Tonbridge FC was formed in October 1947 and took the bold step of applying to enter the Southern League, then one of the strongest leagues in the country, for the 1948/49 season. They were accepted along with Chingford, Hastings United and Kidderminster Harriers.
The founding of the club had been at the suggestion of local businessman Herbert Portch and he became the club’s first chairman. The club took out a lease on the Angel Ground, named after an adjacent public house, which had previously been a home to Kent County Cricket Club, just a few minutes walk from the railway station.
Fate threw together Tonbridge and Hastings United, both clubs making their Southern League debuts on 21 August 1948. Tonbridge netted first, Albert Robson ensuring his place in the club’s history, but Hastings won 2-1. Tonbridge’s first season ended with an inauspicious third from bottom placing.
In the early seasons the Angels, an obvious nickname, struggled in the league, but cup competitions brought some cheer. In 1949/50 the club reached the Southern League Cup semi-final, only to lose 3-2 to Colchester just a few months before the Essex club were elected to the Football League.
Starting in 1950 Tonbridge reached the first round of the FA Cup in three consecutive seasons, only to lose each time in replays. Their opponents were Chelmsford City, Aldershot and Norwich City respectively. The Aldershot game attracted a record crowd of 8,236 to the Angel Ground, while the last match, away to Norwich at Carrow Road, was settled by a late goal, which many thought should have been disallowed for offside. It was to be fifteen years before Tonbridge again reached the 1st Round, losing 1-0 at Dagenham in 1967.
The Kent Senior Shield brought some silverware to the club, Tonbridge lifting the trophy four times in the 1950s. It was different story in Southern League Cup where the Angels were twice beaten finalists, losing to Yeovil in 1955 and Hereford in 1957.
The Southern League expanded to two division in the 1950s and Tonbridge were relegated from the Premier Division in 1962, but were promoted two seasons later having just missed out the year before. In 1964/65 Tonbridge lifted the Kent Senior Cup for the first time but the following season were relegated back to Division One.
The 1960s saw two local players leave Tonbridge to pursue careers in the Football League. Goalkeeper Tony Burns signed for Arsenal in 1963. He made 31 appearances for the Gunners and also played for Charlton, Crystal Palace and Brighton.
Full-back Malcolm MacDonald joined Fulham in 1968. Converted to a striker he was later to appear for Arsenal and Newcastle and is the only player ever to score five goals in one game for England, a feat he achieved against Cyprus at Wembley in 1975.
In 1972/73 Tonbridge were promoted back to the Premier Division and in the same season reached the first round of the FA Cup again. Charlton Athletic were the visitors to the Angel Ground and they won 5-0 in front of a crowd of 7,770.
Two years later, managed by World Cup winner George Cohen, Tonbridge lifted the Kent Senior Cup for the second time, beating Maidstone United in the final.
The 1975/76 season ended in relegation but it was also the season that the club went into voluntary liquidation. Tonbridge Angels FC emerged from the chaos but there was another major problem just around the corner.
The club’s landlord was the local council who wanted the Angel ground, a site just off the high street, for development. A battle in the High Court ensued before the club was offered a new ground at the north end of Tonbridge. What was begun by Albert Robson in 1948 was ended by the appropriately named Micky Angel. He netted the last ever goal at the Angel Ground, during a 2-2 draw with Hounslow on Monday 21 January 1980. The remaining home fixtures for the season were played at various grounds in Kent.
The club played its first game at Longmead Stadium on 18 August 1980, a Southern League Cup match against Crawley Town watched by an encouraging crowd of 707. Despite having a new home, finances proved a problem but nevertheless the club only missed out on promotion back to the Premier Division on the last day of the 1983/84 season and reached the semi-final of the Southern League Cup in 1986/87.
Hopes were high for the clubs 40th anniversary season in 1988/89, encouraged by the appointment of former Tottenham player Terry Naylor as manager. But Naylor’s reign ended after seven games and just one point, and the season ended in disaster as Tonbridge were relegated from the Southern League.
It took Tonbridge four years to win the Kent League and return to the Southern League, during which they twice lifted the Kent League Cup, beating Whitstable on each occasion. They also reached the 4th qualifying round of the FA Cup, losing narrowly to Yeovil in October 1991 in front of a then record Longmead crowd of 1,483.
That crowd was beaten in 1997/98 when Crystal Palace, then a Premier League side, sent their full first team squad to Tonbridge for a charity match in aid of two local hospices, a game watched by 2,412.
Tonbridge, managed by Alan Walker, started the 2003/04 season in superb form, winning sixteen of their first seventeen league fixtures. But Walker left midway through the season and the Angels eventually finished third despite amassing 88 points.
The restructuring of the non-league pyramid saw the club transferred to the Ryman League Premier Division for the start of the 2004/05 season and they were relegated in their first season. But they bounced back the following year, beating Dover 3-2 in the Division One play-off final in front of a crowd of 1,863 at Longmead.
In 2006/07 the club reached the 4th qualifying round of the FA Cup again, losing 1-0 at home to Newport County. It was also a season in which Jon Main broke all the club’s scoring records with 44 goals including 7 hat tricks.
Following an FA Cup 4th qualifying round defeat at Ware in October 2007 the Angels parted company with manager Tony Dolby and Tommy Warrilow was appointed. The club finished 8th in the Ryman Premier and had a good run in the FA Trophy, beating Blue Square Premier side Oxford United before losing to AFC Wimbledon in the next round at Longmead, a game which drew a crowd of 2,281.
In 2008/09 the Angels finished third in the Ryman Premier but lost to Carshalton in the play-offs. The close season saw a major ground development. The old covered stand, which had been transported from the Angel Ground to Longmead in 1980, was a hollow shell except for a pathway and 200 temporary seats. It was completely refurbished and transformed into a smart 720 capacity all-seater stand.
In 2009/10 the Angels missed out on the play-offs but after a poor start to the 2010/11 season they embarked on a run of just one defeat in eighteen matches and put themselves in contention for a play-off place. That place was eventually won and Harrow were beaten 3-2 after extra-time in the semi-final to set up a final with Lowestoft at Longmead.
A nail biting match saw the Angels just edge out their Suffolk visitors 4-3 to take their place for the first time in the Football Conference South Division - their highest ever place in the non-league pyramid.
The Angels were to stay three seasons at that level before being relegated back to the Isthmian Premier at the end of season 2013/14. Manager Tommy Warrilow also resigned at the same time.
His place was taken by Steve McKimm who had been coach at Sutton Utd and whilst his first season in charge saw a flirtation with relegation, there followed an immediate change in fortune with 4th place achieved in 2015/16 and a play off semi final appearance against East Thurrock Utd. Despite a 2-0 loss there was optimism for the 2016/17 season. That optimism was well founded with a 4th Qualifying round appearance in the FA Cup against Dartford and a promotion challenge that in the end saw the club one position and one point away from a play off place. We can be sure that Steve and his assistants Barry Moore and Justin Luchford will be once again striving to gain cup and league success for the Angels in 2017/18.