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Arguments have raged about if this season's Trophy exploits out rank the Semi-Final run of 1997. We look back at City's incredible journey from the preliminary round to the last eight.
When the first Trophy draw was made in the summer the prospect of an autumnal trip to Atherstone United cannot have stirred too many souls. Cup competition offers the hope of glamour and diversion, so to get a fellow DML Western side away was the equivalent of finding Cilla herself standing the other side of the Blind Date partition. To add insult to injury the Adders were in good form at the time, plus their Sheepy Road is one of the most hostile environments this side of the Urals. Even after Atherstone were overcome 1-0 in a display full of grit and commitment but few flashes of brilliance there was little to suggest the glorious part this year's Trophy competition was to play in City's rejuvenation.
The Trophy seems to have helped many of our young players develop a fighting spirit and a self belief which simply wasn't there when the season began. Perhaps having been written off round after round has helped. With nothing to prove they've been able to show a resilience epitomised by their refusal to crumble having gone a goal behind at Southport. Even a disappointing exit at Aylesbury shouldn't take the gloss off what has been achieved.
City have had some Trophy success before of course, reaching a semi-final replay in 1997. That was an incredible achievement for a DML Premier club, knocking out two Conference sides on the way. However it can be convincingly argued this achievement is greater, and also means more. There are obvious reasons of course. Now relegation has consigned us to the DML Western we are bona fide giantkillers and briefly the darlings of the local media. We've knocked out two Conference sides again, but this time both Woking and Southport have been out played over 180 minutes - and ultimately beaten on their own grounds. No side from our division or equivalent had ever got to the Trophy quarter-finals before. Leroy Rosenior built a side on astute transfers and developed good players into great players, but there is no escaping the stark difference between the wage budget Leroy enjoyed and the pennies scratched together that Burns has had at his disposal.
All this is historic stuff, but it doesn't really touch on why this success matters most. It matters because even as recently as two years ago it seemed as likely as George Bush talking eloquently at a peace march. We were a club in a downward spiral, financially bust and emotionally bankrupt. From that gloom came a determination not to give-up that has reinvigorated the supporters and been taken on by the board and crucially a new hard working chairman. The new impetus has swept aside the cynicism of many fans and also taken away much of the self-serving deadwood that formed the previous board. Even before this Trophy adventure the clouds had lifted from Meadow Park and the stifling atmosphere that had surrounded the club had gone. Even some of those fans who had voted with their feet now had reason to return to the fold. The local press not only mentioned us, they loved us! There were those who never expected to see another four figure attendance at Meadow Park, at least not unless we hosted a particularly successful car boot sale. Twice more than a thousand came to watch us, and we took around 400 to Aylesbury.
Looking around these last few months there have been plenty of delighted fans. These were people who'd stuck with us through the dire seasons of financial implosion, relegation, lies, rumour and general despair. Some of those smiling perhaps deserved more satisfaction than others, those who have forked the pitch, hosed out dressing rooms and given time and cash to help us fight out of the mire. Not that they have a monopoly on suffering. Anyone who saw us capitulate to relegation at Halesowen or watched us get trounced at places like Bedworth and Bilston deserves some recompense.
Perhaps the single most exciting thing about this Trophy run though is the sheer joy on the players faces. In thinking about the fans it's easy to forget that the players have been through much of this too. Players like Griffiths, Jenks and Cox went through that terrible long suffering season of departures, recrimination and relegation. You'd have thought a 5-a-side session with former boss Tommy 'The Terror' Callinan could even be on a par with dressing room cleaning in the suffering stakes. Even more players were on the wrong end of thrashings (I think just on the pitch, times change) as Burns tried to mould a side from youth players and local footballers. The players have suffered too, and in many cases showed loyalty to the cause by turning down moves to clubs who could pay them more.
This is where the real spirit of the side lies. Their morale doesn't just come from dressing room camaraderie, but from being fans with boots on. Nearly all the players were either born close to the city or grew up here. Several came through the youth team ranks and nearly all live in or near Gloucester. A couple even talk of watching sides of old from the terraces, remembering the heroes of the past and listing the likes of Wayne Noble, Lance Morrison and Nigel Green. They know how rare this current glory is, and how it should be savored.
Of all the things to take from this Trophy run it is this connection between this current side, their supporters and the local area that makes it really special. Links like this are increasingly rare even at our level of the game, and if City continue to progress it may be something we keep only fleetingly. Let's hope that we can watch this side mature into a side that can bring home some silverware. That would get them a place in club history they richly deserve.