It already feels like an age since the end of the Ryman League season although the Premier League theatre dragged on until last weekend and today is FA Cup final day. The last day of the regular Ryman League campaign was back on 26th April and Wingate & Finchley were hosting Billericay that day. It was one of the tightest relegation battles for a while with 4 teams still fighting over escaping the last 2 relegation spots with Cray Wanderers and Carshalton Athletic already relegated. We needed a win and either Enfield Town to lose or East Thurrock to draw or lose. On the day we put in a performance that in other circumstances would have been hailed as a fantastic victory.
Billericay inexplicably arrived with all blue strip to play a Wingate side that also has an all blue strip. So we lent them our away shirts so that the game could go ahead. From the start it seemed that not only had their kitman donned his summer handkerchief and dug the deckchair out of the shed, but their players were mentally getting the forex for a visit to the World Cup in Brazil! The Blues had much the bulk of the play and were 2-0 up at half time. The second half saw the victory completed emphatically with 3 more goals to make it 5-0 on the day. Ahmet got a hat-trick though I doubt that the Chairman let him have the match ball 😦 It was not enough to stave off relegation. Both Enfield and East Thurrock won keeping The Rocks above us purely on goal difference.
What happens on the last day of the season is really not what it should be about. We placed ourselves in danger of relegation much earlier; probably as early as Christmas. The fans and the Players kept the faith despite the feeling of foreboding that hovered in the background of each conversation. The old debate about points on the board vs games in hand reared its head on a number of occasions and whilst last season it was points on the board that made the difference this season saw games in hand playing a key role in deciding the final day situation, so which is better remains an open debate and open debates are the lifeblood of supporters of the non-league game 🙂
Each season has its key games – the points in time when a club’s ultimate fate is decided. Like railway accidents where several minor failings all add up to reach a disasterous conclusion, so it is with football. For Wingate & Finchley the draw against bottom club Cray Wanderers was a key result, happening in the dying weeks of the season and removing the points advantage we had over East Thurrock. The draw against Enfield Town on the last but one weekend of the campaign also looked like 2 points dropped. A Tuesday night away against Lowestoft Town where the team were subjected to a 7-0 defeat along with a couple of other large defeats set up a huge goal difference relative to East Thurrock that even a 5-0 win on the last day was never going to overcome.
So, where do we go from here? The short answer is down to the Ryman League Division 1 North – although that information only finally became fact earlier this week. From a club perspective; Is it time for change? Tottenham made it to 6th in the Premier League and sacked their manager! But that type of knee-jerk just doesn’t sit right with our club. Last season saw Danny Neilsen step up to the role of Head Coach alongside the returning Manager, David Norman. In many ways it was an experiment in line with the club’s modus operandi of giving young talent a chance. I don’t doubt that Danny has learnt much in his first season and that it will stand him in good stead for the next one. I know that he will be there next season because the Chairman issued a statement that both Danny and David had signed up again, so that will bring continuity and hopefully stability. Should we have stayed in the Premier Division? I think the honest fans were viewing our tenure there as an example of a club punching above its weight. We have a small budget compared with many other Ryman League clubs and spending to stave off relegation would have been foolhardy – that path leads to ruin and the death of a club. Everyone knows the tale of Fisher Athletic. Does the drop to the lower division impact our income? I suspect that it won’t make a lot of difference – the gates appeared only marginally larger in the Premier Division.
There were a number of other positives such as youngsters from the under 21 squad making their debuts during the season. They all looked very good prospects for the future and I don’t doubt that a number of them will feature in the new campaign starting with the pre-season friendlies in July. Marc Weatherstone took on the role of Captain and did it very well though the defence did look fragile at times while various players were tried in the other positions. Ola Williams departed the club not long after Christmas and in the final games Bobby Aisien moved out to the right full-back position and looks to have settled in well there. Leon Smith also left and now plays for Hendon – a change is as good as a rest for some players and he found his shooting boots over there! Another Ola – Sogbanmu – joined the club and looks pretty good anywhere in the centre though I believe that he is best sitting just in front of the back 4. Also in mid-field was Tommy Tejan-Sie and he performed very well through the centre and down the wing although I suspect he is best in the centre. He picked up the Player of the Season award and rightly so although as fans we awarded our player of the season to Bobby Smith who had another great one in goal. Josh Kennett who joined mid-campaign has proved to be an excellent winger. Ahmet was a reformed character, playing mainly up front and avoiding the myriad of red cards that have dogged him in previous seasons – I suspect his calmer demeanor which kept him on the pitch is a result of Danny Nielsen exercising his coaching skills 🙂 A couple of ex-Wingate players returned to the fold near the end of the season too in the form of Scott Shulton and Leon ‘The Fish’ Fisher. Scott now sports a snazzy hairband to hold back longer locks than in the past whilst Fish has grown a great big bushy beard that would look more at home on a W.G.Grace period cigarette card than the modern football pitch 😉
So, there we are, the new season awaits and I’m looking forward to photographing The Blues again as they campaign to bounce straight back to the Premier Division! I’m pretty sure that the majority of our regular fans will be back too. It promises to be great fun 🙂