Football has always been popular amongst the people of Wivenhoe which has been reflected in the number of teams that have graced this riverside town over the years. Although not connected to the present day club records show the existence of a Wivenhoe Town Football Club in 1900, while other Wivenhoe sides to emerge were The Lillywhites, Wivenhoe Crown, The Volunteers, Wivenhoe Excelsiors, The Navy, Wivenhoe Athletic, Wivenhoe Juniors, Wivenhoe Victors, St.Mary’s, Wivenhoe Rovers, Wivenhoe Nomads and Colnebank F.C. Sadly all have long since disappeared (Colnebank being the last to disband in the summer of 1969) leaving just the current Wivenhoe Town F.C.
The club was originally formed in 1925 as Wivenhoe Rangers by Frank Slaughter and half a dozen students from Colchester Grammar School but did not enter competitive football until 1929 when they became members of the Brightlingsea & District League, finishing their inaugural season in 3rd place as well as reaching the Amos Charity Cup Final where they unfortunately went down 1-2 to Rowhedge United at the Garrison ‘A’ Ground. League Runners-Up in 1931-32, they gained their first honours the following season by winning the League Championship after going the entire 1932-33 campaign undefeated. In addition the club also reached the Final of the prestigious Stopes Cup where they lost 4-5 to the strong Black Watch team who were stationed at Colchester Garrison.
Rangers originally played on a pitch on Spion Kop for six years before moving onto Broomfield (or the “Broomy” as it was affectionately known) and actually had the chance to buy the land but, unfortunately, the deeds could not be found and the opportunity was lost. The deeds eventually turned up in the 1960’s when the land was needed for building !!.
Runners-Up in the League for two successive seasons (although managing to win some silverware in the shape of the Clacton Charity Cup in 1933-34 by defeating Clacton Rovers 4-2 and the Brightlingsea Charity Cup in 1934-35 with a 6-3 victory over Great Bentley) Rangers regained the League Title again in 1935-36, scoring 144 goals in just 22 games, and remained a force in local Junior Football throughout the Thirties, with their most successful season being the 1936-37 campaign. Boasting the most formidable forward line ever seen in the area (no less than five players scored 50 goals apiece as the side amassed a total of 280 goals from just 38 matches played), Rangers retained the Brightlingsea & District League Championship, won the League Knock-Out Cup and the Amos Charity Cup, defeating Tollesbury 8-1 in the Final before a record crowd of 1,500. The team for this triple triumph season included Eric Scott, Bert Hempstead, Cecil Balls, Fred Payne, Albert Wilby, Bill Oakley, Syd Vince, Reg Everitt, Jack Cracknell, Fred Rudkin, Harold “Bally” Green (who was regarded as one of the finest players the club has ever had), Jack Hatch, Danny Pilgrim and Albert Parker whilst club officials included Hector Barr, Ernie Hatch, Jock McKillop, Dick Crowe, George Cook, John Munson, Felix Schofield and Bill Barton. The Club Secretary was Charles Pullen who was elected onto the League Management Committee in 1936 to commence his role as one of the League’s most valued servants which culminated in him guiding the Colchester & East Essex League as Hon.Secretary for the quarter of a century which followed the Second World War. Indeed it is widely recognised that without his efforts the league may never have restarted again in 1946 to provide competitive football for countless thousands of players throughout the decades in North East Essex and, in honour of his achievements and dedication to the competition, the league Knock-Out Cup eventually became known as the “Charlie Pullen Memorial Trophy”. Retaining the League Cup in 1937-38 following a 2-0 victory over Tiptree United, Competitive football was suspended following the outbreak of the War and Rangers had to wait until the 1947-48 campaign for their next Honours when they were Section ‘A’ Champions and also won the League Knock-Out Cup by defeating Dedham 3-0. The club’s set-up was further strengthened when Wivenhoe Nomads, who appeared directly after the Second World War, joined forces with Rangers as their new Reserve side. The Nomads had previously enjoyed a fair degree of success by reaching the semi-finals of the Pelly Cup (losing 1-3 to Dagenham) and winning the Minor League Cup in 1947.
