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We don't need money...

in a huddle at Merthyr

....we got pride!

(P.S. but money still welcome)

2004-05 City Season Review

A season that saw our return to the Southern League Premier ended with us all glad to still be there when it ended. But a campaign of disappointments also ended with some unlikely victories and a team stronger and wiser...

The T-Ender reviews the key twists and turns in a season where unreasonable expectation threatened to turn into one of equally unreasonable pessimism and defeatism.

Having chased Redditch United for the Western Division title pre-season optimism seemed for once to be based on something more substantial than just wide-eyed dreams. It looked as if the vast majority of the squad were going to stay, and with the side having scored hatfuls of goals and improving in defence as the previous season concluded you genuinely looked at the other sides in our new re-formed division and thought that a play-off place was a distinct possibility. There was concern when Lee Jeffries left for Yate and when fellow defender Adam Howarth opted for Cirencester, but with other crucial players staying put these seemed like minor worries.

There were reasons for some concern off the pitch though, with the departure of Colin Gardner as chairman leaving a vacancy that still remained unfilled at the end of the season. With no more money forthcoming and no interest in the club from anyone else of means in the city majority shareholder Eamonn McGurk moved to take sole ownership of the club, causing understandable palpitations amongst the fans who needed some reassurances over the future. As that process dragged on the playing budget remained unconfirmed. To the surprise of many it was finally announced we would have more to spend than in the previous year. This proved to be short-lived and perhaps a little rash, and by the time the money was made available a lot of our targeted had already signed for other clubs. The search for strikers did seem to have harvested one local gem with the pacey Kenny Stiles offered terms having impressed in pre-season and scored against Rochdale. Slightly less impressive was returning veteran Jimmy Smith who tried a comeback but looked just a little bit - erm, old.   

With the super twin strike force of Cox and Hoskins missing through injury and suspension the season started with Lee Davis and Matt Aubrey as an on-loan strike force. Ch#*tenham youngster Davis proved his worth in time, but Aubrey quickly became an object of derision for the City fans as he gave a passable impression of a three-legged cart horse. Despite being hampered up front we started the season well, a highly credible draw at Bedford followed up with good home wins over Team Bath and Dunstable and we traveled to Chesham knowing a win would put us top of the early season table. It all looked so good as we took the lead, and then both Hoskins and Cox returned from the subs bench and Jimmy showed his leg was still in one piece with a clinical strike. Then our world imploded and somehow we ended up losing 3-2. There was more heartbreak as we lost narrowly to an impressive Histon side and then yet more pain as we contrived to throw away another two goal lead to end up losing 3-2 at Chippenham. This was not a good habit to have got into, and with players injured left, right and centre we suddenly looked like a side in a spot of bother.

Things didn't really get any better in September either. Poor Karl 'Baylo' Bayliss, a City legend for so many years, was desperately trying to retire to concentrate on his career, but the crippling injury list meant he volunteered to stay on to plug the gap up front. Hosky was out, Cox looked a shadow of his former self, Stiles had decided rather prematurely he wasn't up to Southern League football, Wilko was out injured and the rest of the team looked entirely out of sorts with the defence flimsy at best. It looked as if we'd turned the corner when we fought back with Lee Smith goals against Hemel, only to then lose that 3-2 as well. We looked no better at defending a lead than the Yanks were at international diplomacy. The leaky ship GCAFC seemed to steady a little with draws against Bath City and Stamford, and at times like this the FA Cup provides a welcome distraction and offer of new hope - but not for us! Disaster came as a woeful performance saw us fail to sink a host of chances and then capitulate against lowly Street of the Western League's second flight, naturally we crashed out 3-2. With it went the prospect of much needed Cup money and it looked like a long dark winter stretched ahead. A further home defeat against struggling Solihull and we were now in 20th and looked to be settling into the relegation places without too much of a fight. This was hardly the stuff of dreams and dismissal from the County Cup by old enemies Ch*#tenham did nothing to lift the gloom. The club needed a lift, but Baylo now finally retired and Mike Cook left his post as assistant manager to take up the reins at Cinderford. The only bright spot was that Matt Aubrey's loan spell was also over.  

