That Sinking Feeling...
Don't look away yer coward - it's the 1999/2000 season
To think it all began in such high spirits. Sure there were rumblings of
discontent from the bar and the boardroom, but generally the feeling of the fans
was hopeful going into pre-season. Remember those times when all we had to worry
were the wisdom of releasing two experienced proven goalscorers like Mainwaring
and Mings to replace them with the even older Jimmy Smith?
But then the world fell in as the club approached pre-season. Chairman Rob
Thomas called an open meeting to say that he would be resigning as a new
consortium was coming in to take over. There had been rumours of his growing
disillusionment with life at the club, but this was the person who'd steered the
club from the grips of the receivers only a year previously. Colin Gardner and
others were vociferous in their proclamations that the new people coming in had
stabbed Thomas in the back. No-one knew what was happening...
Early indications seemed positive from the new board, the fans were wary but
willing to give them time to sort themselves out. They promised a new structure,
communication to the fans, and several 'un-named' backers who would put in fresh
cash. Back in the real world a flood of late signings bolstered Hughes' squad,
and with the late additions of Coupe and Wigg from Forest Green and Keeling from
Yeovil it seemed we had a side realistically capable of a top six finish. That's
what we all expected anyhow...
The season began with a comfortable if uninspiring 2-0 win over a poor Grantham
team. It was too early to get excited, but Jimmy Smith opened his account and
Chenoweth impressed on his debut. The wheels came off pretty quickly though with a 3-0
defeat at Burton, but then we comforted ourselves that it was an away day blip -
and the Brewers were one of the pre-season favourites. Things worsened with
another 3-0 reverse at a very big and physical Margate side, and with Nathan Wigg
left behind at hospital with a badly broken leg the omens were already looking
on the glum side.
August saw an unusually heavy six league game fixture list, and City had already shown where the
season's problem was going to lie. The other matches saw a goalless draw at home
to Tamworth and a 1-0 win against Cambridge, but perhaps the most revealing
result was the bank holiday 1-0 defeat at Atherstone. City were faced by a
dismal Adders outfit, but despite rarely losing the ball they couldn't create
any chances. It was dull, it was dire and City had scored just three goals in
six games. Hackett looked over the hill, and Keeling was showing his lack of
pre-season preparation. City were not gelling and it was showing much worse
going forward than at the back where the old Gary Thorne and Kemp partnership
was doing just enough to stop the whole thing falling apart.
The falling apart came in September, and it came off the pitch.
September began with another lackluster performance and goalless draw
at home against Dorchester. The most wrist-slittingly frustrating part of all this was that none
of these sides looked frightening, we just didn't look like we'd score against
the 19th century Bon Accord side - even in their present state of advanced
next match away at Clevedon was equally dire, the divisional newcomers played a
disjointed City off the park - saving all the fireworks for afterwards. The board
had told Hughes that evening that his playing budget had been slashed in half,
and some unfortunate words had been said to a couple of the players. The whole
thing blew up in the Clevedon car park as the fans cornered directors and forced
them to explain their actions. Several interesting statements were
made by some individuals, and some of the contradictions from different board members were bordering
on the comic. While several fans have carried their opinions of the board from that
some of the players had already made their decisions on the future of City. Matt Coupe and Mark Hervin jumped
straight to Clevedon there and then - if only they'd looked so decisive on the
City broke their traveling duck the following Saturday with a point at Havant,
but the long-term picture was not improved by the news that long-serving and
long-suffering Gary Kemp was on his way having felt insulted by a comment from a
director. Despite the feeling of impending disaster the fans and players had
entered into a blitz mentality and the celebrations on getting that away point bordered
on hysterical. The battling resistance extended into the FA Cup, with a hard
earnt draw at Weymouth setting up a replay at home. The stage was set for an
emotion packed evening, with protests on the terraces matched by a passionate
and gritty performance from the players. Old war horse Steve Fergusson was
dragged out of retirement, and fittingly came off the bench to crash in a late volleyed
winner to spontaneous and joyous choruses of 'Sack the Board'. The feel good
factor continued with a no-less spectacular winner from Chenoweth against
Ilkeston in the next home game. Perhaps all this crisis stuff was just what we
Reality bit home with home defeat against the rabble from Merthyr in
the FA Cup. There's only so long you can keep going with a huge split between
fans and players and vocally disgust towards the board. Tempers boiled over and there
were scuffles on the terrace, stopped only by the not-so-Messiah-like appearance
of Tracey Newport on the terrace. While putting himself in the middle of the
opposing fans showed guts and stopped the handbags flying, it also effectively stopped
any noise from the home fans. If you can't shout 'Sack the Board' in the
Chairman's face (and when it came down to it few fans could), there didn't seem
much else to say.
