07 25






Ilkeston Town Football Club was founded on Tuesday, July 24th, 1945 at 82 Park Drive, the home of local football enthusiast Fred Cook. Among his guests that evening was Bernard Shaw; Shaw, a superb administrator, became General Secretary and Cook, after a few weeks of being Ground Administrator, became team manager. All those present made up the Ilkeston Town committee.

32 days later the club played its first competitive match. This was the first senior match involving an Ilkeston team since 1937, when Ilkeston FC collapsed under financial pressure. Senior football had been played in Ilkeston since 1882 but Ilkeston Mechanics, Ilkeston Wanderers, another Ilkeston Town and Ilkeston United each suffered a similar fate to Ilkeston FC. That Ilkeston Town FC is still here thriving today is a glowing testament to all the hard working people involved with the club during the past 63 years.

Ilkeston’s first two seasons were spent in the Notts & Derbys Senior League. The team was made up almost entirely of local talent and they struggled initially. A slow but steady improvement during the first season ended with a significant morale boost. Town reached the final of the Derbyshire Senior Cup and although they were beaten 3-1 they did well to take a vastly experienced Buxton side to extra time. The club was up and running and they quickly built on that platform. The 1946/47 season saw them finish as runners-up of the Notts & Derbys Senior League and they also recorded their biggest two victories, records which remain today. On 3rd May 1947 Ilkeston won 14-2 at Codnor Miners Welfare and on 12th October 1946 they beat Swanwick Old Boys 13-0 at home in the Derbyshire Divisional Cup. Town went on to win the Divisional Cup that season and they repeated the feat in 1950/51 and 1951/52.

Town, along with a few of their rivals, entered the newly reformed but much stronger Central Alliance in 1947/48. By now the club was able to attract more experienced players and could attract talent from further afield. The next few seasons saw the club gradually build up to a point where they became the dominant force in the Central Alliance. They also had a mini run in the FA Cup in 1947/48 which saw them pull off two superb victories against top Midland League clubs Ransome & Marles and Boston United. Sadly they suffered their record defeat, 11-1 in the next round, against Grantham, yet another Midland League team.

In 1950/51 young right-back Geoff Barrowcliffe became the first of many Ilkeston players to progress directly into the Football League when he joined Derby County. Others since then include Ray Straw (Derby, Coventry, Mansfield), Billy Coxon (Norwich, Lincoln, Bournemouth), Barrie Jepson (Mansfield, Chester, Southport), Jim Mitchell (Derby), John Tudor (Coventry, Sheffield United, Newcastle, Stoke), Dave McVay (Notts County, Torquay, Peterborough, Lincoln), Scott Barrett (Wolves, Stoke, Colchester, Stockport, Gillingham, Cambridge, Leyton Orient), Mark Robinson (Notts County), Francis Green (Peterborough, Lincoln, Boston, Macclesfield) and Aaron O’Connor (Scunthorpe). Almost without exception, these players made a significant impact at League level. Many others have played for the club and advanced into League football via another non-League club.

The 1951/52 season saw Town come of age. They won the Central Alliance title for the first time. Perhaps of even greater significance was the fact that they became the first Ilkeston team in history to reach the First Round proper of the FA Cup. The Rochdale game became very much part of the club’s folklore due to an unusual incident in the closing stages. Rochdale, two goals up and desperate to hold on to their lead, cleared the white ball high out of the ground where it became lodged in an adjacent Elm tree. The gathering gloom necessitated the use of the white ball, the only one Ilkeston owned. After more than ten minutes delay, during which time all sorts of methods had been tried to retrieve the ball whilst a mini pitch invasion took place, the referee decided to continue the game with a standard ball which was almost invisible in the darkness. When the full time whistle was blown there was considerable confusion because many people thought that the match had been abandoned. Meanwhile, the white ball had been rescued from the tree but the referee reported Town to the FA because he believed that they had deliberately tried to avoid getting the ball back. The charges were dropped. The following season saw the club sport a new badge depicting the ball in the tree and this became the club emblem for many years.

