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Altrincham F.C., a Brief History

by Terry Rowley, joint editor of the Robins' Review,
with the assistance of Bill Coop.

Reproduced by kind permission of the author.

The origins of Altrincham AFC can be traced back to around 1891 when they were known as the Rigby Memorial Club, formed from a local Sunday school. They went on to merge with another local club know as the "Grapplers" to form Broadheath F.C. and become founder members of the Manchester League in 1893. Today, they are the only founder members of the Manchester League still in existence. Prior to 1903 the club played on a variety of fields in Broadheath, West Timperley and Altrincham before acquiring a new home at Pollitt's Field and, at the same time, changing their name to Altrincham AFC (see Footnote). They won the Cheshire Amateur Cup in 1903-04, beating Congleton Town 4-1, and the following season won the Cheshire Senior Cup, (defeating Chester 2-1), and the Manchester League title, a feat they repeated 2 years later. For the start of the 1910-11 season Altrincham were installed at Moss Lane after agreement with The Urban District Council. Moss Lane was officially opened on 3rd September, 1910 with the visitors being Macclesfield, who won 3-1.

Altrincham joined the Lancashire Combination Second Division for season 1911-12 and gained promotion to the 1st Division at the first attempt, finishing second on goal difference. In 1919 they became founder members of the newly formed Cheshire League and found success in the 1930s, winning the Cheshire League Cup in 1932-33 and the Cheshire Senior Cup the following year, as well as finishing runners-up in the League to Wigan in 1935 and 1936.

The Club are well known for their FA Cup exploits which started in 1934 when they reached the First Round proper for the first time, losing 1-0 at Gainsborough Trinity, though they had already notched their first league scalp in a 4th Round Qualifying tie against Tranmere Rovers in 1921-22, winning the replay 4-2 after a 4-4 draw. Altrincham missed the first Post-War season and struggled to achieve any success in the 1950s and early 1960s, almost going out of business on a couple of occasions. Fortunes however were revived with the arrival of Peter Swales, Noel White and manager Freddie Pye in the mid-sixties and Altrincham won the Cheshire League title in back to back seasons in 1966 and 1967 and were runners-up in 1968. Altrincham then made it a hat-trick of foundations when, in 1968, they became founder members of the newly formed Northern Premier League (NPL) and went on to establish themselves as one of the leading Non-League clubs in the country over the next 15 years. A 1-1 draw against Everton at Goodison Park in 1975 and a respectable 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford in the replay established their Cup credentials. They won the FA Trophy at Wembley in 1978, the NPL Cup in 1970 and were the losing finalists in 1974, before finishing runners up in their final season in the NPL.

In 1979 Altrincham FC became founder members of the Alliance Premier League, winning the title in its first two seasons, as well as the Bob Lord Trophy in 1980-81. They played in two further FA Trophy Finals, losing to Enfield in 1982 but winning again in 1986 against Runcorn. In the FA Cup the team excelled, playing the likes of Liverpool and Spurs and beating sides like Crewe, Blackpool (twice), Rotherham, Sheffield United, Scunthorpe, York City and First (now Premier) Division Birmingham City 2-1 at St Andrew's. In 1991 they came close to winning the title again but were pipped at the post by Barnet. Decline set in, culminating in relegation, (the club's first!) in 1996-97. Altrincham then spent two seasons in the UniBond League and changed management before returning to the Conference for season 1999-2000. Unfortunately, a poor run of results in the last third of the season resulted in relegation back to the UniBond after just one year. In March 2001 Bernard Taylor and Graham Heathcote took temporary control of the club till the end of the season and eventually accepted responsibility full time at the end of the season.

Addendum - to 2005/6 by John Laidlar: After reaching the FA Cup First Round and challenging for the league title, Altrincham eventually finished ninth in the league in 2001-02. Former Manchester City player Andy May was appointed as coach to Bernard Taylor for 2002-03 but financial problems led to the departure of a number of first-teamers in the 2002 close season including Steve Hawes (to Worksop), Mark Sertori (to Accrington), Kevin Hulme (to Mossley) and Stuart Coburn (to Leigh RMI). A poor run of results at the start of 2002-03 led to the replacement of Bernard Taylor and Andy May. Graham Heathcote took over as manager in October 2002, with Dalton Steele as assistant and they guided the club to a mid-table finish. With a Board, led by Geoff Goodwin and determined to budget sensibly, the Club entered its centenary season with stability returning to Moss Lane. At the end of November 2003, Dalton Steele resigned but returned in May 2004. In the interim, Graham Heathcote had steered Altrincham into a qualifying place for Conference North for 2004-05 despite a tight budget and long injury list. The following season, Altrincham gained promotion back to the Conference National division by winning the promotional play-off against Eastbourne Borough. They started 2005-06 as one of the few part-time sides in the division and with the smallest budget of any club in the Conference. But with the vast non-league knowledge and experience of their management duo and the players' ability and team spirit, hopes are high of remaining in the division despite the odds against us.

