It’s that time of year again. Dreams of non-league teams have arguably already been realised after round upon round of qualifying have now come to a conclusion and the First Round is upon us (I’m still not convinced that we should call it the “First Round Propah” to quote Trevor Brooking). The Cobblers have been paired with Conference South high flyers Bishop’s Stortford and I thought I would take some time this week to get to know our opponents more.
The wonderful thing about this competition is that you get the underdogs battling through to reach the First Round but also that the league teams involved coming up against them get to make acquaintances with a new club. Whatever happens on Sunday this game will likely be memorable and one that we look back on, good or bad.
That’s why it’s important to not just see Bishop’s Stortford as a side that could potentially do everlasting damage to the Cobblers but also to respect their football club and what they are trying to do. We should be embracing this game, as hard as it is right now, as the occasion that it most certainly is. Make no bones about it, this is a massive, massive game for both clubs and not just the home side.
So this week I’ll be talking all things Bishop’s Stortford with fans whilst giving a bigger picture of their history, starting this afternoon.
The early years
Bishop’s Stortford actually have a longer history than the Cobblers having been formed in 1874 and establishing themselves in the Stansted and District League. They topped the division in 1911, 1913 and 1920. They were a busy club at the time having also entered the brilliantly named Saffron Walden and District League with success coming in 1912, 1913 and 1914.
Towards the middle of the century the club moved to the Hertfordshire County League, the Spartan League, the Delphian League (winning it in 1955) and the Athenian League. As the Cobblers were working their way up the divisions from Division Four to Division One in the sixties, the Bishops were creating their own history by winning the Athenian First Division in 1966 and the Athenian Premier League in 1970. The 1970-71 season was another historical one for them as they reached the FA Cup First Round for the first time. Although they were beaten 6-1 by Reading – at that point at Division Three outfit – it was a pivotal moment for the club.
The following season saw a switch to the Isthmian League and by 1973 they were back in the FA Cup, taking Peterborough United to a replay before eventually bowing out 3-1. They came close to winning the FA Amateur Cup that season by reaching the semi-finals but a year later and they had won the last ever competition that went by that name.
League and Cup Success…
Two more FA Cup appearances followed with a First Round Replay defeat to Leatherhead after a replay in 1974-75 frustrating their attempts to make a first ever Second Round appearance. That feat was finally achieved a year later, though, when Dartford were brushed aside 4-1 in the First Round to set up a Second Round clash with Aldershot Town in which they were beaten 2-0.
The club were relegated from the Isthmian Premier League in 1978 but bounced back in a historical season of 1980-81 when they not only won the First Division but also clinched the FA Trophy with a 1-0 win over Sutton United under the twin towers at Wembley.
More cup glory followed with a first ever win over a league side in the FA Cup coming with revenge on Reading as they beat the Royals 2-1 in 1982. They went on past Slough Town to book a first ever Third Round place and held then Second Division (Championship in new money!) Middlesbrough to a terrific 2-2 draw at Ayresome Park. The replay saw them just fall short in a 2-1 defeat and the Bishops were eliminated in the First Round in each of the following three seasons.
Back in the league and 1992 was a poor one with relegation back to the Isthmian First Division. It was to be a relatively short stay once again, though, with promotion as champions coming in 1994. They stayed in the Premier League for a further five seasons until relegation in 1999.
Returning three years later, a period of stability helped them to establish themselves in the new Conference South division and held down their place there until 2011 when they were transferred to the Conference North due to Rushden and Diamonds being forced to pull out.
With the club third from bottom in the Conference North in 2011, former Tottenham and England goalkeeper Ian Walker was replaced as manager by current boss Rod Stringer who took them back up the table to eventually finish tenth.
This season, they’ve been on a fantastic run and have won five out of six league games, the latest being a 2-1 victory against Tonbridge Angels on Saturday, whilst only losing once away from home to see them sitting third in the table ahead of Sunday’s game. The FA Cup run has taken them past Hendon (5-0), Chipstead (6-1) and Conference Premier side Forest Green Rovers (1-0).
As the Bishops look to make another indelible mark on their history on Sunday, we have to hope that we end up being a side note rather than one of their more famous moments.