Post by ronfosker on May 7, 2020 16:22:18 GMT
I thought I'd share the piece I wrote for last week's Braintree and Witham Times. It was Witham's turn in today's paper, but I've written a piece about Iron's cup exploits, good and bad, which will hopefully go in next week. From all good newsagents....
While there have been special moments aplenty in Braintree Town’s recent history, there is surely nothing to match that feeling when they first stepped out among the big boys of the Conference Premier in the 2011-12 season. Ron Fosker looks back on a historic season
It was a moment few people could have anticipated.
Gone were the visits to Thurrock, St Albans and Bishop’s Stortford, and in their place were trips to Darlington and Luton and home matches against Grimsby and Mansfield – and all of those in the first five matches.
It was Iron’s first experience of squad numbers, names on their shirts and segregated crowds, with a new entrance and snack bar at the Quag End.
It was when that fixture list came out that reality hit home; four teams not long down from the Football League in the first five fixtures (the other one was Forest Green, soon to be a Football League team themselves).
‘We’ll be lucky to get one point out of those,’ I heard one fan mutter at one of the pre-season friendlies.
Instead, they got seven points.
Darlington was the first eye-opener. A team that had finished seventh the previous season after relegation from the Football League the season before that – and a shiny new stadium with all mod-cons capable of holding 6,000-plus spectators (their highest attendance that year was 6,413) that left the Braintree director I spoke to afterwards awestruck.
The team may have been overcome by it as well as they lost 1-0. It was described as promising at the time, not a bad performance against a major force in their first match, although in retrospect not so good as Darlington ended up in the relegation places and then folded.
Knowing that they had more or less held their own, it gave the team confidence to move on to match two, Grimsby, who had been relegated along with Darlington in 2010.
This time they did more than hold their own.
It was my misfortune to be on holiday for the historic first home match of this new adventure and it was with a sense of total disbelief that I saw the score in the newspaper the following day: Braintree 5 Grimsby 0.
Shome mishtake shurely, as Private Eye used to say. But no. Braintree really had thrashed their illustrious visitors in a result that made the rest of the league sit up and take notice.
A Braintree director somewhat modestly told me afterwards that Grimsby had been on top for most of the first half, but two goals towards the end of the half had put Iron in the driving seat and two more goals shortly after half-time had inked it in.
Goalscorers were Sean Marks (2), Kenny Davis, Brad Quinton and Andy Yiadom.
A solid draw with Mansfield, who were to finish third, was followed by an excellent 2-0 win at Forest Green, then seventh, before the big one, a trip to face title favourites Luton in front of 5,703 spectators.
As I said at the time: ‘This is what being in the Premier Division is all about: a visit to Kenilworth Road where less than 20 years ago Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United were strutting their stuff.’
It was Luton who did most of the strutting on that occasion, storming into a 3-1 lead by half-time and coming desperately close to a fourth goal, prevented only by a desperate goal-line clearance.
But Iron held their own in the second half and kept the score as it was.
Next came a disappointing home defeat to Ebbsfleet, promoted with Iron the previous season, but then they set off on an amazing run of six wins on the trot, beginning with Lincoln City,
In front of a home crowd of 1,182, around half in the visiting end, Iron won 1-0.
It turned out to be the only time they beat the Imps in 12 attempts.
Yet curiously, they finished above them in the league table in each of their first five years.
It was Lincoln, of course, who set in train Braintree’s decline when Danny Cowley moved from one club to the other. In 2016, Braintree were third and Lincoln 13th. The next season Lincoln were top, Braintree were relegated.
There followed wins over Alfreton away 1-0, Newport (h) 1-0, Hayes and Yeading (a) 2-1, Southport (a) 4-0 and Tamworth (h) 3-1.
That left Braintree in an unbelievable second place. Had they beaten Fleetwood on October 1, they would have risen to the top as the leaders Gateshead were held to a draw.
But it was not to be.
Fleetwood were a strong uncompromising side, built on a solid defensive foundation that let very little past them.
They outplayed the home side for the first 20 minutes but once they took the lead, Braintree hit back, equalised within a minute and were their equals for the rest of the match in terms of skill and possession, but it was Fleetwood who grabbed the winning goal in the second half.
There was no disgrace losing to the team who were to go on to become champions, but from the heady heights of second place, that defeat ushered in a disappointing run of just one point in five matches, including a startling 6-2 defeat at York.
They gained some respite from a home win over Darlington, but then followed another bleak run, one point in six matches this time, and the bubble had well and truly burst.
That took them down to 14th place and there was some genuine concern that the fall could continue all the way to the relegation places.
But they rallied from that point, notched up a good win over Telford, and then an excellent one over recently relegated Cambridge in front of a crowd of 2,029, their biggest at home for many years, and eased their way back up the table to ensure a top half finish.
On the way they had the great satisfaction of gaining their revenge over the mighty Luton with a 3-1 win in the return fixture.
As my report said at the time: ‘Twenty years ago Luton were in the old division one of the Football League while Braintree had just made their way out of the Eastern Counties League into the lower reaches of the Southern League. On Saturday they met as equals and Iron showed that, in George Orwell’s celebrated phrase, some are more equal than others.’
In contrast with the Lincoln results, Braintree turned out to be Luton’s bogey team. After that first defeat they met five times and Iron won four.
Sadly in 2012 it proved to be their last win of the season as they drew two and lost two of their final four matches, including a thumping 5-1 reverse at Wrexham on the final day.
But It had still been a season like no other.
From the early days when matches against the likes of Darlington, Grimsby and Mansfield seemed unreal to the end when it almost became commonplace.
Of the former Football league teams, there had been wins over Grimsby, Mansfield, Lincoln, Newport (home and away), Southport, Darlington, Cambridge, Barrow (home and away), Gateshead and Luton.
In my preview of the season, I had pointed out that since the Conference South’s formation, five of the six champions had gone on to finish in the top half of the Premier Division the following season and predicted, somewhat tentatively, that Braintree could follow suit.
Which they did.