Town’s dominance in the Central Alliance continued for the next three seasons when they won the title each time. The 1953/54 season was their best when they finished twelve points clear, won 30 of the 36 matches, scored 128 goals and conceded just 29. Success was not just confined to the Central Alliance. They also won the Derbyshire Senior Cup, for the second time, in 1952/53 having won it four years earlier. Ilkeston have gone on to win this competition a total of eleven times, a record for a Derbyshire non-League club. Several players during this successful era can be classed as Ilkeston legends, including Dave Baker (right-back), Terry Blount (outside-left), Alwyn Booth (inside-left), John Commander (right-half), Ken Faulconbridge (inside-right), Horace Hackland (left-half), Barrie Jepson (centre-forward), Ken Ledger (outside-right), Les Smith (centre-half), and Jackie Ward (centre-forward/outside-left) who holds the club record of 139 career goals. Crowds flocked to see these players and home gates in excess of 2000 were the norm.

Ilkeston’s run of four successive Central Alliance titles ended when they finished second in 1955/56 in an otherwise successful season. An FA Cup tie against Peterborough United attracted a record home gate of 9592 but this figure was eclipsed by the 11912 attendance for Town’s Derbyshire Senior Cup Final victory against Heanor at the Baseball Ground. This gate is the highest ever in the competition’s 127 year history. The following season saw Town reach the FA Cup First Round for the second time when they were beaten 5-1 at home by non-League giants Blyth Spartans.

Gradually the all-conquering team began to break up and the club ceased to be such a force whilst remaining one of the better sides in the Central Alliance. However, they still managed to win the Central Alliance League Cup and Derbyshire Senior Cup double in 1957/58. They remained in the Central Alliance until 1961 when they, along with several of their rivals and a number from the Yorkshire League, opted to enter the more powerful Midland Counties League. Such a challenge led to the committee appointing a manager from outside their ranks - Ken Rawson - who became only the second man to be given such responsibility, the first being Gibson McNaughton who had a brief and unsuccessful stint in 1950.

Ilkeston adapted well to the new challenge and for the most of the 1960s were one of the better clubs in the Midland Counties League. One of Ilkeston’s Greats played during this era, centre-half Terry Swinscoe, who made a club record 377 appearances including 186 in a row directly before he made his final appearance in 1968. Two years earlier the club made the decision to adopt red as its dominant colour, replacing the white of old, and Town became known as The Robins. This nickname had been given to past clubs Ilkeston United and Ilkeston FC and its origins date back to the 1920s. Town therefore were now carrying on a local football tradition and a new club badge, depicting a robin, replaced the ball in the tree.

The 1967/68 season was one of the most successful seasons in Town’s history when they won the Midland Counties League championship, led by manager Dave Agnew. The average gate topped the 1000 mark for the first time since the 1950s and people were keen to see the attacking partnership of two Town Greats, John Froggatt and local born Ralph "Bomber" Brown as well as the skilful schemer Barry Walker. Unfortunately a number of events conspired to prevent Town from building on this success. Firstly, the creation of the Northern Premier League in 1968 undermined the quality of the Midland Counties League which caused a reduction in crowds. Secondly, a number of the players of the championship side left for bigger clubs. And thirdly, the Brian Clough-inspired renaissance of Derby County provided a new football attraction for the local public. Town’s geographical position, with three Football League grounds within nine miles, has meant that they have suffered like no other similar sized Derbyshire club in this respect.

Suddenly, the club’s financial situation was at best perilous. The decision was taken to advance to a higher level of football and they were admitted into the Southern League Division One North in 1971. The team initially did well and attendances were reasonable but the second season was a disaster. Home supporters, deprived of watching local derbies, stayed clear of watching a losing team to such an extent that only 64 turned up to watch a home game with Enderby Town. The club had no alternative but to resign from the Southern League and they returned to the Midland Counties League in 1973. With an extremely limited wages budget Ilkeston’s next few seasons were mainly a battle to survive while the team almost constantly struggled on the pitch.

The Midland Counties League disbanded in 1982 and Town were admitted into the new Northern Counties East League. The 1982/83 season saw a change of fortunes that helped the club stay afloat for the next few years. The Derbyshire Senior Cup was won for the first time in twenty years but more importantly the team enjoyed a great run in the FA Trophy that saw them reach the last 16. Notable scalps during the run included Gainsborough Trinity and Witton Albion (Northern Premier League), and Stafford Rangers (Conference). Town then recorded one of their greatest ever victories when they won 2-1 away at Conference side Barnet. This win took them through to the last 16 and a home tie against non-League giants Enfield and the game was watched by 2087 fans, easily the biggest gate in 15 years. What should have been a great occasion was marked by serious crowd disturbances and the game was abandoned with Town 5-1 down. The result was allowed to stand.

