Hitchin Town

Hitchin Town Football Club is an English semi-professional football club based in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. They are currently members of the Southern League Premier Division Central. Founded in 1928 and known as 'The Canaries', Hitchin Town have been based at Top Field since their foundation, and claim lineage from the defunct Hitchin Football Club, formed in 1865 and liquidated in 1911.

The club have played in a number of local leagues, starting off in the Spartan League before moving to first the Athenian League in 1939, then the Isthmian League in 1963 and finally the Southern League in 2004. Their most recent league honour has been the Southern League Division One Central, finishing play-off winners in 2010–11, their second season in the competition.

History

The original Hitchin club, Hitchin F.C., were formed in 1865. The club took part in the inaugural FA Cup competition in 1871–72, reaching the quarter-finals before losing to runners-up Royal Engineers. In 1905, Hitchin defeated Chelsea 3–2 to become the first away team to win at Stamford Bridge. Hitchin turned professional during the early years of the 20th century, but following financial difficulties and a fire at their ground, the club folded in 1911.

Hitchin Town F.C. were formed in 1928, and it was at this time also that the "Canaries" identity was settled upon. The club colours were agreed as yellow and blue, replacing the old club's white and magenta — green replaced blue after only a few seasons. The new club were admitted to the Spartan League, and their first season, 1928–29, was a success — Hitchin won the Herts Charity Shield, as well as promotion to the Spartan League's second tier. Promotion to the top flight of the Spartan League was won in 1930–31 and Hitchin won the AFA Senior Cup a year later. Reg Smith, a future England player, led Hitchin to the Spartan League championship in 1934–35 before moving on to Millwall a year later. The club moved from the Spartan League to the Athenian League for the 1939–40 season, but after only two league matches the outbreak of World War II prompted the suspension of competitive football.

The Athenian League returned for 1945–46, and Hitchin finished 10th out of 14 clubs. The next season saw an improvement to sixth, but Hitchin did not achieve a finish higher than mid-table until the 1953–54 campaign — Hitchin finished as runners-up. The club reached the quarter-finals of the FA Amateur Cup, but lost 10–1 to Crook Town. Two years later, Hitchin beat Wycombe Wanderers 1–0 in the same competition in front of 7,878 spectators, but the club once again failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals. Peter Hammond became the first Hitchin player to represent his country in 1958, when he appeared for England's amateur team. Former Arsenal player and England international Laurie Scott was appointed manager the same year.

Scott worked to bring the amateur club more into line with their professional counterparts. The club met Football League opposition in the FA Cup for the first time during 1958–59, but despite holding Millwall to a 1–1 draw at Top Field, lost 2–1 in the replay. Hitchin travelled to Crystal Palace two years later in the same competition and lost 6–2. Meanwhile, Scott prepared his team for an assault on the Athenian League title and the FA Amateur Cup. Scott's team finished fifth during 1960–61, and lost in the semi-finals of the Cup. Hitchin came sixth the next year, and 1962–63 saw another fifth-place finish and semi-final defeat before the club switched league again — joining the Isthmian League.

The move to the Isthmian League coincided with a time of financial strife at the club. The club finished in the bottom half of the division during their first five seasons in the league, as the club struggled to attract players of a sufficient quality. The club were not helped by corruption behind the scenes — some supposedly amateur players were receiving salaries, and when this emerged, the club were barracked by the local press. It took some time for the clouds to disperse, and the result was the departure of Scott. The late 1960s saw the arrival of Vince Burgess as manager. Led by Burgess, Hitchin finished as Isthmian League runners-up in 1968–69 and won the London Senior Cup a year later. The success brought by Burgess then dissipated as soon as it had appeared, as Burgess left the club in 1970. Hitchin did, however, win the East Anglian Cup in 1972–73.

During the 1970s, Hitchin reached the FA Cup first round four times —– in 1973–74, 1974–75, 1976–77 and 1978–79. The 1973–74 run was ended abruptly by fellow non-League side Boston United, who beat Hitchin 1–0 in the second round to deny them a third round tie against Derby County. Meanwhile, league finishes were poor — Hitchin only finished in the top half twice, ninth in 1976–77 and fifth a year later.

A sixth-place finish in 1983–84 proved to be a last hurrah — Hitchin Town suffered relegation from the Isthmian League Premier Division in 1987–88. It took five years for Hitchin to return, and the club suffered major financial hardship. Andy Melvin, who both owned and managed the club, led Hitchin back to the Premier Division in 1992–93 by winning the First Division. In the club's first season back, Melvin took them to eighth place and then fifth a year later.

