Nicknamed ‘The Tulips’ because of the townâ€™s association with the bulb growing industry, the club was formed in 1921 but the town did have football in the guise of Spalding Thursday and Spalding Town prior to that. They have always played at the same Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field venue, although it was originally known as the Black Swan Field.
In the early days the club played in the Spalding & District League but progressed to the Peterborough League. Their first honours came in 1933 when they won the Lincolnshire Junior Cup. The feat was repeated in 1938 and they progressed to senior level and won the Lincolnshire Senior B Cup in 1951. Further progress followed with success in the Lincolnshire Senior A Cup in 1953.
In 1952 The Tulips recorded their record ground attendance when playing Peterborough United, then a Midland League side, in a qualifying round of the FA Cup. A crowd of 6,973 packed into the ground and saw Spalding leading 2-0 with ten minutes to play but Posh fought back to equalise and went on to win the replay 3-0. The club has reached the first round proper of the FA Cup on two occasions. In 1957/58 they lost 3-1 to Durham City and in 1964/65 they played Football League opposition for the first time, being beaten 5-3 in a thrilling encounter at Newport County.
Spalding United became United Counties League champions for the first time in 1955, having been runners-up in 1951, 1952 and 1953. They then joined the Eastern Counties League but were without success and subsequently joined the Central Alliance League. They stayed just one season before transferring to the re-formed Midland League in 1961. Again, no honours came their way and in 1968 they rejoined the United Counties League and won the title for a second time in 1975.
The Tulips changed competitions once more in 1982, joining the Northern Counties East League. They were champions in 1984 but again returned to the United Counties League in 1986. A third title was won in 1988, a season which also saw them lift the Lincolnshire Senior A Cup. This time their success earned promotion to the Southern League and their first two seasons in the Midland Division saw them finish eighth and sixth in the table.
In 1989/90 Spalding enjoyed an excellent run in the FA Vase, defeating Knowle Town (3-0), Stamford (9-0, after a replay), Harrisonâ€™s (3-1), Lye Town (1-0), Bourne Town (3-1, after a replay) and Great Yarmouth (2-0). This earned them a home quarter-final tie with Guiseley, who included former Leicester City and England striker Frank Worthington in their side. A crowd of 2,020 saw Guiseley win 3-1 after extra time, having equalised in stoppage time.
Things took a down turn with relegation back to the United Counties League the following season. The club went into decline and it took a number of years before they started to rebuild. The recovery followed the appointment of Alan Day as manager in 1994. Spalding won the League Knockout Cup in 1995 and in 1997 they were runners-up in the league as well as reaching the last-16 of the FA Vase when they were defeated by Taunton Town. In 1998 they finished third in the league and again reached the quarter-final stage of the FA Vase, losing narrowly 2-1 at home to eventual winners Tiverton Town in front of 2,038 spectators.
In 1998/99 the club won the United Counties League championship, the Lincolnshire A Cup and the Hinchingbrooke Cup. As UCL champions, Spalding regained membership of the Southern League and competed in the Eastern Division for the 1999/2000 season. Despite a disastrous period in the run up to Christmas the club eventually finished the season in a creditable 15th position. The following season saw the Tulips start well. For two weeks they were top of the table. But fortunes began to change following the departure of the manager and some of the players. A new manager was appointed and some new players drafted in, but by the end of the season the Tulips had slipped to bottom position. However, the expected relegation did not materalise as two other clubs resigned, giving the Tulips and Sittingbourne a reprieve.
The 2001/02 season saw the Tulips start with quite a few new players, plus a new management set-up with Nick Andersen being assisted by Alex Irvine. After getting off to a good start the team suffered a spate of injuries and again the club saw themselves at the foot of the table by the end of the season.
By hook or crook they again somehow evaded relegation but the club was in turmoil for the start of the next campaign with the chairman ‘retiring’ and leaving the club with no material successor. However, co-manager Irvine took the initiative, stepping into the breach to ensure the clubâ€™s immediate future. Possibly his best signing during his period in the chair was to get local businessman Chris Toynton to make a serious commitment to ensure the financial future of the club. Irvine resigned at the end of the year shortly after the departure of manager Nick Andersen. A procession of managers then followed with little or no success, doing little more than ensuring the club fulfilled it’s Southern League commitments.
The outcome was a return to the United Counties League. Following his success in leading neighbours Holbeach United to the United Counties League championship, their manager Dick Creasey became the target of new chairman Toynton. Creasey accepted the challenge of winning back-to-back championships with a different club.
At the start of the 2003/04 season chairman Chris Toynton went public with his plan for the future of the club, the critical step being to win promotion from the United Counties League to benefit from the FA’s re-organisation of the feeder leagues and this was the objective Dick Creasey accepted. It was achieved on 8th May with a convincing 5-1 victory at Ford Sports, Daventry. To round off an excellent season the Tulips also won the East Anglian Cup for the first time in their history, beating Aveley 3-1 in the final.