Ilkeston’s team during the early 1980s was their most exciting since the 1960s but their inconsistency meant that they never seriously challenged for honours. By the middle of the decade most of their best players had gone and the 1985/86 season was a disaster as Town finished bottom of the Northern Counties East League. The long travelling distances involved in going to some of the more northern and eastern based clubs and the subsequent drain on their limited resources persuaded the club to join the newly created Supreme Division of the Central Midlands League in 1986. It was expected that many local rivals would follow suit but not all of them did. To make matters worse the Central Midlands League was not a valid feeder league in the Pyramid to begin with and so Town were effectively trapped. Crowds dwindled again, finances became critical, and more significantly it became apparent that the local council would no longer lease the ground to the club as they were keen to redevelop the site.

The Manor Ground had been home to Ilkeston football since 1893 and at its height was something to be proud of, despite its notorious slope and raised corners. In more recent times it had become sadly neglected but supporters still launched a campaign to save it. Unfortunately, the lack of support the club had at the time meant that the voice of the few was unlikely to be heard and it seemed that the very existence of the club was under threat.

Things changed in 1989 when local millionaire businessman Paul Millership took control of the club. One of the first signings the club made following the takeover was Kenny Burns, the former Nottingham Forest and Scotland star, and such an imaginative capture had an immediate boost on gate receipts. Then, in 1990, Ilkeston were accepted into the West Midlands Regional League Premier Division, one step below the Southern League and they were able to build for the future. Meanwhile Millership accepted that if Town were to progress the club would have to give up the Manor Ground and have a new purpose built ground to call their home.

Not everything went to plan to begin with. Although a site was found for the new ground and completion was expected by 1991, delays meant that the New Manor Ground was not ready in time for the 1991/92 season. The club therefore remained at the old ground for one further, final season but as it did not have floodlights Town were relegated to the First Division of the West Midlands Regional League. The Robins won the championship at a canter and the emotional final match on the old ground, against Great Wyrley on 28th March 1992, 99 years after the Manor Ground had been built, was won 4-0.

The New Manor Ground opened on 15th August 1992 for the opening day fixture with Chasetown. It boasted a clubhouse and a covered stand, but more importantly floodlights. Over the years the ground has been further developed including covered terracing behind the goals and the erection of the Clocktower Stand. A 780 gate attended the first game, the largest for a league fixture since 1971, and 611 witnessed the first ever floodlit match staged in Ilkeston a couple of months later. The new found interest grew and an exciting new era dawned as the ghosts of the 1950s were laid to rest. A close knit team developed that took the club through to the Southern League Premier Division with back to back promotions by 1995. Players such as local goalkeeper Alan Rigby, Mark Harbottle (midfield/forward) and Dave Taylor (striker) became the new heroes. The club reached the last 16 of the FA Trophy in 1994/95 before narrowly losing a replayed tie against Conference champions Kidderminster Harriers. The home tie attracted 2349 spectators and 1280 had seen Town beat Conference side Welling United 3-0 in the previous round. Ilkeston clinched promotion to the Premier Division on an unforgettable May evening when they destroyed fellow challengers Tamworth 7-1 in front of a 1454 gate.

The step up proved too great. Manager Bill Brindley was sacked in September and former Burnley and Wales winger Leighton James took his place but the team still struggled at the foot of the table. James followed Brindley out of the club and Keith Alexander, the former Lincoln manager, was appointed. Unable to stave off relegation he nevertheless became the most successful manager in Town’s history. The 1997/98 season was a historic one and the squad contained players who are true club legends. Names such as Christian Moore (striker), Paul Eshelby (left midfield), Gary Middleton (defence) and penalty king central midfielder John Knapper helped the side not only win promotion but also become the first Town team to reach the Second Round of the FA Cup. The historic 2-1 win over Boston United in the First Round was watched by 2504 fans and the reward was an away to Scunthorpe United, three leagues higher than Ilkeston. Town almost pulled off a major shock but were denied victory by a late equaliser. The winners of the replay faced a trip to Premiership Crystal Palace but Ilkeston bravely went down 2-1 in front of 2109 fans. Consolation came with the club’s promotion back to the Southern League Premier Division and the average gate was the biggest in 30 years.

The 1998/99 season saw Town finish third in the Southern League Premier Division, their highest ever placing, but another stunning FA Cup run the following season surpassed even that achievement. On 30th October 1999 1748 fans saw Ilkeston beat League opposition for the first time when they defeated Carlisle United 2-1. The Second Round tie, against non-League big spenders Rushden & Diamonds, was watched by a ground record 2538 spectators and ended in a 1-1 draw, but Town lost the replay 3-0. Sheffield United away had awaited the winners.

