Date: Thu 15 Aug 2019

Rob Peck

An History of the The Swans of Slimbridge

In The Beginning

The Gloucestershire village of Slimbridge is world renowned for its Bird Sanctuary, but in recent years much hard work has gone into making Slimbridge better known in football circles.

The Club’s history can be traced back to the 1899/1900 season playing in local football at various venues in and around the village. A gap in the records suggests there may have been a couple of seasons when no games were played, and thus, officially, the Club’s centenary was celebrated in 2002/03.

It was not until 1951 that the current ground at Wisloe Road was acquired, after a former player, Evi Thornhill, bequeathed it to the Club in his Will. For the next forty-odd years the Club were predominantly members of the Stroud and District League with varying degrees of success and failure, except for a period between 1960 and 1968 when they were in the Gloucester Northern Senior League.

Point Of Collapse

By 1988, a point of collapse approached, but fortunately, a handful of committee members led by Gordon King and Gordon Tudor kept the Club afloat. The following season local businessman Paul Chappell arrived. The Club was stabilised and construction of new changing facilities, to County League standard, were completed.

Start Of A New Reign

As playing standards improved, the building of a long awaited Social Club commenced in the 1998/99 season. The following year saw the introduction of John Mack, a successful local entrepreneur, as Chairman. In the summer of 2001, Doug Gray was appointed Manager.

After achieving the Runners-up spot in their first season in the Gloucester County League, the club were accepted into the Hellenic League. Hellenic Division One West was won by an eleven point margin in 2002/03 and with it, promotion to the Hellenic Premier Division, where a creditable fourth place finish was achieved in 2003/04. In a marvelous season the club also claimed the Hellenic ‘Norman Matthews’ Floodlit Cup and the G.F.A. Challenge Trophy.

Arrival Of Floodlights

The summer of 2003 saw the floodlights installed. A pre-season visit from Conference side Forest Green Rovers on 22nd July, produced a then ground record attendance of 427 to witness the inaugural floodlit game at Wisloe Road.

A few weeks later on Sunday 24th August, that ground record was beaten at a Bank Holiday Hellenic Premier Division fixture that was part of the 2003/04 annual ‘Ground Hop’ weekend. Local rivals Shortwood United provided the opposition in front of a crowd of 525.

Season 2004/05 again saw a fourth place finish in the Hellenic Premier Division, along with a first entry into the F.A. Vase competition which resulted in a useful run to the third round proper before a 2-1 extra time defeat at ‘Screwfix’ Western League side Backwell United concluded an enjoyable campaign. Sadly, in the February, Gray stood down after nearly four seasons at the helm of the club.

The club started season 2005/06 under newly appointed Manager Doug Foxwell. A first entry into the F.A. cup saw a visit from Wessex League side Wimborne Town.

A 1-0 defeat did not dampen the sense of occasion on the first day of the season. A second successful run in the F.A. Vase again came to an end in the Third Round Proper, with a 3-1 defeat at South Midland Premier, Welwyn Garden City. After a record-breaking 64 game season, the team managed a fifth place finish in the Hellenic Premier Division. The club also won the Hellenic ‘Norman Matthews’ Floodlit Cup and the GFA Challenge Trophy, both for the second time in three seasons.

Reserves Make Headway

After two successive third place finishes in the Stroud and District League First Division, season 2005/06 saw the Reserve side finally win the title and with it, promotion to the Gloucester Northern Senior League Division Two. This was the same League title that the first team won in season 1998/99 which proved the springboard for five successive first team promotions.

Rise To New Heights

Season 2006/07 proved the most successful in the Club’s history to date, with both the First Team and Reserve side recording League and Cup doubles, with the added bonus of record-breaking F. A. Cup and Vase runs for the senior side as well.

In the F.A. Cup, a five match run from the Extra-Preliminary Round finished at Merthyr Tydfil in the Third Qualifying Round. Along the way there were memorable wins against two other Southern Premier sides, 2-1 at Yate Town and 3-1 at home to Chippenham Town.

