Hinckley AFC is a community owned club that was established in January 2014, following the liquidation of Hinckley United. The club aims to promote football for all in the Hinckley and Bosworth community, and is built on a structure of one vote per member. The club is committed to investing its money into football at all ages in the community, with a constitutional promise not to take any profits out of the club.
The town of Hinckley has had a football team for many years, the earliest recorded team being Hinckley Town, who played in the Leicestershire Senior League in 1889. Following a name change to Hinckley Athletic, the club acquired land on Middlefield Lane, and in the mid-1990s they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Southern League on three occasions. Meanwhile, Hinckley Town were formed after changing their name from Westfield Wanderers in 1972, and they were promoted to the Southern League after a successful spell in the 1980s.
In the summer of 1997, the two chairmen, Kevin Downes (Town) and Mick Voce (Athletic) established that both sides had something positive to offer a merger. Thus, Hinckley Town and Hinckley Athletic became Hinckley United.
The intention of the merger was to create a higher standard of football in the town, something which was achieved when United won promotion to the Southern League Premier Division in 2001.
After finishing in 6th place in 2003/04, United were accepted into the newly formed Conference North. They moved into a new ground, on Leicester Road, in March 2005. After a successful start in 2006/07, tragedy struck when Matt Gadsby passed away while playing for the club at Harrogate Town on 9th September 2006. They went on to reach the play-off final, but lost out 4-3 to Farsley Celtic after conceding a last minute penalty.
Seasons of financial woe followed, and after being relegated from the Conference North in 2012/13, the club was liquidated six months later.
After appointing Carl Abbott as their first manager, Hinckley AFC’s first match was on 5th July 2014, a 4-2 win against landlords Heather St John’s. Abbott led AFC to a third-place finish in the Midland League First Division in their inaugural season, including setting a new league record for matches unbeaten. They went 27 without defeat in all competitions from 21st October until 28th April, when they were defeated in the Leicestershire Senior Cup Final.
The on-field success continued into the start of the 2015/16 season, when they overturned a Redditch United side from three levels higher in the pyramid to reach the Second Qualifying Round of the FA Cup in their first campaign in the competition. That season, the club finished fifth in the league and won their first piece of silverware: going one better than the previous season by winning the Senior Cup with a 5-1 victory over Oakham United in the Final.
Continuing the theme of building on their success each season, 2016/17 yielded a new best league finish, with AFC ending as runners-up behind unbeaten champions Bromsgrove Sporting. Alongside that there were best ever runs in the FA Vase, where Abbott’s men reached the last 16 stage but were beaten in extra time by Buckland Athletic, and the Polymac Packaging League Cup, where they reached the final.
Abbott stepped down the following October, and the club had several managers for short spells between then and the present day – Dale Belford, Richard Lavery, James Jepson and John Ramshaw all with brief tenures before Dale’s son Courtney Belford took charge in the summer to give renewed optimism after a disappointing campaign.
Covid regulations prevented him being able to complete either of his first two seasons in charge, ahead of the club’s move to the United Counties League in 2021/22.
But there the club mirrored their second-placed finish of five years previously, setting numerous records along the way. They hit a new FA Vase record 18-0 win at St Martin’s in the FA Vase and set a 13-match winning streak on their way to the play-off final. Ultimately, though, defeat to Belper United in the final meant another crack at step six and lateral movement back to the Midland League after just one season away. Belford stepped down due to work commitments, with his assistant Joe Conneely taking charge.
The memory of Matt Gadsby lives on through his wife Sarah and daughter Amelia, who hold the membership Number One of Hinckley AFC.