I always wondered why Guildford were dubbed The Sweeney – so I’ve been doing some digging.
After visiting Poole Town on Tuesday and as a fan of non-league football and lower league grounds in particular, it’s disappointing to find that Guildford are so poorly supported. The gate for their recent home game against Badshot Lea was just 68 and while they have a forum attached to their official website, hardly anyone uses it, just two posts so far in October.
Guildford City play at The Spectrum stadium.
Just south of the ground is The Spectrum leisure complex with swimming and ice hockey.
GUILDFORD CITY FC HISTORY
The first club in the town was amateur side Guildford FC, formed in 1877, and known as the “Pinks”. They played home matches at the Woodbridge Road Sports Ground. A successful start led to a number of people mooting a new professional club and by the end of 1920 Guildford United was formed. In May 1921 they were accepted into the Southern League, the equivalent of the Conference League today. At the same time land had been purchased in Joseph’s Road and “United” were able to kick-off the 1921-22 season with a home game against Reading Reserves. Playing in green and white the hosts won 2-0 with a crowd of over 5,000 spectators.
1927 saw the coming of Guildford as a Diocese and with it the building of a Cathedral. It was believed that Guildford would become a city so the Club changed its name and the “City” was born. At this time they also changed the colours to red and white stripes.
Although they had little early success in the League, the FA Cup bought a taste of glory in 1928-29 when, having battled through the qualifying rounds, they beat Queens Park Rangers 4-2 in the First Round Proper in front of a crowd of nearly 8,000. In the next round they were at home to Bournemouth but a similar crowd saw the visitors romp home 5-1.
Despite excellent gates and the highest League finish to date the Club was facing a financial crisis at the end of the season – this was to be a recurrent theme throughout the Club’s history. At the start of the 1936/37 season the Club made the massive decision to turn full-time professional, appointing Haydn Green as manager. That season they finished 4th but next season things got even better.
1937/38 saw victory over Reading in the FA Cup but in the League they won 22 of their 34 games to finish as Champions for the first time. That feat was nearly repeated the following year, with City finishing runners-up to Colchester United by 1 point, scoring 126 goals in the process. Indeed the League game at home to Colchester on Easter Monday saw City win 3-1 in front of the highest crowd ever for a League game at Joseph’s Road 9,443. Earlier that season City had attracted an even bigger crowd to Joseph’s Road for an FA Cup 1st Round Replay against local rivals Aldershot. 9,932 saw City lose a nail-biting game 4-3.
This successful period was brought to a premature conclusion by the outbreak of the Second World War. The ground had been used by the Army during the War and it wasn’t until 1946/47 that City re-entered the Southern League – this time as a part-time club. They again finished runners-up, this time to Gillingham but there followed 3 seasons of mediocrity. In 1950/51 the team finished 3rd in the League and reached the final of the Southern League Cup for the first time, losing to Merthyr Tydfil despite winning the first leg.
The 1951/52 season saw the longest trip ever undertaken by the City when they were drawn away to Gateshead in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup. An estimated 5,000 supporters made the overnight trip to the North East of England in December (there were no motorways in those days, and no heaters on coaches either!). A 15,000 crowd saw City dominate the game but lose 2-0. In debt again, City sold Jimmy Langley to Leeds for £2,000 – who eventually joined Fulham and earned three England international caps.
Archie Macaulay was brought in as player-manager in 1953 and he started building a side that would win the title in 1955/56. However, he left before the end of the season leaving Bill Thompson to take over and lead the side to the championship. In 1958/59 the League expanded and was regionalised. City were in the South Eastern zone and could only finish 15th out of 17.
For 1959 the League was revised again, this time to a Premier and First Division. City’s miserable time the year before meant they started in the lower division. Albert Tennant, who had been a coach at Chelsea, took charge and he led City to promotion. After a season of consolidation, the next four seasons saw finishes of 3rd, 4th, 4th and 2nd: on the last occasion only 2 points behind champions Weymouth. In the 1962/63 season they also lifted the Southern League Cup for the first time, beating Nuneaton Borough 2-1 on aggregate over two legs.
Despite this success by the summer of 1965 it seemed that finance was again a major problem at the Club. A strict budget left the club short of players, resulting in a disappointing 16th place finish, although they did manage to reach the final of the Southern League Cup again. They went on better the next year, winning the Southern League Cup with a 2-1 aggregate success over Barnet.
