Although it was 1933 before the name Boston United first appeared, football had been played in the town since the late 1800s and, indeed, always on the same site as the present York Street stadium. The first time that a team from Boston entered the FA Cup was in 1887. In the first round they were drawn against Gainsborough Trinity and were soundly thrashed 7-0. Those early years saw some spectacular defeats in the FA Cup, including a 9-0 defeat at Lincoln City in 1890 and in the following season Grimsby Town went one better to notch up a 10-0 win.
By the start of the First World War there were two clubs in Boston, Boston Town, whose headquarters were “The Coach and Horses,” and Boston Swifts, who used “The Indian Queen” as their HQ. In fact, as both the public houses were situated on “Main Ridge” and the pitch was virtually just opposite, it wasn’t surprising that for the first 40 years or so that was what the ground was called. A small stand was erected in the early 1900s but other than that there were no other facilities, and the teams changed at the back of the appropriate pub! Both teams were members of the Lincoln and District League.
After the First World War only one club, called simply Boston, emerged. After winning the Lincoln and District League in successive seasons, in 1921 the club joined the Midland League as a semi-professional side. In 1925 it went on to achieve the first Boston giant-killing in the FA Cup by beating the then-powerful Football League club Bradford Park Avenue 1-0 in the second round. The club was also achieving respectable positions in the Midland League, being runners up in 1924-25, behind Mansfield Town and again in 1926-27 behind Sc**thorpe United. Both Mansfield and Sc**thorpe were non-league sides at this time.
With entrances and dressing rooms at the west end, the ground was now known as “Shodfriars Lane.” At the end of the 1932-33 season, the directors of Boston FC decided to wind up the club and they took the company into liquidation. Lack of success had meant that the club was not bringing in sufficient funds to make continuation of the Midland League side financially viable. It was proposed to keep football present in the town by running an amateur team in the Peterborough League. However, on July 3, a group of Boston FC supporters held a meeting in the Friendly Societies Hall to discuss an alternative proposal; to form a new club, to be called Boston United, that would take the place of Boston FC in the Midland League. There was enough support for the new proposal, so the new club was born and began playing in the summer of 1933. It was able to replace Boston FC in the Midland League and the Lincolnshire League, but was unable to get agreement from the FA in time to take over Boston’s entry to the FA Cup for the upcoming season. The new club was also able to play on the Shodfriars Lane ground. For the first few games of the season they wore the blue strip of the old Boston side, but after a month they switched to black shirts with a white V-neck as they found that the blue shirts tended to fade and were looking untidy.
In January 1934, Ernest Malkinson, a local entertainment entrepreneur, was elected to the board. For most of the next 70 years, the Malkinson family, owners of the Gliderdrome bingo and dance hall, were one of the driving forces behind Boston United as the club established themselves as a major semi-professional side. In 1936, a player who is arguably the most famous to ever pull on a United shirt joined the club. It was Freddy Tunstall, the former Sheffield United and England winger. He had made seven appearances for England between 1923 and 1925 and was England captain for matches against Canada and France. He had also scored the only goal in the 1925 FA Cup Final when Sheffield United beat Cardiff City at Wembley Stadium in front of 91,763 fans. Tunstall was soon appointed as player-manager at Boston and went on to become the longest-serving manager in the club’s history with a total of almost nine seasons in charge to his credit.
The club would find major success elusive until 1954 when they appointed former Derby County goalkeeper Ray Middleton as their new player-manager. Middleton put together a squad that would challenge for honours over the next few seasons. Many of his signings were from his former club and when Boston reached the second round of the FA Cup in 1955-56, Middleton was delighted to be drawn against Derby County at their Baseball Ground. With six former Derby players in the United team they won by an amazing 6-1 margin. This is still a record score by a non-league club against a League club on their own ground. A brave fight against Tottenham Hotspur in the third round wasn’t enough to stop them going out. They also finished as runners-up to Peterborough United in the Midland League that season, their best-ever performance. Attendances at Boston at that time were averaging 5,000 to 6,000 for league games, and when floodlights were first used for the visit of Corby Town in 1955 over 9,000 people were in the ground!