Burns contemplates silliness at GranthamBurns moved to try and sort things out and the signing of Lyndon Tomkins proved a crucial decision, providing some strength at the back and taking the pressure off Griff whose game had suffered without a more physical presence alongside him. Tomkins return also seemed like closure for a highly-rated young player released by City after being in the youth team and then cruelly denied a return a few years ago by a freak knee injury. Burns was apparently keen to really test our new defensive formation and got himself sent off for a punch after just 19 seconds at Grantham, a needless moment of madness that could have cost his side dear. Instead the team fought and scrapped for the whole of the game to escape with a bravely won point. Another goalless draw against Stamford was hardly inspiring, but at least our defensive problems seemed less extreme, but the worries up front continued as new assistant manager Keith Knight became embroiled in a public spat with Mike Cook and Cinderford over the signing of highly rated young forward Daryl Addis. Addis joined, but Cook retaliated by somehow persuading Hoskins a move to Cinderford was a good idea - surely losing our 37 goal reigning player of the year had not been part of our masterplan. None the less it looked as if it had all worked out well when we finally not only scored again at Dunstable through Lee Davis, but went on to record a 2-0 win. It was our first victory since 18th August and indeed our first goal for 375 minutes. That lifted us and our next home win saw a 4-1 trouncing of Banbury United with Tomkins seemingly unstoppable with two headers converting corners. Mid-table security and mediocrity beckoned! 

Despite a not entirely unexpected Trophy exit to King's Lynn there was a more cheerful mood at Meadow Park as November opened with hard fought draws at Tiverton and then a really gutsy display at Merthyr, then sitting top of the table but brought to earth when pegged back to a draw courtesy of an arrow like Wilko drive from 25 yards. These were good league points and the feel-good atmosphere was aided by the launch of the Supporters Trust, providing an opportunity to plan for an even better future and to reflect on an incredible few years of fundraising and determination by the clubs fans. All of that quickly evaporated with the unexpected and largely unwanted return to the club on loan of former striker Jason Eaton. A bitter few weeks of heated ill feeling developed as supporters split into warring camps of those who remembered his departure from City and subsequent behaviour towards City fans, and those who either couldn't remember, or didn't care. It was an unhappy time, while back on the pitch Eaton went about not really making any particular difference to much at all. At least he'd left the pitch by the time one of the season's real fairytales unfolded, allowing the fans to enjoy an uncomplicated moment of sheer delight. With the crucial match against Chesham finely balanced at 2-2 left back Michael Noakes came off the bench to make his debut as just 16 years-old, and in the dying moments he found himself put through to score an exquisitely taken winner in front of a delirious T-End. One of the best moments of the season.

City continued to frustrate and delight in equal measure, playing some great attacking football one moment and then losing their way the next. Another home match against Bedford should have seen a win, but in the end saw the ever popular Eaton grab an important equaliser. Despite the delight of some it would have been a crime if any able bodied person under sixty hadn't put that particular chance away, and thankfully he was on his way before Christmas and the club could get back to concentrating on survival on and off the pitch. Two more disappointing away draws at strugglers Team Bath and Hitchin didn't allow us to open up any sort of gap over the bottom clubs and the festive fixtures would be even more crucial than usual. Fittingly the year ended with a return to the bad habits of throwing away convincing leads. Even against promotion chasing Halesowen a 3-0 lead should have been enough for victory as we ripped the Yeltz apart with some sharp football. However we then capitulated to allow the game to get back level as at least one fan on the T-End (ahem) finally lost patience with defending that would have disgraced a cub scout five-a-side. Happy flippin' Christmas indeed, there were a few too many presents still being handed out. It didn't seem to be coincidence these lapses coincided with injury to Tomkins, and it didn't seem good we were so reliant on the presence of such an injury troubled centre-back. 

