BANBURY UNITED FC - A BRIEF CLUB HISTORY
Banbury United’s genesis is to be found in Spencer Villa, a works club formed in 1931. Friendly matches were played on a ground on the town’s Middleton Road. The club joined the Banbury Junior League for the 1933-34 season and won the championship at their first attempt. They changed their name to Banbury Spencer in 1934 and moved to their current ground for the start of the 1934-35 season in which they competed in the Oxfordshire Senior League. This too they won at their first attempt. During the season they were elected to the Birmingham Combination for the start of the 1935-36 season.
After the war, Banbury resumed in the Birmingham Combination and turned professional for the 1946-47 season. In 1947-48, with attendances averaging 3,500, they finished runners-up in the league and reached the first round proper of the FA Cup for the first time, losing 2-1 at Colchester United, at that time a Southern League club. The next season the ground attendance record was broken when 7,160 turned up to see Banbury lose to Oxford City in the third qualifying round of the FA Cup. The same season also saw Banbury reach the final of the Birmingham Senior Cup, losing 2-1 to Nuneaton Borough. Banbury’s manager at this time was Jimmy Cringan, who had joined them in 1936 and was to remain ‘The Boss’ for no less than 25 years until his retirement in 1961.
The status of the Birmingham Combination began to decline in the early 1950s. At the end of the 1953-54 season the league disbanded and, along with most of its remaining clubs, Banbury joined the Birmingham League. In 1959-60 they reached the final of the Birmingham Senior Cup for the second time, again losing to Nuneaton, this time 1-0. In 1961-62, Banbury reached the first round of the FA Cup for the second time, travelling to Third Division Shrewsbury Town and losing 7-1.
The Birmingham League continued to expand and became the West Midlands League in 1962. This coincided with the effective independence of the football club, the Spencer company having all but ended its association. The club name remained unchanged, however, until April 1965 when, with the club’s finances suffering – attendances had fallen to a historical low – a group of local businessmen bought the club. Banbury Spencer became Banbury United.
The new owners were ambitious and were looking to a higher grade of football. Former Chelsea, West Ham, Arsenal and England player Len Goulden was installed as manager. During the summer of 1966 Banbury were elected to the Southern League. Significant improvements were made to the ground. Floodlights were installed and the famous old railway coaches that had been used as changing rooms were removed and replaced by a new clubhouse.
United then embarked on an unbroken 24-season run as members of the Southern League. They came close to league honours in 1967-68 when they finished in seventh place in the First Division, just two points and three places behind Rugby Town who were promoted to the Premier Division. The first round of the FA Cup was reached twice more; in 1972-73, United lost 2-0 at home to Barnet, then a Southern League club, and the following season, after a 0-0 draw at home, they lost 3-2 away to Fourth Division Northampton Town in a replay. United twice reached the last sixteen of the FA Trophy, losing 1-0 in a replay to Hereford United in 1970-71 and, in 1973 74, by the same score in a second replay to eventual Southern League champions Dartford.
From the late 1970s United’s fortunes declined sharply as debts mounted. The ownership of the ground was given up as security against the club’s debts. On the field the team was also struggling, finishing in the top half of the table just twice in twelve seasons after 1978. In 1990, United finished 21st of 22 and were relegated for the first time in their history, starting season 1990-91 in the Hellenic League.
Those fans who expected a quick return to the Southern League were to be disappointed. Only in 1993-94, when they finished third, did United make look like making a serious promotion challenge. However, from 1997 onwards a revived and expanded committee brought about such an improvement in financial circumstances that the club was ready to aim for promotion. Former Oxford, Newcastle and QPR player Kevin Brock was appointed first team manager for the 1999-2000 campaign.
United’s form up to Christmas of 1999 was good but they entered the New Year no fewer than nineteen points behind leaders Highworth Town. In only eight weeks they overhauled their rivals with a run of 13 consecutive victories and remained unbeaten for the rest of the season. A 3-1 victory at Wantage Town clinched the Hellenic League championship with two games remaining and Banbury United were back in the Southern League.
United took a couple of seasons to find their feet in the Eastern division, finishing 13th and 15th. Eighth place in 2003 was their best in the Southern League in 25 years. That was equalled the following season, enough to qualify for a play-off for a place in a reformed Premier division in the restructured non-League pyramid. Banbury beat Sutton Coldfield Town of the Western division, coming from behind to win in stoppage time in extra-time.
A difficult first season in the Premier division (2004-05) was followed by a much better second. Seventh place in season 2005-06 was an improvement of ten places (United spent nine weeks in the play-off places) but thirteenth in 2006-07 was a big disappointment. However, it was troubles off the field that made the headlines. Club accounts showed a large deficit and big cuts were made to the playing budget. Shortly after the season ended, manager Kevin Brock resigned, citing the cuts as his reason for leaving after eight years. His departure was the first of six changes of manager in the next eight years as United went into another decline.
Relegation was avoided in 2009 as the annual bout of resignations and demotions elsewhere in the Pyramid resulted in a reprieve. In 2012 a last-day victory ensured safety. Season 2013-14 began well enough – United were eighth in the table in early February – but more drastic budget cuts were applied. Another player exodus resulted; there followed the most embarrassing run of defeats in the club’s history as the team plummeted to 19th, conceding 43 goals in nine games. The dismal form continued into the 2014-15 season and the inevitable occurred. After 11 years in the Premier division level the club was relegated for only the second time in its history and was placed in the South & West division for the 2015-16 season.
Change, however, was on its way. For a year fans had been discreetly working on a takeover. Advised by Supporters Direct, the umbrella organisation for supporters trusts, the supporters club launched its bid towards the end of the season. Agreement was reached with the existing board and a joint committee ran the club during the spring and summer until the takeover was formally completed in the first week of the new season, four months after the 50th anniversary of Spencer becoming United.
In May that committee had appointed a new team manager, ex-Oxford United player and Brackley Town and Oxford City manager Mike Ford. He had to assemble a new squad from scratch. Early form was moderate with only four wins from the first 12 games but the team hit form to win 24 of the next 30 and finish runners-up to Cinderford. A nervy victory in the play-off semi-final against Winchester set up a final showdown with third-placed Taunton. In front of more than 1,200 spectators, the club’s biggest attendance for more than 21 years, United won 2-0 to regain their place in the Premier division at the first attempt, a remarkable achievement for a club that had been on its knees a year earlier.
Those supporters who had thought that after relegation and the takeover a season of consolidation was a realistic target saw their expectations exceeded but even the most optimistic followers might not have anticipated that upon their return to the Premier division United would enter the last month challenging for a place in the play-offs. Only over the Easter weekend did their hopes disappear but a final position of sixth was the club’s best in the post-2004 Pyramid.