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Club News

The story of the 1982/83 season

15 July 2022

Club News

The story of the 1982/83 season

15 July 2022

The 1982-83 football season: Liverpool won the League, SV Hamburg won the European Cup, Manchester United won the FA Cup and the England team made a horrible mess of trying to qualify for the European Championships.

As for Cheltenham Town, we were in the Southern League Midland Division and it's fair to say that things had reached a fairly low ebb.

The most significant change to non-league football in a generation had taken place in 1979 with the creation of the nationwide Alliance Premier League (now National League) but Cheltenham Town had failed to take advantage of this new opportunity. The Robins were unable to finish high enough in the Southern League to qualify for the Alliance Premier and they suffered a similar fate three years later when the Southern League Premier Division was re-introduced, returning the league a two tier competition with two regional divisions. Thus it was that Cheltenham Town found themselves in the Midland Division, two tiers below the Alliance Premier and three below the Football League. It was the lowest level the club had played at since 1932 and the fallout resulted in the departure of half the Board along with manager Allan Grundy.

Former Bromsgrove Rovers boss Alan Wood had taken over towards the end of the previous season and used his extensive contacts in local and Midlands football to recruit a number of new players for the 1982-83 campaign.

Goalkeeper Chris Ogden arrived from Oldham Athletic; defender Stuart Cornes from Hereford United; full-back Nigel Ryan from Gloucester City and winger Steve Abbley from Swindon Town. Fans were also heartened by the return of old favourites Clive Boxall from AP Leamington; John Murphy after several years working away from the area; and Dave Lewis after a two year exile at Gloucester.

The League itself contained only 17 teams, Bedford Town having withdrawn before the start of the season, and in addition to some familiar foes was a handful of new clubs that Chelteham Town had never played before. With only 34 League fixtures to play the fixture list was augmented with additional cup matches, the club having re-entered the Welsh Cup and Worcestershire Senior Cup alongside the more regular competitions, and the finances were further boosted by a major kit sponsorship deal with Independent Insulations.


Things began well enough with some encouraging results in the League and Southern League Cup, although a first League match against Forest Green Rovers since 1932 ended in a chastening 5-3 defeat at the old Lawn. The team bounced back with a memorable 5-1 defeat of Gloucester City and a creditable draw against Alliance Premier side Weymouth in the FA Cup but sometimes in football it's possible to pinpoint a specific turning point. Legendary Echo reporter Derek Goddard always maintained that the modern history of Cheltenham Town Football Club can be traced back to a November afternoon at Redditch United's Valley Stadium when things suddenly clicked into place resulting in a 7-2 away win. The result and performance gave everyone confidence and belief that something could be stirring.

The next six league matches ended in victory with only one goal conceded and there was further progress in the Southern League and Welsh FA cups.

It was proving to be an enjoyable season for the supporters as well. Not only were results on the up but the regular travelling fans were seeing some unlikely corners of England and Wales with plenty of travellers tales to recount as a result. Trips to places such as Ebbw Vale, Thame United, Minehead and, in the FA Trophy, Tilbury from the Essex docklands were certainly off the beaten track but it's those games that build strong memories and a cameraderie among players and supporters, particularly in the non-league game where the grounds and crowds are smaller and people find themselves in closer proximity. There was a spirit building within the club and a springboard was in place for the second half of the season.

At the turn of the year the team was unbeaten at home and had won 19 of the 25 matches played in league and cups. Despite a couple of defeats on the road early in the new year - at Merthyr Tydfil and Willenhall Town - the results kept coming and the lack of drawn games was notable because for the first time that season, the Southern League had introduced three points for a win. It made a massive difference to the league table and those teams that cottoned on quickly to the importance of going for the win instead of settling for a draw, particularly away from home, were able to build a significant advantage.

Alongside the league form success continued in the cups. Around 300 supporters travelled to Wrexham, back then a Football League club, in the quarter final of the Welsh Cup to see the Robins narrowly defeated 3-2 and Kidderminster Harriers, top of the Premier Division at the time, were beaten at the same stage of the Southern League Cup to set up a first semi-final appearance since 1969.

Most successful teams are built upon a settled line-up and Cheltenham were also fortunate to keep most of their key players fit for the majority of the season. Chris Ogden in goal quickly became a cult figure with the supporters. A heavily built figure, he nevertheless possessed excellent reflexes and would often make saves at crucial points in games. Experienced full-backs Nigel Ryan and John Dyer played either side of John Murphy and Stuart Cornes with locally-based players Terry Paterson and Steve Scarrott filling two of the midfield places. Other midfielders to appear regularly were Wayne Secker, Duncan Berry and small but talented player Gary Stevens. In attack were Dave Lewis, who made his 500th appearance for the club during the season, Norman Pemberton and the star of the team, Paul Tester. Originally from the Stroud area, Tester first joined Cheltenham from Shortwood United in January 1980 but 82-83 was to be his breakthrough season as he combined pace, skill and finishing ability to become the top scorer and earned a £10,000 transfer to Shrewsbury Town after the final game.


A run of seven wins from 10 matches kept the Robins within the top two places going into mid-April, although a 4-1 defeat away to Sutton Coldfield Town seemed like the end of the World at the time. However, the other leading teams were unable to maintain consistency and Cheltenham had games in hand, recovering quickly to win their next three matches without conceding a goal. At the start of May the race was down to three teams for the two promotion places - Cheltenham Town, Forest Green Rovers and Sutton Coldfield so the match between Cheltenham and FGR on May 1 was the biggest Gloucestershire derby for years. A crowd of 2,447 filed into Whaddon Road, the biggest at home for years and, remarkably, the second biggest in the whole of non-league football that season. The match was a tense affair but the Robins gained revenge for the defeat early in the season with Tester and Lewis on target in a 2-0 win.

Promotion was secured two days later with a 2-1 win at Oldbury United, a West Midlands club whose ground is situated right next to the M5 motorway. It was a strange place to win promotion - the shouts from the players and the small crowd often drowned out by the din of passing trucks - but the celebrations certainly weren't muted.

The result left Cheltenham needing a point from their final game of the season at home to Wellingborough Town to win the title. The match was an anti-climactic 0-0 draw but the Robins were in control throughout and never looked like conceding. At last, then, for the first time since turning semi-professional in 1932 Cheltenham Town had won a league championship. Two years later they won another one with John Murphy leading the club to Premier Division glory and it has been a story of generally far more ups than downs ever since.

For Dave Lewis it proved a swansong to a remarkable career that had begun as a 16-year old way back in 1967-68 and totalled 290 goals from 522 starts (17 subs). If you include pre-season friendlies and non-first team games then it's clear that he scored well over 300 goals for the club. Never the most athletic of players, he combined workrate and unbounded enthusiasm with the uncanny knack of finding the net. He scored goals of every time and they bounced in off every part of his body because 'Lewy' just knew where to be and exactly the right moment to be there.

The championship success was a fitting reward for his years of service and 40 years on from that success, we can now pay tribute with the new 'History Makers' mural at the ground and a new home kit based upon that classic early 1980s design.

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