In 1994–95, the club beat Hereford United 4–2 at Top Field in the FA Cup first round. A year later, Bristol Rovers were defeated 2–1, also in the first round, thanks to two early goals. The second round tie at Gillingham, was lost 3–0. Despite the cup success, league form plummeted once more. The club were relegated once again in 1997–98, but the club won promotion back a year later. Melvin led the club to a 10th-place finish in 2000–01, before stepping down.

The club's new boss was Robbie O'Keefe, who had presided over the club's youth academy. He left after two uneventful mid-table seasons, and was replaced by former Chelsea, Luton Town and England forward Kerry Dixon. With Dixon at the helm, the club finished fourth from bottom, and the club left the Isthmian League at the end of the season. Hitchin Town moved to the Southern League.

Halfway through the following season, Dixon was replaced by former Luton Town defender Darren Salton. A supporters trust was formed in 2005 to contribute weekly to the club's playing budget, and this helped the management to balance the books. Salton brought some success to the club in the form of a Southern League Cup victory in 2005–06. The 2006–07 campaign was an anti-climax — Hitchin were second in the league in December, but a spectacular collapse saw them 11th at season's end.

Hitchin were at the foot of the table from the off during 2007–08, and Salton was replaced by Darran Hay in November. Hay managed to guide the club to safety, as Hitchin finished 18th, but resigned in January 2009 with the club battling relegation once more. Colin Payne was appointed manager a month later, but he was unable to prevent relegation from the Southern League Premier Division. In 2009–10, Hitchin led the Midlands Division for long periods, but eventually finished runners-up to Bury Town, despite reaching 100 points in a campaign that saw them win 31 of their 42 league games. Hitchin played Slough in the semi-final play-off, but lost 1–2 at home, consigning them to another season at that level. A few days later, Colin Payne resigned as manager and Carl Williams was appointed manager of the club. Williams experienced extraordinary success in his first season in charge. Hitchin led the league table for most of the campaign before a mid-season drop in form eroded their advantage at the top. On the final day of the season, they were beaten by near-neighbours Arlesey Town, who won the league title. Hitchin had to negotiate the play-offs for the second successive season, but won promotion by beating Slough and Daventry. It was a successful and momentous season for the club, with the biggest average attendances since 1994–95 and the most goals scored in a league campaign (107) since 1928–29. Furthermore, for the second consecutive year, the club had the top scorer in its division – John Frendo's 31 goals topping the list of marksmen.

Frendo's goals were again instrumental in Hitchin's first season back in the Southern League Premier Division in 2011-12. In a campaign that had its highs, notably in the form of victories against AFC Totton, Cambridge City and eventual champions Brackley, Hitchin eventually finished 14th. Similarly, Frendo's 44 goals in 48 appearances during the 2012-13 campaign not only helped Hitchin to a 13th-place finish in the league but won him the award of Non-League's top scorer, beating Altrincham's Damian Reeves by 1 goal. His hat-trick on the last day of the season away to Bedford meant Frendo had scored over 100 goals for Hitchin in 3 seasons.

At the end of that season, manager Carl Williams stepped down. Former player Mark Burke was appointed manager in the summer of 2013 and the previous side almost entirely moved on. Despite this Burke and his assistant Adam Parker recruited some new young talent and finished in a creditable 13th position.

Hitchin Town have made steady progress in the Southern League Premier Division in the last 5 seasons. They have finished 14th, 13th, 13th and 9th, before reaching a best-ever position in the league of 3rd in 2015-16. This saw them qualify for the play-offs but they lost their semi-final at Top Field 3-2 to Hungerford Town, having held a 2-0 lead in front of a crowd of 1305. However the season ended on a high as Hitchin then defeated Boreham Wood 2-1 to lift the Hertfordshire Senior Cup. In 2016-17, Hitchin Town finished in 4th place and won their play-off semi-final via a penalty shoot-out against Merthyr Town. The final took place at Leamington and Hitchin took an early lead which they held until the 90th minute when they conceded a penalty and were reduced to ten men. Leamington won 2-1 with a goal in extra time to clinch promotion. Hitchin did however retain the Hertfordshire Senior Cup with a 2-1 win over Bishops Stortford, having previously lost 1-0 to Cheshunt in the Hertfordshire Charity Cup Final.

Hitchin Town