Twice promoted to the Football League, most recently in 2016, Cheltenham Town have been based at their Whaddon Road ground since 1932.
During that time, the Robins spent 50 straight years in the Southern League, and ten in the Conference/National including the recent one-season blip and rebound.
Founded in 1887, Cheltenham had links to the local cricket club, players dedicating their summers to Gloucestershire. One full-back of note was Philip Bach, a member of the great Sunderland team of the 1890s, who made his only England appearance at Roker Park in 1899. Towards the end of his career, Bach moved to Cheltenham to start up in the hotel trade and ran out for the local club.
Winning the Gloucester County Cup on numerous occasions, Cheltenham didn’t step up a gear until turning professional in the 1930s. This coincided with the move from nearby recreation grounds to Whaddon Road, taking a nickname and adopting red shirts.
An FA Cup tie with Blackpool in January 1934 also stands out, the game moved to the Athletics Grounds and attracting a crowd of 10,000. Cheltenham lost to the Second Division side 3-1.
Looking on that day was Cheltenham-born Tim Ward, arguably the greatest player the town has produced, then in the youth team but later to play more than 200 times for Derby County and win two England caps on the right wing. The man Brian Clough replaced at the Baseball Ground, as Derby manager Ward had already laid in place many of his title-winning players.
Joining the Southern League in 1935, the Robins rarely challenged for the title, though finished runners-up in 1956. Failing to gain accession to the Football League in 1968 despite a high-placed finish and goals from Ronnie Radford, later of Hereford and FA Cup fame, Cheltenham were bizarrely relegated to the lower tier of the Southern League the following season by a margin of 0.019 of a goal.
It wasn’t until former Robins striker Steve Cotterill arrived as manager in February 1997 that the club began to serious about leaving non-league football behind. Decades of local rivalry with Gloucester City came down to the wire, a neck-and-neck race for the Southern League title eventually won by… little Gresley Rovers. When their ground proved unsuitable for Conference football, Cheltenham snuck in as runners-up. They haven’t played Gloucester since.
Momentum under Cotterill kept the Robins in the hunt for a Football League place the following season, a dramatic campaign that also saw a run to the Third Round of the FA Cup – and narrow replay defeat at Reading – and victory in the FA Trophy. Some 18,000 Cheltenham fans enjoyed a first trip to Wembley and the 1-0 win over Southport.
More drama – and that prized League spot – came in 1998-99. With vital goals from journeyman striker Neil Grayson, the Robins edged above Kettering and then won the Conference with a 3-2 win at Whaddon Road over Yeovil.
Over the next three seasons, Cotterill surpassed himself, keeping the Robins in the top half of the table then earning a play-off place in 2002. With it came another cup run, this one to the Fifth Round and a 1-0 defeat at WBA. In the league, Town missed out on automatic promotion on the last day of the campaign then needed another late Grayson goal and penalties to overcome Hartlepool and reach the play-off final in Cardiff. There, a 3-1 win over Rushden & Diamonds sealed Cheltenham’s transition from Southern League to Second Division side in six seasons – and prompted Stoke to poach Steve Cotterill.
Without him, the Robins stalled, went straight down to the fourth flight and looked to former Bristol Rovers, and Bristol City, manager John Ward to get them back up. This he did, with a 1-0 play-off win over Grimsby back at the Millennium Stadium in 2006.
Always struggling in League One, the doomed Robins conceded 91 goals in 2008-09 then nearly fell out of the League altogether during the dreadful mismanagement of Martin Allen. Old boy Mark Yates, a captain in the midfield during the Cotterill glory years, picked Cheltenham up from the bottom of League Two and took them to two consecutive play-offs.
This time playing at a Wembley final, Town fell to two Crewe goals in 2012 then stumbled at the play-off stage to Northampton a year later. A poor campaign in 2013-14 spilled over into 2014-15, Yates was sacked and Cheltenham found themselves back in the Conference, now called the National League.
In pole position for immediate promotion but needing a boost, the Robins signed prolific Dan Holman halfway through the campaign and were rewarded with 16 goals in 18 games, including all four against his previous employers Woking. National League journeyman Danny Wright was another key factor, as well as keeping faith with manager Gary Johnson.
Once the celebrations had died down, in 2016-17 Cheltenham could only muster four wins before Christmas. With Holman no longer firing, Irish-Finnish centre-back Daniel O’Shaughnessy and young striker Billy Waters provided rare sparks of hope.