The troops rallied from that blow to comfortably dispose of a weak Chesham side
4-1 in the Trophy. That was but a welcome blip though as City collapsed to two 5-0
trouncings, first away at Forest Green in the noddy cup, and then most pitifully at Merthyr
who must have thought this was a different side to the one they'd played in the
fortnight earlier. It seemed that the players got more depressed when they had
time to think about things on a coach trip away. Our home form was still
reasonable though, out-fighting a strong Burton side and getting a highly
credible draw against Boston. We'd conceded the title by now (!), but it seemed
as if we might still survive.
Another good pasting, this time 5-1 at Bath, suggested that the cold
and clouds were setting in for the winter. We couldn't perform away, and the
fire of the fans protests had settled down to a discontented malaise which had
fed through to the players. We scrapped for a draw against Newport in an
experimental Friday night game, and then snoozed to a point against a frankly
crap Grantham team. A spirited battle at Conference Welling in the Trophy saw
City exit in the cruelest of ways, only a last minute goal denied 9 man Gloucester a
result which could have lifted the whole season. Thanks to some typically inept
refereeing and a rash reaction from potential match winner Jimmy Cox it was not
to be. City were running out of what would be very welcome distractions from a depressing
There was something approaching a festive air at even the dilapidated
Meadow Park (former venue of legends, now more the stadium of blight). The
impending tidings of comfort and joy seemed to get to our esteemed Chairman as
he blurted out premature words of forthcoming financial stability and (oh God, no) the 'Conference in five
years' to the ever eager Citizen. Rumblings of unhappy fans seemed to be
less justified, although there was still precious little coming forth in terms
The spirit of advent also got to the players with wins over Rothwell and
Solihull in the league cup, of course, they were at home.
We'd also found a new player in Mark Abbott, and it was only him looking a half
decent player that persuaded fans to accept he wasn't just someone Hughesy
had met by happy chance in the street and begged to pull on a pair of boots for
City. The other new signing to bolster our scout troop (sorry, football squad)
was Ross Casey - once a promising midfielder but now a not too mobile lump.
Still he did get better as he shed the pounds and got a little fitter...
The year ended with the depressing site of a threadbare squad so ravaged by flu
that Brian Hughes was forced out of retirement to play at Worcester. At least he
wasn't the only City player to watch the game flow past him as Gloucester
got thumped 4-0, and we were lucky to get the nil. A fitting end...
The new millennium opened with an exciting game, Gary Thorne
grabbing a goal as City almost contrived to lose a match against Halesowen that
they had totally dominated. The game also saw the return of Nathan Wigg, several
months earlier than predicted after smashing his leg against Margate in August.
The next disaster to befall City was the loss of our one remaining source of
pride, an unbeaten home league record. That came to a pitiful end with a 5-1
stuffing at the hands of a Clevedon side spearheaded by former forward Andy
Mainwaring who grabbed a hatrick. Chairman Tracey Newport blew his top and
stormed into the dressing room, causing consternation amongst the players and
anger from Hughes who felt his position had been further undermined. The whole
squad was placed on the transfer list, but as it turned out nobody left. Despite
a momentary lift with a win against Merthyr things were starting to get really
bad. Goalkeeper Gannas took evasive action and retired, all be it not a major
loss on the playing side, but you had to feel sorry for him.