Immediately after the Second World War the club embarked on what appeared to be a tour of the local pitches as they moved onto the King George V Playing Fields, however, “A dip of 20 feet was noticeable” and in 1946, after just two games, they moved to Claude Watcham’s Meadow off the Colchester Road, then to Vine Farm, back to their original home at Spion Kop then on to Broomfield again
Another successful period was enjoyed by the club during the Fifties with the 1952-53 campaign being a particular standout as Wivenhoe landed a remarkable five trophies by winning the Colchester & East Essex League Premier Division Championship, the League Knock-Out Cup, the Stopes Cup, the Wivenhoe Charity Cup and last, but by no means least, the Amos Charity Cup. Indeed Rangers won the latter trophy on five consecutive occasions defeating West End 3-0 (in 1951-52), St.Mary Magdalen 1-0 (52-53), Sadds Athletic 3-0 (53-54).Coggeshall Town 5-2 (54-55) and Colchester Post Office 4-1 (55-56). Wivenhoe also managed to reach the Final of the Essex Junior Cup in 1955-56 following a terrific run of victories over Clacton Monarchs (h) 12-1, Rowhedge Shipyard (h) 5-2, Greenstead (h) 7-0, Ramsey MW (a) 5-3, Great Bentley (a) 7-0, Mistley United (h) 6-3, Howards Sports (a) 3-1 and St.Josephs Old Boys (N) 2-0. Unfortunately they had to settle for the Runners-Up spot after going down 2-3 to Heybridge Swifts. Consolation was gained however as, in addition to the Amos Charity Cup, the club also won the Colchester & East Essex League Premier Division Championship and the League Knock-Out Cup by defeating Mistley United 4-2 the same season. . The club also had a locally bred flower named in its honour (“The Ranger”) and its image was proudly displayed as the club badge on the players’ shirts. Wivenhoe went into a decline during the latter part of the decade, but appeared to be on their way back in 1959-60 when they won the Colchester & East Essex League Division One Title and finished Runners-Up in the League Cup to Lexden Wanderers, going down 2-4 in a Replay after the initial tie ended 4-4 after extra time (indeed this was to be Rangers’ last appearance in the Final). Alas, it was not to be as they were relegated from the Premier Division again the following season.
The club’s fortunes did not improve as they entered the Sixties and they eventually slipped into the Second Division. It was around this time that Vic Williamson came to the club as Chairman. Rangers were now fulfilling their fixtures back on the King George V Playing Fields with makeshift changing rooms and the princely sum of £36 in the bank. Along with long serving player/secretary Bill Hill and a hard working committee, Vic set about changing the club’s fortunes with the turning point coming in 1968-69 when Rangers were promoted back into the First Division as Runners-Up to Colchester Minors Boosted by the goal scoring talents of future Club President Harry Welsh (304 goals in 412 First and Second Team club appearances), Rangers were now playing some of their fixtures at the neighbouring University Of Essex and won the First Division Championship in 1969-70 to regain their place back in the top flight of Colchester & East Essex League Football. Runners-Up in the Premier Division to Mersea Island at the end of the 1970-71 campaign, Rangers took the opportunity to move up into Intermediate Football by joining the Essex & Suffolk Border League Second Division. The club had originally attempted a move into the Border League back in 1936 but had seen their application rejected on that occasion.
Rangers stormed to the Second Division Title at the first time of asking with an impressive record of; Played 30, Won 26, Drawn 3, Lost 1, scoring 127 goals in the process while conceding just 22. In addition to this they defeated Southminster St Leonards 2-0 in the Final of the Tolleshunt D’Arcy Cup to lift the trophy for the first time. As a point of interest the team line-up for the first ever Border League fixture on 1st September 1971 against St.Johns was; 1) John Goldsmith, 2) Leon Chapman, 3) Paul Skeet, 4) Don Castle, 5) Mick Hatch, 6) Bob Marriage, 7) Mel Bridle, 8) Alan Barrell, 9) Alan Byford, 10) Tony Winter, 11) Peter Downes, Sub) Trevor Endean. Rangers won the game 5-1. The success continued the following season as Wivenhoe finished the 1972-73 campaign as First Division Champions (this time their record reading; Played 30, Won 24, Drawn 3, Lost 3, scored 122 goals, conceded 27) to gain Promotion to the Premier Division. This achievement was capped by a 7-0 thrashing of Heybridge Swifts Reserves to retain the Tolleshunt D’Arcy Cup (Heybridge were also beaten 1-0 the following season to make it a hat trick of triumphs in this competition). The club ended their first term in the top flight in a creditable 3rd place, however, followed this up with a disappointing 12th position, their first season under the new title of Wivenhoe Town Football Club. Having previously reached successive League Challenge Cup Finals, 1977-78 was an important campaign for the club as they purchased a carrot field on the outskirts of the village for £2,500 and, with the aid of grants, built a clubhouse and dressing rooms on the site at Broad Lane. 1978-79 saw Wivenhoe win the Essex & Suffolk Border League Premier Division Championship and were granted Senior Status, which enabled them to move up to join the Essex Senior League.
