Tonbridge Football Club took the bold step of signing up to join the Southern Football League for the 1948-49 season after the club had been formed in October 1947. They were accepted into the league together with Hastings United, Chingford and Kidderminster Harriers.
The the club was founded after a suggestion by local businessman Herbert Portch and he was to became the club’s very first chairman. They acquired a lease upon the Angel Ground, named after a neighboring pub, just a couple of minutes walk away from the train station.
Tonbridge and Hastings United both make their Southern Football League debuts on 21 August 1948. Hastings won the game 2-1 after Tonbridge had scored first, Albert Robson ensuring his position in the club’s history books. That first season ended with Tonbridge obtaining a low third from bottom place in the league table.
The early years saw Tonbridge dawdle within the league, but the cup competitions delivered some cheer for the Angels. The club reached the Southern Football League Cup semi-final in the 1949-50 season, only to be beaten by Colchester 3-2, the game was played just a couple of months prior to the Essex side being elected into the Football League.
Tonbridge reached the first round of the FA Cup in three successive seasons starting from 1950, unfortunately they lost in replays on each occasion. Their cup opponents had been Chelmsford City, Aldershot and Norwich City respectively. The game against Aldershot attracted a record attendance at the Angel Ground with 8,236 people turning up. It was take another fifteen years before Tonbridge next made the Frist Round in the FA Cup, losing 1-0 at Dagenham in 1967.
Tonbridge raised some silverware in the form of the Kent Senior Shield, the trophy was won four times throughout the 1950s. It was different tale in Southern Football League Cup in which the Angels were twice defeated finalists, losing against Yeovil in 1955 and Hereford a couple of years later in 1957.
The Southern Football League expanded into two division sometime during the 1950s and in 1962 Tonbridge were relegated out of the Premier Division, but two seasons later they were promoted having only missed out the season before. In 1964-65 Tonbridge lifted the Kent Senior Cup for the very first time however the following season they were sent returning to Division One following relegation.
Two local players left Tonbridge in the 1960’s to pursue other opportunities playing within the Football League. Tony Burns signed up for Arsenal in 1963, the goalkeeper made 31 appearances for the Gunners and additionally played for Charlton, Crystal Palace and Brighton. Malcolm MacDonald joined Fulham in 1968. He was transformed from a full-back into a striker and later appeared Newcastle, MacDonald scored five goals in a single game for England, a feat he achieved in a Wembley European Championship qualifier against Cyprus in 1975.
Tonbridge were promoted back to the Southern Premier Division in 1972-73 and that same season they reached the FA Cup first round once again, they played Charlton Athletic at the Angel Ground but with an attendance of 7,770 the Angels lost 5-0.
Eighteen months later, and with the club now managed by George Cohen – a world cup winner, Tonbridge lifted the Kent Senior Cup for the second time, after defeating Maidstone United in the final.
The 1975-76 season saw the club entered into voluntary liquidation and face relegation once again. Tonbridge Angels Football Club emerged out of the turmoil but there was to be another serious problem waiting for the new club.
The local council who were thes club’s landlord wanted the Angel ground site for redevelopment. A battle inside the High Court ensued and the club was offered a new site for their ground at the north end of Tonbridge. The final ever game at the Angel Ground was a 2-2 draw with Hounslow on Monday 21 January 1980 and Micky Angel, suitably named, scored the final ever goal at the Ground. The remainder of their home fixtures for that season were played out at several grounds around Kent.
The first game at Longmead Stadium was played on 18 August 1980, a Southern Football League Cup match against Crawley Town in front of an attendance of 707. The Angels only missed out on promotion back to the Premier Division in the last game of the 1983-84 football season, they also reached the semi-final of the Southern Football League Cup in the 1986-87 season.
The 1988-89 season was the clubs 40th anniversary and hopes of it being a good season were encouraged after the appointment of new manager Terry Naylor, a former Tottenham player. But Naylor’s leadership ended after only seven matches and one point, the season resulted in disaster for the club as Tonbridge were relegated out of the Southern Football League.
It took Tonbridge four seasons of playing in the Kent League before the got back to the Southern Football League, during which time they twice won the Kent League Cup, defeating Whitstable on both occasions. They also reached the 4th qualifying round of the FA Cup in October 1991, losing narrowly against Yeovil in front of a then Longmead record attendance of 1,483.
That attendance was easily outdone when Crystal Palace, a Premier League club, brought their full first team squad for a charity match to Tonbridge in 1997-98 in aid of two nearby hospices, a match watched by 2,412.
Tonbridge, now managed by Alan Walker, started the 2003-04 season in outstanding form after sixteen of their first seventeen league fixtures were won. But Walker left the club midway through the season and the Angels ultimately finished the season in third despite acquiring 88 league points.
The club were moved to the Isthmian League Premier Division after restructuring of the non-league football pyramid before the start of the 2004-05 season and the Angels found life hard in their new league and were relegated in their initial season. However they rebounded back the following year, conquering Dover Athletic 3-2 at Longmead in the Division One play-off final in front of a attendance 1,863.
In 2006-07 the club reached the 4th qualifying round of the FA Cup again, losing this time 1-0 at the hands of Newport County. It turned out to be a season in which fans favorite, Jon Main would shatter the club’s scoring records scoring 44 goals including seven hat-tricks in all competitions.
In October 2007 the Angels separated from manager Tony Dolby following an FA Cup 4th qualifying round defeat at Ware and Tommy Warrilow was appointed in his place. The club ended up in 8th place within the Isthmian Premier coupled with a great run in the FA Trophy, defeating Conference Premier side Oxford United before losing in the next round at Longmead against AFC Wimbledon, a match which drew an attendance of 2,281.
The 2008-09 season saw the Angels finish third in the Isthmian Premier but they lost in the play-offs against Carshalton. The close season saw significant ground improvements being made. The old covered stand, which had been transferred from the Angel Ground to Longmead in 1980, was for the most part an empty shell aside from 200 temporary seats that had been put in place. The stand was totally refurbished and changed into a smart looking all-seater stand with a 720 capacity.
In 2009-10 the Angels missed out on the play-offs but following a poor beginning to the 2010-11 season a run of eighteen matches withjust one defeat saw them in competition for a place within the play-offs. That position was eventually won and the beat Harrow 3-2 after extra-time in the semi-final to set up a final at Longmead against Lowestoft Town.
Tonbridge took a 2-0 lead in front of the 2,411 crowd before the Suffolk side pulled a goal back. The Angels were 3-1 up at half-time but Lowestoft battled back and with only 13 minutes remaining they equalized. With the match now progressing towards extra-time, up stepped Lewis Taylor in the 81st minute to score what turned out to be the game winner and confirm the Angels position in the Football Conference South, the club’s greatest ever position within the non-league pyramid.
The club’s first season in the Conference South saw them finish in a successful 9th place. The club narrowly escaped relegation the following season but reached the Kent Senior Cup finals where they were beaten 7-1 at home to a Charlton XI.
Manager Tommy Warrilow stepped down from his roll with the club at the end of the 2013-14 season following relegation after three seasons playing in the second tier of non-league football. His replacement was Steve McKimm, Steve had several years experience of managing in the higher levels of non league, his previous job lasted six years with Conference South team Sutton United.