The Beginning of the End

Organised football has been played on the current site for over 120 years. In September 1898 Boston Town opened their new ground in a field on Shodfriars Lane, which according to the report in the local paper was “situated near the market place and in the very centre of the town and from its position should be exceedingly popular”. A gala programme was attended by a crowd of between 3000 and 4000 people. Entertainment included the band of the 1st L.A.V., an archery competition and a series of races that culminated with a quarter mile flat race for fishermen. Following the archery tournament Boston Town played a match against Basford Rangers which Boston Town won 3-2.

The football ground on the 1905 OS Map of Boston

There have been quite a few times over the years when it has looked like it would be the end of football at the ground. It survived bombing raids on Boston by German Zeppelins during the First World War and the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. Both wars saw football suspended. After the First World War football soon started up again with a new Boston Town team playing at Shodfriars Lane - first in the Lincolnshire League and then joining the Midland League in 1921. When the Second World War ended, it took a while before football in England got back to normality. The Football League didn't start up again until the 1946/7 season, but the Midland League managed to commence at the start of September 1945, just days after Japan surrendered.

Fires dogged the club for several years. A blaze destroyed the main stand in September 1926. Another blaze destroyed the replacement main stand in 1934. The beleaguered management appealed to all those accustomed to using the stand “not to desert them in the hour of misfortune.” Another stand was erected shortly afterwards only for the separate dressing room block and supporters club offices to burn down in November 1937 due to a faulty coke stove. In more recent times a huge early morning blaze that completely gutted the adjacent B&Q store in August 1995 was prevented from spreading to the stadium by a turnout of over 100 firefighters, twelve fire engines and two firefighting towers. Half the playing surface was covered with debris from the fire but fortunately the main stand suffered only heat and smoke damage.

Financial woes have also come close to finishing off football in Boston. After making losses in successive seasons in the early 1930s the club folded in 1933 only for Boston United to be formed as an instant replacement. They still struggled financially and in 1938 decided to give it one more go to try and make a profit but then the Second World War intervened. Immediately after the Second World War watching football was extremely popular. So when Boston United reached the final of the Lincolnshire Senior Cup against Grantham in 1946 they attracted a record crowd of over 8500, breaking their previous figure by over 2500. And this didn't include spectators watching the game from nearby trees and roofs! In the 1950s attendances at Boston were averaging 5-6,000 for League games, and when floodlights were first used for the visit of Corby Town in 1955 over 9,000 people were in the ground. So for a few years at least there were few money worries. That all changed at the end of the decade. First in October 1956 club chairman Ernest Malkinson was handed an indefinite ban from football by the FA for breaching an FA Rule about receiving money from a supporters' lottery. The club was also fined £50 and the club's directors all censured. Then after failure to get into the Football League a switch to the Southern League was initially successful but in their third season they finished rock bottom and rather than accept relegation they tried another switch but could only get into the Central Alliance where attendances were much lower and the finances suffered. They did get back into the Midland League the next season but there was no improvement in the finances. The weather almost finished off the club, with a big freeze at the start of 1963 seeing games being cancelled with none taking place for two months with no income for the club. In June 1964, Boston United had announced at its AGM that it had debts just short of £5000. It hoped to get a substantial sum of money from Sportsfund Ltd, a company set up by the supporters' club to raise funds for the club, primarily via a weekly pool competition. Sportsfund however declared that it would only guarantee United £2000 and would hold the rest back for the supporters' club. This left Boston United effectively insolvent, so club chairman Ernest Malkinson who was back in charge of the club and owner of York Street after his FA ban had been lifted, withdrew the club from the Midland League and announced he would wind up Boston United. On hearing of this, the supporters' club decided that they would use their funds to start up a new club in Boston. They signed up Boston United's manager Paul Todd to take charge of the team and applied to join the Lincolnshire League. They also sought permission to play their games on United's York Street ground. At this point, Mr Malkinson changed his mind about winding up United. With former managers Ray Middleton and Fred Tunstall on his new board, he announced he would keep United going and they also applied to join the Lincolnshire League. Pressure was put on Mr Malkinson to let FC use York Street and an attempt was made to get Boston Council to purchase the ground on FC's behalf. United's application to join the Lincolnshire League was turned down, so the only alternative they now had available was to join the Boston & District League. Mr Malkinson stubbornly refused to give way over the use of York Street so Boston FC ended up playing at the Mayflower Sports Ground on the edge of town while they waited for a new stadium to be built for them at Tattershall Road. So United kept York Street. At the end of a lacklustre season in the Boston & District League former Eire international Don Donovan was brought in from Grimsby Town by Mr Malkinson and given the task of rebuilding United as player-manager. It was the start of the most successful period in the club's history as they went on to win seven league titles in the late 60s and 1970s. At York Street Boston were virtually invincible. In 1969/70 they only lost one home league game and conceded just three goals all season. They had an unbeaten run of 64 home league games between April 1971 and December 1973.

United received a huge body-blow in 1977 when Football League inspectors failed the Ground as being suitable for the Football League, and although United were NPL Champions yet again, runners-up Wigan Athletic were put forward instead and were elected. The United Directors unanimously agreed that this must never happen again, and so commenced the vast undertaking of rebuilding virtually the whole of the York Street Ground after launching new fundraising schemes in 1978. New floodlights, stands, toilets, turnstiles, terracing and snackbars turned York Street into a ground that was far superior to many in the Football League at the time.

Although United’s ground was now ready for the Football League it would take the club until 2002, a full twenty years after the stadium was refurbished, to finally gain the promotion they had sought for so long.

However, another turbulent financial period soon followed that involved FA fines and long bans for the chairman and manager over players' contractual irregularities, appearances in court over tax fraud with suspended prison sentences and fines handed out, administration, failed planning applications for relocation and penalty demotions. The club was eventually rescued by the current chairman David Newton. However long-term survival would only be possible if the club could develop a new ground of its own. Much hard work and commitment has resulted in approval of the plans for the new Community Stadium. Finance has been raised and construction has started.

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