In the beginning
The Winchester Football Club was founded in 1884 as a result of the endeavours of two residents of the city – Oxford graduate and former England Rugby cap Charles Sylvester Wooldridge and Huntingdon-born all round sportsman (and, incidentally, inventor of ice hockey!) Arnold Tebbutt. The football club, which had strong links with Winchester College, made quite an impact in the early years of association football in Hampshire, reaching the final of the inaugural Hampshire Senior Cup competition in 1888 and providing a number of players to represent Hampshire in county-based competitions. However financial difficulties, combined with the indifference of Winchester residents, led to the 1884 club folding in 1893.
The decline of the city’s most high-profile club left a void that was subsequently to be filled by the Winchester Swallows FC. Formed in 1891, the Swallows were less socially exclusive than the 1884 club and had a membership more reflective of that of Winchester as a whole. The club changed its name to Winchester FC at the start of the start of the 1894/95 season, and again in 1907 when it became Winchester City FC. Like the 1884 club, the Swallows appeared in a dark blue and white strip
and played their home games at Bar End, before moving in 1896 to a field adjoining the Old Red Deer pub in Stockbridge Road, and relocating again to the Roebuck Inn in 1902.
The club first played in a league-based competition in 1896/97 when it entered the newly-formed South Hampshire League. Winchester FC won the title in this first season, and repeated that feat in the each of the following three years. The club joined the Hampshire League in 1898/99 where, after struggling during their first few seasons, they remained unbeaten throughout the 1904/05 season and won the League’s Northern Section. The club also enrolled to the Southampton and District League in 1908/09, but with no notable success.
Like a number of other football clubs, Winchester City FC effectively disbanded at the start of the First World War in 1914, and didn’t reappear until 1920.
Between the wars
The rebirth of the club signalled two significant changes. Firstly the club had moved again, this time playing its home fixtures at the Fair Field at Bar End (now the site of the Bar End Industrial Estate), a site where it was to stay until the Second World War. Secondly, it adopted a new strip, discarding its navy blue colours in favour of red and white stripes.
The late 20s and early 30s proved to be a purple patch in City’s fortunes. The 1929/30 season saw the side again win the Northern Section of the Hampshire League, and achieve its most successful FA Cup run to date. That year saw City reach the fourth qualifying round of the tournament where a 3-0 defeat by Thames FC at the 120,000 capacity West Ham Stadium deprived them of an away trip to Fulham in the First Round proper. Any disappointment at this would have been forgotten two years later in 1931 when City lifted the Hampshire Senior Cup for the first time after defeating Andover at The Dell.
One of the key members of the team in that era was the teenage Ted Drake. A local gas meter-reader at the time of joining City, Drake went on to enjoy a successful career with Southampton before joining Arsenal and also collecting five England caps. The highlight of his subsequent managerial career saw him steer Chelsea to their first (and, until 2005, their only) league title in 1955.
Play was again interrupted by war in 1939, although the club did continue to play and took advantage of the presence of a number of enlisted players that passed through the city. The end of hostilities saw City move yet again, this time taking up a lease of the Army’s playing field at Airlie Road, Stanmore.
The 1950s saw a second notable period of success at Winchester City. The side were runners up in the Hampshire League in 1949/50 and, in the same season, won their first Southampton Senior Cup final, an achievement which was repeated in 1951/52. The Russell Cotes Cup was also won for the first time in 1954/55. Success on the field was mirrored off the pitch as the club enjoyed some of its largest gates with crowds that regularly topped 1,000 filing into the Airlie Road stands.
It was during this period that the young Terry Paine ran out for his hometown club. His prodigious talent led to his being signed in 1956 by Southampton with whom he made a record number of appearances (713 over 17 seasons). Paine also made 19 appearances for England, the last of which was against Mexico in the 1966 World Cup finals for which he (belatedly) received a winner’s medal in 2009.
Taking on the Southern League (1971-73)
Prior to the 1970s City had played virtually all of its competitive football, with the exceptions of the Amateur and FA Cups, within the confines of the Hampshire county border. However after the club’s Russell Cotes Cup victory and a creditable second spot in the Hampshire League in 1970/71 the club’s Board decided to make the step up and enter the Southern League for the first time. City survived for just two seasons at that higher level, achieving disappointing final positions of 12th out of 16 (1971/72) and 21st out of 22 (1972/73), before electing to return to the Hampshire League.
