1999/2000 Review

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That Sinking Feeling...

City Feel the Pain

Don't look away yer coward - it's the 1999/2000 season reviewed

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 about 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 decomposition. Hughes stands alone at Clevedon The 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 point onward, 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 pitch.

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 needed...

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 Cup a 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 league campaign. 

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 of detail.
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...

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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 Dorchester goal.

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. TheNewport readies the knife 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 T-End is Revolting 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 Halesowen things 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?

Well yes! 
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....

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The Stats

Lge. Pos. P--W--D--L--F--A Pts Total from Title from drop FA Cup FA Trophy Lge. Cup County Cup Ave Att. Top Scorer
20th 42-8-14-20-40-82 38 -54 -9 3rd q 2nd 2nd 1st 476.73 Jimmy Smith (19)


DML Premier 1999/2000 Final Table

P   Pts    GD
1 Boston United......... 42 92   +63
2 Burton Albion............... 42  78   +30
3 Margate........................ 42  77   +21
4 Bath City....................... 42  77   +21
5 King's Lynn................... 42  71   +16
6 Tamworth...................... 42  70   +29
7 Newport County............ 42  66   +17
8 Clevedon Town............. 42  63    0
9 Ilkeston Town............... 42  60   +8
10 Weymouth.................... 42  58   +9
11 Halesowen Town........... 42  56     -2
12 Crawley Town................ 42  53   -14
13 Havant & Waterlooville.. 42  52   -5
14 Cambridge City............. 42  52   -14
15 Worcester City............... 42  50    -6
16 Salisbury City................ 42  50    -14
17 Merthyr Tydfil................ 42  48    -12
18 Dorchester Town........... 42  47    -9
19 Grantham Town............. 42  47    -13
20 Gloucester City........ 42  38  -42
21 Rothwell Town............... 42  29    -37
22 Atherstone United......... 42  28    -46


End of Season League Movement

Dr. Marten's League Premier Division

Promoted as Champions: Boston United
Runners Up:  Burton Albion
Relegated: Grantham Town, Gloucester City, Rothwell Town, Atherstone United. 

Dr. Marten's League Western Division

Promoted to DML Premier as Champions:  Stafford Rangers
Also promoted to DML Premier:  Moor Green
Relegated from DML Premier:  Gloucester City, Atherstone United
Reshuffled from DML Eastern:  Rugby United (formerly VS Rugby)
Promoted into Division: Mangotsfield United (r-up Western League)
Relegated from DML:  Yate Town (to Hellenic), Stourbridge (to Midland Alliance).

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Terrace Trash
1999-2000 Results