CHIPPENHAM TOWN FOOTBALL CLUB: 1873 – 2022
After building a firm foundation for the modern game during the 1980s with many capital projects, the present structure was formed in 1996. A historic cup run saw the club appear in the last FA Vase game at the old Wembley Stadium in May 2000 and although the Bluebirds failed to lift the trophy in front of over 20,000 supporters, this acted as a springboard for both on and off field growth.
There were back-to-back promotions from the Western League into the Southern League and then the Southern League Premier Division. Progress faltered slightly in 2003/2004 when the Bluebirds failed to gain promotion to the new Conference South following reorganisation of Grass Roots football. This together with a general change in leadership at the club both on and off the pitch meant that for a while consolidation was the name of the game. The following season, however, things settled down and the team topped the Premier Division almost all year. Gates reflected this success with an average attendance of 634 and a spectacular local derby game against Bath City attracted over 1,600 people. The final play-off at Hardenhuish Park saw almost 2,000 people watch the Bluebirds narrowly miss promotion by the odd goal.
Season 2005/2006 saw a change of managers and almost a new team but despite this the Club had an unprecedented season reaching the first-round proper of the FA Cup for the first time since 1951. Although the replay with Worcester City was lost and a chance to entertain Huddersfield at home in the second round with TV rights guaranteed, the Bluebirds still attracted a capacity crowd of over 2,800 most of whom were home supporters. Once again, the side was in the top five of the League all year and only denied promotion to the Conference South by a last-minute goal in the play-off final.
Although the Club encountered a few hurdles in the 2006/2007 season, the next saw a very young side again reach the play-offs only to lose once more by the odd goal this time to Halesowen after the original tie was abandoned due to the wet conditions with the Bluebirds leading 3-2. In season 2009-2010, a superb end of season run (including a final day victory over champions Farnborough) saw the Bluebirds finish third. A 2-0 play off semi-final victory over Hednesford Town saw yet another final play-off, this time at Nuneaton. The Bluebirds took a 1-0 lead but the hosts equalised from a wrongly awarded corner. Extra time saw Nuneaton grab a 2-1 victory in front of over 3,000 fans. Thus, Chippenham Town had reached the play-offs four times in six seasons but had yet to win promotion to the then Conference South. In 2010-2011, the Bluebirds finished seventh whilst in 2011-2012, a disappointing eleventh place was achieved.
The start of the 2012-2013 season saw exciting changes at Hardenhuish Park with the formation of feeder club Chippenham Park along with a youthful Park reserve side. Manager of the previous six seasons, Adie Mings, became Director of Football and Nathan Rudge was appointed player-manager along with his assistant Richard Fey. Mings left his position before Christmas to take up a scouting role with Chelsea FC. On the field, the team had a mixed season. A late goal at Gloucester City saw them miss out on a possible first round FA Cup tie with Leyton Orient whilst a 17-match winless run threatened relegation until six victories in their last seven matches saw the Bluebirds finish nine points above the relegation area and in fifteenth place. The season was also notable for goalkeeper Conor Thompson moving to Torquay United and Tyrone Mings being snapped up by Ipswich Town.
The 2013-14 season began disappointingly with manager, Nathan Rudge, resigning after defeats in the first two games. Steve Winter took charge. However, as results did not improve, the Board decided to seek a new manager and, in November 2013, appointed Mark Collier with Tom Jones as his assistant. From then on, the team settled down with Mark making various changes but, after such a very difficult start, it was hard to pick up desperately needed points and the Bluebirds always hovered just above the relegation zone. Matters were made even worse when Rob Dean suffered a horrific knee injury at Hungerford Town towards the end of the season. Thankfully, the Club managed to retain its place in the Premier Division.
Season 2014-15 saw further rebuilding of the Bluebirds’ squad and, later in the season, the return of past Club favourite, Charlie Griffin, marking his third spell with the Club. A series of player injuries affected league position in the first half of the season but a better second half meant an eventual eleventh place finish, a considerable improvement on the previous two seasons when relegation threatened.
Season 2015-2016 saw another improvement with League Two side Newport County’s skipper Andy Sandell joining the Bluebirds in close season. Sandell went on to become the Southern Premier Division’s golden boot winner and was joined up front mid-season by the returning Alan Griffin. The Bluebirds recorded an early morale boosting victory at eventual champions Poole Town and their good form continued into the New Year heading the table. The Bluebirds also reached the fourth qualifying round of the FA cup where they went out 0-2 at home to Maidstone United who went on to win promotion from Conference South. However, a very poor March where they only picked up three points from six games saw them fade away to eighth place, albeit another improvement on the previous season. The 2016-2017 season saw most of the previous year’s squad retained and manager Mark Collier and his assistant Tom Jones spent a very busy close season adding some impressive additions with the aim of finishing in a play-off position. A superb run of twenty-three unbeaten games from November to Easter saw the Bluebirds crowned champions on Good Friday without kicking a ball as rivals Leamington failed to win at Biggleswade. The following day, Easter Saturday, saw 1146 fans celebrate promotion to National League (South) after sixteen seasons in the Southern League, fifteen in the Premier Division. Sandell was the Southern Premier Division’s golden boot winner for the second successive season.
