THE STORY SO FAR
At the same time that the Godalming move was being completed there were moves in another direction. Burpham FC on the fringe of Guildford wanted to play at a higher level but their facilities didn’t match the level required. As a result, and after a long period of discussions, the Guildford club re-emerged as AFC Guildford in 1996 when the then Mayor of Guildford John Woodhatch persuaded Burpham FC to change its name and move to the Spectrum Leisure Centre. AFC Guildford played that first season in the Surrey Premier League at intermediate level where they remained until qualifying for the newly created Combined Counties League.
In 2003/04 AFC Guildford were crowned champions of Division One and gained their first senior level honour. The first such honour for the senior Guildford side since 1971. Promotion was obtained into the Combined Counties Premier Division, and the club had to ground share with Cranleigh FC whilst the Spectrum pitch was brought up to the necessary standard. In early November 2004, AFC Guildford returned to their home ground at the town’s leisure centre.
In 2005 the club changed its name to Guildford United, but quickly acquired the name of Guildford City. The once famous name had returned to senior football after an absence of over 30 years.
In the two seasons 2004-06 the side finished comfortably mid table. But twice at the end of the decade City were fortunate to be reprieved after finishing in the relegation positions. Between the two poor seasons though in 2007-08, City, under the management of former Woking pair Scott Steele and Lloyd Wye, did finished as runners-up in the Combined Counties Premier Division. The champions that year were Merstham who finished 28 points clear of the field! In the final year of the decade a former Croydon Athletic U18 manager took the reigns with his assistant Roly Martin. This was Kevin Rayner who turned out to be an inspired choice. Rayner would go on to be both Guildford’s most successful and long serving manager of the reborn club.
After some 16 months squad building, and with a number of his former youth team graduates in the side, Kevin Rayner and his team set out on a remarkable 2010-11 season. It was a season that saw both league success in winning the Combined League Championship, but also exciting cup runs in both the FA Cup and FA Vase. The title was won at Ash United on 25 April 2011 when in a nervy display City won 3-2. The league was won by three points from Chertsey Town in second place. In the FA Cup Guildford had provided a big shock by winning at Isthmian League Premier division Tonbridge Angels. In front of a 500+ crowd, an 88th minute Joel Greaves goal clinched the tie much to the chagrin of the Kent side. In the FA Vase, City reached the Fourth Round before going out in extra-time to Suffolk side Leiston. Over the season Joel Greaves contributed 33 goals: a record for the reborn club at senior level. Ultimately the League success was bittersweet however, as the club’s promotion was controversially denied due to the Spectrum failing a ground grading inspection, despite a verbal acknowledgement that the ground was satisfactory.
After pulling out all the stops on the pitch but then being denied, it takes something special to go out and do the same thing again. That is what Kevin Rayner’s side did, this time winning the 2011-12 championship by one point from Windsor in the runners-up spot. The title was finally put out of Windsor’s reach on 14 April 2012 when City beat Raynes Park Vale 4-2 at the Spectrum. This time City were not denied the promotion they deserved. Three goal scorers led the way: Dan Moody with 32, Austin Gacheru with 31 and Joel Hughes with 18. The captain Simon Cooper and Elvis Defreitas, Gacheru, Anthony Hall, Corey Holder, Moody and Ben Rayner were all near ever-present.
Having achieved promotion City played their inaugural Step Four season in the Southern League Division One Central. An early win at Slough Town in front of 231 spectators opened many people’s eyes, and Guildford made a remarkable start to the season winning their first seven league matches. In the process they were Southern League team of the month for August, and were top of the league in October, and still in the promotion places in late November. The bubble was always likely to burst and mid-season there was a run of nine games without a win. But rally the team did and their final ninth place finish remains their highest since the rebirth in 1996. Dan Moody again top scored with 30 goals, whilst Simon Cooper, Anthony Hall, Junior Kaffo, Moody, Ben Rayner and Jamie Thoroughgood.
