Spalding United FC were nicknamed ‘The Tulips’ because of the town’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 Field venue, although it was originally known as the Black Swan Field.
During their early days the club played in the Spalding and District League, eventually progressing 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 Sir Halley Stewart Field 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 became United Counties League champions for the first time in 1955, having been
runners-up in 1951, 1952 and 1953. They joined the Eastern Counties League but were without success and 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.
Spalding changed competitions once more in 1982, joining the Northern Counties East League. They were champions in 1984 but returned once again 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, progressing to 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 in extra time, with the visitors a tad fortunate at having equalised in stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes.
Things took a downturn 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 UCL Knockout Cup in 1995 and in 1997 they were runner-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 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 season 1999/2000. After a disastrous period they finished the season in a creditable 15th position.
The following season saw the Tulips start well, but by the end they 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. Again they evaded relegation but the club was in turmoil for the start of the next campaign with the chairman “retiring”. However, co-manager Irvine took the initiative and stepped into the breach to ensure the club’s immediate future.
Irvine resigned at the end of the year shortly after the departure of manager Andersen to be replaced by Chris Toynton. A procession of managers followed with little or no success, doing little more than ensuring the club fulfilled its Southern League commitments. The outcome was a return to the United Counties League. Following his success in leading neighbours Holbeach United to the UCL championship, their manager Dick Creasey became a target of new chairman Toynton. Creasey accepted the challenge of winning back-to-back championships with a different club. 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, but they ended the season on a high by beating Lowestoft Town 4-2 in the Final to retain the East Anglian Cup. Welsh resigned as manager to take up a full time coaching role with Boston United in midOctober, 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 in weeks of arriving. But come early February 2006 Biley had returned to Kettering 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, he guided the team out of the Unibond League relegation area and to safety at Level-4.
The 2006/07 season saw the Tulips return to the Southern League for a third time and finish 19th of 22 teams after a roller coaster campaign. But in the final phase of FA restructuring 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 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 Genovese took over the manager’s reins following the departure of Phil Hubbard after a dismal start to the season. But the hoped for results failed to materialise and 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. Assistant manager Richard Scott was appointed as manager in mid-February following an eightmatch “trial” period. But his hopes of success for the club did not materialise and with Spalding United again in the relegation positions, Scott resigned in mid-January 2011 which also prompted a mass exodus of players.
Andrew Stanhope, who had enjoyed a lengthy playing career with the Tulips, stepped into the breach together with another former player and manager in Bob Don-Duncan. Unfortunately they were unable to halt the slide and the club was relegated back to the United Counties League. After 11 months in charge Stanhope was relieved of his duties. Pat Rayment was appointed manager in mid-January 2012. He set about re-structuring the club and the start of the 2012/13 season brought a new management team with former Peterborough United player Marcus Ebdon joining as Assistant Manager and Bob Don-Duncan moving up the ladder as Director of Football. After a largely successful campaign which saw an extended run in the FA Vase (the Tulips eventually going out at home in the 5th Round to eventual Semi-Finalists, Guernsey, the club narrowly missed out on winning promotion from the UCL Premier Division by a solitary point at the end of the 2012/13, but emerged victorious in that season’s UCL Knockout Cup, beating promoted St Ives Town 4-0 in the Final.
The club’s 90th anniversary year (2011/12) started on a high when a partnership deal with top local junior club Spalding Athletic JFC was agreed, putting us in contact with age group football from under-8 to under-18. The 2013/14 Pre-Season saw a huge influx of talented players to the club and it came as no surprise to many that the UCL Premier Division crown was won at a canter. With the talented squad at his disposal, much had been made of Pat Rayment’s potential in guiding the Tulips deep into the latter stages of that season’s FA Vase, but following a 3-0 2nd Round victory over Walsall Wood in early November the Tulips’ world fell apart temporarily when it was discovered that they’d fielded an ineligible player for the final few moments of that tie. Despite protestations directly to The FA the decision was upheld and the Tulips wre thrown out of the competition; harsh by many people’s reckoning, considering the fine details of the case.
With promotion back to Step 4 of the Non-League pyramid secured for the 2014/15 season, the Tulips gave a good account of themselves in the Evo-Stik NPL First Division South but a late season collapse, when it had seemed highly likely for so long that they’d qualify for the end-of-season Play-Offs,saw the team finish 7th and left management & supporters baffled when all had seemed to be going so well between Christmas and the end of February 2015. The 2015/16 campaign began much as had the previous one, with the Tulips showing they belonged at Step 4. However, manager Pat Rayment again tendered his resignation in November 2015, shortly after the shock FA Cup 3rd Round Qualifying Replay defeat at home to Sporting Khalsa during October 2015; Rayment cited that he felt he’d taken the team as far as he could and that after almost four years in charge he was ready for another challenge. As potentially unsettling as Rayment’s abrupt departure could have been, former Assistant Manager, Marcus
Ebdon, and Coach, Danny Hussey, agreed to take on the reins in a Joint Management arrangement and duly saw out the role until the end of the 2015/16 season, which the Tulips finished in 12th place.
With the season complete by what seemed a matter of minutes, Mssrs Ebdon/Hussey announced that they would not be carrying on the role of Joint Managers due to increasing work commitments. Many wondered what direction the club would take and whether such news would mean a mass exodus of talent. Most assumed a familiar face from the past would be invited back to captain the ship, but it came as a great filip when news was announced in May 2016 that former Lincoln United boss and Tulips player, David Frecklington, had agreed to lead the club on a three-year contract. Dave was quickly joined by his former Assistant at Lincoln United, Chris Rawlinson, and the rebuilding project began in earnest. Six key members of the Tulips squad (inc stalwarts such as Michael Duggan, Nathan Stainfield, Neal Spafford, Tom Waumsley and Jonny Lockie) were retained for 2016/17 and a host of new faces were either signed or trialled during Pre-Season.
Having overseen Lincoln United go from strength-to-strength in his three-year tenure at the helm (2015/16 saw The Whites finish in the Play-Off places), Frecklington & Rawlinson made no secret of their ambition to take the Tulips to Step 3 of the non-league pyramid. Early season preparations and results suggested they were indeed men on a mission as the Tulips began 2016/17 with a string of impressive results. The plan is to reach the Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division by end of Year 3; judging from what’s been seen so far, nobody will be surprised if that timeframe is shortened.