In a search for more honours, and a Football League place, United joined the Southern League for the 1958-59 season, finishing third in the North Western Zone. A mid-table position was all that was gained the next year, while the following season saw them rock-bottom and they resigned and spent 1961-62 in the Central Alliance completing a league and cup “double.” The next season they re-joined the “new” Midland League but by 1964 financial problems were at such a point they were forced to resign and to keep the club name alive while they sorted themselves out, they ran an amateur side in the local Boston and District league during 1964-65.
Season 1965-66 saw the start of the climb back to senior non-league football with a United Counties League and cup “double.” Refused entry back into the Midland League in 1967, they became something of an oddity by being an east coast club playing in the West Midlands League! The travelling didn’t seem to bother them as they won the championship both years and the League Cup as well in the second year. 1968 saw United as founder-members of the newly-formed Northern Premier League and the start of an 11-year period in which all kinds of honours were won and records were set.
Only twice were they not involved in the championship race, winning it a record four times. Boston were the first club ever to win a NPL “treble” of league, cup and shield. The League Cup was won twice, the NPL Shield four times and the non-league Champions of Champions Trophy twice. United also created a record of conceding only three goals at home in league games in a whole season, 51 consecutive home and away league games without a defeat, and 64 home league games (over three years) without a defeat. During this period a number of FA Cup triumphs over Football League opposition were gained and, notably, a return to the Baseball Ground in 1974 when they held Derby County, the team which would finish in third place in the league that season and win it the following season, to a 0-0 draw. The replay saw 11,000 spectators at York Street by which name the ground was now known and Derby through with few problems.
United received a huge body-blow in 1977 when Football League inspectors failed the ground as being suitable for the Football League, and although United were NPL champions yet again, runners-up Wigan Athletic were put forward instead and were elected. The United directors unanimously agreed that this must never happen again, and so commenced the vast undertaking of rebuilding virtually the whole of the York Street Ground, launching new fundraising schemes in 1978. The local population backed them incredibly, and new floodlights, stands, toilets, turnstiles, terracing and snackbars turned York Street into the stadium it now is.
Unfortunately, with priorities being centred off the field, memorable events as regards the playing side were few and far after United joined the Alliance Premier League in 1979 as founder members, third place was their highest ever placing in their first spell in the top non-league competition. The highest point they enjoyed was most certainly in 1984-85 when they celebrated 50 years by reaching Wembley in the FA Trophy final. Although they went down fighting 2-1 to Gola League Champions Wealdstone, there were over 12,000 Boston supporters that day in the crowd of 20,775. About 5,000 of them turned out again the next day to welcome the team back to Boston.
In the 1992-93 season the club finished bottom of the Conference and were relegated to the Northern Premier League. They did however also reintroduce a reserve side, playing in the TSW Printers Lincolnshire League, which consisted mainly of local players. In the 1995-96 season, United finished as runners-up in the UniBond League but an administrative error meant that they were unable to take the promotion spot and return to the Vauxhall Conference. At the end of the season, long serving chairman, Pat Malkinson “stepped down” allowing him to devote more time to his business commitments. Long-serving vice-chairman Sydney Burgess stepped up to take the reins and immediately introduced a new youth development scheme at York Street. The 1996-97 season saw United enjoy a good cup run for the first time in ten years, finally bowing out to Chester City by a 1-0 margin in the second round proper. They also reached the UniBond League Challenge Cup final, losing 1-0 to county rivals Gainsborough Trinity at Sincil Bank, Lincoln.
The 1997-98 season saw the Pilgrims pick up the runners-up trophy again in the UniBond League. The club also introduced a highly successful “Football For Life Scheme” under the guidance of Chris Cook. The youngsters on the scheme won the Lincolnshire Services League Cup at their first attempt and in a close-fought match, lost to Lincoln City Youth in the final of the Lincolnshire Charity Cup by a 2-1 margin. For the 1998-99 season, the Pilgrims moved sideways from the UniBond League into the Dr Martens League. After a poor start which saw them drop into a relegation spot, manager Greg Fee resigned and was replaced by the manager of Stamford AFC, Steve Evans. The turnaround in the club’s fortunes was quite dramatic. Although it was always unlikely that Boston would catch up with runaway leaders Nuneaton Borough, they eventually claimed the runners-up spot. The club also had their best run in the FA Trophy since 1993, reaching the quarter-finals before being knocked out by St Albans City.
