The foundations of Chesham United Football Club
Regular supporters will no doubt know something of the history of Chesham United, and the excellent ‘History of Chesham United’ by Peter Gibbins is available in the club shop. But for those of you new to The Meadow here’s a quick guide to how the Chesham United we know today came into being.
Early football in Chesham
The first recorded organised football in the town goes back well into the nineteenth century. Christ Church in Waterside was built during the 1860s and in 1879 the curate, Reverend Reade, initiated the Chesham & Waterside Football Club with their first match being against Amersham. The club became known simply as Chesham FC. Eight years later a second team was founded in the town by the General Baptist Chapel. This church was originally founded in 1712 on a site slightly further back from the current Broadway Baptist Church. The club was named after the church and was known as Chesham Generals FC.
In the early days there were a few grounds used by the teams, largely rented from farmers and landowners. The senior ground in the town was the Chesham Cricket Club meadow, established on its current site in 1880 after moving from a ground in what is now Higham Mead. Football was played on the site in the winter months with the pitch marked out on the Amy Lane side of the ground. A second meadow was also rented from a local farmer, roughly on the site of the current football club, and known as ‘the pig trough’ due to the contours of the land. These appear to be the main pitches used by Chesham FC. The Generals played on a ground located in what is now housing around the Brockhurst Road area behind Berkhamstead Road.
In 1894 Chesham FC became founder members of the new Southern League when it was set up as a southern alternative to the north and midlands based Football League. Ii is interesting that league matches almost took place against an early Arsenal side. Woolwich Arsenal were the first team in England to turn professional and had tried to instigate a Southern League in 1891 before becoming the first southern-based team to join the Football League in 1893. When the new league was finally set up the following year Woolwich Arsenal tried to enter their reserves in the same second division as Chesham FC but the application was rejected.
In 1899 Chesham FC changed their name to Chesham Town FC and continued to play in the Southern League until 1904 when they finished bottom of the table. In 1908 they were re-admitted and played a further four years before becoming founder members of the Athenian League in 1912.
Meanwhile Chesham Generals were making their own progress as the second senior side in the town with both teams enjoying success in the Berks & Bucks competitions and entering the early FA Cup and Amateur Cup competitions. In 1898 the Generals reached the Quarter Final of the Amateur Cup losing 2-4 to Old Malvernians and they went on to join the Spartan League in 1909 becoming league champions in 1913-1914, the final season before most organized football was suspended during World War One.
“Living to line the ropes” – the impact of War and birth of Chesham United FC
During the 1914-18 war a number of players from both clubs were to lose their lives and by September 1917 a correspondent in the Bucks Examiner disclosed that:
“It is by now an open secret that the two Chesham football clubs have made good progress with an amalgamation scheme. The members of both clubs have met and given consent to the scheme, which provides for a coalition of forces in all ways.”
By November 1917 the news had reached Chesham-based troops serving on the battle lines and “A Soldier’s View “, by an un-named contributor, was published in the newspaper:
“I have seen in the Examiner about the amalgamation of both the senior clubs of the town. Well, there is much to be said for that and very little against, for after the war it would be very difficult to put out two first-class senior teams, and it would be difficult to find subscriptions to keep two senior clubs going. . . . From what some of us can see out here they have a kind of little revolution on in Chesham, and we in Belgium and France have no say in the matter. Never mind, some of us, if not all, will live to line the ropes again, if we cannot do anything better. There is one thing certain, and that is that we are the winning side out here, and when the whistle blows for the ‘cease-fire’ we shall all be there. It may be rather slow but it is sure.”
Discussions about merger had taken place as early as 1902 but the war finally prompted the formation of a single senior club in the town. The new Chesham United came into being on 1st December 1917 though a match was played by the club on 3rd November against the Royal Garrison Artillery from Halton Camp at ‘the pig trough’ meadow. The first official game took place against the same opposition at the Cricket Meadow on 27th December 1917.
The club entered teams in the Spartan League and the Great Western League when football re-commenced after the war with the first competitive matches being played in the 1919-1920 season.
The issue of a ground for the new club continued to be a problem. The football club continued to share with the cricket club meaning that fixtures had to be scheduled away from home at the start and end of each season. A wooden grandstand was located backing onto Amy Lane at this time. Over a number of years Squire William Lowndes, whose family was subsequently to donate 29 acres of land to form Lowndes Park in 1953, negotiated on behalf of the club to find a permanent new site. This came to fruition in 1930 when it was announced that he had secured the freehold to the second meadow ‘pig trough’ site. Some £4,000 was then raised by the people of the town to have the ground leveled and developed into what was described as one of the best grounds in the south of England when it opened in 1931. The wooden stand from the cricket meadow was moved piece by piece to the new ground and it is here that Chesham United still plays with the site owned by the Chesham Sports Company on behalf of the people of Chesham.