Thomas H. Coleman sat down in his home in Littleton Villa, Brook Street, Tredworth and wrote a letter to the Editor of The Citizen on Saturday 27th January 1883 wondering why there was no football club playing under Association Rules in the City of Gloucester. As a result of the letter, thirty-seven days later the club was officially formed on March 5th 1883 as Gloucester Association Football Club and Thomas H. Coleman became the club’s first ever captain in the inaugural season of 1883-84. Although formed on March 5th 1883, Gloucester AFC did not play their first game until 9th February 1884 when a match was advertised as the first in the city under Association Rules to be played at Budding’s Field against Warmley losing 1-3. Unfortunately, the first venture was to last only three seasons and folded in 1886.
A group of players keen to have a major team in Gloucester played eight fixtures in 1888-89 under the leadership of Algernon S. King and called themselves initially ‘A.S. King’s XI’. After two games they were known as ‘Gloucester Nomads’ due to the lack of a home venue. It was these players who passed the baton on to two enthusiasts of the game who re-formed the club in September 1889 as Gloucester AFC they being the Reverend Henry Lloyd Brereton, Headmaster of the new County School in Hempsted and Charles Poole, Assistant Headmaster at the Crypt Grammar School. Gloucester’s first competitive game was on Saturday 26 October 1889 in the 1st Round of the Gloucestershire FA Junior Challenge Cup beating Clifton Association Reserves 10-0 at Budding’s Field.
The club became members of the Bristol and District League, which subsequently became the Western League. The recommendation that led to the idea of establishing the Bristol and District League was on the suggestion of Gloucester AFC player and future Gloucester and England Rugby Union international player, Percy Stout. Although Gloucester AFC did not participate in the inaugural season of 1892-93, Percy was a member of the Gloucester team that played in that historic first league match the following season away to Bedminster on Saturday 30 September 1893 losing 2-3. During this era the club was noted as ‘The Gloucestrians’ and ‘The Citizens’ in local media. In 1897 Gloucester AFC entered the Gloucester and District League.
The first time ‘City’ was officially added to the Gloucester title was in 1902, although the first mention in The Citizen of the team being called Gloucester City was when the team was printed on Friday 16 November 1900.
In 1906 the club amalgamated with the Hempsted team of St. Michael’s prior to the start of season 1906-07 and entered the North Gloucestershire League in 1907. The club disbanded in September 1910 but coincidentally, the Gloucester YMCA was formed at the same time and many of the players who had been with City joined Gloucester YMCA. The YMCA club continued in the lesser Gloucester and District Thursday League until 1913 when it was decided to enter a team in the North Gloucestershire League. Based on the criteria of a continuous link on a seasonal basis the current club could claim they were formed in 1910. However, the link with all clubs going back to the 1883 formation is irrefutable.
By 1925 they had assumed the name of Gloucester City once more and become founder members of the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League. In 1934-35, after winning both the Cup and League, City turned semi-professional, joined the Birmingham Combination and moved to a new stadium in Longlevens in which the club stayed for the next 26 years. They won the Tillotson Cup for being the best club in the Combination, and then had former Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Reg Weaver blow away all records with his stunning tally of 67 goals in the 1937-38 season.
Southern League entry and Cup success
In 1939 the club played in the Southern Football League for the very first time, albeit in a restricted wartime competition as they took part in the west section.
After the war City rejoined the Southern League and went on to become the League’s Longest serving members. For three consecutive seasons, 1948–51, the club reached the First Round Proper of the FA Cup, each time losing to League opponents: Mansfield Town (1-4 away), Norwich City (2-3 home) and Bristol City (0-4 away). The attendance record was set at Longlevens in 1952 when Stan Myers scored both goals to beat a Tottenham Hotspur side 2-1 in front of 10,500 spectators, a side which included the superstars of the day such as Alf Ramsey, Ted Ditchburn, Charlie Withers and Les Medley.
In the early years the competition was fierce and it was no surprise that it took until the 1955-56 season for Gloucester to taste success. A famous Southern League Cup final win against Yeovil Town in which City had lost the first leg 4-1, only to beat Yeovil 5-1 in the second leg to win their first Southern League honour.
Horton Road Stadium era
In 1964 the club moved grounds again, from Longlevens to the massive Horton Road stadium, closer to the centre of Gloucester, which could possibly held over 30,000 people if full. Although Gloucester City were promoted to the Southern Football League Premier Division in the 1968-69 season, it was generally a barren spell in the club’s history.
In the 1981-82 season a sixth place finish was enough to clinch a place in the reformed Premier Division. They were also runners-up in the League Cup, going down 1-2 to Wealdstone, who included future England captain Stuart Pearce in their ranks. Despite Kim Kasey scoring 40 goals, the club were relegated to the Midland Division in 1984-85, after 3 seasons in the Premier Division. It is generally seen as one of the lowest moments in the club’s history.
