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 F.A.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 80,000.
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 five times, including lifting the Division One and Division Two (North) titles, whilst the club suffered four relegations and had to sit season 1992-93 out after severe financial problems threatened the club’s very existence. Five seasons were spent in the top flight of the Isthmian League with an 11th place finish in season 1979-80 being the best to date.
The Club made a name for itself in season 1979-80 with a terrific F.A.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 last season when Macclesfield Town finished the club’s dream with a 2-0 win at Barrows Farm in the first round.
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 saw a 15th place finish, however, despite reaching the first round of the FA Cup, the club were unable to retain their Premier Division status.
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.
The club wasted no time in appointing a new manager in Anthony Anstead and in just eighteen days he managed to put a squad together to start the new Ryman League season. With the Hawks rooted to the bottom of the division Anstead resigned from his position at the end of November 2009, with former Hawks favourite Marvin Samuel being appointed as the new manager.
In January 2010 new owners took control of the club, with former manager Tommy Cunningham returning to the club with his business partner John Barnett. After many months of turmoil the club can finally look forward to a much brighter future, under Barnett and Cunningham's leadership.
The first full season with the new owners in control 2010/11 saw Kevin Warren become the Hawks manager, but a run of defeats led to Danny Chapman replacing him at the helm. Chapman then turned the tide and took the club to the Ryman Division One North play Off Semi-finals after finishing fourth, but they failed to reach the final after being defeated by Wingate & Finchley, whom went on to gain promotion.
In 2011/12 saw Chapman lead the Hawks to 7th in the Ryman Division One North, after sitting in the play off race for most of the season, but a dip in form at the business end of the season left the Hawks just short of a play off position.
The 2012/13 Season was one to forget for the Hawks, after the two previous seasons when Danny Chapman’s team just missed out on promotion, the Hawks had a mixture of both experience and youth in the squad. Early exits in both the FA Cup and Trophy were disappointing for Chapman and the owners, during the league campaign the Hawks were hit with a further blow, a ten-point deduction for an administration error. With this and a squad of young inexperienced players Harlow had a battle to stay out of the one relegation place, which was achieved by a margin of five points.
The close season was spent rebuilding the team and the owners have also 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 2013/14 season saw a new era for Harlow Town. They started the season playing on the newly laid 3G artificial surface, in the newly named Harlow Arena. The owners Tom Cunningham and John Barnett also announced a new shirt sponsorship with Opt FX, while on the pitch Manager Danny Chapman got himself a great squad together to battle out on all League and cup fronts. The first competitive fixture on the 3G surface was on Tuesday 13 August 2013 against newly promoted Barkingside; Harlow won the game 8-3. New signing Alex Read was hit with the fans as he became the Hawks all-time leading goal scorer in one season, netting 52 times in all competitions. His goals helped Chapman’s side to finish fourth in the league, thus earning themselves a place in the play offs. In the semi-final the Hawks travelled to Heybridge Swifts, where a comfortable 3-0 victory saw them into the play off final away to second-placed Witham Town. The Hawks never got going in front over 800 spectators at Spa Road, many following The Hawks and fell to a 3-0 defeat. The season also saw the hawks reach the Robert Dyas League Cup Quarter Finals and also the Essex Senior Cup Quarter Finals.
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. After successes in several rounds of various cup competitions, the Hawks found themselves in mid-table, albeit with a number of games-in-hand. Harlow Town went on a winning streak of 12 consecutive wins between 19 December 2015 and 13 February 2016, to propel themselves up the table and set a new club record in the process. Harlow Town finished third in the league, and comfortably won the playoff semi-final, beating Cray Wanderers 3-0. The Hawks hosted the final at the Harlow Arena, where 1,655 spectators saw Harlow see off AFC Hornchurch to claim promotion to the Ryman Premier Division.
In 2016-17 the Hawks had a successful first year back in the Premier Division, and with only a handful of games remaining they were still in with a chance of clinching a playoff place. The challenge ultimately fell away, but Harlow Town finished in a respectable 10th place, recording their highest ever Premier Division points tally of 67.
The Hawks suffered from "second-season syndrome" in 2017-18, finding themselves battling against relegation for the majority of the year. Ultimately, they were successful with a couple of games to go, securing their place in the Isthmian Premier Division for a third consecutive year for the first time in their history.
There were significant changes in the playing squad during the summer of 2018, with a number of the long-serving players who had secured promotion moving on to pastures new. The squad was rebuilt with a mixture of experience and a number of youth loans, however the challenge proved too great, and Harlow Town finished bottom of the league table, seven points from safety.
With the Hawks heading back to Step 4, there was a surprise in store as they were allocated to the Isthmian League South Central division, a move that would throw up a lot of new opponents that the Hawks hadn't faced before.
Another challenge faced Hawks manager Danny Chapman in the close season, with the entire squad being rebuilt from scratch. With a new team assembled, the aim is for promotion back to Step 3 at the first time of asking.