In the Doldrums (1980s)
For the remainder of the 1970s City yoyo’d between the top two divisions of the Hampshire League before a potentially fatal blow hit the club in 1981. In that year the lease agreement with the Army for Airlie Road expired and was not renewed. Briefly homeless, the club eventually moved to its current ground, a pitch leased from the City Council at Hillier Way. The ground needed a considerable amount of work to get it up to scratch, as did the team which had tumbled into the Hampshire League’s third division by 1982/83. The ignominy of this decline was made all the greater by the success of local rivals Winchester Castle in the first division – City could no longer claim to be Winchester’s premier club.
The continuing existence of Winchester City FC throughout the 1980s owed much to the work of Geoff Cox who at various times acted as Chairman, Manager, Coach and Groundsman at the club. Under his guidance the club was eventually to return to the Hampshire League’s top division in 1993/94.
The Glory Years
The new millennium ushered in a period of unprecedented success for Winchester City. Prompted in part by the arrival of new and ambitious members to the Board, the club merged with Winchester Castle and began a rapid rise through the local league structure. Promotion to the Hampshire Premier League was achieved in 2000/01, and followed two years later by promotion to the Wessex League. The Wessex League title was secured at the first attempt.
That same season witnessed the club’s greatest ever triumph. May 2004 saw City face Suffolk side AFC Sudbury in the final of FA Vase at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground. Few that were there will forget the spine-jangling moment when club captain Danny Smith lifted the trophy after the 2-0 victory.
Further successes were recorded in the seasons that followed – 2004/05 saw City win the Hampshire Senior Cup for the second time, beating Aldershot 2-1 at Bournemouth’s Dean Court ground, whilst 2005/06 witnessed the club regain the Wessex League championship and win promotion to the Southern League for a second spell.
City’s return to the Southern League lasted three seasons. Financial problems, followed by a final day points deduction saw City return to the Wessex League for the 2009/10 campaign. Despite a concerted push to gain promotion back to the Southern League which ultimately proved successful in 2011/12, the resources required to sustain the club’s position at that level proved elusive. Winchester City FC finished the 2012/13 season at the foot of the Southern league and facing an uncertain future. The late spring of 2013 saw a takeover at the club and, with a new Committee structure and financial backers in place, the 2013/14 season heralds the start of a new chapter in the history of Winchester City FC.
2013-2014 saw a season of re-organisation and team building, with City retaining a place in the Sydenhams Wessex League. 2015-2016 – City made a valiant attempt to take the Wessex title but just fell short to a very successful Peters field Town side who were rightly promoted to the Southern League. City under the Managership of Paul Masters then set about strengthening the squad to win the title next season when out of the blue they were offered a place in the Southern
League due to a withdrawal. The Club were given 24 hours to pay their fees and attend the AGM in Torquay. A frantic drive by Director of Football Dave Malone saw him arrive just in time with the relevant papers and bank draft! As a result our neighbours, Peters field Town, were moved out of Division 1 South and
West to accommodate City and placed in the Central Division! City's first season back in the Southern League was a success with them reaching the play-offs final losing to Banbury United in the quarter finals, who were promoted and
coming within minutes of winning the Hampshire Senior Cup losing on penalties to Havant and Waterlooville. City's preparation for this season were disrupted by the unexpected resignation of Manager Paul Masters in the middle or pre-season friendlies. The Club quickly filled the vacancy by appointing Petersfield Town's Manager Ian Saunders to the post.
The club started the season brightly and made it to the fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, beating US Portsmouth, Street and Truro City before finally succumbing to Harrow Borough. The club also had a successful run in the FA Trophy, thanks to wins against Petersfield Town, Fleet Town and Phoenix Sports before getting knocked out narrowly by Dulwich Hamlet. Craig Feeney and Howard Neighbour forced a strong strike partnership, added to that the midfield flair of Captain Stuart Green and winger, Andy Jenkinson, City recovered from a difficult spell before Christmas to mount a play-off push in the early stages of the New Year. Manager, Ian Saunders, went away with the military, and during this time, Mick Catlin stepped in to take over the running of the First-Team. When Saunders returned, form deteriorated and Saunders subsequently left the club and was replaced by Interim Manager, Craig Davis, who joined the club from Fleet Town. Davis took control of the club until the end of the season, when it was announced that he would officially be becoming Permanent First Team Manager.
Davis has assembled his own squad throughout the summer and has overseen pre-season victories against Gosport Borough, Hanwell Town and Bashley as well as draws with Romsey Town, Blackfield & Langley, Alresford Town and Moneyfields.