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The more optimistic (naive, stupid - insert your own word here) might have thought 2005 would bring an upturn in the City side's fortunes but that didn't look to apparent as we endured a cold, wet and generally miserable new year's afternoon at the bleak and half-built Corinium Stadium. We naturally lost 1-0 to Cirencester, and were glad to leave. At least that didn't have the teeth gritting disappointmentWebby shows some fight at Solihull of the last festive game at home to Merthyr, when having thrown away one lead it seemed Burns' magnificent free kick had grabbed us a much needed win. Then in the dying moments up popped former City fans favourite (and T-Ender sponsored) Jon Holloway to grab an equaliser, thanks for that Jon - another dismal draw that felt like a defeat. This was starting to become a very damaging habit. You could tell the players thought they were going to make mistakes, and the fans could barely watch. Spirits were hardly raised by the ominous news that Lee Davis was being released due to financial pressures despite having scored five in his last six starts. All of this made our sudden 6-1 stuffing of Rugby even more of a shock. This was a match with everything but was as close and tense as a 6-1 match could ever be. A comedy own goal by the Rugby keeper was followed by Addis at last showing the clinical finishing his overall play had deserved, plus a super strike from Knight and an incredible solo goal by youth player Eddie Rimmer. What we really needed was to convert one good result into a run of points to pull us clear of the relegation battle just below us, but we determinedly didn't manage it. A poor display ended with a draw at Hemel, and Burns perhaps made a mistake by fielding a weak side in the league cup against Paulton when a win may just have helped lift the players and the fans. The next game was a thoroughly demoralising 3-0 drubbing from Aylesbury to set up a real relegation six pointer at Solihull Borough with the next few fixtures looking ominous for our survival hopes. The match see-sawed and twice we threw away a lead to see the match end in another three all draw. We were just three points above the drop zone and all of the clubs below had games in hand. It was time for stout hearts and unshakeable self-belief.

Already depressed City fans then found themselves dragging along the rocky bottom of what felt like a very deep ocean as Aylesbury Cox puts the ball in the Bath netagain out played us with total ease to complete the double over us. Many of the fans were also mulling over the news that the rest of the season's playing budget was under severe pressure and even if players agreed to a substantial cut in pay the fans would need to dig deep to subsidise the wage bill. It didn't seem an attractive proposition in the circumstances and with relegation now looking a distinct danger it did appear it could be a case of throwing good money after bad. Just when everything seemed lost, from somewhere the team produced a sensational pair of home victories that saved the season. First came a tough, gutsy win over Trophy holders Hednesford with a brace of super strikes from makeshift forward Lee Smith. That was then matched with a brace by Cox to see off Bath City, as City's temperamental sprint striker finally started to again look like a match winner. That game really lifted the club, even though it ended with disgraceful scenes after the whistle as Bath's Sam Bailey attacked Lee Smith and sparked general mayhem. Bizarrely when the FA finally got round to adjudicating on it they decided Bailey was no more at fault than City's Tomkins and Mustoe and all three got three match bans. The words justice and lottery are right up there with the FA discipline board with other words like arse and elbow.

Incredibly the side was to stay together without further cuts as the budget was stretched by friendly helping hands, but any feeling of comfort at the bottom of the table evaporated with defeat at King's Lynn and a scrappy draw at home to Grantham in a game that finally saw Chris Thompson moved back into midfield where he excelled. A string of games against promotion chasing sides seemed to offer little hope for City fans who had already ear marked the games where points might be won if luck went our way. Nobody had on their list the trip to Histon, the eventual champions. None the less we not only held on grimly but had the better of the game and snatched the points with a late Lee Smith goal that left us no time to throw away the lead. Only a second away win of the season and sheer ecstasy, certainly the result of the season. That lifted the side and a 3-0 home defeat to Chippenham didn't tell the whole story as we were unlucky not to get at least a point out of a hard fought physical game decided by some controversial refereeing decisions. Certainly the self-belief carried the team on to another unlikely away victory, this time at Halesowen who were reduced to ten men after a very unwise Brummie decided to punch Burnsie off the ball. Fortunately the ref saw it and saved him from worse retribution. Following these results it looked like the Easter bank holiday match against Cirencester should be a stormer, but it was a real non-event bore draw with neither side mustering up much to get excited about.

With the season now in the last month we still had plenty of cause to glance anxiously over our shoulders, but things were to be settled rather sooner than we feared with an important win over fellow strugglers Hitchin. Fortunately the Canaries were in poor form and looked a side drowning with plenty of desperate passing to cheer the City fans. Goals came through another special Burns free kick and a Smith strike, celebrating having rejected a £5,000 move to Chippenham on transfer deadline day. The match still got nervy though, and it needed Keith Knight summoning every last ounce of energy into tired legs to get forward and finally seal a 3-1 win in front of a mightily relieved T-End. That win proved vital, as City then went on to lose with disappointing performances at Rugby and Hednesford. By the time we faced King's Lynn for the final home game of the season only a mathematical disaster could have sent us down, with other results involving the chasing clubs having fallen in our favour. Never the less it was good to sign off in front of home fans with a win, especially coming as it did over a strong King's Lynn side who must be asking themselves how they found themselves so far off the promotion pace. A brace from Griff, restored to the captaincy in the absence of the suspended Mustoe, seemed an apt way to close a campaign based on grit, loyalty and doing things the difficult and unexpected way. (The season actually ended the next Saturday with a lifeless and goalless draw at Banbury, but in a few more weeks no-one will remember that).

