Founded in 1921, when the town itself was in its infancy (the first house was completed in December 1920), Welwyn Garden City FC began by playing friendlies before being admitted to the Mid-Hertfordshire League (Division 2) for the 1922/23 season.
The club then moved to the Bedfordshire & District League for one season - 1926/27 (finishing 9th of 11 teams) before joining the Spartan League for season 1927/28, where we stayed until the end of the 1934/35 season. Our first outing in the FA Amateur Cup, 1926/27, saw us lose to Wood Green after a replay in the 1st Qualifying Round. During the 1927/28 season we gained our first honour, winning the Hertfordshire FA Charity Shield, beating Hoddesdon Town 5-2. We also entered the FA Cup for the first time, losing 7-4 away to Hampstead in the 1st Qualifying Round having previously knocked out Hitchin Blue Cross and Ware in the previous rounds.
Following a very successful 1934/35 season, where we achieved our highest ever league position of third place in the Spartan League Division 2 East (out of 14 teams), the club was forced to resign as it couldn’t find a suitable ground on which to play - the Club needed an enclosed ground to enable it to collect gate money, without which it was unable to cover running costs. As a consequence the club was wound up in July 1935 with debts of just over £20.
This situation lasted until May 1937 when former local rivals Shredded Wheat FC, members of the Hertfordshire County League, was wound up by the company management who were frustrated at the team not being allowed to compete in higher level leagues due to a ban on company teams at those levels. Shredded Wheat management then took the generous decision of making their football facilities available for the re-establishment of a football team in the town, which included a donation to help establish the new team. This enabled the newly-established club to re-join the Spartan League for the 1937/38 season where they finished bottom. In common with all leagues, the Spartan League was suspended in August 1939 due to the war, the club only playing one league fixture. For the remainder of the 1939/40 season we competed in the East, North & Mid-Hertfordshire Combination and then the Hertfordshire & Bedfordshire Combination. However, the club committee was finding it increasingly difficult to raise a team and so, at a meeting held in August 1940, they decided, “to carry on with the club with the present committee”. During this time, works teams, particularly those involved in important wartime production such as Murphy’s Radio, became predominant.
Our next recorded action on the pitch is from the 1944/45 season with the club competing in the Mid-Hertfordshire League and now relocated to Springfield. Things returned to normality for the 1945/46 season with the club once again competing in the Spartan League, where we remained until joining the London League for the 1950/51 season. Our three season stay in the London League lasted until the end of the 1954/1955 season, when we re-joined the Spartan League, where we stayed until 1959. At this time the Club were managed by Harry Hibbs, the former England goalkeeper (25 caps), Harry being one of two ex-internationals to be in charge of The Citizens, the other being Alex Massie who was capped by Scotland. In 1956 we were elected Associate Members of the Football Association.
After finishing 15th (out of 16 teams) in the Spartan League our next stop was county football with a move to the Hertfordshire County League for the 1959/1960 season, where we stayed until the end of the 1969/1970 season. During this time we moved to our present home, Herns Way, in 1968 and staged our first fixture at senior level, against Knebworth in the Aubrey Cup, on the 16th November that year.
In 1970 the club joined the London League for the second time in our history. However, recurring problems with the new pitch led the Hertfordshire FA to deny the club senior status and when the following season the club became a founder member of the Metropolitan London League, it was as
members of the Reserve Division 1, where we remained for two seasons before joining the South Midlands League for the 1973/74 season, winning the Premier Division championship at the first attempt - the first championship win in our history. Here we stayed for 24 seasons – our longest uninterrupted period in one league to date.
During this time, in the 1974/75 season, we reached the final of the South Midlands League Challenge Trophy, only to be beaten by Barton Rovers 3-1 on aggregate. 1976/77 saw us lose our top-flight status and there began a five-year battle to reclaim it. During these First Division years the club was to finish no lower than 5th and in 1981/82 we won the First Division title. In that league-topping year we also reached the final of the South Midlands League Challenge Trophy but once again had to settle for runners-up, this time losing 3-0 on aggregate to Stotfold.
