For the new season of 1948/49, the Southern League welcomed four new clubs, Chingford Town, Hastings United, Kidderminster Harriers and Tonbridge. This was a remarkable move for Tonbridge, as the idea of forming the club had only been raised ten months prior to the start of the 1948 season. The founding of the club had been at the suggestion of local businessman Mr Herbert Portch and he became the club’s first chairman. The club took out a lease on the Angel Ground, so named after an adjacent public house, which had previously been a home to Kent County Cricket Club, and being in the town centre, just two minutes walk from the railway station.
Fate threw together Tonbridge and Hastings United, both clubs making their Southern League debuts on August 21st 1948. Tonbridge netted first, a goal from Albert Robson, but the Sussex Club went on to win 2-1. Tonbridge’s first season in the Southern League ended with an inauspicious third from bottom placing.
In the early seasons, The Angels, an obvious nickname did not blaze a trail in the League, but cup competitions brought some cheer. In 1949/50 the club reached the Southern League Cup semi-finals, only to lose 3-2 to Colchester. In three consecutive seasons, 1950/51, 1951/52, and 1952/53, Tonbridge advanced to the 1st Round Proper of the F.A. Cup, only to lose reach time in replays. Their opponents were Chelmsford City, Aldershot, and Norwich City respectively. The last match at Carrow Road, was settled by a late goal, which many thought should have been disallowed for off side. It was to be fourteen years before the club again reached the 1st Round, where they lost 1-0 to Dagenham. Charlton Athletic, then in the old Division 3, were the F.A. Cup visitors to the Angel Ground in 1972, returning to The Valley as 5-0 victors.
Kent County competitions brought silverware to the Angel ground, by virtue of both the first and reserve teams, but in the wider based competitions, the club was fated to be “Cinderella”. The Angel’s Southern League Cup ambitions were snuffed out in two finals. 1954/55 by Yeovil, and 1956/57 by Hereford United.
Photo: Manager Harry Haslam (behind the cup) gained a reputation for shrewd signings and talent spotting exemplified by South African forward Gerry Francis (behind Haslam). Courtesy of "Flying with the Angels"
During 1975/1976 the club went into voluntary liquidation, Tonbridge Angels FC emerging from the chaos. Another major problem loomed soon after. The club’s landlords, the local council, wanted the Angel ground for development. A battle in the High Courts ensued before the club was offered a new ground, its present home, at the north end of Tonbridge. So what was begun by Albert Robson in 1948 was ended by Micky Angel, when he netted the last goal scored at the Angel Ground, during a 2-2 draw with Hounslow on Monday 21st January, 1980. The remaining home fixtures for the season were played out on borrowed ground. Longmead Stadium staged its first game on August 18th 1980, a Southern League Cup match against Crawley Town watched by a crowd of 707.
Image: League Table 1972/73 when Tonbridge gained promotion Courtesy of "Flying with the Angels"
Despite having a new home, finances proved a problem to the club. On field promise in the 80’s produced no real success apart from another Southern League Cup semi final appearance in 1987. Season 1988/89 proved to be a disaster. Finishing second from bottom, The Angels bade farewell to the Southern League after 40 years, and were relegated to the Kent League. Despite being the best supported team in the Kent League, the championship, and with it a return to the Southern League, failed to materialise, although the Kent League Cup was lifted twice. 1992/93 was the year of the Angels. At last the title was won and the newly established reserves won the Kent League Division 2 Cup, and the Youth Team reached the Kent Youth Cup Final.
So in 1992/93, Tonbridge returned to the league which they had graced for so many years. Subsequent seasons have seen improvements both on and off the field. During the club’s Kent League days, Longmead’s record attendance for a competitive match was set when an F.A. Cup 4th Qualifying round match against Yeovil draw a crowd of 1,483. Season 1997/98 saw an attendance of 2,412 when the full Crystal Palace first team squad appeared for a charity match in aid of two local hospices, making March 30th 1998 a memorable evening in The Angels history.
The Club’s record transfer fee received is £7,000 from Charlton for Paul Emblen, who has since returned to the Club. He was also transferred from Charlton to Wycombe Wanderers for £60,000. His brother Neil, also an ex-Angel, is currently at Walsall, having also been with Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
During 2000/2001, new stands were erected behind each goal and plans are advanced for further ground developments, these were eventially called the Mezzazine Stands. Alan Walker was appointed manager at the start of season 2002/2003, and he left the club during 2003/2004, being replaced by player manager Tony Dolby. The club then achieved a third place finish in the Southern League Eastern Division with a total of 88 points, being beaten for second place on goal difference by Histon. Mike Rutherford has joined the club as Assistant Manager. After relegation down to the Isthmian Division One Tonbridge had a rollercoaster ride throughout the 2005-06 season, after having the longest unbeaten run in the league for the first 11 games before losing 4-1 away to Leatherhead F.C. The Angels also pulled one of the shocks of the early FA Cup rounds off by beating big-spending Ryman Premier outfit Fisher Athletic 3-2 away from home. They finally lost in the competition away to Conference North side Worcester City in the 3rd Qualifying Round.
The league season went on and as the season drew to a close The Angels lost hope of automatic promotion with losses to Walton Casuals and Leatherhead at Longmead Stadium.
So, after finishing 3rd in the league, it was the playoffs for The Angels. First up in the Semi-Final was Tooting & Mitcham United at Longmead Stadium. The first half finished 0-0 but after key player Ray Powell was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 44th minute The Angels chances of progressing looked bleak. However, two second half goals from Jon Main and Nick Barnes gave The Angels a place in the Playoff Final, which was to be played against rivals Dover Athletic who had beaten Metropolitan Police 1-0 at Imber Court the same day.
On Saturday 6th May a record crowd of 1853 entered Longmead Stadium for what was an enthrolling game. The Angels went into the half time whistle 2-0 up with goals from Jon Main and an own goal from Dover talisman Craig Cloke. Mid-way through the second half was when the action really started to begin.... Wade Falana made it 3-0 to Tonbridge from a marvellous Fraser Logan cross before Falana was sent off for his second bookable offence just almost 10 minutes after his goal. With The Angels down to 10-men the ex-Conference club began their comeback. Ex-Angel Nicky Humphrey's guided the ball home with his head to make the score 3-1 before another ex-Angel Anthony Hogg made it 3-2 in the 85th minute. This led to a very tense ending to the match, made worse for the Angels faithful when the 4th official held up 5 minutes of extra time. However the Angels pulled through and gained their much wanted promotion back to the Ryman Premier Division at the first time of asking.