Season 2017-2018, the first in the National League South, was about consolidation as the side adjusted to a markedly different pace and quality of football. Changes in the management team also ensued and having hovered around the lower positions for some weeks, a late run of form meant the Bluebirds finished their first season in a creditable thirteenth place. In the Wilts County FA Senior Cup, performances ensured an appearance in the final of the competition against Highworth Town.The game, played at the Swindon Town FC’s County Ground, saw the Bluebirds lift a second piece of silverware in successive seasons, courtesy of a 3-0 win.
Season 2018-2019 was the Bluebirds second season in the National League South with consolidation and avoiding ‘second season syndrome’ the main aim. Things were not helped with injuries or unavailability to eight key players, several of them long term but despite that we again finished thirteenth in the League with one more point than our inaugural season. The biggest disappointment occurred in the FA Cup. Having held National League side Maidenhead United to a 1-1 fourth qualifying round draw, we lost the replay in Berkshire 1-0 after seeing two goals harshly ruled out for offside and being reduced to ten players. Hence, we also missed out on a lucrative televised home tie against high flying Portsmouth in the First Round Proper.
The 2019/20 season saw our one hundredth season at the Thornbury Surfacing Ltd Stadium Hardenhuish Park, having first kicked off here on 20 September 1919 when we played Spencer Moulton, the game ending in a 2-2 draw with gate receipts of £10! Despite a good run to the First Round Proper in the 2019/20 Emirates FA Cup where a 3-0 home defeat against Northampton Town ended the Club’s interest, ongoing League performance was worrying with the Bluebirds hovering just above the relegation positions. It was decided a change of management was due and in early 2020, Mark Collier, who had managed the side for some six years, was replaced by Mike Cook and his team. This change injected a new impetus and after a shaky first couple of games under the new manager, the Bluebirds went on an unbeaten seven game run lifting them to twelfth place before the season prematurely ended on 16 March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the last game of the season turning out to be a creditable single goal home draw against the eventual National League South champions, Wealdstone. Final resolution of the league, on a points per game system, however, reduced the club to fourteenth slot.
Summer 2020 witnessed the Coronavirus pandemic’s grip tightening. Eventually, the season commenced in October albeit with games played behind closed doors and clubs having to develop Covid protocols governing the conduct of fixtures and the safe return of spectators. The situation eased sufficiently to allow restricted numbers of spectators to attend the Boxing Day home fixture with local rivals, Bath City, before a second Government lockdown meant behind closed door fixtures resumed. The ongoing financial impact caused by the absence of fans coupled with a cessation of Government grant funding at the end of 2020, meant that several National League member clubs, including Chippenham Town, found themselves increasingly financially unable to fulfil their 2021 fixtures. The Club was eventually charged under National League Rule 8.39 for failing to fulfil four fixtures and subsequently fined £8,000 with a suspended 8-point deduction carried over to season 2021/22 in the event of a similar breach. In the worsening financial climate, the National League asked member clubs to vote on the continuance of the season. The National Division continued whilst North and South Divisions were ultimately declared “null and void”. This declaration did not negate the Rule 8.39 sanctions which the Club took to a FA Appeal hearing but lost.
Season 2021/22 witnessed the return of a full league programme and culminated in the Club’s highest ever place, finishing seventh in the National League South and clinching the final play-off place in the last game of the season. But before that happened, a change of management with a handful of games to go saw the departure of Mike Cook and his assistants. Ex-Bluebird, Gary Horgan, was invited to take over as manager and Matt Coupe was subsequently appointed his assistant. A tough run-in lay ahead with the Bluebirds having to play virtually all the sides in the play-off positions. To secure their own play-off finals place, they needed to win at Havant & Waterlooville while the home team needed a minimum of a draw. A 0-2 victory for the Bluebirds saw them justifiably steal seventh place to earn an away play-off Eliminator at Dartford. On a Thursday evening, a tight game with no score at ninety minutes and still goalless after extra time, went to penalties which the Bluebirds eventually won 2-3. No respite, though, as three days later they were back to Kent for the play-off Semi Final at Ebbsfleet Utd. Another heroic performance saw the goals once again remain stubbornly absent at ninety minutes and another extra time loomed. This time, however, the lottery of the penalties was avoided as Ebbsfleet, in the first half of extra time, scored the only goal of the game to earn themselves a place in the play-off Final. So, a hugely successful season for the Bluebirds was over but this was one for which they could be justifiably proud.
CHIPPENHAM TOWN FC – COLOURS,
Home: Blue shirts, shorts, socks. Goalkeeper, green
Away: Burgundy shirts and shorts. Navy socks. Goalkeeper, orange.
Third: Grey shirts, shorts, socks. Goalkeeper, orange