Wivenhoe’s first game as a Senior football club was on 18th August 1979 at Broad Lane against Brentwood with the Dragons (as they were now nicknamed) running out 2-0 winners with the line-up being; 1) Dickie Bokenham, 2) Neil Milburn, 3) Doug Warner, 4) Geoff Bennett, 5) Dave Lamont, 6) Chris Dines, 7) Keith Bain, 8) Steve Sharman, 9) Ian Meadows, 10) Paul Harrison, 11) Doug McDonald, Sub) Steve Shaw. The club ended their first season as Runners-Up to Basildon United and followed this up by finishing 3rd. Runners-Up again in 1981-82, Wivenhoe reached the 5th Round of the F.A Vase the following campaign before going down 1-2 away to Burnham. The Dragons won the Harry Fisher Memorial Trophy for the first time in 1983-84 (defeating East Thurrock United 4-3), a feat they repeated again in 1985-86 (this time overcoming Witham Town 2-1). The 85-86 campaign also saw the club finish Runners-Up in the league for the third time and, having made further improvements to Broad Lane including floodlights and a stand, took the opportunity to move up into the Isthmian League Division Two North.
Now under Chairman Dave Whymark and having finished their inaugural season in 12th place, the Dragons went on to win the Division Two North Championship in 1987-88 and capped a memorable season by also winning the Essex Senior Trophy by defeating Rainham Town 2-1 thanks to goals from Paul Harrison and Keith Pope. This was also an historic season for the club as they entered the F.A.Cup for the very first time, defeating Erith & Belvedere 4-2 in a Replay at Broad Lane (following a 0-0 draw) before going down 0-3 at home to Sutton United.
Having fielded a young team in the Colchester Sunday League for a couple of seasons (winning one Divisional Title plus achieving a Runners-Up spot), the Dragons finally extended their set-up to establish an Under-18’s side in 1988. Many players have progressed up through the ranks over the years to become regular first teamers and the young Dragons have enjoyed many triumphs including three successive Eastern Junior Alliance Central Division Championships between 1994 and 1997. Indeed, the 1995-96 campaign saw the Dragons’ youngsters reach the 1st Round Proper of the F.A Youth Cup before bowing out to a last minute winner from Northampton Town, while the same season saw them as the only non-professional side remaining in the semi-finals of the Eastern Junior Cup where they went down 0-1 to Luton Town. In recent years things have expanded as the club has been fielding as many as three Under-18’s teams. At the other end of the scale a Veterans Team was established in 2008-09 was one of the Founder Members of the North Essex Veterans League.
After finishing their first term in the Isthmian First Division in 5th place, Wivenhoe gained Promotion to the Premier Division by winning the Division One Championship by amassing 100 points in 1989-90, a season that also saw them establish a new attendance record for Broad Lane when 1,992 people saw them draw 1-1 with Conference League outfit Runcorn in the F.A Trophy. Having ended their initial season in the top flight in 10th place and played neighbours Colchester United in the 3rd Round of the F.A Trophy at Layer Road in front of 4,923 spectators, the Dragons hit financial problems and virtually all the players and Football Management deserted the club. For the next two seasons the Dragons did well to maintain their Premier Division status and, against all the odds, managed to reach the Final of the Essex Senior Cup in 1992-93 following a magnificent 2-1 semi-final victory over Dagenham & Redbridge’s full Conference League side. Unfortunately, Wivenhoe had to settle for the Runners-Up spot after suffering a narrow 0-1 defeat to Chelmsford City.
With another mass departure of players and football Management, the 1993-94 campaign was one of severe struggle and, with most of the club’s Committee also resigning, the supporters were forced to take over the running of the club to avoid Wivenhoe Town’s immediate death. Just before Christmas came the bombshell that the ground would be closed down on January 2nd 1994 unless a purchaser could be found. Unable to find the £150,000 asking price only some frantic negotiations enabled the club to finish the season which with many players drafted in from the Under-18’s, not surprisingly ended in relegation from the Premier Division. A “Save The Dragons” campaign was launched spearheaded by new club Chairman Geoff Langsdon as every avenue of fundraising was explored by the supporters. The people of Wivenhoe rallied around and the long road to secure the site began. With the main aim being the purchase of Broad Lane, very little money was available for players therefore it was little surprise that the Dragons found themselves relegated from the First Division at the end of the 1994-95 campaign.
1995-96 saw the Dragons check their freefall as they finished 6th in the Second Division table. In addition the club also equalled their best ever run in the F.A Vase before going out in a 5th Round replay at Mangotsfield United but, more importantly than that, Wivenhoe Town finally secured their future at Broad Lane (or so we thought !!) when on 15th February 1996 the sale of the site went through. The Dragons remained stabilised in the Second Division despite operating on a tight budget and Julian Hazel, at the age of 24, became possibly the youngest Player/Manager in senior football when he was appointed in the summer of 1998. Finishing 17th in his first season in charge and 6th in 1999-2000, Hazel almost led the club to promotion in 2000-2001, narrowly missing out by 2 points in the final week of the season following a shattering schedule of 3 and 4 games a week in the last month and a half of the campaign.