Despite having the finest players and most successful manager to have represented the club, promotion to the Conference eluded Ilkeston. Alexander left in October 2000, and although Town made another FA Cup First Round appearance the following month - which they lost 4-1 at Swindon - the club went into decline. Former Derby and Nottingham Forest Championship medal holder and European Cup winner John McGovern lasted only a few months as manager and in 2002/03, when former Scotland striker John McGinlay was in charge to begin with, Town were relegated from the Premier Division. The team needed to finish in the top 8 of the Western Division the following season if the decline was to be arrested due to the restructure of the Pyramid but they could only manage a mid-table finish.

Ilkeston transferred to the Unibond League in 2004 and manager Phil Stant, aided by future Ilkeston manager Nigel Jemson who top scored, won promotion to the Premier Division at the first attempt. Stant was sacked early in the 2005/06 season and Jemson led Town to safety. Progress was made the following season and the Derbyshire Senior Cup was won for the eleventh time and hopes were high that the 2007/08 season would see Ilkeston heading for a play-off place. Instead, it was a disastrous season, both on and off the pitch. The club was hit hard by the tragic loss of its saviour Paul Millership, and the team only managed to survive relegation on goal difference. There were serious concerns that Millership’s death would spell the end of Ilkeston Town.

The end of the season ended on a high note and promised great optimism for the future. Millionaire local builder Chek Whyte stepped in to make sure that the club would not only survive but also strive for a highly successful future. After his takeover he pledged to take the club into the heart of the community whilst looking towards great success on the pitch. With that in mind former Watford, Sheffield United and Birmingham centre-half David Holdsworth was appointed as manager and he quickly signed some highly talented players. The season began so successfully that bigger clubs were watching Holdsworth’s progress with interest. With Ilkeston in the Unibond League play off positions and Mansfield Town managerless The Stags managed to tempt Holdsworth away from the New Manor Ground at Christmas to try his hand managing at Conference level. The Robins were quick to appoint experienced players Rob Scott and Paul Hurst as caretaker managers. The pair built on the foundations laid by David Holdsworth, extending the club’s unbeaten league run to 25 games, by leading Ilkeston to second place in the Unibond League and onwards to the Play Off Final. They also led the team to the Unibond League Challenge Cup Final where they were beaten 3-2 by Guiseley after extra time. In the Play Off Final Ilkeston beat Nantwich Town 2-1 after extra time, despite being reduced to ten men during the second half of normal time, to end a memorable season with a thoroughly deserved promotion.

The summer of 2009 began disappointingly for supporters with the departure of the management duo who, unable to agree terms, took over the vacant manager position at Boston United. Many of the players left as well, including player of the year Ben Pringle who joined Derby County for £25,000. Kevin Wilson, the former Derby, Chelsea, Ipswich and Northern Ireland international who counted Northampton Town amongst his previous management roles was appointed as manager and swiftly set about rebuilding the squad with zest to meet the challenges ahead in the Blue Square North. It has not been an ideal situation for Wilson, particularly as owner Chek Whyte was being reported as being on the verge of bankrupcy.

Yet Wilson overcame the obstacles in his path and his quickly assembled young team, boosted by a handful of experienced players, surprised many by enjoying an excellent first season in the Blue Square North, finishing in eighth place. The team also reached the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in ten years before losing 4-0 at Cambridge United. As the 2009/10 season headed to its close the uncertainty off the pitch came to an end when the club came into new ownership. Chairman Gary Hodder, a man with considerable commercial experience in football who was chief executive at Northampton Town during Kevin Wilson's reign, is the new figurehead and the future of Ilkeston Town looked at last to be in safe hands. Unfortunately, he inherited a £50,000 unpaid debt to Her Majesty's Revenue And Customs, that arose during Chek Whye's tenure, who subsequently took the club to the High Court. Town began the 2009/10 season with an embargo in place that left Wilson limited to a 16 man squad, and injuries plus suspensions stretched his resources to the limit. Hodder indicated his belief that Town would survive the High Court hearing on September 8th, seemingly having made little effort to attract more sponsorship and even turned down a four figure fee offered by Luton Town for star striker Amari Morgan-Smith. Nevertheless, the High Court ruled that the club was insolvent and it went into liquidation within a week.