The season 1984/85 brought us cup success for the first time since the club was reformed, when under the management of John Sneddon we beat Pirton 2-0 to lift the first ever Hertfordshire FA Senior Centenary Trophy. At the end of the season John decided to call it a day and he was replaced in the close season by ex-Sudbury Court boss, Ray Sullivan, whose first task was to rebuild the side. Twelve months later we finished runners-up, missing out on the Premier Division title by four points (2 points for a win) to Selby FC, with some erratic form in the closing games.
In 1986/87 and 1987/88 we lifted the Hertfordshire FA Charity Shield, making us only the sixth team to retain the Shield. The close of the 1986/87 season also saw floodlights installed at the Herns Way ground. This was celebrated with a match versus Tottenham Hotspur.
In 1988/89 we gained a top six league finish along with an appearance in two cup-finals, the South Midlands League Challenge Trophy and the Hertfordshire FA Senior Centenary Trophy. However these were both lost in the space of five days. The 1990/91 season saw yet another cup final loss, losing on penalties in the final of the Hertfordshire FA Charity Shield.
Ray Sullivan stepped down as manager in 1990 and so followed a lean spell during which we tried several managerial combinations, including Dave Lawrence, Jock Bruce, former player Pat Maslen and Ian Priest. The closest we came to winning anything was another Hertfordshire FA Charity Shield Final appearance, during Pat Maslen’s reign. However, this was lost on penalties.
In 1996/97 the club looked to local man Malcolm Doctor as manager, who the previous season had guided our arch-rivals Hatfield Town to second place in the South Midlands League. Everyone at the Club was optimistic about glory days returning to Herns Way. Two cup-finals were reached, the South Midlands League Challenge Trophy and the Hertfordshire FA Charity Shield but once again we missed out at the final stages.
1997/98 saw the merger of the Spartan League and the South Midlands League to form the Spartan South Midlands League, with the club joining the Premier North Division and finishing high enough (6th) to qualify for the Premier Division the following season.
In 1998, following the departure of Malcolm Doctor, we forged a link with near neighbours Stevenage Borough FC and strengthened our squad with Boro’s EFCO youngsters along with the management pairing of Dave Bullock and Bill Bannister. However despite reaching the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup for the first time, losing 4-2 to Ford United after a 2-2 draw at Herns Way (the furthest the Club has ever progressed in the competition to date), the season collapsed midway through and with the break-up of the squad a battle with relegation followed.
1999/2000 saw a rebuilding process with former Somersett Ambury V&E boss Dave Steadman being appointed manager and being given the task of leading the Citizens into the new millennium. However the Club’s downward trend continued and at the end of the 2000/01 season we were
relegated to the First Division, thus ending one of the longest unbroken spells in the Premier Division.
Guillermo Ganet was appointed manager in 2002 with the task of restoring the glory days back to the club and after two seasons steered the club back to the Premier Division. Our first season back saw us finish in a very creditable third place. However, the end of the campaign saw the manager and most of the playing squad depart for Berkhamsted Town.
Howard Cowley was given his chance as manager in 2005/06; he brought a wealth of experience from not only the Spartan South Midlands League but also all divisions of the Ryman League. During his tenure the team achieved a 19 game unbeaten run in all competitions and also equalled our best ever FA Cup run when losing narrowly 2-1 away to the then Conference South leaders Histon in the 3rd Qualifying Round. The team also exceeded its best ever run in the FA Vase by reaching the 5th Round only for an administrative error to deny them the chance to go even further.
The 2006/07 season saw the club achieve fourth spot in the league, becoming the only side to beat eventual League and Cup champions Edgware Town at their White Lion ground whilst doing the double over local rivals Hertford Town with two fine victories.
Following the departure of Howard Cowley, a quick succession of managers tried to revive the fortunes of the club. However this did nothing to ensure success; in fact it had the opposite effect with relegation back to the First Division at the end of the 2009/10 campaign. A feature of the 2009/10 season was the forming of an ‘A’ team, managed by Simon Braine assisted by Mark Zienkowicz, which won the North & Mid-Hertfordshire League.
