A Scrappy Season...?
It wasn't pretty, it wasn't great - but it wasn't the end: -
the 2000/2001 season
It wasn't easy to lift yourself after the crushing disappointment of relegation
and it was difficult to find many fans brimming with excitement at the prospect
of trips to Evesham and Blakenall. Sadly for many fans it would all be too much
to take, but at least there were hopeful signs in pre-season.
Firstly there were hopeful murmurings from the boardroom; the wage bill was
up, the club was stable and Tommy Callinan would stay on as manager. Admittedly
most of the fans didn't trust the board any further than they could kick them -
but there was enough of that pre-season optimism to give them another chance.
Back on the pitch the news regarding the squad was hopeful. The returns of Cox,
Bayliss and Chenoweth suggested we would be at least scoring goals next season.
We then added some more experience and talent with the signings of Matt Rawlins
and Grantley Dicks, plus a whole host of local players getting run-outs
alongside the remainder of last season's youngsters. We also signed
ex-Ch@#tenham chancer Darren Wright who never appeared all season, you just hope
he didn't get locked in the trophy cupboard during pre-season and hasn't been
left unnoticed in there all
Our pre-season fixtures weren't exactly inspiring, but none the less our form
looked good as we smacked in a few goals against local opposition. The sun was
on our backs, we'd put Gloucester United in their place with a pre-season
drubbing and the side looked good
for a comfortable adventure in the DML Western.
The season began with a visit from our old friends Gresley, thankfully without their
full compliment of whippet brandishing thugs. We drew 2-2 with both Cox and
Rawlins scoring, and then followed that up with a 5-1 demolition of Warwick.
This was looking easy, especially when we went to Blakenall and took the lead
and looked to be cruising to a second win. We should have sensed where our season was headed
from the point we handed the opposition three goals, all defensive or
goalkeeping errors from crosses. We needed a Steadman bullet to rescue a 3-3 draw.
The alarm bells were beginning to ring. Things weren't a great deal more secure
off the pitch either as the board were forced to postpone the AGM and admit they
hadn't observed the legal procedures - City, slapdash and amateur but at least
now scoring goals!
We briefly had the welcome distraction of the FA Cup too. Having
overpowered the might of Odd Down we marched on to face early league leaders
Evesham who we beat in a bad tempered encounter. Not only were we through,
but we'd found yet another team against which to bear a grudge. After Evesham
came Chippenham and a brief reminder of what proper football felt like. A real crowd and two
cracking open games that eventually saw us win 5-3 with some class strikes from
Cox and Rawlins. Shame that some Chippenham officials tried to spoil things with
some crass comments, but we'd answered them where it mattered most. The team had
obvious weaknesses and all could see we needed a centre-back and had problems
down the left. This was balanced by the pluses though: Kacey Johnstone was a
revelation on the right and we had shown we could outscore anyone, and after
last season's goal drought that was enough for the time being.
Our attention was almost entirely focused on the FA Cup now, with everyone
realising just how much a good Cup run and the extra cash could mean to the
club. Sadly we were so distracted we managed to lose 1-0 at home to
Warwick, a result made all the more irritating by us having got a point at
Hinckley a few days before. We were good enough, but needed to concentrate more.
The FA Cup continued to provide our best moments, going to Tivvy and winning the
game on merit against a very strong side. The home fans were not amused, not
that we gave a stuff. We then went to Havant and drew, a home replay to
negotiate and the 1st Round beckoned.
Anyone thinking City's luck was changing had obviously not been watching us
for long. Any fortune we might get is only building us up for an even more crushing
disappointment. FA Cup glory seemed a real possibility, but we showed more signs
that those defensive lessons hadn't been learnt as we threw away a lead against
Havant. At 3-2 down in the final minutes we got a penalty. Steadman grabbed the
ball and put the spot-kick high over the bar, we were out and hopes of big money
went down the drain. Why a more senior player didn't take responsibility for
such a crucial kick no-one seems to know, sadly some went hiding. The rest of the month was all about not
looking too disappointed, although that was difficult when we got tanked 4-0 by
Mangotsfield at home. November also saw the end for Gannas, the great flapping
one finally being forced to concede the keeper's shirt to Ally Hines after two
monumental blunders at Evesham. Sometimes being a nice bloke just isn't enough.
Despite the season having gone moderately well we were still missing one
thing to make us feel comfortable - a home win (and a centre-back too if we were
being greedy.) The vital moment came when Matt Rawlins came off the bench
against Rugby to score twice and give us the three points. It was all looking
far too promising, so the fates came a long and gave us a good kick in the
By our next scheduled home fixture Meadow Park was under six feet of the River
Severn's foulest smelling flood water. Our perilous financial situation could
have done without losing our entire festive fixture income and before the month was
out Rawlins had gone and the rest of the players were complaining they'd not
been paid. Happy times were back again.
