saw an end to the regionalised two sections of the Third Division. Aldershot F.C. were among the founder members of the Fourth Division in the 1958–59 season.
An FA Cup match against Carlisle United on 28 January 1970 saw Aldershot’s record attendance of 19,138. They finished 22nd in the first season of the Fourth Division and once again had to apply for re-election. Promotion to the Third Division was finally achieved in 1973, their first promotion in 41 years of league football. They went up in fourth place after finishing ahead of Newport County on goal average.
1973–74 brought Aldershot’s highest-ever finish as they came eighth in the Third Division. This gave hope that Aldershot could soon be playing Second Division football – this was all the more anticipated as the mid to late 1970s saw several big clubs – including Manchester United, Tottenham Hotpsur, Nottingham Forest, Chelsea and Newcastle United – playing at least one season in the second tier. However, it was not to be, as Aldershot finished 20th in the Third Division in 1975 and only avoided relegation on goal average. They were relegated by a single point the following year.
Two years after relegation, Aldershot almost returned to the Third Division in 1978, but were pipped to promotion by Brentford. More significantly, they were also pipped to promotion by Watford and Swansea City, who were both playing top-division football within the next five years. A similar disappointment followed a year later, as they were pipped to promotion by a single place – this time by a Wimbledon side who were First Division members and FA Cup winners less than a decade later. On the plus side, Aldershot finished above two much more illustrious clubs – Portsmouth and Huddersfield Town – who were both former winners of the league title and FA Cup.
In 1981, Aldershot suffered their third promotion disappointment in four seasons as they finished sixth – once again being beaten to a place in the top four by Wimbledon. In the 1981–82, Aldershot struggled badly and finished 16th. It was the first season of the Football League’s “3 points for a win” system, and they finished just eight points outside the “re-election zone”. They continued to struggle in the Fourth Division, until the appointment of new manager Len Walker in June 1985. However, 1983–84 had brought a brief respite, as Aldershot finished fifth, before another setback saw them finish 13th.
In 1984–85, Aldershot took a young striker at the time on loan from Millwall – Teddy Sheringham, the future England international player. Millwall manager George Graham had been willing to sell Sheringham to Aldershot on a permanent basis, but they could not raise the £5,000 fee.
The arrival of Len Walker as manager in June 1985 sparked a brief revival in Aldershot’s fortunes. Although they finished 16th in 1985–86 and re-election was a threat right up to the final few games of the season, they emerged as strong promotion contenders in the 1986–87 season, finishing sixth on 70 points and occupying the final playoff place in the division. It was the first season of the Football League play-offs, which in their first two seasons operated as a promotion/relegation decider between the First/Second, Second/Third and Third/Fourth divisions before a reorganisation saw them operate solely as promotion deciders. In the semi-finals, they condemned Third Division Bolton Wanderers (four times winners of the FA Cup, and First Division remembers as recently as 1980) to Fourth Division football for the first time in their history.
This gave them a place in the final, against another historic side – Wolverhampton Wanderers, three times league champions, four times FA Cup winners, and twice Football League Cup winners, who had only been relegated from the top flight in 1984. Aldershot gave Wolves one of the most humiliating defeats of their history by winning 3–0 on aggregate over two legs.
Aldershot were predicted to go straight back down to the Fourth Division in 1987–88, but managed to avoid automatic relegation by two places and three points, finishing one point and one place ahead of the relegation play-off place. However, a disastrous season in 1988–89 saw Aldershot go down in bottom place with just eight wins and 37 points all season placing them 17 points adrift of safety.
By this stage, a financial crisis was dawning upon the club as debts were mounting and as the 1989–90 season began, the task at Aldershot was to avoid being relegated or expelled from the Football League, rather than mounting a promotion challenge. Aldershot finished 22nd in the Fourth Division that season, and were in danger of a second successive relegation right up to the end of April. However, the financial crisis was worsening and it seemed highly doubtful that Aldershot would be able to start the 1990–91 season.
On 31 July 1990, Aldershot were wound up in the High Court as the Official Receiver condemned them as “hopelessly insolvent” with debts of £495,000. However, the winding-up order was lifted on 7 August 1990 when 19-year-old property developer Spencer Trethewy paid £200,000 to save the club and allow them to start the new Fourth Division campaign. It soon emerged that Trethewy did not have the funds to keep the club running, and he was dismissed from the board on 1 November 1990. Trethewy’s shady dealings finally caught up with him in 1994 when he was convicted of fraud and received a two-year prison sentence.
Aldershot’s problems continued as they finished the 1990–91 season second from bottom in the league. They had taken in three new players near the end of the season in the form of Roger Davis, Dion Smith and Steve Batler. These changes came too late in the season to save the Shots from another low finish. There was no relegation this season due to an expansion in the league’s size to 93 clubs from the previous total of 92.
There was a brief respite for the club on 5 January 1991, when it held West Ham United to a surprise goalless draw in the FA Cup third round at Upton Park. The Hammers won the replay 6–1 and went on to reach the semi-finals, also winning promotion to the First Division that season. Len Walker had stepped up to the role of general manager in March 1991, with Brian Talbot taking over as player-manager.
However, Aldershot’s debts were mounting and although they were able to begin the 1991–92 Fourth Division campaign, as the season wore on it looked more and more likely that the club would go under. As well as that, the problems were showing on the field as Aldershot struggled near the foot of the league. Manager Brian Talbot resigned in November 1991 to be succeeded by Ian McDonald.
On 25 March 1992 Aldershot F.C. finally went out of business and were obliged to resign from the Football League. The final game played was a 2–0 defeat against Cardiff City at Ninian Park on 20 March. The last home game was a 3–0 defeat to Lincoln City, also in the league, on 14 March. Aldershot’s final eight competitive games all ended in defeat and they had not won any of their final 16 games; their last competitive win was on 28 December 1991 away to Maidstone United in the Fourth Division. Ironically, Maidstone also went out of business and had to leave the Football League just five months after Aldershot’s demise.
Aldershot’s league record for the 1991-92 season, which had seen them play 36 games, was expunged. In response to the bankruptcy a group of supporters set up a new club, Aldershot Town, which started in the Isthmian League Division Three, five levels below the division in which Aldershot F.C. had been playing. Aldershot Town were playing in League Two after being promoted on 15 April 2008, but their run came to an end after relegation to Conference Premier on 27 April 2013.