Burns scores against Hitchin


wasn't the one we'd all hoped for, but perhaps the fantastic feat of the previous year had made us all unrealistic. The division included few sides to scare us, but even just that little bit further up the football pyramid it gets harder to make the money stretch as far. Our basic team is as good as most in the division, but with such a small squad there is little cover for injury, suspension or loss of form and that took its toll at times. Burns has again worked wonders with a budget that would make his fellow SLP managers think twice about whinging about how hard pressed they are, and the players have shown remarkable commitment to help drag the club out of the mire. None the less you can't help feeling that for all the hard work many of our players have extra gears they need to be able to find with more regularity, and there is no disguising that for all the fantastic unexpected wins there were also as many moments of chronic underachievement. If we are to do better next season the players will need to work twice as hard and show greater consistency, but if we can do that then there are still signs the side could indeed achieve miracles. There are also particular reasons for optimism in the quality of players that continue to emerge from the youth team with Reid, Avery, Rimmer and Noakes all looking like exciting prospects despite still having at least another season at under-18 level. Lee Smith may have left and we still need a few players to add depth to the squad, but we also have plenty of players in our side who would walk into other teams in the division. There's no need for white flags over Meadow Park just yet.

Off the pitch too things don't look quite as bad as perhaps they do at first blush. The club is still living hand-to-mouth but no longer faces immediate collapse, although we do desperately need to find significant new levels of income to realistically compete at a level where many clubs are spending four times what we can afford on players. That kind of extra money can only come through a decent level of support from the local business community, and we all must redouble our efforts to get them interested and get them to provide the sponsorship that most other clubs at this level seem able to take for granted. At least the club is now stable, free of hidden debts and with attendances still increasing is ripe for investment. There are plenty of off-pitch things that reflect well on the club, not least the new community projects with more junior teams and holiday activities, and the continued efforts of the Supporters Trust who this season passed an incredible total of £100,000 raised since 2001. That is a total that would be the envy of many League clubs and for most Southern League sides would provide a war chest for titles not mere survival. It is a hell of a sacrifice from ordinary people devoted to their club - it's a shame the wider community in Gloucester is letting them down.

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The Stats

Lge. Pos.
Pts Total from Title from drop FA Cup FA Trophy Lge. Cup County Cup Ave Att. Top Scorer
15th 42-12-17-13-63-61 53 -25 +10 1st q 1st 3rd 1st 389.83 Wilkinson (12)


SL Premier 2004/2005 Final Table

Pts   GD
1 Histon 78  +36
2 Chippenham Town 75  +26
3 Merthyr Tydfil 71  +15
4 Hednesford Town 70  +28
5 Bedford Town 69  +18
6 Bath City 69  +14
7 Cirencester Town 68  +11
8 Tiverton Town 67  +15
9 Halesowen Town 66  +12
10 Aylesbury United 63  +1
11 King's Lynn 61  +9
12 Chesham United 59  +2
13 Grantham Town 58  +2
14 Team Bath 54  -14
15 Gloucester City 53  +2
16 Rugby United 51  -12
17 Banbury United 48  -13
18 Hitchin Town 48  -22
19 Hemel Hempstead 43  -28
20 Dunstable Town 39  -42
21 Stamford 36 -20
22 Solihull Borough 34  -40

End of Season League Movement 

Southern League Premier Division

Promoted to Conference 2 South & North: Histon (champions), Hednesford Town (after play-off wins over Merthyr Tydfil & Chippenham)
Moved into Division from Ryman League Premier: Salisbury City, Northwood, Cheshunt.
Promoted into Division: Mangotsfield United (Western Champions), Yate Town (Western R-up), Evesham United (Western play-off winners)
Relegated to SL Western or Eastern Divisions:Solihull Borough, Stamford, Dunstable Town, Hemel Hempstead.

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