The Pilgrims finally won promotion back to the Conference after a seven-season absence in 1999-2000. They led the Dr. Martens League for much of the season and clinched the title with a victory at York Street over local rivals Grantham Town in front of a huge crowd of over 4,000, with three games to spare. The reserve side won the Lincolnshire League for the first time, completing their matches without losing a single game. In their first season back in the Conference, after a slow start, which saw them go seven games without a win, they began to put the results together and eventually finished in 12th place.
For the 2001-2002 season, the club made the decision to go fully professional. This paid dividends when they went on to clinch the Conference title and promotion to the Football League. Boston were subject to an FA investigation in the summer of 2002, but proudly took their place in the Football League, drawing their first match 2-2 with AFC Bournemouth at York Street. Manager Steve Evans left the club during that summer. However, new manager Neil Thompson worked hard to overcome the four-point deficit imposed on the Pilgrims and steer Boston to a respectable position of 15th place. The 2003-2004 season was another unsettled one in United’s recent history, with a takeover and a mid-season managerial change at the forefront of the off-field action. However, Steve Evans returned to the club and guided the Pilgrims to their highest-ever league placing of 11th, while the newly-formed Centre of Excellence also enjoyed a fine first season in existence, under the guidance of Daral Pugh and Neil Richardson.
The 2004-2005 campaign saw the Pilgrims reach the third round of the FA Cup for the first time in over 30 years, while the youth team replicated this feat by reaching round three of the FA Youth Cup. The first team finished the season in 16th place in the newly-renamed Coca-Cola League Two and striker Andy Kirk became United’s first-ever current international, by playing for Northern Ireland during his time with the Pilgrims. Defender Austin McCann, signed from Hearts in the summer of 2004, had an excellent first season at York Street and was duly named “player of the year” by the United supporters.
The 2005-2006 season witnessed the Pilgrims claim 11th place in Coca-Cola League Two, although a play-off bid was curtailed by playing budget cutbacks in November and January. Manager Evans overcame the difficulties though and guided his side to a best-ever points tally in the Football League (61) as well as narrowly losing to Doncaster Rovers in the second round of the FA Cup.
The 2006-2007 campaign was a tale of woe for everybody involved at the newly-sponsored ‘Staffsmart Stadium’ with the season ending in relegation. Players were sold at regular intervals and the remaining squad members and staff went unpaid for the final two months of the season. The Pilgrims took their fight for survival to the last day at Wrexham, but after leading at half-time, United lost 3-1 to lose the Football League status they achieved five years earlier. Drewe Broughton scored eight goals during his loan spell from Chester City, but the Pilgrims were left to look ahead to their first season back in non-league football.
Worse news was still to follow in June 2007 though, with demotion to ‘Blue Square North’ confirmed after the Pilgrims entered a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA). It meant that United would begin the 2007-2008 season in the second tier of non-league football for the first time since 2000.
Reasons for the Demotion:
Boston United chairman Jim Rodwell has revealed the reasons behind the club’s demotion to Blue Square North.
Speaking to bufc.co.uk, Rodwell said: “I think that it is important for people to understand why the Conference have taken the decision to demote Boston United into their northern division.
“Having met with representatives of all three bodies governing Boston United on May 31, it soon became clear that the football club was between a rock and a hard place.
“The issue revolves around the payment of football creditors. Football creditors are players, other clubs and governing bodies who are owed money by the football club. It is a matter of policy of the Football League and Football Association that all football creditors must be paid 100 pence in the pound to enable them to regain their share, which is suspended at the time of entering into a CVA.
“Boston United and its prospective new owners Standing Alone Limited were always fully aware of this and fully intended to pay back football creditors in full to enable the club to play in the highest division possible. This was demonstrated in the first draft proposal of the CVA, which included proposals for all football creditors to be paid in full.
“However, this was unacceptable to HMRC. The Inland Revenue insisted that they would only support Boston United’s CVA proposal if all creditors, including football creditors, accepted the same level of repayment.
“If football creditors were paid outside the CVA, HMRC made it quite clear that they would have issued winding-up proceedings against Boston United immediately, forcing the club into liquidation. This effectively left Boston United with no alternative but to admit defeat in paying football creditors in full.