The follow up Southern League season in 2013-14 was a lot tougher. The manager and many of the players had departed to take up a new challenge at Chipstead FC. To substantially add to the challenge the FA moved City sideways into Southern League Division One South & West; a division geographically based in Bristol and Somerset. Former Kingstonian player Dean Thomas took on what was a huge challenge. Wins were few and far between, but the side were competitive at home at the Spectrum. On the road there were some heavy beatings including a disastrous 12-0 defeat at Merthyr Town. Dean Thomas resigned at the end of October, and Kevin Rayner returned to try and save the team from relegation. Form did improve and doubles were achieved over Bishops Cleeve, Fleet Town and Taunton Town. Going into the last month of the season survival was a real prospect. But a bad run hit at the wrong time, and with just two points out of the last 24 City were relegated.
Hopes were high in 2014-15 that the club could make a swift return to Step Four. But the team under achieved and with the team in the relegation places Kevin Rayner departed the club in November to be replaced by local coaches Donovan Chislett and Phil Bowers. Chislett decided to put his faith in youth, and he led City to a remarkable escape from relegation on the last day of the season. However, 12 games into the 2015-16 season and with City having only recorded four wins, Don Chislett resigned as manager. Former Godalming & Farncombe manager Dean Thomas stepped into the managers shoes in September 2015 and made an instant impact with a 5-3 victory against Raynes Park Vale. Building a team for a competitive league took time for Thomas with many players coming and going, but the core of the squad remained constant with striker Matt Anton scoring important goals that saw City finish a respectable 14th position.
In 2016-17 Thomas was joined by Steve Dormer as his assistant manager. With record sponsorships providing income City were able to recruit a strong team. In demand strikers Perry Coles and Matt Glass were signed, along with a number of players with Step Four experience. City get off to a great start to the season with some impressive wins and a memorable FA Cup tie at Bognor Regis played in front of a crowd of 396. In September Dean Thomas rather surprisingly left the club to manage at his hometown Godalming Town. Steve Dormer took over the role of First Team manager until the end of the season. At the end of the season City had finished a disappointing 16th in the league. One highlight though had seen Guildford appearing in the semi-finals of the Surrey Senior Cup, where they played Woking at the Spectrum in front of a ground record 545 spectators. At the season’s end Dormer chose to leave the club and take on the manager’s role at Fleet Town.
Former Merrow manager Chris Balchin was appointed as Dormer’s replacement in May 2017. The 2017-2018 season started well with six wins in the first seven games, including FA Cup victories against Newport IOW and Camberley Town. A final league finish of 12th was an improvement but overall, still disappointing. Dan Stewart, whose goals had played a big part in 2014-15’s escape from relegation, scored 27 goals in 46 appearances. Because of a major refurbishment to the athletics track at the Spectrum, the 2018-19 season saw home matches principally being played at the home of Godalming Town. A seventh-place finish was a further improvement, but inconsistency prevented a higher finish. During the season the impressive young goalkeeper Liam Beach moved on to Farnborough Town, and Kyen Nicholas finished as top scorer with 17 goals in 25 appearances.
The 2019-20 and the 2020-21 seasons were both heavily hit by Covid-19 restrictions, and neither season reached its conclusion. The earlier of the seasons had seen Guildford positioned in a disappointing 17th position when the lockdown came. Goalscoring had been a particular problem as the side had scored just 28 goals in their 31 league matches played. The 2020-21 season started a month late in September. City’s performances in the FA Vase were the highlights in a season that had threatened relegation. The FA Vase run to the third round was the club’s best since 2010-11. In December 2020, Chris Balchin left the club after three years in charge following a run of poor performances.
In January ex-Staines Town manager Paul Barnes was appointed to the manager of Guildford City. The league season had been abandoned in December owing to the pandemic and three months after his appointment Barnes took charge of his first match.
During the close season, Guildford City undertook a full restructure of the club. The management group was added to with experience both in business and football administration. A major theme is to strengthen links with the community and a women’s team will be added to the club for 2021-22. The club will also have a management trust that will administer the community role.