Hitchin Town is a football club based in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, currently playing in the Southern League. They are nicknamed "The Canaries", and play their home matches at Top Field. Their manager is Darran Hay.
Hitchin Town can trace its roots back to 1865 when Hitchin FC
was formed. The club took part in the first FA Cup
in 1871-72, and reached the quarter finals of the competition, losing to eventual finalists Royal Engineers
. That first Hitchin club, a struggling professional outfit, floundered in 1911, debt-ridden and the victims of a fire at their ground. Six years earlier, Hitchin became the first away team to win at Chelsea
's Stamford Bridge
ground, beating the Londoners 3-2. The club also beat Clapton Orient in the FA Cup during the post-Victorian years.
Formation of Hitchin Town F.C.
It was not until 1928 that Hitchin Town FC was formed, and it was at this point that the nickname, “The Canaries”, was established. The club colours of yellow and at that time, blue, were also agreed upon. Prior to that, the old club played in white and magenta. Hitchin gained admission to the Spartan League
and in the 1928-29 season, enjoyed a hugely successful campaign, winning the Herts Charity Shield
and promotion to the Spartan League Division One.
The 1930s were halcyon days for Hitchin Town. Promotion to the Spartan Premier was won in 1931, but it was the FA Amateur Cup
and AFA Senior Cup
that captured the imagination of the Hitchin public. Although there is little doubt that Hitchin won more games than at any time in their history, the standard of opposition has to be considered when determining whether the Canaries’ side of the period was the finest in the club’s history.
Nevertheless, with players like Reg Smith
, who later played for Millwall
, Wally Odell
and Les Clarke
, there is little doubt that this was a golden age for Hitchin Town. The club won the AFA Senior Cup in 1932, beating Derbyshire Amateurs in the final and in 1935, won the Spartan League Premier Division. The club entered the Athenian League in 1939, but after two league games and a Herts Charity Cup tie, all of which saw Hitchin score seven goals, Adolf Hitler
Like many clubs, Hitchin struggled in the aftermath of World War Two, although the goalscoring antics of players such as Frank Wingate and Wink Saunders lit up Top Field. It was not until the mid-1950s that the Canaries recovered. In 1953-54, the runners-up spot in the Athenian League was secured and the club reached the last eight of the FA Amateur Cup, losing 10-1 to the mighty Crook Town.
Two years later, a crowd of 7,878 watched Hitchin beat Wycombe Wanderers 1-0 in the competition, but the club failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals again. In 1958, Hitchin’s Peter Hammond became the club’s first England international. It was around this time that Hitchin appointed former Arsenal and England international Laurie Scott as manager. He brought a new approach to the club.
Enter Laurie Scott
Scott took Hitchin up a level in terms of preparation, training and tactics. The club enjoyed arguably its greatest period in the early 1960s. In 1958-59, the club met Football League
opposition for the first time in the FA Cup, narrowly losing to Millwall after a replay. Two years later, Hitchin travelled to Crystal Palace
and played in front of 21,000 people, losing 6-2 despite being highly praised for their display. At the same time, an assault on the Athenian League title and the FA Amateur Cup gathered momentum. Scott’s team, comprising players like Derek Turner
, Tommy Everitt
, Bruce Spavins
and Terry Waldock
, ran out of steam in the league – the victims of fixture congestion, and fell at the penultimate stage in the Amateur Cup. Walthamstow Avenue
beat Hitchin 1-0 at White City
, thanks to a disputed penalty. In 1963, Hitchin reached the semi-finals again, but this time, went down 4-0 to Sutton United
at Craven Cottage
. At the end of the 1962-63 season, the Canaries moved into the Isthmian League
Move into Isthmian League
The move into the Isthmian League was not an easy one for the club, and the early years were a constant struggle. Money was a problem, and there was a hint of scandal when club President Syd Stapleton
revealed to the media that the club was paying its “amateur” players. It took some time for the clouds dispersed and during this period, the club said farewell to Laurie Scott.
Progress under Vince Burgess
It was not until Vince Burgess
came on board that the club moved forward again. Burgess, a successful coach before he went to Hitchin, brought experienced players to the club who knew how to win. In 1968-69, Hitchin finished runners-up in the Isthmian League and a year later, won the London Senior Cup
, beating St. Albans City
4-2 in the final. Burgess declared that Hitchin had “arrived” by winning what was then a highly prestigious competition. Top Field was shocked a few months later when Burgess left the club.