“It was expressed to myself at the meeting with the football authorities that in the experience of the people in the room, it was the hardest line ever taken by HMRC in dealings with a football club.
“The Conference were then forced into making a very difficult decision in which level to place Boston United. By demoting the club to Blue Square North, it was the minimum demotion they could have handed out, without contravening the footballing insolvency policy.
“One factor which weighed heavily in the club’s favour was the understanding of the authorities that it was the full intention of Boston United to pay football creditors in full, if it had been at all possible.
“It is clearly with regret that we find ourselves relegated, not on the pitch, but for other reasons. However, it was a choice of having a football club in Blue Square North or no club at all.
“I expect the takeover by Standing Alone Limited to be completed in the next 48 hours, which will enable the football club to restructure and hopefully prosper on the pitch.”
Official Boston United Site
On the 4th of December 2006 Boston’s plan to relocate to a new stadium on The Broadsides was unanimously rejected by Boston Borough Council. This has plunged the club’s future into serious doubt. Chairman James Rodwell said the club’s future was “Hanging in the balance”. Rodwell confirmed that he would be meeting with shareholders over the next couple of days to determine the best course of action, but did admit that the club’s future was ultimately now in the hands of the Inland Revenue, who are owed a sizeable six-figure sum by the club.
In a statement he released to the club’s official website on the 5th of December he said: “The club’s financial situation at the present moment is dire. I would urge all supporters and anybody interested in the future of the football club, be that investors or potential purchasers, to come forward immediately”.
In November 2006 Boston manager Steve Evans and his former chairman Pat Malkinson pleaded guilty to “conspiring to cheat the public revenue between 1997 and 2002”. Both were given suspended jail sentences. This admission of guilt means many football fans feel considerably less sympathy towards Boston than they have done towards other lower league clubs encountering major financial problems.
In May 2007, Boston entered into a Company Voluntary Arrangement towards the end of their last game of the season when they knew they would be relegated to the Conference. This allowed them to avoid a points deduction in the next season, but has proved a controversial move.
On the 10th June 2007 the Blue Square Conference’s annual general meeting voted in favour of demoting Boston United to the Conference North, stating that the terms of the Company Voluntary Agreement which Boston entered was behind the decision. Altrincham F.C. were subsequently spared relegation for the second season running.
Blue Square Chief Executive John Moules released this statement:
“Because Boston United are in breach of certain rules, it was felt Blue Square North was the best place for them. The Inland Revenue put a caveat on that CVA that Boston could not pay football creditors. That breaks Football Association, Football League and Football Conference rules and regulations. We’re giving Boston the opportunity to re-establish themselves as a leading club outside the Football League. They believe the decision we have made is fair and just, and they are not going to appeal. We had meetings all day on Friday with Boston United and then informed Altrincham that they were staying up.”
On 4th July 2007, Chestnut Homes, a local housing development company, announced that they had acquired Boston United FC.
- Nationwide Conference champions: 2001-2002.
- Dr Martens Football League champions: 1999-2000.
- Northern Premier League champions: 1972-1973, 1973-1974, 1976-1977, 1977-78.
- Northern Premier League Cup winners: 1973-1974, 1975-1976.
- Northern Premier League Challenge Shield winners: 1973-1974, 1974-1975, 1976-1977, 1977-1978.
- Lincolnshire Senior Cup winners: 1934-1935, 1936-1937, 1937-1938, 1945-1946, 1949-1950, 1954-1955, 1955-1956, 1956-1957, 1959-1960, 1976-1977, 1978-1979, 1985-1986, 1987-1988, 1988-1989, 2005-2006.
- Non-League Champions of Champions Cup winners: 1972-1973, 1976-1977.
- East Anglian Cup winners: 1960-1961.
- Central Alliance League champions: 1961-1962.
- United Counties League champions: 1965-1966.
- West Midlands League champions: 1966-1967, 1967-1968.
- Eastern Professional Floodlit Cup winners: 1971-1972.
- FA Trophy runners-up: 1984-1985.
- Dr Martens Football League runners-up: 1998-1999.
- UniBond Football League runners-up: 1995-1996, 1997-1998.
- UniBond Challenge Cup runners-up: 1996-1997.