We are the Hawks - A brief history of Havant and Waterlooville FCRevised August 2014
Of course the story doesn’t start with the June 1998 merger; the origins of the club’s predecessors date back over 100 years. Local football in the borough started back in 1883 with the formation of Havant FC. The team plied their trade in the Portsmouth Football League and in the 1950s produced Chelsea and England forward Bobby Tambling. In 1969 the club merged with Leigh Park FC; Sunday League upstarts from a Havant suburb formed in 1958 who that season had won the FA Sunday Cup.
Havant and Leigh Park FC topped the Portsmouth League at their first attempt, and moved into the Fourth Division of the Hampshire League in 1970. Rapid promotions continued, and in 1977 the team reached the First Division. A spartan home at their Front Lawn pitch inhibited further progress, and the club acquired the site for their current home, Westleigh Park, in 1980. It took two years for the ground to be levelled, drained, enclosed, and a clubhouse built, but eventually in August 1982 the renamed Havant Town FC moved into their new home.
Waterlooville FC meanwhile came into existence in 1905, and progressed through the Waterlooville District, Portsmouth and Hampshire Leagues to take up residence in the Southern League twenty years before Havant in 1971. The league reorganised itself in the late 70s after the formation of the Football Conference, and Waterlooville narrowly missed winning the Southern Division in 1981, despite putting together a 31 match unbeaten run.
Waterlooville yo-yoed back and forth between the Southern and Premier Divisions through the 1980s and in 1987 won the league cup with a 2-1 victory over Hednesford Town. In 1993 the team finished in 11th place in the Premier, their highest ever position, but in the following years relegation and money problems made further title bids impossible. It was these financial woes that led Waterlooville into considering a merger with rivals Havant Town, who were trying to overcome problems of their own in 1997 after the unexpected departure of Manager Tony Mount to Newport Isle of Wight with many of the team’s key players.
Shrewd player purchasing meant the 2002/03 season saw the most impressive side the club had fielded to that date, reflected in an FA Cup First Round appearance at Dagenham and Redbridge followed by a tremendous FA Trophy run that took the Hawks past Billericay Town, Sutton United, Colwyn Bay and Hayes before the game of the season at Forest Green Rovers.
To be in the quarter final of the FA Trophy was something no Hawks fan would have dared dream about; the side having only previously made it as far as the third round. Rovers took an early lead, but with an astonishing second half performance the Hawks made a superb comeback to win 2-1 and go on to bow out to league leaders Tamworth in the semi-final.
Leworthy’s tenure ended suddenly in November 2004 after a poor sequence of results and club director Ian Baird was installed within a week as his replacement; the ex-Southampton, Portsmouth and Leeds striker having been a candidate when the position became vacant eleven months earlier.
Uncertainty remained in the side as Baird began to make changes, and the Hawks continued to drop down the table to find a new first in February 2005 when they found themselves propping up the bottom of the league. A rapid turnover of players followed as Baird tried and failed to find a winning formula over the following two seasons, resulting ultimately in the side’s fourth place finish in May 2007. A two legged playoff semi-final against Braintree followed, in which the Iron eventually triumphed on penalties in front of their home crowd.
Prior to the 2006/07 season the club announced a three-year six-figure sponsorship deal with brewing giants Carlsberg, which eventually extended to six. This helped with the first of a two stage renovation of the clubhouse at Westleigh Park, which after a second more comprehensive makeover in 2010 has now taken its place in the local community as a fully functioning public house called ‘The Westleigh’.
Gale’s Wind of Change
His first real task in the job was to overcome Fleet Town in the third qualifying round of the FA Cup as the Hawks looked for a second consecutive first round appearance, having lost 2-1 to Millwall at Fratton Park the season preceding. With mission accomplished, the astonishing FA Cup run went on and on past Leighton Town, York City and Notts County until the Hawks began to gain national prominence with a Third Round tie against League One leaders Swansea City. A two legged affair followed, with Rocky Baptiste’s equaliser at the Liberty Stadium setting up a replay at Westleigh Park watched by 4,400 fans in which the Swans were outplayed and sent back to Wales with a 4-2 defeat, much to the delight of the media.
Cup fever gripped the town when the Fourth Round draw handed the Hawks a trip to face European giants Liverpool, and 21 coaches helped move 6,000 Hawks fans to Anfield on January 26th 2008. An attendance of 42,566 watched as the non-league minnows shook the Kop and took the lead twice against the Reds before the inevitable defeat, almost irrelevant after the magical journey the cup run had created.
In the same season the Hawks also beat Conference Premier sides Lewes and Crawley Town to reach the quarter finals of the FA Trophy, where York City took revenge for their 2007/08 dismissal from the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory at Kit-Kat Crescent.
