A Brief Overview of Chesham United
2016/2017 marks the seventh season that Chesham United have been back in the Southern League Premier Division following promotion back to the top division of the Southern League in 2010.
Following relegation to the Southern League South & West Division in 2006, Chesham were transferred to the Midlands Division after a single season. In 2007/08 United finished 6th and missed out on the play-offs by goal difference, and then last season, having finished 5th, they stumbled at the semi-final stage of the play-offs losing out to two late goals at Nuneaton Town having led 1-0 for much of the game. In 2009/2010 a fourth place finish was enough to reach the play offs. A 1-0 victory away at Burnham set off a final at home against Slough Town with a crowd of 1,115 witnessing a 4-0 victory at The Meadow to secure promotion. This slide gallery shows the play off final and celebrations:
The first season back in the Premier Division saw a creditable sixth-place finish as United just dropped away from the play-off places in the closing weeks of the season. Last season saw a 4th place finish and a play off semi final at AFC Totton. On a dramatic night we lost 3-2 to face another season in the Premier Division. We were also losing finalists to Wycombe Wanderers in the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup Final, and semi finalists in the Red Insure Cup.
The story of Chesham United has many highs and many lows. It was formed in 1917 following the merger of Chesham Town FC (who were founder members of the Southern League in 1894 when still known as just Chesham FC) and Chesham Generals (who took their name from the General Baptist Church in Chesham Broadway). Relative success in the following years paled into insignificance following the FA Amateur Cup run of 1967/68 when, against all the odds, little Chesham United went all the way from the Preliminary Round to the final of the FA Amateur Cup, finally losing 1-0 to Leytonstone in front of a 54,000 Wembley crowd (click to view PDF history of the Amateur Cup run). At a time when the population of Chesham was just 18,000 people, the club sold 22,000 tickets for this game.
The club went into turmoil on May 3rd 1983 when the main stand burned down. A new stand was officially opened in 1984 with the visit of a Graham Taylor Watford side containing Luther Blissett who later went on to become Chesham manager in 2006. Season 1987/8 marked the centenary year of non-league football in the town of Chesham, an achievement commemorated with a match against a full strength Arsenal side on 18th August 1987.
In January 1991, promotion and the Division One title were secured. In its inaugural season, the Loctite Final was reached but the match was lost to Bishops Stortford on penalties. In October 1992, the Club went to the very top of the Isthmian league after a famous win at Enfield, where they remained until the end of the season, being crowned Champions on the last day of the season following a 4-0 win over Dulwich Hamlet. Witnessed by an average home gate of just short of 1,000, the season also saw the arrival of ex-Liverpool star Mark Lawrenson. Promotion to the National Conference depended on ground improvements that could not be afforded. So, the season ended in disappointment after so much hard work.
Since those days the club has been through many managers, including ex-England Internationals Graham Roberts and Luther Blissett, and literally hundreds of players, including a stint with Bruce Grobelaar between the sticks.
In the early 2000s the club again had an eye on promotion to the Conference as Bob Dowie led a strong Chesham side to 6th in the Ryman Premier, possibly an under achievement when considering the resources at his disposable. The team that year included Wayne Andrews and Fitz Hall, both players having progressed to enjoy professional careers in the higher echelons of football. Two years later and the club were once again relegated back to Division One.
With re-structuring on the horizon, the following season was all about finishing in the top six to gain promotion, avoid relegation, depending on which way you look at it. After a fairly disastrous start, the ever improving side climbed up the table to eventually take 4th spot in the Ryman Division One (North) and earn a place in the Southern League Premier Division.
United’s first year in the Southern League was certainly adventurous. At times they looked title contenders, and then they flirted with relegation and in the end were happy to finish in mid-table. The following summer the true price of years of over-achieving came to light. Nearly two decades of wealthy Chairmen helping to fund the club was over and it was time for The Generals to stand on their own feet, a task that proved too much.
By February 2006 the club was truly on its knees. The front pages of local papers were highlighting the sorry plight of the club that had seen so much. A public meeting was called at the Town Hall to “Save Chesham United” – it was a last desperate throw of the dice …Fortunately the sorry tale had a happy ending. A local businessman, Charles Manchester, read the stories, visited The Meadow, showed an interest and helped get the club back on its feet. His intention was always to hand over the club to its supporters and he gradually brought more members of the Chesham United Supporters’ Trust onto the main club board whilst other Trust members took on many of the day to day tasks of running the club.
Following relegation to the Southern League South & West Division in 2006, Chesham were transferred to the Midlands Division after a single season. In 2007/08 United finished 6th and missed out on the play-offs on goal difference, but in 2008/09 finished 5th, but lost in the play-off semi-finals to two late goals at Nuneaton Town having led 1-0 for much of the game. In 2009/10 a fourth place finish was enough to reach the play-offs again. A 1-0 victory away at Burnham set up a final against Slough Town with a crowd of 1,115 witnessing a 4-0 victory at the Meadow to secure promotion.
Consolidation in the Southern Premier was the main aim for 2010/11, but Chesham finished 6th in the league having been in the play-off race for much of the campaign. Chesham achieved a 4th place finish in the 2011/12 season, losing in the play-off semi-finals to AFC Totton. In the 2012/13 season Chesham reached the FA Trophy Second Round, whilst in the league were unbeaten in their last 17 league games to finish 3rd, before losing to Hemel Hempstead Town in the play-offs.
Chesham were able to build on this in the 2013/14 season, pushing eventual champions Hemel Hempstead Town all the way in the title race, but ultimately had to settle for a place in the play-offs. After beating Stourbridge 2-1 at The Meadow in the play-off semi-final, Chesham lost 3-1 to St Albans City in front of a crowd of 2,960, the largest seen at The Meadow for many years. After the successful 2013-14 season, however, there were many personnel changes at the club the following year and a season of consolidation in 2014-15 ended with a 12th place finish.
The 2015-16 season was most notable for an FA Cup run that saw Chesham United reach the 2nd Round Proper of the competition. In the First Round a goal by Ryan Blake gave The Generals a 1-0 win away at Bristol Rovers that earned the club the Ronnie Radford Award for FA Cup Giant Killing of the Season, presented at Wembley Stadium during the FA Cup Final in May. United finally went out of the competition with an away defeat at Bradford City. This run marked the first time that a Chesham United side had knocked a Football League side out of the competition and was the best run since 1979-80 when Chesham reached the Third Round Proper, finally losing 0-2 to Cambridge United in front of a record 5,000 crowd at The Meadow. Another good cup run in the FA Trophy saw Chesham hold Torquay United to an away draw in the First Round Proper before exiting the competition in the replay at The Meadow.
The cup runs did have a detrimental effect on the league performance and, with the bulk of last season's squad retained along with some new additions, we go into the new season hoping to improve on last year's final 11th place finish. The 2016-17 season also marks the start of the 10th season for management team Andy Leese and Jon Meakes with the opening game of the season being their 500th match in charge at The Meadow.