THE STORY SO FAR
The first club in the town were amateur and were formed in 1877 as Guildford FC. Due to their colours, they were nicknamed the Pinks and they played their home matches at the Woodbridge Road Sports ground. Professional football in the town came about by a quirk of fate. A violent thunderstorm caused athletics meeting at Woodbridge Road to be abandoned. A substantial amount of money was lost. In an effort to raise money to pay the debt, a Pinks XI played Brentford on 20 October 1920 in front of 3,000 spectators. The success of the match caused local businessman to investigate the forming of a professional club. Eventually a club was formed with the name Guildford United and in May 1921 they were accepted into the Southern League, the equivalent of today’s National League. A home ground was obtained when local landowner Mr W. Triggs-Turner donated land on Josephs Road. Triggs-Turner later became the first chairman of the club. The chosen team’s colours were green and white stripes. On 17 August 1921 the new club played their first competitive fixture, hosting Reading Reserves at Josephs Road. Guildford won that first match 2-0 in front of 5,000 fans.
It was several seasons before the club saw any real success. When it came in 1928 it was in the FA Cup. By now the club had become Guildford City. Guildford had become a diocese and a cathedral was to be built. It was believed Guildford would become a city in due course and that was enough for the club’s name to be changed. So, after battling through the qualifying rounds City hosted Queens Park Rangers from the Football League in the First-round proper. In a memorable game City beat QPR 4-2 in front of nearly 8,000 spectators. In the second round another bumper crowd at Josephs Road saw Bournemouth romp home 5-1.
The early years of this decade were wholly unexceptional on the playing front. The 1934-35 season saw the start of a change. Much of the credit for the improvement was due to the incredible total of 68 goals scored by centre-forward Jock Thom, and the arrival of rock-solid central defender Sam Robinson. In February 1936 financial problems came to a head and the board looked earnestly at selling the Josephs Road ground. The supporters were aghast and a public meeting in the town was well attended, resulting in two new directors joining the board and the threat of sale passed. On the eve of the 1936-37 season Haydn Green was appointed manager. A former Hull City manager, and assistant at Birmingham City, Green was ideal for the role. A poor start with just one win in the first seven games was rectified and the team finished the Southern League campaign in fifth position.
The following season, 1937-38, was to be memorable as City lifted the Southern League Championship trophy for the first time. Several additions to the squad had in particular seen two influential players join the team in the form of Jimmy Brown and Stan Denby. Brown was an out and out goal scorer who had played for the USA in the 1930 World Cup, and had also played for Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, whilst Denby was a scheming half-back. For the second time in their history City knocked a Football League side out of the FA Cup. On this occasion it was Reading, and a 25-yard Jimmy Brown piledriver was enough to win the tie in front of 7,831 at Josephs Road. Guildford couldn’t repeat their heroics in the next round when they departed the competition at another Football League side Doncaster Rovers. In a pre-substitute age three players suffered injury during the match and were largely passengers. Financially though the 10,942 attendance at Belle Vue softened the blow of a 4-0 defeat. In pursuit of their first Southern League title City finished the season like an express train, winning nine out of their last 10 games. The title was finally clinched in the penultimate match, and to the acclaim of the town City were Champions! Jimmy Brown had contributed 38 goals in 34 league appearances.
Manager Haydn Green was now in demand and prior to the 1938-39 he very nearly departed for Torquay United. But the city board were very well aware how important he was to the club, and they managed to ensure that Green stayed in post for a further season. In the FA Cup 1st Round, proper City were drawn away to local Football League rivals Aldershot. A crowd of 11,000 gathered at the Recreation Ground to witness a tense cup-tie. Jimmy Brown scored for City in a 1-1 draw and both teams assembled for the replay at Josephs Road. The 9,932 crowd was a ground record although many felt there were many more attending. The resulting match was a real thriller. Aldershot made a good start and were 3-0 up in the first half. But after the break it was end to end stuff but at the final whistle the Hampshire side came away 4-3 winners. Back in the league the prolific Jimmy Brown set an unbroken club record by scoring seven goals in an 8-1 victory over Exeter City Reserves. In a table-topping clash against Colchester United in April a crowd of 9,443 assembled at Josephs Road to watch City win 3-1. Again, Guildford came like a steam train at the end of the season winning their final eight matches. But it wasn’t quite enough as City finished runners-up by just one point to Colchester United.
In September 1939 war clouds were gathering in Europe and the 1939-40 season was soon abandoned for the duration. It was long a point of discussion amongst City fans as to whether this golden City team would eventually have been elected to the Football League if the war hadn’t intervened.
When the playing squad re-assembled in 1946 after the war very few of City’s 1938–39 team remained. That didn’t prevent another successful season with City again finishing Southern League runners-up. A new goal scorer had arrived at Josephs Road in the form of Fred Monk who netted 29 league goals in 32 appearances. There then was a period of relative mediocrity until the 1950-51 season when City secured a third-place league finish. Eddie Passmore’s 38 goals played a large part in City’s season.