Appendix 1 - The Club's Origins: Researches made public in the 'Metro News' of 20 June 2003 confirmed that the change of name to Altrincham FC took place at a meeting of Broadheath FC on 26 June 1903 in the now demolished Forrester's Arms pub in Altrincham. Terry Rowley states in the 'Metro News' article that "When the team first moved to Moss Lane, there was nowhere to change so the lads had to use the local pub, The Woolpack, and then run to the pitch". He also points out that early Altrincham stars included England international Tommy Mort and Clarence Hilditch, who moved on to Manchester United in 1916 and became that club's only ever player/manager.

Appendix 2 - The Club's Formation:

From the Robins' Review, 12 March 2005

When were Altrincham AFC formed?

by Terry Rowley

As some of you are aware Terry Surridge and myself are attempting to compile a definitive history of the club but unfortunately, like most clubs, Altrincham's early history is poorly recorded. Not that this is to be unexpected, after all, the early participants were involved in what for them was recreation and they gave no cognisance to future interest; football in the late 19th century was involved in the purely 'here and now'.

What I want to try and do in this article is outline the problems faced in charting the history of the club, then go over what we know about the club and then, finally, hope that this is read by someone who can add to what we already know.

To begin with, there are still no consistently agreed criteria amongst soccer historians for selecting a club's actual date of formation. Some clubs use the earliest know verifiable date, including any previous formations, as a start point, possibly in an attempt to add age and gravitas to a club's history; others use a more recent re-formation of the club into a format closest to that currently held as a formation date. Even famous clubs like Manchester United have a contentious foundation; is it 1873 when Newton Heath LYR were formed or is it 1902 when Manchester United were formed and moved to Old Trafford? Some authorities would say that Newton Heath and Manchester United, although obviously connected, were in fact different clubs, especially as Newton Heath were established in a different part of the City and were wound up after declaring bankruptcy. Manchester United then rose out of the remains of Newton Heath but it was neither a direct or smooth transition.

So, what of Altrincham FC, if it is difficult to establish the history of one of the biggest professional clubs how easy is it to accurately chart our early days?

1903 is the date most commonly quoted in modern written sources as Altrincham's formation, which is correct only in so far that this was the year the club adopted the name. Minutes from the Club's 12th AGM and minutes taken from meetings of the Cheshire FA make it clear that this was merely a change of name for the established Broadheath AFC to that of Altrincham AFC. It is also merely co-incidental that they moved to Pollitt's Field in that same year, as the club had actually been planning to move to a permanent ground, closer to the centre of Altrincham, regardless of name change, for some time. Pollitt's Field became, albeit briefly, the first permanent home for the club as until that point they had played on various pitches in Broadheath, Timperley and even Moss Lane, Altrincham.

So, if 1903 is accepted as an important date in Altrincham's history, but not the actual formation date, how much older is the club? Unfortunately, written sources pertaining to these early days are scarce and almost non-existent prior to the start of organised football with the coming of the Manchester and District League in 1893.

But if direct sources are scarce, there are secondary sources that can assist in shedding some light. For instance, there are two sources from the 1930s, which give a much earlier date for the club's formation. Firstly, an Ardarth cigarette photo card and, secondly, an Altrincham yearbook which both give a foundation date of 1891 which can be further verified by a return to the 1903 AGM where the club changed its name. This is, in fact, reported as the 12th AGM of the club and the following year (1904, the first as Altrincham AFC) was reported as the 13th AGM, thus not only verifying an 1891 foundation date but showing that, as far as the club were concerned, this was the same club.

So, if we accept 1891 can we go further back in time? From what little can be gleaned of the club's early history the foundations of Broadheath/Altrincham were based on the Sunday school team formed at the Rigby Memorial Schools in Navigation Road, Broadheath, which merged with another team known as the 'Grapplers' to form Broadheath. But little in the way of direct sources can be found except for the fact that it is recorded that Broadheath did use the Rigby Memorial School as their head quarters.

We are therefore fortunate to have had two gentlemen who were involved from the inception of the club, Mr Thomas Dinning and Mr Richard Lee, who both later recalled their memories from these early days during the 1930s and 1940s.

Both, indeed, played for the club and both were also involved with the club for a great many years in a variety of posts ranging from secretary to director, Dick Lee later became mayor of Altrincham. Most interestingly, Mr Lee, in a talk given to the local Rotarians in 1945, discussed the origins of what was then Altrincham Association Football Club. He stated that the club actually started in 1888, first in the name of St George's and then as Broadheath. So could this St George's be the 'Grapplers' who merged with the Rigby Memorial School or was this the name the Rigby Memorial side played under? Unfortunately, for now, I can find no answers or corroboration from any other sources. Mr Lee also goes on to mention that he helped found the reserve team in 1891 and had held numerous roles as player, (playing at left back, left half and left wing), secretary and manager of this side. This does suggest that if a reserve side were formed in 1891 then it follows that a first team was already up and running or at least set up at the same time.

Without having verification, Mr Lee's 1888 looks a likely date for the birth of the club in its earliest format but the formation of an organised club, closest to its present format is, I beg to suggest on current evidence, probably 1891.

If anyone would like to comment, help or provide any further information please contact Terry Surridge or myself via the club

Terry Rowley

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