Note To those not familiar with the local area, Harlow is often wrongly regarded as a ‘new town’, one of many to spring up in the post-war years. However, the town’s football club is much older, as is the area known as Old Harlow. The club’s first recorded match was played in 1879 against Saffron Waldon, although it wasn’t until 1896 that they began playing competitive matches. In 1898 Harlow FC amalgamated with two other local clubs, Netteswell and Burnt Mill to become Harlow & Burnt Mill FC. However, this arrangement only lasted four years, whereupon the name was changed to Harlow Town FC.
In 1960 the club relocated from the Green Man Playing Fields, which had been home since 1879 to the newly-built Harlow Sportcentre on Hammarskjold Road, the first Sports Centre in England. Although the opening game for the new ground was an Essex XI vs. London League XI, the official opening of the ground came on 1 October 1960 when Saffron Waldon visited in the FA Amateur Cup, with FA Secretary Sir Stanley Rous in attendance. Harlow won the match 2-0.
Due to Harlow's facilities at the Sportcentre, the club managed to attract a few big names to the area in the late 1960s. In July 1966, a prestigious friendly match was arranged against Uruguay, who were staying at the Saxon Inn hotel preparing for the World Cup to be held in England that summer. Uruguay beat Harlow 6-1. In 1968, Benfica prepared for the European Cup Final against Manchester United at the Sportcentre. Harlow purchased a new £15,000 main stand with 370 seats for the 1971-72 season, officially opened on 15 March 1971 with a match against Spurs.
The club's centenary season of 1979-80 turned out to be particularly memorable. Not only were Harlow in the Isthmian Premier Division for the first time in their history, but reached the fourth round of the FA Cup, eventually bowing out to Watford, having already disposed of Southend United and Leicester City on the way.
Ironically, given its reputation in the 1960s, by 1992 the Sportcentre was considered to no longer meet the requirements for Isthmian League football. Plans to leave for a new stadium on Roydon Road had seen the club go as far as erecting the framework for a stand and even play a few pre-season friendlies. However, financial problems saw the plans abandoned with the unfinished ground eventually becoming Harlow Greyhound Stadium. As a consequence of having to vacate the Sportcentre Harlow were forced to complete their home fixtures at local venues including Sawbridgeworth, Bishop's Stortford and Ware. The following season worse was to follow and the club dropped out of football completely after resigning from the League. Fortunately, in June 1993, Italian restaurant owner Georgio Di Benedetto and builder John Taylor officially gave the club a cash injection, which enabled the Sportcentre to be upgraded at a cost of £200,000. The club was voted back into the Isthmian League but having resigned, had to start again in the bottom Division.
Now under the ownership of saviour Di Benedetto, one of the Italian’s first decisions was to change Harlow from their famous red and white strip, into blue and black striped jerseys of his favourite club, Inter Milan. This lasted until his departure a couple of seasons later. Also at this time, the club changed it's nickname from 'The Owls' to 'The Hawks', after a poll was conducted on a local radio station.
By 2004 the club was once again in a position to try to move away from the Sportcentre and, after 46 years, finally made the move to a new stadium at Barrow's Farm in 2006. The stadium is situated on Roydon Road, an area of former farmland on the Pinnacles Industrial Estate, and ironically the same road where Harlow had began building on their last attempt to move in 1993, before going into administration. A further irony is that the Greyhound Stadium that was once envisaged as a new ground for the club is currently home to local side FC Risden.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given previous ‘cursed’ attempts to move to the area, problems with an access road meant that the planned first match against Linfield in July 2006 had to be played at the Sportcentre instead. The club finally got the keys to their new home in October and christened it with game against Ware. By coincidence the date of this match – 18 October – was the same of the club’s first ever recorded match 127 years earlier.
Financed by the Harlow Gateway Project to the tune of £3 million, The Farm is reached via a long access road which leads to a large car park adjacent to the rear of the Main Stand. The latter is most impressive: brick built with an angled cantilever roof and smart red side panels that give it a very stylish look. The seating is tiered to a good angle and offers excellent unobstructed views as one might expect, and although it has a seated capacity of 352, is designed to be extended if further progress on the pitch requires it. Housed within are the dressing rooms, offices and hospitality areas, with windows stretching along its length.
Although there were evidently plans for an uncovered terrace at the southern end of the ground, these have not come to fruition and at the present time the areas behind each goal are relatively undeveloped. Opposite the stand however, is a further area of covered terracing that is comparatively bland and functional alongside the main seated area.
Immediately in front are a couple of very smart uPVC dugouts with seating that is almost throne-like. Interestingly, when I visited prior to the opening match I immediately noticed that the dugouts appeared too close to the pitch and that there were no technical areas. When I pointed this out nobody seemed particularly bothered. However, by the time that Vince Taylor’s photograph (below) was taken at the game vs Ware, the dugouts had been moved back into gaps cut into the perimeter rail, with the ‘new’ (and very unusual) concrete technical areas marking their original positions. And who says that dugouts aren’t interesting! DB
NB. A significant proportion of the historical information above is edited from an excellent Wikipedia page on the club. My thanks to the author.