In 1986 the club moved grounds again, this time to the Hempsted area and Meadow Park. The Horton Road ground became a housing estate which now boasts the names of City legends: (Stan) Myers Road, (Dicky) Etheridge Place and (Ron) Coltman Close amongst others.
In 1988 chairman Geoff Hester wanted to appoint a new manager and after an exhaustive search found his man: former Aston Villa and Wales player Brian Godfrey. The new manager went about trying to assemble a squad capable of fighting their way out of the Midland Division. Players such as Lance Morrison, Steve Talboys, Wayne Noble and Brian Hughes were among those who walked to the Championship, but the most important signing came just before Christmas when Chris Townsend joined from Cheltenham Town.
Despite being a very competitive league and although a look at the final table would suggest that City strolled to the title, it was actually the penultimate game of the season at King’s Lynn’s The Walks Stadium that saw them crowned Champions.
The next big achievement of the Godfrey years was the famous FA Cup run to Cardiff City. Mangotsfield United (4-0), Barry Town (2-2, 2-0), Folkestone (1-0) and Dorchester Town (1-0) all came and went before City suffered heartbreak in the replay after being 2-0 up at Ninian Park with just five minutes to go. The club was beaten 1-0 in the replay at Meadow Park.
In the winter of 1990, Gloucester saw its worst snow in many years and when the thaw came the River Severn overwhelmed all the local flood plains. The knock-on effect of the flood saw incredible scenes at Meadow Park as the pitch was submerged under four feet of water, and the whole ground was out of commission for over a month. The first game back at Meadow Park, however, saw City defeat Gosport Borough 9-0.
Promotion heartbreak and debt
The 1990-91 season was one of the most exciting ever seen at the club. It all started when Geoff Hester stepped down as Chairman and was replaced by Les Alderman, a Bath based businessman. Godfrey had held on to most of his squad from the previous season, and had been able to add several quality players to it.
Jeff Sherwood (£15,000 from Yeovil Town), Derek Dawkins, Keith Knight (£7,000 from Reading), Jason Eaton (£10,000 from Bristol City), and Steve Fergusson and Brendan Hackett (£25,000 from Worcester City) were just some of the signings that bolstered the squad.
Due to the previous season’s Cup exploits City had been made exempt until the fourth qualifying round where they faced Farnborough Town away and lost heavily 1-4. Little did they know then what an important part Farnborough would play in the season.
As the season climaxed, the Tuesday before the end of the season Gloucester City had needed to beat VS Rugby at home to go top of the table, but could only manage a 2-2 draw, so it was all on the last day of the season at the Victoria Ground, the home of Bromsgrove Rovers. Farnborough headed up to Atherstone needing to win, and went 0-1 down in the first half to the delight of the thousand travelling City fans.
Just when the City game looked as though it might end in stalemate, substitute John Freegard got his head to Jeff Sherwood’s long free kick and minutes later the Tigers had won. In the meantime Farnborough had scored, but it wasn’t enough. City fans were on the pitch celebrating the Championship and promotion to the Conference, but all they had heard were premature radio reports from Atherstone; Farnborough had actually scored a winner three minutes before the end of the game and they were promoted instead of Gloucester City.
Into the 1991-92 season, one that promised to start where the previous one had left off, and the bombshell hit City that Les Alderman had left the club. The squad was ripped apart: major players were released for derisory sums, some went unpaid and took the club to the FA, and forced a transfer embargo. Brian Godfrey was sacked and replaced by his assistant Steve Millard. Millard only lasted three months in what was a disastrous spell. In February Godfrey was re-appointed to the hot seat and started to turn things around again. The club survived the next few seasons under the guidance of Chairman George Irvine. The club had crippling debts and were about to fold when former Moreton Town owner Keith Gardner stepped in.
The glory years and FA Trophy run
Gardner appointed former Cheltenham Town and Trowbridge Town boss John Murphy as the club entered the most exciting period in their history. Gardner turned the whole ‘Meadow Park’ area into a footballing centre, and he had a great idea to develop the ground into an all-seater stadium and add a leisure centre, ice rink and all weather pitch.
His ambitions were matched on the field too, after seeing the club get by with local players, talent was brought in from further afield and the Tigers became a force to be reckoned with. Dave Porter only played a handful of games but will be remembered for the part he played in the 1-0 victory over rivals Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road in 1994.
However it soon became apparent that Murphy didn’t have what it took to turn a good side into Champions and was sacked in March 1996. Former West Ham United and Bristol City striker Leroy Rosenior took over and had to virtually rebuild the team from scratch after most of the players walked out in the wake of Murphy’s dismissal.
The cup run proved to be a thorn in the side for City as they had to play three games a week to claw back games in hand and eventually lost out to Cheltenham Town in the race for second spot (after Champions Gresley Rovers had been denied promotion due to the state of their ground).
City struggled to keep their heads above water and the club’s weekly playing budget was slashed. Considering that the club had seen just four different managers in the 1990s, the turn of the century saw another three come and go. First Brian Hughes tried his luck in a move that was very popular among the majority of the supporters. He didn’t last as the playing budget was cut and this proved to be the catalyst that saw the club relegated.