2010/11 saw our poor form continue, against a background of severe financial struggle which at one time threatened the survival of the club. This wasn’t helped by having three managers during the season, Phil Read, Rob Pattwell and Simon Braine. The latter, with the help of assistant manager Adam Fisher, helped to steer the club away from potentially ruinous relegation. Adam then moved on to Barton Rovers FC as their Assistant Manager.
2012/13 saw manager Scott O'Donoghue working alongside Pablo Ardiles as his assistant. Scott left at the end of the season and was replaced by our former player and assistant manager Adam Fisher, assisted by another former player, Richard Teixiera.
In his first season in charge in 2013/14, Adam led us to a highly creditable fourth place in the First Division, having challenged for promotion until the final run-in. A feature of the season was 51 goals from striker Jason Caswell, a new club record, outstripping Terry Hayes' previous best of 47 from the late 1980s. Jason was ably assisted by strike partner Joel Norris, who scored 33 goals as the side topped 100 goals for the season.
The 2014/15 season was one of the most successful for many years with a First Division Championship and Cup ‘double’. We won the division title by seven points, ahead of FC Broxbourne Borough – who were promoted alongside us – and took the Division 1 Cup for the first time - thanks to a 2-0 final victory over Crawley Green at Langford FC. Joel Norris surpassed his 33 goals of the previous season by scoring 41 in the campaign and was deservedly voted player of the season by both the management and his fellow players.
The highlight of the 2015/16 season was winning the Spartan South Midlands League Challenge Trophy for the first time, having lost in the final of this and its South Midlands League equivalent on four previous occasions. We were also runners-up in the Dudley Latham Memorial (Premier Division) Cup. The following season, 2016/17, was one of consolidation on and off the pitch as extensive ground improvements were completed, necessary for us to compete at a higher level.
The 2017/18 was one that supporters will remember for a long time. One the 12th November 2017 Tottenham Hotspur Ambassador and World Cup winner Osvaldo Ardiles unveiled stadium upgrades – which included two turnstiles from the old White Hart Lane donated by Tottenham Hotspur - after we had received a Premier League grant. The league championship was won for the first time since the merger of the Spartan and South Midlands leagues and is only the second title ever for the club at this level. Even the disappointment of yet another defeat in the final of the Hertfordshire FA Charity Shield – our sixth defeat in nine finals – and another loss in the final of the Dudley Latham Memorial (Premier Division) Cup couldn’t overshadow the achievement of Level 4 football in the Southern League for the first time in our history.
League Membership Timeline
1921 First Welwyn Garden City formed
1922 Joined Mid-Hertfordshire League
1926 Joined Bedfordshire & District League. Entered the FA Amateur Cup for the first time.
1927 Joined Spartan League. Entered the FA Challenge Cup for the first time.
1935 Resigned from the league at the end of the season as they could not find a suitable pitch. At an AGM held 24th July 1935 it was agreed to wind up the club.
1937 At a meeting held on the 20th May 1937, after they were offered the facilities of Shredded Wheat FC, it was agreed to set up a new Welwyn Garden City FC.
1937 Joined Spartan League
1939/1940 Spartan League suspended after one game. Joined East, North & Mid-Hertfordshire Combination and then the Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Combination. No competitive matches recorded between 1940 and 1944.
1944 The ‘recently revived’ team joined the Mid-Hertfordshire League
1945 Joined Spartan League
1951 Joined London League
1955 Joined Spartan League
1959 Joined Hertfordshire County League
1970 Joined Greater London League (Division 2)
1971 Joined Metropolitan London League (Reserve Division 1)
1973 Joined South Midlands League
1997 Joined Spartan South Midlands League
2018 Joined Southern League (East Division)
Our thanks for historical information go to: Hertfordshire County Council Library and Archive Service (for allowing access to back copies of the Welwyn Hatfield Times and its forerunners) and the Football Association Archive and Roy Williams