A Brief History of Leatherhead F.C.
The modern Leatherhead Football Club was formed by the merger of Leatherhead Rose and Leatherhead United in 1946. However the research undertaken by David Johnston and Graham Mitchell showed that the Tanners can trace their continuous history back to the formation of Leatherhead Rose in 1907. The Surrey FA checked their records and confirmed that the 2007-8 season was Leatherhead’s official Centenary.
The town’s first of many clubs was formed in 1886 and twenty one years later Leatherhead Rose were established as a team drawn from Leatherhead Common. Rose played friendlies until the formation of the Dorking and District League in 1909 and they were the first League Champions. The league shut down between 1914 and 1919 for the duration of the Great War in which four Rose players and one committee man were killed. One Leatherhead family closely associated with Leatherhead Rose, the Taylors, sent seven brothers to the War. Five were killed and a sixth lost a leg. Only ‘Lucky’ Arthur remained physically unscathed and was able to resume his playing career in 1919 -20 when Rose were League Champions again. In 1920 Leatherhead Rose joined the Kingston and District League and won the League title three times, the last in 1938-39.
Leatherhead United were formed in 1924 and in 1925-26 won Division One of the Sutton and District League. In 1928-29 they were third in the Sutton and District Premier League, behind Leatherhead Rose who were runners-up. In the early 1930s Fetcham Grove based United joined the Surrey Junior League. After becoming Champions in 1933-34 they joined the Surrey Intermediate League but were relegated in 1937 after a disastrous season.
In September 1939 World War II began and initially all sports were banned but the restriction was soon lifted. Many leagues were suspended because men were called up and there were travel restrictions but the Kingston League continued. Rose’s Barnett Wood Lane ground was needed for allotments and they returned to Kingston Road. United played friendlies and in 1940-41 United beat Rose 3-2, the last ever meeting of the two sides.
After the War officials of the two Clubs met and on 27th May 1946 Leatherhead Football Club was officially formed at a public meeting. The two clubs pooled their financial resources (a total of £200) and three former Rose officials and two from United were elected as officers. United’s Fetcham Grove ground was to be used although a great deal of work was required to bring it up to standard. The Tanners were accepted as late entrants to the Surrey Senior League and went on to win four consecutive Championships before joining the Metropolitan League, which included some professional sides. After just one season they switched to the new all-amateur Delphian League, joining the Corinthian League in 1958. They were the League’s last Champions as in 1963 the Corinthian and Delphian Leagues joined forced with the Athenian League. Leatherhead won promotion from Division One at the end of the first season and inaugurated their floodlights with a match against a Fulham side including George Cohen, Alan Mullery, Bobby Robson and Johnny Haynes. Leatherhead won the Surrey Senior Cup in 1969 and also collected the Intermediate Cup and Senior Shield, a unique achievement. The disappointment of defeat in FA Amateur Cup semi-finals in 1971 and 1974 was tempered by election to the Isthmian League.
Leatherhead made national headlines in 1974-75 when they reached the Fourth Round Proper of the FA Cup. After playing through all the Qualifying Rounds they had to overcome Bishops Stortford before meeting and beating Football League opposition for the first time. Colchester United went down 1-0 at Fetcham Grove before ‘Leatherhead Lip’ Chris Kelly’s goal defeated Brighton & Hove Albion at the Goldstone Ground. The Fourth Round tie against First Division Leicester City was switched to Filbert Street where Leatherhead were two goals ahead at half time eventually losing 2-3 when the fitness of the full time players took its’ toll. In subsequent seasons the Tanners defeated two more Football League sides - Cambridge United and Northampton Town.
In 1978 the Tanners reached Wembley Stadium at last, but were beaten in the FA Trophy Final. Tragically Chairman Chris Luff, ‘Mr Leatherhead’ died suddenly in February 1978. His ambition had been to see Leatherhead at Wembley. Without his leadership the Club entered a period of decline and were relegated in 1983. In 1985 the Tanners were denied promotion by a three point deduction but this period was typified by a succession of managers and turnover of players. In 1990 Leatherhead slipped down into Division Two South but they were back in Division One in 1997. The Club’s finances were still a problem and in 1999 only emergency funding kept the Tanners going. In the summer of 2000 Leatherhead FC was within a few days of folding. The Club was saved by its supporters who took over following a crisis meeting at the end of May. Only one player remained at Fetcham Grove so a new team had to be built from scratch and although Chick Botley won Manager of the Month for March it was too late to avoid relegation. Since then the Club has been careful to ensure that its’ finances are self sustaining whilst at the same time gradually improving itself.
In 2006-7 Leatherhead were the lowest ranked team to reach the First Round Proper of the FA Cup, losing 1-2 at Football League side Torquay United. Unfortunately league form for the rest of the season and in the early part of the 2007-08 campaign was poor. When bottom placed and winless Molesey won 2-1 at the Grove in October 2007, manager David Harlow resigned and the majority of the squad took that as their cue to leave as well. Ian Hazel, who had managed Tooting & Mitcham, Molesey and Sutton was quickly appointed and immediately faced the tough task of rebuilding the First Team during the season, with the Tanners eventually finishing 14th.
However, the Youth Team won the Isthmian Youth Cup and then the League by the narrowest of margins, equal on points and goal difference but they had scored one more goal than their nearest rivals, Maidstone.
Ian Hazel’s reign lasted barely a year, resigning in October 2008; however replacement Bob Langford’s spell was even shorter, leaving at the end of the season as Tanners struggled into 15th position. The previous year’s successful Youth team squad had stepped up with their manager, Tony FitzGerald, to form a reserve team after a gap of 8 years, and duly added to their previous successes by winning the Suburban League South Championship by a margin of 18 points.
Mick Sullivan, who had great success in an eight year stint at local rivals Merstham, was appointed First Team Manager in May 2009, and immediately set about rebuilding the team for the 2009-10 season. Under Sullivan’s guidance the club had its most successful season in years, winning the Isthmian League Cup and finishing the season in fifth place in he league before losing a play-off semi final. At the start of the 2010-11 season they beat Ryman Premier League Champions Dartford at Princes Park to win the Isthmian Charity Shield.