Then Tommy Callinan took over in a player-manager role, and left at the end of the 2000-01 season. The third to try his hand was Chris Burns, who remained manager until January 2006. He was tempted back to Meadow Park from Forest Green Rovers and brought with him a largely untried bunch of young players to fit in with the very limited wage structure.
It took the side a while to find its feet, and they had some real setbacks too (namely the 1-7 home defeat at the hands of Bedworth United), but gradually began to look the part.
As the management bandwagon rolled on, just before Christmas 2000 Meadow Park was struck another hammer blow when the River Severn burst its banks for the second time in a decade. This time the flood water did more damage than before because it reached just under seven feet high, and also managed to get inside the changing rooms ruining whatever stood in its way.
The club was unable to hold matches at the ground for more than six weeks as the environmental health inspector ruled that due to the filthy content of the water, Meadow Park wasn’t fit for public population. The lack of revenue for the club almost saw it go under and it meant that due to non-payment of players several walked out on the club. This was added to a contract dispute with ex-squad-members, and meant that the club couldn’t offer contracts to players.
However, in November 2001 ex-director Colin Gardner returned to the club to take over the chairmanship. Working hand in hand with the Supporters’ Club, together they settled with ex-players and lifted the contract restraints imposed by the FA. On the pitch things were looking up with new manager Chris Burns moulding his former City youth team into a force to be reckoned with. A mid table finish surprised many, especially those that had suggested that City would finish in the bottom two.
The Burns era
If ever the feeling that the club was bouncing back, then the 2002-03 season proved it. Off the field, a deal was struck between the club and Eamonn McGurk, where the latter bought the ground and took on the majority of the clubs debts. Financially, the club made a trading profit for the first time and were within reach of wiping out all of the historical debts.
To add to the upturn, on the field Burns’ young team upset a lot of the more fancied challengers, brought on some of the younger players and reached the quarter finals of the FA Trophy. The run included memorable victories away at league leaders Merthyr Tydfil, then two wins at Conference sides Woking and Southport. Aylesbury United of the Isthmian League proved to be too big of a challenge, however, and City bowed out. In the league, a fifth placed finish was a remarkable achievement.
The 2003-04 season saw further progress with the Tigers finishing second in the Western Division and gaining promotion to the Premier Division. At the end of the season, Colin Gardner stepped down as the highly respected chairman, and Ken Turner took over in an acting capacity. Chris Burns resigned as manager in January 2006, Neil Mustoe took over as caretaker-manager until the permanent appointment of Tim Harris from Merthyr Tydfil was made.
Flooding, promotion and exile
In July 2007, Gloucester City’s home, Meadow Park, was affected by the Gloucestershire flooding that engulfed the county. The club was hit with almost 8 feet of water, almost submerging the crossbar. This astonishing picture, featured in The Sun, Sky News and the BBC shot the club to national attention both in the media and football supporters across the Country. This caused many of the club’s supporters to start a donation fund to help the club. In the first game after the flooding occurred, Western League side Frome Town donated £300 to the fund. The club’s home friendly against Bath City was changed to Bath’s Twerton Park with all gate receipts going to the fund.
The club’s first season of exile was at Forest Green Rovers New Lawn Stadium, despite the loss of a stadium and revenue stream the club finished a creditable 6th in the league, just outside the Playoffs.
The club’s second season of exile at Cirencester Town proved to be one of the greatest in the history of the club. The club finished 3rd in the Southern Premier League thus qualifying for the Playoffs. In the Southern League Playoff semi-final Cambridge City were beaten 3-1 at the Corinium Stadium. They went on to play Farnborough in the final at Cherrywood Road and won 1-0 with Matt Rose scoring the crucial goal, ending a 70 year continuous association with the Southern Football League, and gaining promotion to Conference Football for the first time. A quite remarkable achievement considering the club’s predicament.
In a controversial decision, the F.A. placed Gloucester City in the Conference North for the 2009-10 season. The reason given was that Worcester City, despite being considerably further north than both Gloucester and Cirencester, was given a guarantee after being moved to the Conference South the previous year against its will that it would not be moved back to the North for three seasons without its consent. Worcester City refused to consent to an early move back to the North, thus forcing Gloucester to take their place. The club finished 18th in its maiden Conference North season.
Near the end of the club’s maiden Conference North season, new F.A. ground regulations meant that Cirencester Town’s Corinium Stadium would not be suitable for use in the following season meaning if the club failed to find a suitable new home, it would be forcibly relegated.
It was announced in March 2010 that the club would be groundsharing with major rivals Cheltenham Town for the forthcoming two seasons. Gloucester City Council provided £20,000 towards helping this agreement, heralding a new era in co-operation between the club and the council, and with Cheltenham Town.
On November 21st, 2010 against Chelmsford City, Midfielder Tom Webb became the club’s all time appearance holder, beating Stan Myers who had broken the record 50 years previously.