The 1970s was a period characterised by some exciting cup-ties and players like Paul Giggle
, Peter Watson
, Neil Bunker
and Dave Archibald
. The Canaries reached the FA Cup competition proper four times – in 1973-74, 1974-75, 1976-77 and 1978-79, although a giant-killing eluded them. In 1973-74, non-league Boston United
beat Hitchin 1-0 in the second round, depriving them of a lucrative tie with Derby County
. Cambridge United
beat Hitchin in the first round a year later, and in 1976, Swindon Town
finally saw off Hitchin 3-1 after a 1-1 draw at Top Field in the second round. In 1978, Bournemouth
beat Hitchin 2-1 in the first round. By the end of the decade, though, the club was in decline and the 1980s was a dismal decade in which finances were limited and the emphasis was on youth.
In 1988, Hitchin Town suffered relegation from the Isthmian Premier for the first time. Near misses in the previous three seasons had hinted that a fall was coming, but it was a major shock to the club. It took five years for Hitchin to get back to the Premier, but in between, the club had suffered major financial hardship. It was Andy Melvin
, the new owner-manager of Hitchin Town that led the club back to the Premier Division, winning the Isthmian First Division in 1992-93. Melvin, a good man-manager, was also thrifty and built a team on very limited resources. In the club’s first season back, he took them to eighth place and in 1994-95, fifth position.
Andy Melvin will be remembered for his part in two exciting FA Cup runs, however. In 1994-95, the club became giant-killers for the first time, beating Hereford United
4-2 at Top Field in the FA Cup first round. The club had started its cup run in the First Qualifying Round and had been close to exiting on more than one occasion. A year later, the Canaries grabbed their biggest scalp, beating Bristol Rovers
2-1 in the first round, thanks to two early goals. It gave them a second round tie at Gillingham
, which was lost 3-0. The two years of cup success brought to the fore players like Mark Burke
, Shaun Marshall
, Gary Williams
and Ian Scott
. The club gained more media attention than at any time in its history, but by 1998, relegation had come once more. A year on, the club won promotion back to the Isthmian Premier with a new, younger team.
In an age when clubs seem to lurch from financial crisis to crisis, Hitchin’s recent history has been relatively stable. Andy Melvin stepped down in 2001, handing over to Robbie O’Keefe
. He was the mastermind of the club’s youth academy, and at times, O’Keefe promised to bring success back to Hitchin. In 2003, however, he left the club, and former Chelsea
and England striker Kerry Dixon
took over. At the end of 2003-04, Hitchin left the Isthmian League after more than 40 years, and moved to the Southern League
. At the halfway stage of the following season, Dixon – who was unable to commit himself fully to the job – was replaced by Darren Salton
. Building a team on limited resources, which is something of a mantra at the club, Salton brought some success to the club in the form of the Southern League Cup
. The club's supporters played no small part in this revival, a supporters trust was formed in 2005 to contribute weekly to the club's playing budget. Without this, Salton and his assistant, Ken Gillard, could not have built a potential-rich side. But the 2006-07 campaign was disappointing, however. At the halfway stage, Hitchin were second in the Southern League Premier, but a spectacular collapse in January and February and the break-up of a promising team left Canaries fans confused as the season came to an end.
The 2007-2008 season began badly for Hitchin, with the club at the foot of the Southern League Premier and in November, Salton was replaced by former Woking FA Trophy winner Darran Hay, who set about rebuilding the team. Hay, who won the FA Trophy three times with Woking, scoring two Wembley goals in the process, was a popular figure in the opening weeks of his tenure, despite indifferent results. At one stage, Hitchin were cut adrift at the bottom of the league table, but a late season revival, following the introduction of new players, eventually led to the club steering clear of relegation - against all odds.
Hitchin Town's history can be found in the book, "The Men from Fishponds Road" by Neil Jensen, 1995. A new publication was launched in September 2007, "The Canaries Almanac".
they are 13 in the southern lpremier league after 10 matches
they next game is saturday oct 11 Hitchin Town v Hinckley United third round qualifying for fa cup