It was six matches in the F.A. Vase before defeat was tasted, the run ending in the Fifth Round Proper at home to the eventual winners, Truro City.

In the Hellenic Premier Division, a solid start was established. Due to the Cup runs, and then bad weather, which led to a record number of postponements during the subsequently extended season, half a seasons fixtures had to be played in the final two months. A tremendous effort saw the Club bring the Championship Shield to Wisloe Road, the winning margin being three points over second placed North Leigh.

There was a rousing performance in the G.F.A. Trophy Final against Almondsbury Town. A 3-1 victory not only retained the Trophy, but recorded a third success in four seasons in that competition.

The Reserve side had an early success in the Gloucester Northern Senior League Cup with a 2-0 win against Division One Tuffley Rovers. This saw confidence rise and they went on to break a Gloucestershire Northern Senior League record in winning Division Two with a Played 30, Won 30 record.

Promotion To The Southern League

Alongside the playing success, progress in the improvement of facilities allowed the First Team to be accepted into the BGB Southern League Division One Midlands for Season 2007/08, the highest level that the Club have ever operated at.

Return To A New Beginning

On July 10th 2007 the club decided not to take up the opportunity of playing in the BGB Southern League Division One Midlands for Season 2007/08, instead the club reverted back to the Gloucester Northern Senior League. This meant a big upheaval in the club both on and off the field with the manager Doug Foxwell and several senior players moving on the pastures new.

However a loyal band of players stayed on including James Cole taking over as player manager with assistance from long term club captain Leon Sterling.

Climb Back Up The Ladder

Four promotions followed as the club regained their previous status. The reins where handed over to Leon Sterling, who moved into the Manager's role, joined by Assistant and long time Slimbridge stalwart Freddy Ward. The two have guided the side to a very respectable sixth and fifth place in their first two seasons back in the Hellenic Premier.

Switching Leagues

After three top six finishes in the Hellenic Premier League, The Swans applied for a transfer to the Toolstation Western Premier League, a move approved by the FA in the Summer of 2013.

Return To The Southern League

After two seasons in the Toolstation Western Premier League, a third place finish at the end of the 2014/15 season gave the Swans a second opportunity to return to the Southern Football League. This time the club accepted the offer and took their place in the South and West division finishing a credible 18th.

Welcome To Thornhill Park

At the start of the 2016-17 season prior to our annual freindly fixture with neighbours Forest Green Rovers, the football ground in Wisloe Road was renamed in honour of the gift in 1960 from former Chairman Evi Thornhill of the land the club still occupies to this day.

Evi's son, Tony and his wife Margaret were on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon, and Tony made a short heartfelt speech about how much the renaming meant to him and the entire Thornhill family, and how honoured they were that the football club had recognised their father in this way.

Changes On The Bench

After a run of poor results the club parted company with manager Leon Sterling in December 2016, his assistant Freddy Ward taking up the post initially on a caretaker basis. Freddy continued in the role for the following season bringing in Lee Driver-Dickerson as his assistant and former Gloucester City player Lee Smith as player coach.

After tough year, just avoiding relegation Freddy Ward stepped down as first team manager at the end of the 2017/18 season. Driver-Dickerson taking up the reigns with Cheltenham youth coach Dave Strain as his assistant.

Progression Through Youth

After three tough years of survival in the Southern League the committee decided to start a new Under 18’s team, entering into the Midland Floodlit Youth League, Division 1 for the 2018/19 season. The aim was to produce a new crop of Swans to bolster the first team and provide a platform for local players to progress into Southern League Football

The move was a resounding success, seven of the Under 18 players stepping up to first team football during the season and Lewis Adams taking the number one jersey for the majority of the season.

Another step forward

At the start of the 2019/20 season the clubs fifth in the Southern League, further progress is being made on the pitch. Alex Lumsden an academy coach at Bristol Rovers and former Swansea player Dion Chambers joining Lee Driver-Dickerson’s backroom staff.

The Under 18’s have moved across to a new County based youth league and the formation of an Under 17 team to bolster the clubs youthful squad gives an exciting air to the future of the club.

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