Wivenhoe Town FC, or the Dragons as they are now known in local footballing circles, have been entertaining the town of Wivenhoe for almost 80 years.
Formed in 1925 as Wivenhoe Rangers
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 3rd in their inaugural season. Runners-Up in 1931/32, they gained their first honours the following season by winning the League Championship after going the entire campaign undefeated.
Rangers remained a force in local Junior football throughout the thirties with their most successful season being the 1936/37 campaign when, boasting the most formidable forward line ever seen in the area, they retained the Brightlingsea & District League Championship, won the League Challenge Cup, the League Knock-Out Cup and the Amos Charity Cup (defeating Tollesbury 8-1 in the final before a record crowd of 1,500). After the War they were section Champions in 1947/48 and also won the League Knock-Out Cup the same season.
Success in the 1950s
Another successful period was enjoyed by the Club during the early fifties and in 1952/53 they won five trophies in the shape of the Colchester & East Essex League Premier Division Championship, the League Challenge Cup, The Stopes Cup, the Wivenhoe Charity Cup and the Amos Charity Cup. Indeed Rangers won the latter trophy on five consecutive occasions from 1951/52 to 1955/56. Wivenhoe also managed to reach the final of the Essex Junior Cup in 1955/56 where they unfortunately lost 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 the same season.
Wivenhoe went into a decline during the late fifties, but appeared to be on their way back in 1959/60 when they won the Colchester & East Essex League Division One title but, 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 as they eventually slipped into the Second Division.
Promotion in 1968 and a new name in 1969
The turning point came in 1968/69 when Rangers were promoted back into the First Division as Runners-Up to Colchester Minors. The following season they won the Division One Title to regain their place back in the top flight of Colchester & East Essex League football. By this time, having had many homes around the village, Rangers were playing at the neighbouring University of Essex. 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.
Two successive titles in their first two seasons in the competition saw Wivenhoe Rangers gain promotion to the Premier Division, while at the same time enjoying a great deal of success in local cups. The Club ended their first term in the top flight in a creditable 3rd place, however, followed this with a disappointing 12th position, their first season under the new title of Wivenhoe Town Football Club.
A new home for Wivenhoe Town FC in 1977
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. The next season Wivenhoe won the Essex & Suffolk Border League Premier Division Championship and was granted senior status, which enabled them to join the Essex Senior League.
The Dragons ended their first season as Runners-Up to Basildon United and followed this up by finishing 3rd in 1980/81. Runners-Up again in 1981/82, Wivenhoe reached the fifth round of the F.A. Vase the following season before going down 1-2 away to Burnham. The Club won the Harry Fisher Memorial Trophy for the first time in 1983/84, a feat they repeated again in 1985/86, for the third time, they finished Runners-Up in the Essex Senior League and thus gained entry into the Vauxhall Opel (Isthmian) League Division Two North after making further improvements to Broad Lane. Finishing their inaugural season in 12th place, the Dragons went on to win the Division Two North Championship in 1987/88 and capped a fine season by also winning the Essex Senior Trophy after defeating Rainham Town 2-1.
Vic Wiliamson was Club Chairman for 30 years and who died 30th March2015 – click here to see about him
Promotion to the First Division in 1989
Having finished their first term in Division One in 5th place, Wivenhoe gained promotion to the Premier Division by winning the First Division Championship with 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 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 status and, against the odds, managed to reach the Final of the Essex Senior Cup in 1992/93 where they finished Runners-Up to Chelmsford City after suffering a narrow 0-1 defeat.
Financial difficulties in 1993
Financing the club playing at this level proved too great and so the decision was taken by the Committee to reduce the budget so the Club could afford to remain in business. This being the case the 1993/94 campaign was one of severe struggle. 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, some frantic negotiations enabled the Club to finish the season, which, with many players drafted in from the Under-18s, not surprisingly ended in relegation from the Premier Division. With the main aim being the purchase of Broad Lane, very little money was available for player expenses which not surprisingly finding themselves being relegated to 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’s future at Broad Lane was finally secured when the purchase of the site went through at last on 15th February 1996.
For the next five seasons, the Dragons remained stabilised in the Second Division despite operating on a tight budget and entered the record books when Julian Hazel, at the age of 24, became the youngest Player/Manager in senior football when he was appointed in the summer of 1998. In 1999 Kevin Foskett was elected as Chairman and together with an active committee and with the appointment of Steve Pitt as joint first team manager the club went on to enjoy two highly successful seasons finishing 6th and 5th in the Ryman League Division 2.
The 2001 / 02 season and later
In the 2001/2002 season, the Ryman League controversially restructured itself which resulted in the club playing 42 league matches with nothing more than pride at stake as no matter where they finished in the league they were guaranteed promotion into the new formed Ryman League Division 1 North.