With Meadow Park still unplayable City were falling apart and there was a
rising tide of panic amongst the fans. Rawlins was followed out by Wayne Thorne
and to make matters even worse we were even struggling to play our away games. Heavy
rain had saturated most pitches in the division, although we won the wettest
pitch award by about five and a half feet. City were still desperately
trying to clean Meadow Park back up to the satisfaction of the environmental
health people, and the whole thing seemed to be symbolic of al the club's
problems. We managed to beat Cinderford in a scrappy game in the Forest
where both sides looked like they'd never seen the game played before, but
having to struggle to beat them didn't really fill us with joy. Fans gave
up on the board and began to have 'lets sort this out' meetings. It seemed at last things had got so
bad that people were beginning to shrug off the malaise.
It seemed briefly that the new optimism may have even got through to the
players amidst the excitement of playing at home after two months. Shepshed got beaten 4-2
and two of our new signings from lower leagues both scored. Fans collected heaps
of cash to help pay some bills and there was light at the end of the horizon.
Sadly though this was a little too simplistic, as defeats against Bilston and
Evesham reminded us why we were mid-table. Things may have been getting better
off the pitch as plans began to emerge, but there was little sign of a plan on
the pitch. The defending was still naive and the tactics difficult to make out.
There was little to do but grit your teeth and focus on the horizon.
With Meadow Park now back in use and the floodlights working again we faced
plenty of games in the last two months. Sadly as the games came thick and fast
the fans appeared to have lost interest. The matches weren't much as spectacles and for many
supporters it was less painful to read about it in the papers. Fair enough to a
point, but not when the club needs the gate money so desperately. The Supporters
Club relaunched and there was much to be happy about, although it was difficult
to remember that watching us lose to Blakenall in front of 112 cold miserable
fellow sufferers. It's difficult to remember why we do it at times like that,
especially when it's next to impossible to explain to a non-believer why those
eleven yellow shirts represent all that is great and good in the
A month that had started well enough with wins against Atherstone and Paget then
saw us begin our run of eight consecutive league defeats. There's not a lot to
be said about that sort of form, especially when you then lose even more players
when they decide even thirty miles travelling no longer pays. Despite the best efforts of Tracy Newport
to stir up the fans it's
difficult to feel that angry at the players for going. Loyalty would be nice,
but I'm not sure you can expect it at this level, especially from players who
perhaps felt the club owed them a little loyalty too. Not everything was bad even amidst all these defeats, we did manage hatricks from
Marshall, Cox and Bayliss. And at least we were reminded just how bad things
could be at Rocester when for a few awful minutes we thought the team weren't
going to make it at all and the fans might end up forming a scratch side. Our
players mightn't be the best but at least they can run about a bit, I'm not sure
I can even do that.
The first part of April doesn't merit mention as our dismal run of losses
continued. However when the deluge of defeats ended the sun really came out as
City got their first league clean sheet since January 2000, over a year without
managing a meager ninety minutes without slipping up. Once we
picked up three points against Weston in the 2-0 win on Easter Monday we found a
new sense of belief in our own defensive ability. We managed to shut out three
other teams before the season ended. Perhaps not much of a boast in this
division but given our previous generosity this was real progress. We had
players chasing back, bodies in the box, shape at set-pieces - it was bliss. It
did go slightly wrong in the last few games but at least the players had shown
they could do it if they concentrated. We also had the bonus of stuffing Ciren
5-0. It mightn't have the feel of a passionate derby game but they all count and right now
we have to take what we can.
This wasn't a
season that'll be remembered by many with huge affection. Apart from the cup run
there were few moments of real excitement. We scored plenty of goals, but any
pleasure normally taken from that was diluted by knowing we would probably
concede even more. We rarely played attractive football and we lost even more
support as the club appeared to drift aimlessly along into the backwaters.
So easy for it all to be doom and gloom, but there are things to cheer us up.
We've still got plenty of good young players who could develop further. Matt
Parnell looks a real find, Steve Jenkins continues to improve and in Lee Smith
and Gavin Rae it seems more talent could be coming through. In Cox and Bayliss
we have a striking partnership comfortably capable of forty goals a season. Not
all tears at training then, but perhaps the most optimism should be saved for
developments away from the playing squad. The rebirth of a new more united
Supporters Club is long overdue, as is the belief that the fans can sort the
club out if the directors won't. That, more than anything, will make next season