The first home I can ever remember was in Aldershot. Back then I used to flick through the pages of my comic, trying to shy away from the reality of one of Britain’s worst towns. It wasn’t through some idiotic choice of my parents that we lived there, my dad was enlisted in the British paratroopers, based in Aldershot, home of the British army.
A brisk walk through the town of Aldershot over twenty years later leaves the impression of a town with a massive identity crisis. The influx of Nepalese immigrants has caused a debate in the town now that their population has increased to 10% within the surrounding Rushmoor borough. Anglo-Nepalese clashes unfortunately are frequent. Even Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the people of Aldershot for showing ‘discrimination and prejudice’ towards the Nepalese community.
But while Aldershot is a town that struggles with a community at war and a centre that really wouldn’t look out of place in the 50′s. The football club seems to be the only thing that keeps this mismatch of a town together. However, even that journey has been a bumpy one.
My earliest memory of the Recreation Ground (affectionately known to locals as ‘The Rec’) home of Aldershot Town football club, was walking on the other side of the road and watching the sign of a local antique shop blow completely off in hundreds of pieces. The white sign spread far and wide all over the road, the ticket office and perhaps even as far as the hallowed turf. In that very instant the whole history of Aldershot football club flashed before my eyes, a once proud club supporting the local community had been shattered, only to be put back together piece by piece, much like the antique sign.
Aldershot Town were founded in 1992, before them Aldershot FC has been residents of ‘The Rec’ since 1926. Back then the ground was just a public park that the newly formed club had leased from the local council. A few months after formation Aldershot FC joined the Southern League defeating Grays Thurrock 4-0 in their first ever match.
Aldershot FC never really hit the heights, bouncing between the third and fourth divisions for much of their years in existence but during the early 1990s the club was in trouble. Years of overspending caught up with the club on the 31st of July 1990 where they wound up in the High Court and deemed “financially insolvent” with debts of £495,000. A figure which in todays money mad game is pennies.
But then there was a chink of light at the end of the tunnel, a young 19 year-old property developer named Spencer Trethewry paid £200,000 to save the club and kept them up and running to start the new 1991/1992 season.
Trethewry was Aldershot’s savior at the eleventh hour, but during the next few months the cracks began to appear. After the initial £200,000 investment bills began to go unpaid and the clubs slow slide into financial meltdown began again. It transpired Trewthry had borrowed the initial £200,000 to save the club and couldn’t pay it back.
Just three months later he was voted off the board by the other directors at the club. Spencer Trewthry was convicted of fraud in 1994 and sentenced to a two-year prison sentence, but by the time Spencer Trewthry was in jail, the club he had seemingly saved, didn’t exist.
Aldershot FC played it’s last ever game on the 20th of March 1992 away to Cardiff City. The game only took place due to a donation by the Cardiff City fans of £6000 which covered some of the Aldershot players wages and travel expenses. Just five days later, the club was wound up in the High Court again and Aldershot FC no longer existed. They became the first club in football league history not to complete a league season.
But it didn’t take long for the people of Aldershot to go without a football team. Thirty three days later at a public meeting held at the Royal Aldershot Officers Club attended by over 600 ‘Shots’ fans it was announced that a new limited company had been formed under the banner Aldershot Town Football Club (1992). The club were actively looking for a league to participate in for the coming 92/93 season. Despite only having one player on its books, on the 16th of June 1992 the club announced they would be competing in the Diadora Isthmian League Division 3.
After a series of promotions the club currently sit once again in English footballs fourth tier, they finally gained promotion to the football league in 2008. Ironically their opening game of that season was against Accrington Stanley, a club who’s history shares a similar past with Aldershot. Both clubs with historic names who through financial mismanagement and off field problems had to start from scratch and work their way up.
Just under twenty years since the dark days of Spencer Trewthry and Aldershot Town have just played host to one of Europe’s greatest sides, Manchester United in the Carling Cup. Aldershot lost 3-0, but thats not really the point here. All those years ago Shots supporters would have given anything to play York City just a few days after losing to Cardiff City, even though they were rooted to the foot of the fourth tier.
The town of Aldershot may not be the greatest place in the world and have more problems than most, but the football club has given its residents something to keep fighting for over the past few years and in return has given its town a position in football to be proud of.