The Tulips entered a new era by being placed in the UniBond Northern Premier League. After seeing his side lose a number of matches by a single goal, manager Dick Creasey resigned in early November 2004. His most senior player Steve Charles took charge until a new manager could be appointed. Charles, with more than 600 Football League appearances behind him, guided the side to an unbeaten spell of six matches before the arrival of Steve Welsh, another vastly experienced League player in England and Scotland. The debut season in the UniBond League was was one of highs and lows but too many defeats by a single goal resulted in the team finishing in 18th position. They ended the season on a high, however, by beating Lowestoft Town 4-2 to retain the East Anglian Cup.
Steve Welsh resigned as manager to take up a full time coaching role with Boston United in mid-October, 2005 and was replaced by former Kettering Town assistant boss Alan Biley who had immediate success, taking the team from bottom spot to mid-table within weeks of arriving. However, come early February 2006 Biley had returned to Kettering Town and ten days later former Lincoln City, Grimsby Town and Norwich City midfielder Phil Hubbard was named as his successor. With Mark Hone as assistant manager, Phil guided the team out of the Unibond League relegation area and to safety at Level 4 of the non-league ‘pyramid’ structure. An attempt to end the season on a high with a third successive East Anglian Cup victory failed with a narrow 1-0 defeat in the final to Harlow Town.
The 2006/07 season saw the Tulips return to the Southern League for a third time and finish 19th of 22 teams after a rollercoaster campaign. But in the final phase of FA restucturing the club was relocated back to the UniBond League for the 2007/08 season, competing in Division One (South). The close-season also saw the club enter a new and exciting era with the formation of a Youth Academy under the direction of former Kettering Town boss Dominic Genovese who had been handed the title of Director of Football. In mid-September Dominic took over the managerâ€™s reins following the departure of Phill Hubbard after a dismal start to the season.
The hoped-for results failed to materialise however and one week into February 2008 Alan Biley, who had been released amid managerial changes at Corby Town, was enticed back to the Tulips for a third time as manager. After successfully carrying out his remit to maintain Level 4 status, Biley departed again in June 2009.
After two weeks, former player Mark Hone was appointed to his first managerial position. But he resigned in mid-November with the team languishing in penultimate position in the league with just nine points from 19 matches. Assistant manager Richard Scott took temporary charge of the team and was appointed Manager in mid-February, following an eight-match ‘trial’ period. Sadly his hopes of bringing success to the club did not materialise and with the team again in the relegation positions, Scott resigned in mid-January 2011 and this also signalled a mass exodus of players.
One positive note to recall from the 2011/12 season (the club’s 90th Anniversary year) was a partnership deal struck with top local junior club, Spalding Athletic JFC which put Spalding United FC in close contact with age group football from the ages of Under 8’s to Under 18’s.
Andrew Stanhope, who had enjoyed a lengthy playing career with the Tulips, stepped into the management breach together with another former player and manager, Bob Don-Duncan in late January 2011. Unfortunately they were unable to halt the slide and the team was eventually relegated back to the United Counties League. After 11 months in charge, Stanhope was relieved of his duties and former Deeping Rangers supremo, Pat Rayment, was appointed manager in January 2012.
Rayment immediately set about restructuring the club and the beginning of the 2012/13 season saw a new management team in place, with former Peterborough United player, Marcus Ebdon, joining as Assistant Manager and Bob Don-Duncan moving up to become Director of Football.
With the new management structure in place, a host of new and largely experienced players was encouraged to sign-up and join the “footballing revolution” about to take place at the Sir Halley Stewart Field.
At the end of the 2012/13 season the Tulips narrowly missed out on promotion to Step 4 of the non-league pyramid as they finished Runners-Up to St Ives Town; some small consolation was to be found however when the Tulips lifted the UCL Knockout Cup in the final game of the season when they triumphed 4-0 over, ironically, St Ives Town!
Having suffered heartache on the final day of the 13/14 campaign, losing out on promotion by a solitary point, Mssrs Rayment & Ebdon were determined the side would hit the ground running from the outset of the new campaign. The budget was stretched to secure such stellar signings as Nathan Stainfield, Jamie Stevens, Andrew Tidswell, Lewis Webb and Jonny Allen and the Tulips duly cantered to the UCL Premier Division title though success in any other cup was not forthcoming.
The 2014/15 campaign saw the Tulips back where they felt they belonged, competing at Step 4 in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division South.
Despite a shaky start as they struggled to acclimatise to their new surroundings, the team strung together a fine run of form after Christmas 2014 and looked certain to secure at least an end-of-season Play-Off berth with weeks to go. However an alarming & somewhat mystifying dip in form saw the Tulips eventually finish seventh, their campaign ending in a whimper at Romulus where, with everything still to play for on the last day of the season, they went down 3-0, prompting Pat Rayment to signal loud & clear that changes would be made!
Much activity in the transfer market ahead of the 2015/16 season, with a raft of players leaving & arriving, sees Spalding United looking forward with a keen sense of optimism at what the coming nine months might bring.
With promotion very much the aim (via direct passage or the play-offs), expectation is high that the new, younger/hungrier, Tulips will lay down a marker from the get-go. Backed by a newly-formed local business consortium and with a new Chairman, Andrew Gay, at the helm the future looks bright again for this proud old club.