Just when things were beginning to look beyond hope, the unexpected happened. We
won away! For the first, and as it turned out, the only time in the season. The
2-1 win at Dorchester was all the sweeter for seeing first goals for
Bungle and Mark Abbott, and being achieved with young Tom King in goal, borrowed
from Hellenic league Shortwood. The game also saw Niblett return from a long
lay-off, only to find himself in a scrap with Tucks and Thorne over the
Any hope of a permanent upturn in fortunes quickly gave way to
realism as City lost at Newport, and then failed to beat a struggling and
demoralised Atherstone side at home. By now even the most optimistic of
supporters had realised that we were facing a very real and genuine relegation
battle, and the way things looked we weren't going to make it.
We rallied a little with a gutsy battling fight to get a 1-1 draw against
promotion chasing Bath, whose morale took such a dent at being held by us that
they didn't recover for the rest of the season. However the machinations off the
pitch were to overtake those on the field, with the news that the club was once
again in a dire financial plight and could well face closure. The match at
Salisbury was a wake, complete with Easty as the most unlikely person to ever
wear a clerical dog collar. The directors didn't turn up to enjoy the fans black
humour and support, and the team played as if they had already left the club.
Low on confidence they lost, again.
The following Monday all hell broke loose as Hughes was sacked. Supporters rallied
round, making Hughes the focal point for a season's worth of the fans
unhappiness with the board who had decimated the squad, and yet left the club
still up to its eyes in bills.
Following the Hughes sacking the next game saw the bizarre sight of
almost as many police as fans at the ground, the board presumably fearful that tempers had
been pushed beyond breaking point.
The King's Lynn fans joined in with the
protests which continued long after the final whistle, and went on from the
terrace into the bar. It was all good fun, but came to a faltering halt within a
few weeks - hardly the sustained revolution that was needed.
A supporter's meeting the following week called for answers from the board, and
managed to force the concession of a meeting with directors. Amazingly, despite
little in the way of solid specific responses from the board a lot of fans
seemed happy with the partial reassurances they got... but that may yet be
another story for another time.
Back where it mattered the club was well and truly up in the air. Callinan had
been put in charge of the side, and had seen his position bolstered by the
return of the Messiah as his assistant - or at least a grumpy talismanic
Welshman by the name of Brian Godfrey. Gary Thorne, Matt Rose, Paul Chenoweth
and Jimmy Smith all left following Hughes' sacking. On the way in were a few of
our neighbours cast offs: Baylo back from Newport with Danny Hunt and Gary
Smart, Cook on loan from Forest Green. Just to complete the sense that
someone was trying to pacify the fans by signing all our old favourites we even
had Steve Talboys back in the frame by the end of the month.
Despite the shake-up and injection of new blood City's plight was more or less
done and dusted. We huffed and we puffed but still couldn't score enough goals
to win games. Perhaps if we'd beaten Havant we could still have had a chance,
but every must-win game came and went without us winning.
The new players settled in remarkably quickly, but all in all it
proved too much to ask. A thumping at Boston was followed by what in other
circumstances might have been a thrilling 3-3 draw against Salisbury. City
needed all three points to keep even the slenderest hopes of survival alive, but
even so to battle back from 3-1 down in that way was credible in itself. by
had got so bad the fans were squabbling amongst themselves as how best to react
to their despair, by singing or standing stony-faced. By now it was a matter of looking for
consolation away from the league table. Some comfort came for the long-suffering
fans with Devlin's wonder lob at Halesowen, and a derby win against Worcester.
The end of a dismal season came fittingly enough with two dismal results and
defeats against Margate and Rothwell. So is it all gloom and doom?
But there are one or two things to take out of the season. At least we now know
our fellow fans are all the hardcore, no glory hunters left for us! We've got a
potentially very good manager, and if we can keep hold of them and support them
with some experienced team mates we can also call on some excellent young players next season.
And the best supporters in the land of course....