With the Isthmian League controversially restructuring itself in the summer of 2001 creating what was in effect a “dead season”, many players moved on and the club finished in 21st place. For the next couple of seasons the club finished in a comfortable mid-table position with the 2003-04 campaign seeing them reach the Quarter-Finals of the Essex Senior Cup where they narrowly lost 1-2 in extra time to virtually a full strength Southend United side, the Roots Hall outfit only equalizing in stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes. A re-shuffling of the Pyramid saw the Dragons move into the Southern League and in 2004-05 they finished 5th in the table and were beaten in the Play-off Semi-finals by Uxbridge. The following term the Dragons came agonisingly close to promotion when they went down 1-2 to Stamford in the Play-off Final. A switch back to the Isthmian League following an F.A re-organisation in the summer of 2006 saw Wivenhoe finish in a comfortable mid-table position, however, this was to be the calm before a very rough storm.
The summer of 2007 saw yet another mass exodus of playing staff and football Management with Reserve Team bosses Malcolm Price and Nick Allston taking over the reigns and having to rebuild a team from scratch with little money. By early November Richard Carter was introduced to the club and soon took sole charge of the first team. It took the Dragons until January to gain their first win and despite an improvement in form they were eventually relegated on the very last day of the season.
Wivenhoe enjoyed an excellent start to life in the Ridgeons League Premier Division with the newly assembled team playing some breath-taking football. The club achieved their record win as a senior club by defeating Whitton United 10-0 and Blue Square South outfit Thurrock were dispatched 5-0 in the Essex Senior Cup but, alas, it was all built on sand and astronomical debts were revealed. With that came the announcement that Richard Carter was sacked and the club was on the verge of extinction. An emergency meeting saw many people from the community rally around and a new Committee was formed. All the first team were released and players with no Senior Football experience drafted into the side. Amazingly, in the New Year, former West Ham United and Liverpool player Julian Dicks came forward to help out as Manager creating massive media interest. Despite a very small budget Dicks led the team to safety and avoided certain relegation.
Off the field the new hard working committee headed by new Chairman Carl Callan had set about reducing the debts and there was hope of fresh investment in both the ailing Broad Lane facilities and the team. Alas, the club’s efforts to secure a lease hit a brick wall. Dicks departed to manage Conference League outfit Grays Athletic and the few players of limited senior experience left the club. The club’s closer links with the community and its faith in local youth football saw them embark on a traumatic 2009-10 campaign with Mo Osman eventually running the young first team. Following a fantastic 4-2 victory over Newmarket Town the club found themselves locked out of Broad Lane by the Wivenhoe & District Sporting Facilities Trust, ironically, the very body that had originally been set up to promote sports facilities for the locals and “For the purpose of securing the future of Broad Lane Sports Ground as a continuing home for Wivenhoe Town Football Club.” Enough to fill a book could by written on the saga which followed as an Injunction was successfully applied for in the County Courts allowing the club to continue playing at the ground before things were eventually resolved through mediation. Not surprisingly the Dragons finished bottom of the table but received an unexpected reprieve due to a combination of events elsewhere in the league. In 2010-11, as a result of the off-field dramas, the club did not appear in either the F.A.Cup or F.A.Vase for the first time in over three decades and although performances continued to improve (including holding Champions elect Leiston to two draws) the club eventually finished 3rd from bottom. Amazingly Wivenhoe were granted a second successive reprieve from relegation and during the summer incorporated further age groups into it’s set-up to lay stronger foundations for the future. Off the pitch, led by groundsman Ken Ballard, the club worked hard to improve facilities at Broad Lane despite very limited financial resources.
Although continuing to be one of the very few clubs playing at step 5 of the football pyramid operating on a purely amateur basis, the 2011-12 Season saw the team gain it’s highest points tally (39) for years with a number of excellent results achieved against sides from the top end of the table. Unfortunately the Dragons paid the price for a slow start and once again finished 3rd from bottom. With one or two key mainstays of the team being picked up by Clubs higher up the football ladder the 2012-13 campaign saw the Dragons hold on to their premier status by virtue of teams moving out of the Division.
Having amazingly being granted a 6th successive reprieve, relegation eventually came at the end of 2014/15. During the summer Mo Osman brought ex-dragon Ray Turner back to Broad Lane as player/ assistant manager and what an inspired move that turned out to be. Wivenhoe bounced back to the Premier Division at the first attempt by winning the Division One Championship and Turner finished the Divisions top scorer. The Dragons remained unbeaten in the league until early March (only two other Clubs in the entire English non-league pyramid from steps 1 to 6 better their record), as they landed their first league title for 26 Years.