Cheltenham Town are a small club in Gloucestershire who play their football at Whaddon Road, a ground which has gradually extended over the years since their promotion to the football league. Whaddon Road symbolises the great strides that the Robins have made in the last decade. A 2,000 all seater In2Print stand was built in 2001 and in 2005 the Carlsberg stand, for away supporters, was built with over 1,000 seats which has brought the capacity to more than 7,000.
Cheltenham’s rise in football began when local man Steve Cotterill took up the reins in 1997 and drove the club forward at a pace it had not been used to in the past. Cotterill guided the Robins to promotion to the Conference after they finished second in the Dr. Martens league but were awarded promotion as the winners, Gresley Rovers, could not be promoted because their ground was not judged to be good enough.
In Cotterill’s first full season in charge, the club won the FA Umbro Trophy, beating Southport 1-0 in the final at Wembley in 1998. It seemed like the whole of Cheltenham was inside Wembley that day, with around 18,000 people in red and white cheering the Robins to a victory secured by Jason Eaton’s winner.
They continued their quick progress the following season with promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history by winning the Conference title in 1999.
Going Up and Staying Up
Cheltenham’s first ever season in the Football League since their creation in 1887 saw them reach the verge of the play-offs of Division Three (now League Two), thus putting their new found progress in to perspective – they were not just a team who wanted to consolidate their position. Cheltenham just missed out on the play-offs the following season but they made it three times lucky in the 2001/02 season and gained a second promotion in four seasons.
A dramatic campaign concluded at Cardiff at the Millenium Stadium with a 3-1 win over rivals Rushden & Diamonds. The promotion had its negative side though, as up and coming manager Steve Cotterill was snapped up by Championship club Stoke after his fine five and a half years in charge. It was inevitable that he would attract interest from bigger clubs after his transformation of the non league side and it was the first big test for the club’s board in half a decade.
There’s Only One Steve Cotterill
Cotterill joined Cheltenham as a local lad looking to do well as manager but he left as a local legend. In more than five years at the club, Cotterill took Cheltenham into the Football League and even promotion to the second tier of English football. Staffordshire outfit Stoke City saw his talent but his spell was cut short when Premiership Sunderland wanted him to be their assistant. It was unlucky 13 for Stoke as Cotterill left after just 13 games in charge, with an opportunity to be in the Premiership too good to turn down. He was the assistant to Howard Wilkinson but, after a poor Premiership campaign for the Black Cats, Wilkinson was sacked and Cotterill left.
He finally found some stability when he was appointed Burnley manager in 2004 and he led the club to Championship consistency despite being forced to sell his star players like Ade Akinbiyi and Robbie Blake. Burnley managed to stave off relegation throughout the Cotterill years but they failed to reach the play-offs despite some inspiring cup performances. They beat Aston Villa in the Carling Cup and Liverpool in the FA Cup in Cotterill’s first season in charge and he even injected a bit of Cheltenham into his side with the signing of Mike Duff from his former club. However, his tenure at Burnley ended in November 2007 when he left by mutual consent after three years at the helm.
They Come and Go
After Cotterill’s departure Cheltenham were under pressure to achieve due to their recent success and Graham Allner was promoted from first team coach to become the new manager. But Allner’s reign was tough and he was sacked after six months in the Cheltenham hot seat, steering the club back towards Division Three.
Former Wales boss Bobby Gould took over midway through the 2002/03 season but he could not do enough to save the club, and they were relegated from Division Two. Gould resigned a few months in to the following season and former Aston Villa assistant manager John Ward became Cheltenham’s third manager in a year when they had previously had just one in nearly six years.
Ward’s appointment was greeted with delight by the Cheltenham faithful and it proved a great decision. He brought the type of stability to the club which was present when Cotterill was in charge and after two managers in quick succession they could start rebuilding again. He led the Robins to two consecutive mid-table finishes in League Two, before a successful season in 2006 led to promotion to League One after a play-off victory over Grimsby.
Ward made some astute signings during his time at the Robins, but Cheltenham will always be a selling club. He was forced to sell many of his best players, most going on to Championship clubs for a large profit. Star players such as Martin Devaney, Grant McCann, Kayode Odejayi, Brian Wilson and JJ Melligan all left the club during Ward’s management and it proved a tough task to keep up with the big clubs in League One. In October 2007, he was attracted north to Carlisle and left Cheltenham after four successful years in charge. First team coach Keith Downing was appointed his successor but there were reservations around Whaddon Road after the last time a coach was promoted to manager.
Cheltenham have not had many players who have gone on to great things in the game but some have come to the Robins after a glittering career. Clive Walker is a great example. His 24 year career included nearly 200 appearances for Chelsea and more than 100 in a Fulham shirt. He was with Cheltenham during their non league days and carried on playing into his forties.
Jamie Victory is a player who has cult status among Robins’ fans after his 11 years at the club. Victory, a former West Ham trainee, he made more than 250 appearances for Cheltenham, most at left-back in his familiar number three shirt. Victory played with Cheltenham during their non-league days in the Dr. Martens division and experienced many highs and lows, including two promotions to League One and their rise to the Football League.
Mike Duff is one Cheltenham player who has gone on to achieve at a high level, playing in the Championship with Burnley and at international level for Northern Ireland. He was signed by former Cheltenham manager Steve Cotterill and he has made more than 100 appearances for Burnley. Duff’s younger brother Shane is a rising star for Cheltenham and also a Northern Ireland international.
- Conference – Winners (1998/1999)
- FA Trophy – Winners (1997/1998)
- Southern League – Winners (1984/1985), Runners-up (1992/1993, 1993/1994, 1994/1995, 1996/1997)