Hinckley United Football Club played in the Southern Football League when the club was dissolved in 2013. Formed in 1997, they moved to the purpose-built De Montfort Park stadium in March of 2005. Based in the town of Hinckley in Leicestershire, the supporters went on to form Hinckley A.F.C. in the wake of the decision to wind the club up.
Whilst Hinckley United was the most recent football club to be formed in the town it was by no means the first. Hinckley Town was formed in 1889, for example, and played its matches in the Leicestershire Senior League. It’s fair to say, therefore, that football and the small town of Hinckley have long been inseparable. We’ll tell you more about the former club here.
The History Of The Club
Hinckley Town played their matches at the Holywell Ground after the club was formed in 1889 and entered into the Leicestershire Senior League. Leicestershire’s geographical position in the Midlands meant that it wasn’t easy to know where to put the club, with a brief spell in the Midland League coming after the turn of the century.
When that ended the club changed its name to Hinckley United, returning to the Leicestershire Senior League in 1905. The club remained there until the outbreak of the First World War, after which they moved into the Birmingham Combination. The club was champions of that in both 1924 and 1927. A move was soon on the cards, though.
The brewery that owned the Holywell Grounds decided that they want to the use of the grounds back, so Hinckley United bought land on Middlefield Lane for £500. They moved there prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, at which point football was suspended. When it resumed in 1946 the club had had another name change, now being called Hinckley Athletic.
The newly named club competed in a number of different leagues over the years that followed, but they survived and even prospered in the 1990s. At the same time as Hinckley Athletic were competing, Westfield Wanderers were formed, playing matches in the Hinckley District League. That happened in 1958 and the new club became Hinckley Town in 1972.
The Two Clubs Merge
On Wednesday the eighteenth of June in 1997 there was a meeting between shareholders of Hinckley Athletic and Hinckley Town. It was decided that it would be in the best of interests of the two clubs to merge together, taking on the name of Hinckley United. It came on the back of Hinckley Athletic missing out on promotion for the third season in succession.
The two clubs had become one, but the same couldn’t happen naturally for the facilities. As a result, Hinckley United played their games at Middlefield Lane and the Hinckley Town ground on Leicester Road became a training ground. The club was moved into the Southern League Midland Division once the merger had been approved by the Southern League and the Football Association.
The new club was a founding member of the new Conference North division, being accepted into it ahead of the 2004-2005 campaign. It was believed by many that they would make a charge for the title in the 2006-2007 season, but the club’s defender Matt Gadsby collapsed and died on the pitch at Harrogate in September. The players took a month away from football.
The club then spent the rest of the season having to play catch up for the games that had been missed. It was a period of instability on the pitch, with results being up and down. Even so, the club was able to keep hold of a a play-off place and even made it to the play-off final. Sadly they missed out on the chance to gain promotion when they conceded a last minute penalty.
De Montfort Park
Whilst things on the pitch were somewhat stop-start, things off it were quite the opposite. Middlefield Lane was sold for an impressive £4 million, giving the club funding to build De Montfort Park. This was to be a purpose-built facility that would have enough room for more than four thousand three hundred supporters. The official move happened on March the fifth 2005.
Boxing Day 2006 saw the club achieve a record home league attendance when just shy of two thousand and nine hundred people showed up to watch the home side draw with Nuneaton. In the wake of the club’s play-off heartbreak, things became rocky on the pitch. They needed a nine-game unbeaten run at the end of the campaign to avoid relegation.
Financial Troubles Hit
The next couple of seasons were treated as a chance to consolidate what had been achieved over the previous few years, but all was not well off the pitch. Proper budgeting had not been carried out by Hinckley United, meaning that the club was unable to pay its debts. It got to the point that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs petitioned to get the club wound up.
Whilst HMRC was busy trying to get rid of the club altogether, it was also hit with a registration embargo. This meant that the club could only have a maximum of sixteen players registered. The club spent the next two years trying to get the debt settled, eventually achieving this aim in November of 2010. Even so, in many ways the damage was already done.
Players began to leave the club as a result of the financial issues that it had had to deal with. The 2010-2011 season saw Hinckley United have to compete with a virtually entirely new squad. Unsurprisingly the campaign ended with another relegation battle and the club was only able to get away from it after the registration embargo was lifted in November of 2010.
The Club Gets Wound Up
The 2011-2012 season was another difficult one for Hinckley United, not least of all because of increased financial difficulties. Years of fighting against relegation eventually caught up with them and the club went down on the final day of the season, in spite of the fact that it had racked up forty-eight points – the most ever achieved by a relegated side.
The Football Association decided that Hinckley United would be in the Conference North for the 2012-2013 campaign. The increased financial restrictions, including another transfer embargo, took their toll on Dean Thomas. The only manager that the club had had since the merger in 2007, Thomas resigned after a bad start to the new campaign and assistant manager Carl Heggs took over.
The transfer embargo wreaked havoc on Hinckley United, including the need to postpone one match because they didn’t have enough players to make up a team. Youth players were brought in to make up the numbers, but a 4-1 defeat to Gloucester City meant that their relegation was sealed. Heggs resigned to be replaced by Stuart Storer, but it was all too little, too late.
Changing managers became akin to changing deckchairs on the Titanic, with the club’s fate as good as certain. It was, in many ways, put out of its misery when the High Court Of Justice decided that Hinckley United should be wound up on the seventh of October in 2013. At the time the decision was made, Hinckley United owed debts of more than £200,000.
Things Fall Apart
The tragic thing for the fans and the players of the club was that it was possible that there were some criminal activities going on that led to its demise. In the wake of the winding up order being issued some shareholders contacted Leicestershire Police to make complaints. When the club officially went out of business its liabilities exceeded £1 million.
The police investigated the alleged irregularities, which were over the transfer of assets. It was a sign of the manner in which the club was being run that even if no illegal activities took place nobody left at the club at the end trusted each other. It was even the man who had been asking for an extension to the court proceedings who lodged the insolvency petition.
The club captain only found out what had happened from fans on social media, admitting that he ‘wasn’t holding his breath’ over the possibility of being paid his last pay cheque. The Knitters had been docked three points in the season before its eventual demise because five players hadn’t been paid, indicating that the financial issues had been present for a long time.
The Phoenix Club: Hinckley AFC
Having spent more than a hundred years with a football club operating in their town most of the time, the people of Hinckley weren’t going to let the closing down of Hinckley United stop them from watching the sport. As a result, Hinckley Association Football Club was formed in 2014 out of the ashes of the club that had been there before.
A working group came together immediately in the wake of the club’s demise, meeting for the first time in December of 2013 when one hundred and fifty people turned up at the public gathering. The formation of a co-operative community trust was announced, following the model established by F.C. United Of Manchester and A.F.C. Wimbledon.
The membership put in place was based on a one member, one vote ideology and in the next few meetings things such as the club’s new name, badge and playing colours were all decided on in that manner. So it was that Hinckley Association Football Club was born, with home strip colours of blue and red and an away kit of violet and white.
The biggest issue for the new club was where they would play their games. Two of the founder members of Hinckley A.F.C., Steve and Joy Jelfs, made a bid to the Liquidators who were responsible for the liquidation of Hinckley United, attempting to take over De Montfort Park. The club signed a lease to play there, if they won ownership of it.
Sadly legal issues around who would actually own the ground meant that the purchase fell through and Hinckley A.F.C. needed to find another home. Initially they agreed to a ground share at St John’s Park with Heather St. John’s, then moved to the Miners Welfare Ground in Ibstock for the 2018-2019 season. That was available because Ibstock United had closed in February of 2018.