Whaddon Road, aka until 2018 World of Smile Stadium, has the same basic dimensions and lay-out as when Cheltenham Town were a fixture in the Southern League in the 1960s. The main stand, dating from that era, features a standing paddock at the front and seating at the back, currently referred to as the RE Resource Group Stand.
Each of the other three stands dates were opened quite soon after Cheltenham’s debut in the Football League in 1999-2000 and are modest in size. Opposite, the Wyman’s Road/Colin Farmer Stand, and the Whaddon Road/Hazlewoods Stand away end, are both all-seated. The home Prestbury Road end/Auto Village Stand is a covered terrace.
With the whole ground low enough to accentuate the hilly backdrop beyond, rolling countryside feels close – the Chilterns are a little more than a mile away. Add in comfortable seats, great sightlines and an accessible and spacious clubhouse bar, and most visiting supporters come away from Cheltenham with pretty positive impressions.
Cheltenham Spa train station is a fair stretch from town, let alone Whaddon Road – those coming in by coach are better served, as the Royal Crescent terminus is centrally located, about a 15min walk to the ground.
If you are coming by rail, then bus D & E run from outside the station up to the racecourse, via Clarence Street (stop 8), the main transport hub in town, every 8min Mon-Sat daytime, every 30min (D only) Mon-Sat eve & Sun.
From the station, buses take 20min to reach Wellington Square, by the corner with Wellington Road. From here the ground is a 7min walk, down Wellington Road in the opposite direction to No.38 The Park hotel, take the second left at the roundabout into Prestbury Road then first right into Whaddon Road.
From Clarence Street (stop 7) in town, bus A goes right to the stadium, with stops either side of the ground on Whaddon Road itself. Frequency is pretty much the same as D & E.
The ticket office (Tue, Thur-Fri 10am-3pm, match-day Sat noon-3pm & for 20min after final whistle) is next to the club shop behind the main stand. There’s also online sales.
For nearly all games, there are tickets available at on the day, including at turnstiles for away fans.
The best seats are £21 in the Whaddon Road/Hazlewoods Stand away end and in the Wyman’s Road/Colin Farmer Stand along the sideline. It’s £20 to sit at the back of the main stand, aka RE Resource Group and £16 to stand in the main stand paddock & tunnel, and home end/Auto Village Stand. Discounts are offered to over-65s (£14-£15 to sit, £12 to stand), and under-18s and students (£7 to sit, £5 to stand).
Behind the main stand, the Robins Shop (Tue, Thur-Fri 10am-3pm, match-day Sat noon-3pm & for 20min after final whistle) stocks home and away kits (purple apparently chosen by fans, 2016 a strange year for elections…), mini footballs, baseball caps in three colours and fleece scarves, with plenty of knick-knacks for kids, such as sticker sets and autograph books.
Whaddon Road sits in a leafy, well-to-do residential part of town, with bars to match.
At the junction of Hewlett Road and Harp Hill, 7-8min from the ground via Priors Road then Whaddon Road, the Hewlett Arms is very much gastropub with speciality burgers and frequently changing guest ales. It’s by no means a typical pre-match swiftie but the front garden’s ideal in sunny weather, with a play area for kids.
About the same distance from the ground, tucked along the quiet sidestreet of Fairview Road, the Kemble Brewery is a very popular little pub, its six changing ales on the bar making it an annual feature in the CAMRA guide for the past two decades.
Close to the ground, by Pittville Circus roundabout at 25 Prestbury Road, the Sudeley Arms is a classic pub pre-match, post-match or any day of the week, in fact. Dating back nearly two centuries, it fills a striking, triangular-shaped building with three old-school drinking areas, decorating the lounge bar with paintings and photographs, and providing those who can squeeze into the saloon bar with TV football and darts. Ales reign supreme, St Austell Tribute, Sharp’s Doom Bar, and those who need to take their drink outside can sit in the little front patio overlooking a leafy street. Home and away fans welcome.
Right behind the ground, the Parklands Community Centre on Wyman’s Road usually throws open its bar on match days – convenient but hardly convivial.
Lining most of the main stand, the clubhouse bar does a great job on match days, away fans usually admitted for £1. Geoff and his team offer basket food until 1.30pm, then it’s beers only, San Miguel, Somersby cider, Thatchers cider, Tetley’s and Butcombe Gold. Punters fill the large function room, decked out with framed photos of Whaddon Road and three flat-screen TVs for Saturday match news.