The origins of Banbury United FC date from 1931 when, as a works club, they were formed as Spencer Villa FC. The name was changed to Banbury Spencer in 1934 and the team moved to the existing ground at The Stadium. The original changing rooms were old railway coaches, but these were removed in 1966 and new changing rooms, a club house and floodlights were put in.
The club turned professional in 1946, and for the next 25 years they were managed by Jimmy Cringan until his retirement in 1961. During the post war years, the club regularly had crowds of about 3,500 supporters; and in the 1948/49 season, a record attendance of 7,160 saw Banbury lose to Oxford City in the third qualifying round of the FA Cup.
In 1965, Banbury Spencer became Banbury United following the purchase of the club by a group of local businessmen, and joined the Southern League. New facilities were added to the ground making it one of the better non-league grounds of the time.
Sadly, financial troubles in the late 1970s became so serious that in 1984 the club was virtually bankrupt and the ground, which was by then in a very sorry state, was given up as security against debts. The main stand that originally stood on the far side of the ground, was vandalised to the extent that it was condemned in 1985 and subsequently demolished in 1990. During the interim it stood boarded up, with a mural of spectators painted to at least give the appearance of life within.
The club finances were rescued in 1990, but in that season The Puritans were relegated to the Hellenic League. Sponsorship deals secured better finances leading to the return of the clubhouse to club ownership in 1997.
Before reaching the ground one has to negotiate a narrow, winding lane which runs adjacent to the railway station. Much to the chagrin of the club, it’s a rather bumpy ride and pressure is being put on those responsible for it’s upkeep to do just that. Work has gradually been carried out on the car park, and when I last visited a soft shingle pathway led to the ground rather than a maze of deep water-filled craters.
On entering the ground itself, the main feature is the large stand erected in just seven weeks, prior to the 2000/01 season, along the near touchline. It is however, not ideally sited, being at the far end of the pitch rather than straddling the half-way line, and its design means that there as a slightly impeded view from the supporting pillars, particularly the central one. The opposite side of the ground is uncovered, with shallow terracing extending for about half of the length of the pitch up to where the old stand once stood. The floodlights originally saw service at Oxford City’s old White House Stadium.
Banbury evidently prefer to attack the ‘Town End’ of the ground, which has further shallow terracing and cover provided at the rear. If fans wish to stand at the perimeter fence however, they will get wet. At opposite end of the pitch (the ‘Country End’) is more shallow terracing, albeit uncovered.
The pitch at The Stadium was plagued in the 2000/01 season with waterlogging and floods resulting in many matches being postponed and some matches being played knee deep in mud. The club secured a grant for pitch improvements and installed a new drainage system in the summer of 2001. Unfortunately a mini drought did not help matters and on the opening day of the 2001/02 season, there were bare patches in evidence and a lot of loose top soil was flying. The Clubhouse is large, welcoming and airy and situated to the left of the main entrance to the ground.
Writing in 1995 Kerry Miller described the then still semi-derelict nature of the ground:‘One of the great tragedies in football is when a once proud stadium is allowed to deteriorate to such an extent it gives the impression of having given up on itself and lost all self-respect’.
It is to the great credit of the current management therefore that Spencer Stadium, as it now known, has recovered much of the self-respect that Kerry mourned. Banbury followed their promotion back to the Southern League in 1999/00 with a place in the new Premier Division in 2004 and, with continued upgrading and refurbishment it can only be hoped that the bad times the ground has witnessed can now be well and truly laid to rest.
Exit the M40 at J10. Follow the signs for Banbury and the railway station. Turn right down a narrow land before entering the station forecourt.
Banbury (BR) five minutes