In 1951-52 finished fourth in the league, but the highlight was reaching the second-round proper of the FA Cup. A first round win over fellow Southern League club Hereford United saw City drawn away at then Football League side Gateshead. It remains the longest journey undertaken by a Guildford City side. 150 City fans had made the pre-motorway 600-mile round trip to Gateshead and were amongst the 15,000 crowd. The highest attendance at any Guildford City match. Despite a gallant performance Gateshead won the clash 2-0. At the conclusion of the season in 1951-star half-back Jimmy Langley left the club in a £2,000 transfer to Leeds United. Langley went on to play for Brighton & Hove Albion, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers in a long-playing career. He also became the only Guildford City player to go on to gain full international caps for England. In another first he also became the only City player to have a road named after him when Josephs Road was eventually replaced by a housing estate.
Archie Macaulay was appointed manager in 1953 and he set about building another successful side. This culminated in a second Southern League Championship in the 1955-56 season, with City finishing four points clear of Cheltenham Town in second place. Guildford’s championship goals were principally shared by Rick Pearson and Alec Hope, whilst defensively Mick Morton was considered one of the best defenders outside of the Football League. The final years of the decade were unremarkable. Indeed, in the 1958-59 season City went 20 league matches before winning their first match of the season on 21 February. Amazingly they then won seven of their next nine matches to pull away from the foot of the table.
The sixties were Guildford City’s second golden period. In 1961-62 the club returned to the top echelons of the Southern League, finishing third behind Oxford United who were bound for the Football League, and Bath City. Dave Barrett who had signed after National service in Aldershot, had established himself a first-class striker and scored 22 league goals. The following season City were again in a championship race although they eventually finished fourth. However, Nuneaton Borough were beaten over two-legs to clinch the Southern League Cup for the first time. In 1963-64 City finished fourth, with Dave Barrett contributing 24 league goals. In 1964-65 the club were again perilously close to lifting the Southern League title. City finished as runners-up to Weymouth by two points but were undone during December when they failed to win one of their five matches. In a memorable strike partnership Dave Barrett and John Stevens scored 43 league goals between them. The 1965-66 league season was disappointing but in 1966-67 City recovered to finish sixth in an incredibly tight league where they were only four points off of the top side. A second Southern League Cup win was however achieved by defeating Barnet over two legs.
In 1967-68 Guildford embarked upon a memorable FA Cup run. In the First Round City were drawn away to Brentford and were leading 2-1 when the tie was abandoned due to a snowstorm. The teams reassembled days later and again Guildford stepped up achieving a 2-2 draw. The replay at Joseph’s Road on a Monday in December saw a classic FA Cup tie under the lights. 7,289 fans crammed into Josephs Road to roar City onto a famous 2-1 victory. A further 8,774 saw City fall narrowly to Newport County in the Second Round, and unbeknown at the time the glory days at Josephs road were over. Inexplicably the following season Guildford struggled throughout the campaign and finishing bottom of the pile they suffered their first relegation.
Guildford City spent two seasons in the Southern League Division One, the second level. In the 1970-71 City regained their seat at the top table by winning the Division One championship by four points from Merthyr Tydfil. Les Burns and the evergreen Tony Burge scored 42 league goals between them. Promotion had been gained but off of the pitch financial problems were worsening. There was still time for two big FA Cup matches, both away from home. In 1971-72, in a cup run that started in the first qualifying round, City reached the first round proper where they faced fellow Southern League side Dover. City won in a replay and were drawn away to Shrewsbury Town in the second round. A train was chartered to take the travelling City fans, but despite a memorable goal from Terry Dyson City lost 2-1. The following season City visited Watford in the First-Round proper. In a cracking cup-tie Watford advanced to the next round 4-2.
Off of the pitch the Josephs Road ground had been sold in 1969. and finally on 12 February 1974 amidst emotional scenes, the last match was played on the old ground in front of 625 fans. The season was seen out by playing at other club’s grounds. Ironically the Josephs Road stadium sat untouched until 1978. Eschewing offers of land for a ground in Guildford, the board of directors opted instead to amalgamate with Dorking FC and play at that clubs Meadowbank stadium. The move lasted two full seasons with Dorking & Guildford finishing bottom of the Premier Division in the first year and 15th in Division One in the second. City fans had thought the move a sell-out and many refused to attend in Dorking. With poor form also, the attendances were disappointing. In season three the rug was finally pulled on the club after just 15 matches of the 1976-77 season.
THE WILDERNESS YEARS
A public meeting in the town had raised a considerable sum of money that could be used in the right circumstances to assist in resurrecting the City. After the failure at Dorking, an attempt to resurrect the club via a Guildford & Worplesdon side was thwarted by inadequate playing facilities at both the University and Worplesdon’s Recreation Ground. Council promises of a replacement ground at Slyfield came to nothing. During the 1980’s there were several attempts to re-kindle interest in a re-birth of the club. The Guildford City Appeals Committee still existed and in 1996 Godalming Town FC applied to it for a donation towards ground improvements. Controversially a substantial grant was made to Godalming for the installation of a main stand and floodlights. The grant was made on the understanding that the club name be changed to Guildford & Godalming FC. After the grant was made Godalming insisted on their name taking precedence. This did not sit well with City people who remembered the end of Josephs Road and the move to Dorking. The use of the appeal fund at Godalming was controversial and it seemed the last chance to get senior football back in Guildford had gone. Godalming played as Godalming & Guildford until the end of the 2004-05 season when they reverted to Godalming Town.
With thanks to Stewart Phillips, Dennis May, John Woodhatch, Bill Bellerby & Barry Underwood.