Behind the scenes the club has continued to improve its facilities and standing in the local area. The Community programme, which involves local schools and children in football, has gone from strength to strength, and in financially uncertain times, the money generated from the FA Cup runs has helped to ensure the club now stands debt free. Improvements to Westleigh Park continue through every summer, and the ground now boasts new conference suites and a hospitality room overlooking the pitch. The main stand has also been extended, taking the seated capacity of the ground to 642.
The horrendously wet winter of 2010/11 exposed problems with the pitch: notably a broken drain, buried building rubble and a fungus infestation that caused countless postponements in the wet. As a result in the summer of 2011 the surface was completely removed; the drain replaced; a new under surface sprinkler system installed and a new playing surface sown from seed. As such the Westleigh Park pitch is now of league standard and one of the best in the Conference South.
Ups and Downs
However the Hawks quickly became a side that promised much on paper with big name signings each summer, but offered little in the way of results. In subsequent years the team finished lower and lower down the table until in spring 2012 relegation became a real possibility. Problems with summer signings left the team short of experience and depth, and a run of 22 matches with just two wins left the club on the edge of the drop zone at the start of April.
With teams around them beginning to find a second wind, it was clear that the Hawks would need to win at least half of their remaining games to stay up, and after a dire performance at Basingstoke Shaun Gale was relieved of his position as manager. Assistant boss Steve Johnson took the reins with coach Adi Aymes for the remaining six matches of the season, and the Hawks gave themselves hope with two back to back wins against Truro and Salisbury.
But three consecutive one-nil defeats followed and at the start of the final day of the season the Hawks knew that only a win at home against Staines Town would guarantee their safety. Modern technology meant that scores from the other important games arrived throughout the match and what followed was a tense season finale as the Hawks slipped in and out of the relegation zone over the ninety minutes.
It was an unlikely proposition to say the least, but when Joe Dolan prodded the ball home to score his debut and only Hawks goal with virtually the last kick of the game, Westleigh Park exploded with a euphoria unlike any witnessed before.
The club had survived, and the board’s first post-season decision was to appoint former player and successful local manager Stuart Ritchie as Shaun Gale’s replacement. Ritchie’s experience in bringing AFC Totton from the Wessex League to the brink of the Conference South, and also taking the Stags to the final of the FA Vase, made him an ideal candidate. Barry Blankley then came on board as assistant manager after a long run in the role at Salisbury City. Nine new signings followed in the summer of 2012, and optimism returned. However Ritchie struggled in his new role and with just one win and a dismally early exit from the FA Cup, the Hawks’ board took the decision to end his tenure after just ten games.
Bradbury's RevivalBlankley departed as well, and after two games with Adi Aymes back in the role of caretaker manager, former Portsmouth striker and AFC Bournemouth manager Lee Bradbury was announced in October 2012 as the man who would shake the side up and reverse the Hawks’ ailing fortunes. His first action was to recognise the considerable experience of Shaun Gale, who returned to the side in the role of assistant manager; giving the Hawks a unique combination of non-league knowledge and fresh ambition to restart the 2012/13 campaign.
Bradbury’s first match in charge of the Hawks, away to Basingstoke on October 13th, became the side’s second win of the season and it lifted the Hawks out of the relegation zone. With 31 games remaining at the point he took over, Bradbury took time to cut underperforming players while relying on a string of impressive loan signings from league sides to bolster the team. The Hawks eventually finished the season with a record of 13 wins and 9 draws under his control, which also saw them top the form table as they went ten games undefeated through February and March.
Bradbury’s first complete season in charge became one of extremes, with some terrible lows balanced against incredible highs. The side seemed unable to capitalise on the momentum they had gathered at the end of the previous season and by October were displaying indifferent league form as well as having already exited the FA Cup. The FA Trophy though was a different matter, and wins against Sutton, Basingstoke, Whitehawk, Ebbsfleet and Aldershot took the Hawks to an improbable local derby semi-final with Gosport Borough. Gosport were floundering at the bottom of the league at the time and the Hawks seemed to have a clear path to the final, but a draw in the first leg and defeat away at Privett Park in the second meant the Hawks missed out on the trip to Wembley. They did manage to get to Fratton Park however in the final of the Hampshire Senior Cup, but again lost out at the last, this time 3-2 to Basingstoke Town.
Sixteen cup matches and an abysmally wet winter meant that come spring the Hawks were way behind in the league, at one point with as many as 13 games in hand on some teams above them. Postponement after postponement due to waterlogged pitches resulted in the Hawks being forced to adopt a three match a week regime for the whole of March and April. It seemed an impossible task, but the side rose to the challenge, and win after win propelled them up the table. In those two months the Hawks played an astonishing 23 games, losing only five, and by the final week of the season a play-off place was in their hands. Two poor results though in their last two games meant that Dover took fifth place on goal difference, both sides having accrued 69 points.