06:00PM, Thursday 18 February 2021
York Road under the floodlights. Photo by Darren Woolley
York Road has its own special chapter in football folklore. A groundhopper’s and pub quizzer’s delight, York Road has played host to football for a single club longer than any other ground in the world. On Tuesday 16th February 2021, Maidenhead United celebrated 150 years of continuously calling York Road their home.
To put that into perspective, when the first game of football at York Road was played, the German Empire was merely a month old.
Many industrial and technological achievements such as cars, lightbulbs, and telephones had not even been invented; the FA Cup, merely a concept at the time, had not seen a single match played.
York Road was originally a sporting and recreation venue, where, as the Maidenhead Advertiser reported at the time, “many a friendly game of cricket under the broiling sun of summer has been played between the rival ‘elevens’ of Marlow and Maidenhead.” The report of the first game of football is well-worth a read on the Advertiser’s archives, which saw the home side, sporting white shirts with a black and green Maltese cross, win 2-0 with goals from Samuel Plumbe and the club’s captain William Goulden. Later that year, in one of the first FA Cup fixtures ever held, the two sides met once again resulting in a similar score line.
Several clubs were formed in the town in the late 19th Century. Maidenhead Excelsior would merge with Maidenhead FC, at this point wearing red and black hoops, eight years after their formation in 1877. Other clubs also merged, namely Maidenhead Temperance and Boyne Hill FC in 1891. After the First World War, Maidenhead FC and Maidenhead Norfolkians (formed in 1884) merged and adopted the black and white colours we see today under the name “Maidenhead United.”
Neil Maskell, the club’s fixtures secretary, has been looking at the history of York Road in a series of 150-word articles for the club’s website.
“For many years, the club were tenants at York Road, until the land was sold to them by Lord Desborough in 1920 under the covenant that the site remains for use of sporting purposes,” said Neil. “The ground has never been owned by the club - it’s owned by trustees on behalf of the club, all of whom are supporters with the best interests at heart.
The trust is responsible for ensuring the covenant upon which the land was given to the club is adhered to.”
The ground was now owned by the club on a freehold agreement; a new 500-seater grandstand was built on the ‘York Road’ side of the ground until 1986 when it burned down. At the time, the rest of the stadium was uncovered.
The club remained in the Spartan League for nineteen years, winning the title on three occasions. In 1936, the record attendance for York Road was set in a quarter-final FA Amateur Cup match between the Magpies and Southall with just under 8000 spectators.
Whilst remaining as the home of football in Maidenhead, York Road has also played hosts to other sports. American Football side Thames Valley Chargers played at York Road for a brief period in the 1980s, whilst greyhound racing was also held in the ‘70s and the ‘90s.
After the fire in 1986, seats were installed under a covered enclosure on the railway side of the ground to comply with Isthmian League regulations.
In 2014, these seats were replaced by a new Main Stand providing an elevated view of the pitch. The Cage was also built, a five-a-side enclosure situated next to the Canal end. Both the Bell Street and Canal ends of the ground were covered, with the former providing shelter from the elements from 1963.
“There have been a lot of changes, but the ground has kept its character whilst looking more tidier at the same time,” said Neil.
“York Road has nice, open spaces which are quite distinct areas. It has different vantage points which allow you to feel like you are in a special part of the ground; the shelf provides a good view of the ground, whilst the area by the dugouts allow spectators to listen to the coaching staff.
“There is also the ‘Cage loyal,’ who like to watch the game from near the Cage.
Even for the supporters who like to go behind either goal, both ends have their own distinct personality; of course, the painting on the Bell Street End provides character, and is popular with both home supporters as well as visitors.”
It is hard to imagine anything other than a football ground at York Road today. As a traditional theatre of sporting activity located in the centre of town, York Road epitomises the club it has faithfully served for 150 years: a fantastic entity serving everybody from loyal supporters to those within the community.
It is a place for everyone to be proud of, containing many of the greatest memories of those who have visited over the past 150 years.
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