HARLOW TOWN FC – A BRIEF HISTORY
The club was originally formed in 1879, playing its first match in October of that year against Saffron Walden Town. It is one of the oldest clubs in the County of Essex. In those early days the club, just known as Harlow, played friendly matches against local opposition until the formation of East Herts League in 1896. As with most clubs around this time Harlow had their fair share of amalgamations with other local clubs, and was known as Harlow & Burnt Mill before later becoming Harlow Town.
Over the years Harlow, which became a New Town in the early 1950’s, expanded beyond recognition, and the Club grew with the town. The club moved into the Spartan League in 1932 and were granted Senior Status in 1937, competing in the FA Cup and Essex Senior Cups for the first time. At this time Harlow had one of the smallest populations for clubs competing at this level, a far cry from today where the population is around 85,000.
After the Second World War, Harlow continued to compete in the Spartan League until moving into the London League in 1953. Six seasons were spent in the London League before a move into the Delphian League. In 1960 the club moved away from its roots in Old Harlow, moving into the Sportcentre ground in the new town, which was the clubs home for the next 46 years before moving to The Harlow Arena in September 2006.
With the reorganisation of the amateur game in the early 1960’s Harlow found themselves playing in the newly formed Athenian League Division Two for the start of the 1963-64 season, winning promotion at the first attempt after finishing in third place. After eight seasons in Division One, Harlow finally won their first senior championship by winning the Athenian League Division One title. The following season saw the club finish fourth in the Premier Division before joining the Isthmian League for the start of the 1973-74 Season.
After joining the Isthmian League Harlow had more than their fair share of ups and downs. Promotion was achieved six times, including lifting the Division One and Division Two (North) titles, whilst the club suffered five relegations and had to sit season 1992-93 out after severe financial problems threatened the club’s very existence.
The Club made a name for itself in season 1979-80 with a terrific FA Cup run, which saw the club progress to the fourth round proper, having started out in the preliminary round. Wins against Lowestoft, Hornchurch, Bury Town, Harwich & Parkeston, Margate, Leytonstone-Ilford, Southend United and finally Leicester City, gave the club a fourth round tie away to Watford. The BBC “Match of the Day” cameras were at Vicarage Road as Harlow eventually bowed out of the competition, although they went down fighting, losing 4-3 to Graham Taylor’s side.
Since that time Harlow have appeared in the Competition proper on four further occasions, the last of which was in season 2007-08.
In recent times the Club have got back on their feet following the problems of the early 1990’s. Having been relegated two divisions by the League for the season that the Club could not compete; the Club worked their way back to where they were before the enforced break. After a few near misses the “Hawks”, as they are now known, won back-to-back promotions from Division Three and Division Two of the Ryman League and after a poor first season back in Division One, managed to establish itself in the Division until the end of the 2003/2004 Season when the re-structuring of the non-league game saw the club switch to the Southern League. The Hawks finished 15th in the Southern League Division 1 East League table in Season 2004/2005 and 9th in Season 2005/2006.
The Hawks haven’t had much success in recent years in the FA Trophy or League Cup Competitions but lifted the prestigious East Anglian Cup in Seasons 1989/90, 2001/02 and in season 2005/2006 when Spalding United were beaten 1-0 in the Final.
The Club moved in September 2006 to a new ground at Barrows Farm, a mile and a half to the west of their old Sportcentre location, and after awaiting clearance from the Ryman League to start playing at the new Stadium played their first senior match in a Division 1 North fixture versus Ware on 18th October. A highly successful first term at Barrows Farm was complete when the Hawks gained promotion to the Premier Division of the Ryman Football League at the end of the season by clinching runners-up spot and then beating AFC Sudbury on penalties in the Division 1 North “Play-off” Final.
The Club’s first season back in the Premier Division since 1984 was a struggle with an epic win at AFC Wimbledon securing a second season in the top division. Unfortunately the club failed to maintain their Premier Division place the following season, returning to Division One North for the start of the 2009-10 season.
The build up to the 2009-10 season was severely disrupted when on 21st July the Chairman resigned due to a change of ownership of the club. The manager followed along with the vast majority of the playing staff and various members of the backroom staff.
After a very difficult start to the season new owners took control of the club in January 2010, with former manager Tommy Cunningham returning to the club with his business partner John Barnett. With so much turmoil the club finished bottom of the table but were reprieved from relegation due to another club having issues with their ground grading.
There has been steady progress since the new owners took control. In the first full season the club reached the play-offs, only to lose 2-4 at Wingate Finchley in the semi-finals. During this season former player Danny Chapman was appointed manager and has since gone on to become the club’s longest serving manager.
In 2013 the club invested in a new 3G pitch that was laid during the summer ready for the start of the 2013/14 season. The new pitch provided top of the range facilities for the whole community, so the ground was re-branded as the Harlow Arena. Along with the 3G pitch the Hawks also set up youth teams to play at the club, the first steps towards the Harlow Town Academy.
The season finished with another place in the play-offs. This time the club reached the final after a 3-0 win away to Heybridge Swifts. However, Witham Town were victorious, with a 3-0 win at Spa Road.
At the start of the 2014/15 Harlow Town launched The Harlow Academy, a youth set-up which incorporated 21 youth teams playing at The Harlow Arena. After a tightly contested league campaign, Harlow missed out the league title and automatic promotion by just 1 point, finishing behind Needham Market. Another appearance in the playoffs beckoned, but this time the Hawks fell down in the semi-final with a 3-4 defeat to Thurrock after extra time.
The 2015/16 season saw Harlow Town promoted for the first time since 2007. Again, the club missed out on the top spot but secured wins against Gray Wanderers and then AFC Hornchurch to finally become winners of the play-offs.
The Hawks return to the Premier Division had a touch of déjà vu as, after a successful first season back, the club struggled the following two seasons, before returning to Step 4 football at the end of the 2018-19.
The club were placed into the Isthmian League South Central League for the start of the 2019-20 season, however, both the 2019-20 and 20-21 seasons were cut short as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. There was another change of leagues for the start of the 2021-22 season when the club were moved sideways into the Southern League Central Division.