Formed on 28 January 1874 at the Chequers Hotel in the town, Stortford played their first match against the East of England Non-Conformist Grammar School (now Bishop's Stortford College) being defeated by two goals to one, both scored by the Rev. R J Tomes. The Club colours at that time were vivid crimson and olive green, and not the more familiar blue and white of today.
The long history of Bishop’s Stortford FC throws up enough football trivia to keep a quiz compiler occupied for some considerable time. Stortford were the last ever club to win the FA Amateur Cup – defeating Ilford 4-1 in their centenary season; they became the first club to capture both the Amateur Cup and the FA Trophy; and on 30 December 1999 the club contested the last Association Football League match played in England in the 20th Century, winning 5-3 at Chertsey Town.
However, the club’s home at Woodside Park is but a paragraph at the end of that long and sometimes illustrious history; the ground having been opened as recently as 1999 after a frustrating 18 month period during which games were played at Boreham Wood, St. Albans City, Hitchin Town, Dagenham & Redbridge, and Ware. The first game was played on 17 July with a pre-season friendly against Norwich City. However, Friday 3 September saw the official opening, when a crowd of 2,444 watched a commemorative match against Spurs.
Before moving to Woodside Park, the club had been at their previous home, The George Wilson Stadium in Rhodes Avenue since 1919. Before that, Bishops had played at the Laundry Field, believed to have been roughly where the 18th hole is now at the local golf club, ironically merely a goal kick away from Woodside Park.
Then known as the Town Ground, the stadium was opened on 4 October 1919 when a crowd of 400 saw Bishops take on Hertfordshire rivals Ware. In 1968 it was renamed in honour of the Club Chairman who had been on the committee since 1929. The ground was a classic Non League venue, with a pitched roof 250 seat main stand dating from 1961, and two covered terraces at either end. The building of the stand was in fact, rather protracted due to a brick shortage. There was further uncovered terracing adjacent to the stand, built in 1968. Later, in the 1970s the stand was renovated to incorporate a glazed area to provide some insulation from the elements. Further work was carried out following the club’s success in the FA Trophy, with the development of an area of terracing opposite the stand.
The club finally settled in at Woodside Park but only after some serious problems with the pitch had seen many postponed games and fixture headaches in those first two seasons. However, by season 2001/02 the playing surface was (and remains) immaculate and hosting Ryman and England representative games along with many local and junior league cup finals.
Situated beneath the flightpath of the nearby Stansted Airport, and close to the M11 motorway services, Woodside Road is hardly an idyllic location for a ground, although the surrounding trees on two sides help maintain an illusion. It is however, easily accessible.
Although well kept, the ground is, despite the aforementioned trees, rather functional and ultimately rather bland - a failing of so many modern Non League grounds. The main stand - the Brian Bayford Stand - is of quite an attractive cantilever design constructed from light coloured brick and seats almost 300 spectators. The absence of any supporting pillars means that spectators to get a good view of the action below. The two matching dugouts stand immediately in front.
To the left of the stand is a covered area along the touchline, reserved for wheelchair users; whilst the large clubhouse extends to the right and behind the stand. Here there is a burger bar selling the usual football ground burgers and hot-dogs. There is also a small club shop at the Town End. Due to contract parking for the airport, car parking is limited close to the ground but there is also a further large car park near by.
There are several steps of shallow terracing on the remaining three sides of the ground, which is enclosed by wooden fencing. Immediately behind each goal, there is additional terracing, with cover provided by two identical shelters. Both have the same blue cladded roofing as the main stand but are otherwise unremarkable.
With a further move rumoured in the future it is likely that the club’s stay at Woodside Road may be somewhat shorter than at their previous ground. One hopes that, however functional it may be, any new ground will have greater character than Woodside Park.
Exit the M11 at J8. Take the A1250 towards the town centre (not the Services exit), and turn left at the first roundabout. The ground is signposted and is the first turning on the right, opposite the golf club
Bishop’s Stortford (BR).