In 2002/2003 the club broke its record transfer fee for young hot shot Darren Bethall who was being tracked by Northampton Town, Everton, Colchester Utd and Dagenham & Redbridge at the time. They also signed Ben Fuller and former Colchester Utd defender Nicky Haydon in the same period. Whilst the club found playing at the higher level a challenge it remained out of the relegation zone all season finishing 10 points clear of relegated Wembley and Hertford.
The 2003/2004 season began with high expectation with a much stronger squad assembled. After early season promise the Dragons slump in form during mid-season left them at the wrong end of the table. The Club gained some useful results towards the end of the campaign to push them into a comfortable 17th position. Highlights of the season were saved for cup competitions with the Dragons reaching the Quarter-Finals of the Essex Senior Cup, defeated in extra-time by Southend United with the home side only equalising in injury time despite fielding many first team players. During the campaign the Dragons captured the signing of Adrian Coote, previously with Colchester United who paid their highest ever signing on fee for the Northern Ireland International from Norwich City.
2004/2005 saw Wivenhoe finish 5th in the League after being beaten in the play-off semi-final by Uxbridge. Dragons also had their best FA cup run for a number of years which ended with them being beaten in the 3rd Qualifying Round by Conference League South team Hayes.
Season 2005/2006 saw the Dragons go one better than the previous year by reaching the Southern League Play-off final against Stamford which saw them beaten 2-1. They were narrowly defeated 4-3 on penalties after extra time by Thurrock in the 4th round of the Essex Senior Cup.
Changes in 2007 / 08
In 2007/2008, following the departure of Manager Steve Pitt & his assistant Steve Wignal (the former Colchester United Manager), Malcolm Price & Nick Alston were promoted from Reserve to First Team management duties. After an indifferent start, Richard Carter joined the management team and although they began to pick up points, the side finally succumbed to relegation, to the Eastern Counties Premier Division.
Season 2008/2009 saw Carter sign a host of promising football league youngsters and the side started the season with a bang. But not for the first time in the Clubs history, purse strings were tightened with the Clubs budget slashed and Richard Carter was dismissed. In October the Club held an EGM, inviting anyone interested in getting involved and the local village responded. A Save Wivenhoe Town Group was formed by the local community to save the club, and to establish and build a reputation as a home for both sporting and non-sporting activities, for people within the immediate envelope. A new committee was formed, and Julian Dicks, the ex-West Ham United, Liverpool & England B international was installed as the Clubs first team manager. Despite a barren run of results, the team managed to pick up a vital 10 points and avoid a second successive relegation.
The 2009/10 season
With finances incredibly tight the following season saw the appointment and removal of Neil Northcott and Paul Sibbons as managers before Mo Osman secured the job in September. The 2009/10 season saw Wivenhoe predictably finish bottom of the Ridgeons Premier Division with 8 points, however with the departure of Harwich Town due to financial difficulties and promotion of Needham Market the club were saved from relegation. The 2009/10 season was also marked by a brief eviction from Broad Lane following a dispute with the WDSF Trust, the Dragons were forced to play one home game in Harwich before a resolution was found. The 2010/11 saw Wivenhoe Town again with no budget but with a commitment lead by Mo Osman to develop young local talent. The team gained a respectable 32 points to finish 3rd from bottom of the league and avoid relegation through the promotion of Leiston. The close season also saw the establishment of a full youth set up which meant for the first time in its history the Club has teams representing the club all the way from Under 7’s to Under 18’s.
Stability under Mo Osman
Season 2011/12 saw Mo Osman remain in charge of the third season running, not something we have been able to say for many years about a first team manager! This though was all part of the continuing signs that the Club is becoming more stable once again and building stronger foundations for the future. The Season itself saw the Dragons finish third from bottom, but once again receive a reprieve to stay in the Premier Division for Season 2012/13 due to no Clubs being relegated into the Division following Wroxhams well deserved promotion. Early on into the Season Chairman Carl Callan stepped down following two years of hard grind with several other faces who helped to ensure the Club is still standing. Mo Osman eventually became the Club’s ‘caretaker’ Chairman until formally taking on the role in the summer of 2012. The first team’s performances were a mixed bag but show impressive improvement as the season wore on, narrowly missing out on that vital fourth from bottom spot.
Season 2012/13 saw the Dragons compete in the newly sponsored Thurlow Nunn Premier Division, still under the guidance of Manager and ‘Caretaker’ Chairman Mo Osman. The Club continued to make huge strides on and off the field of play but unfortunately missed out on safety by 5 points. Not for the first time though, the first team once again received a reprieve and therefore will be competing once again in the Thurlow Nunn Premier Division for Season 2013/14 ahead.
Sources: Wivenhoe Town Football Club web site. Photos: John Stewart and Peter Hill