1967/68 saw a notable FA Cup run. Drawn away to Brentford the City were leading 2-1 when the match was abandoned during the second half because of snow. A second trip to Griffin Park ended with a 2-2 draw and meant a replay at Joseph’s Road in front of 7,500 fans who roared City to a famous 2-1 victory. Goalkeeper Peter Vasper was sold to Norwich City for £5000 and it was thought that this money and the money from the Cup games might ease the Club’s financial problems but they were worse than many had realised. The following season saw the end of Albert Tennant’s nine year reign and the Club was relegated.
In 1969/70 Joseph’s Road was sold to signal the beginning of the end for the Club. The following year they reached the second round of the FA Cup but the inevitable was only being delayed and although in 1972/73 the Club again reached the first round of the FA Cup (a visit to Watford ended with a 4-2 defeat), they could only finish 18th in the League. Crowds of 4,000 were needed to break even but barely a quarter of that was achieved at most games.
1973/74 saw a new board of directors in place with Bill Bellerby elected President (recently elected as Patron of the new club) and Club stalwart Darby Watts as player manager. Despite the best efforts of Mr Bellerby and the long standing Chairman of the Supporters’ Club John Daborn, it was soon announced that the Club was to merge with Dorking and play at Meadowbank. The final game at Joseph’s Road was played on 12th February 1974 when the City beat Folkestone 2-0 in front of 625 fans. After 53 years senior football at Joseph’s Road had come to an end.
In 1996 Bill Bellerby, then Mayor of Guildford, enquired as to whether Burpham FC would be prepared to move to the Spectrum Leisure Centre and represent Guildford. Spectrum provided a venue which had the potential for development into senior football and already had floodlighting.
AFC Guildford played in the Surrey Premier League, which eventually became Division One of the Combined Counties League. In 2003/04 AFC Guildford were crowned champions of Division One and gained their first ever major honour.
Promotion was obtained into the Combined Counties Premier Division, ground-sharing with Cranleigh FC while Spectrum was upgraded to an acceptable standard. In early November 2004, AFC Guildford returned to their home ground near to the town centre.
In 2005 the club changed its name to Guildford United, but quickly acquired the name of Guildford City. The once famous name has returned to senior football after an absence of over 30 years.
2007/2008 brought a runner-up finish in the Combined Counties Premier League under Scott Steele and Lloyd Wye. Kevin Rayner, and his assistant Roly Martin, took charge in 2009. After escaping relegation and undergoing a season of improvement, 2011/12 saw the club’s furthest progress in the FA Cup and Vase to date, but better was to come when the side clinched the Combined Counties Premier Division trophy. The success was bitter sweet however, as the club’s promotion was controversially denied due to Spectrum failing a ground grading inspection. Rayner’s side cantered to the league title once again the following year and this time were not denied the promotion they deserved – taking their place in the Southern League Division One Central.
Rayner’s side cantered to the league title once again the following year and this time took their place in the Southern League Division One Central. Having guided City to a ninth place finish in the new club’s inaugural Southern League season, Kevin Rayner departed the club to manage Chipstead. Guildford City were switched to the Southern League Division One South & West for the 2013/14 season, with former Sandhurst Town and Cove manager Dean Thomas taking the helm.
At the end of October and with the team struggling Thomas resigned his post to be replaced once again by Kevin Rayner. Sadly relegation could not be averted and 2014-15 sees Guildford City once again lining up in the Combined Counties League.
After a poor start to the 2014-15 Combined Counties League season, Kevin Rayner departed in November to be replaced by local coaches Donovan Chislett and Phil Bowers. With the season looking bleak for the Sweeney Chislett decided to put his faith in youth and lead City to a remarkable ‘great escape’ from relegation. Twelve games into the 2015-16 season and City had only recorded 4 wins and so after 34 games at the helm Don Chislett decided to end his time with club.
Former Godalming & Farncombe manager Dean Thomas stepped into the managers shoes in September 2015 and made an instant impact with a 5-3 victory against Raynes Park Vale. Building a team for a competitive league took time for Thomas with many players coming and going but the core of the squad remained constant with striker Matt Anton scoring important goals that saw City finish a respectable 14th position. Thomas continued to build his squad for his second season with Steve Dormer coming in to be his assistant manager. Recruiting strikers Perry Coles and Matt Glass, along with midfielder Bobby Dormer saw City get off to a great start with wins in the league, FA Vase and FA Cup, the latter seeing us travel to Bognor Regis to play in front of a crowd of 396. In September Dean Thomas left the club and Steve Dormer took over the role of First Team manager till the end of the season. Dormer lead the club to 16th position in the league and took the club to the semi finals of the Surrey Senior Cup where we played Woking at the Spectrum in front of a record 545 spectators.
Former Merrow manager and Guildford City youth Chris Balchin took over as City manager in May 2017 and with his assistant manager Neil Grant, they look to build a successful team.