Looking back on the fine achievement of Boreham Wood staying up in the Natoinal League during the 2015/16 season.
By Steven Pye (@1980sSportsblog)
In this season of Leicester City and their Hollywood story, it is easy for some achievements to go by unnoticed. Rotherham staying up, the resurgence of Barnsley, and Northampton’s triumph through adversity, just three examples of relative success that should be applauded.
But there is one more tale that I would like to draw your attention to. One that has probably slipped under the radar. A story of a small club with big dreams, and a script that fortunately has a happy ending. Boreham Wood and their admirable 2015/16 season.
It was about a year ago that my relationship with Boreham Wood started. My son is heavily into his sport – I wonder where he gets that from – and I felt the time was right to take him to a few matches. I am an Arsenal fan, have been since 1983, and have passed that particular affliction on to my son. But at the end of 2014/15 there was no room at the inn where Arsenal were concerned, all their matches sold out in advance. The search went on.
We live in Bletchley, near Milton Keynes, but the “local” team do not sit easily with me. And then it struck me. Boreham Wood, the town where my parents had met, a place we would visit at least once a month during my childhood to see both sets of my grandparents. A club that I often kept an eye on via a quick scan of the scores but not one that I had ever considered going to watch. Until now.
The first match was ideal. A trip to Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park to see the National League South play-off final against Whitehawk. Me, my dad and my son ventured into slightly unknown territory on that sunny day, yet as soon as we made our way through the turnstile, I knew this was a place that I felt comfortable in. A cup of chips and a bottle of pop for my son, the Wood Army in full voice, and a nail biting 2-1 win in extra-time, ensured that it was a cracking day.
Promoted teams often struggle the next season, and I don’t think I was being particularly profound on our walk back to the car when I stated that things would be hard for Boreham Wood in 2015/16. Even in the National League, the club was a complete minnow. The likes of Grimsby, Tranmere and Cheltenham dwarfed this little club in Hertfordshire, a part-time outfit that would surely be swatted aside by the relative giants in the division.
But as many would find, Boreham Wood fight until the very end. The club faced a number of challenges before and during the season, that were never shirked. If they were going to go down, it would not be down to a lack of effort. The 2015/16 season for Boreham Wood would be the very definition of punching above your weight.
The first concern related to the playing staff. The squad would need strengthening and fast. Manager Ian Allinson, aided by his determined chairman Danny Hunter, added experience with the likes of Scott Doe and Danny Woodards slotting into a defence that would play a huge part in keeping the club up. Throughout the campaign, other key components were introduced: the midfield pair of Conor Clifford and Clovis Kamdjo; the width provided by Delano Sam-Yorke; the clever acquisitions of Luke Howell and late season loanee Harry White.
There were some survivors of the previous season. Keeper and supporters’ player of the year James ‘Rusty’ Russell, defender Ben Nunn, skipper Callum Reynolds, Sam Cox, Ricky Shakes, and cult-hero Junior Morias remained to keep a link with the past. However, within a year the team was unrecognisable from the play-off final. But realistically, it needed to be.
The season started with a fantastic 3-1 win over Halifax, and despite three defeats on the bounce, a 2-0 win at Tranmere provided some optimism for the tests to come. However, the team would win just two of their next eleven matches, and were understandably hovering close to the relegation zone. And then came the news that would rock the club, seemingly throwing a huge obstacle in the way for the rest of the campaign.
Allinson, a hero of mine after his exploits in the 1987 League Cup semi at White Hart Lane, had stepped down. The man who had led Boreham Wood to two promotions resigned, feeling unable to juggle his responsibilities of his day time job at Carlsberg with the new training timetable at the club. I was genuinely shocked when I saw the news on the club’s Twitter feed, and informed my son that there may be trouble ahead. I should have known better.
We had been to a few matches during the first few months of the campaign. A 3-1 loss to Grimsby at home seemed to back up my belief that this would be a tough division to stay in. The team fought hard for a 0-0 against Tranmere, and were unlucky to lose to Woking in the last minute of their FA Trophy tie. Even so, we were having a great time together, carrying on the tradition of a cup of chips and a bottle of pop at each game, and enjoying the warmth of the club (although I thought my son would turn blue during the Woking match, such was the chill in the stand that day).
Shortly after Allinson’s departure it was announced that assistant manager and former player Luke Garrard would take on the role of manager. Assisted by Jason Goodliffe and Junior Lewis, the job ahead for the 30-year-old Garrard was enormous. Keeping the Wood in the National League was never going to be easy, and the inexperienced Garrard faced a mountainous task.
You simply could not escape from the fact that it was hard for Boreham Wood to compete in the fifth tier of English football. With the lowest average attendance – 542 prior to the final home match against Guiseley – Danny Hunter was forever battling to convert the Scout troop into an army.
Hunter himself tried his best to swell the numbers in the travelling army. Subsidising travel costs, including paying petrol money for fans going to Barrow, and train tickets for the same match, the chairman really was going the extra mile. But getting home fans in through the gates was a struggle enough. You wondered if secretly other clubs and their supporters may have been sniggering at the smallness of the new kids on the block. If they were, there was one way for Boreham Wood to have the last laugh.
The team continued to fight under Garrard, becoming difficult to beat, yet finding goals hard to come by at the other end. Hunter described some of the home performances as “utter crap” before the Macclesfield match, but eventually the ends would justify the means. “Do you think they’ll score today?” a supporter asked me as I read Hunter’s programme notes on that day. “Probably not,” I jokingly replied. We didn’t see any goals, yet come May these solid defensive displays proved crucial.
Throughout it all we became more and more absorbed in the fate of Boreham Wood. What an emotional roller coaster. The team went four unbeaten at the turn of the year but then lost at home to Kidderminster. A point at Grimsby and a home win over Braintree was followed by a defeat at home against Torquay. A brilliant win at Southport was undone with a poor home performance against Barrow.
And so it would continue. Just when you thought they were out of danger they kept getting dragged back in. A heartbreaking last minute defeat at Halifax looked damaging, the loss at home to Southport almost the final nail in the coffin. To stay up, the Wood probably needed to do something they hadn’t managed all season: win consecutive matches. As the fixtures at Aldershot, at home to Guiseley, and away at Welling awaited, it truly was squeaky bum time.
I have to admit that my hopes were not high. But then I listened in to a post Southport match interview with Danny Hunter and my spirits were raised. I have no idea why, but something told me that night that the Wood would not go quietly, that they would get their just rewards for their hard work.
The win at Aldershot was the first part of the escape plan, and as we saw the final score come through on my Flashscores app, my son and I knew we had to make it to the Guiseley match. Before the game, we had our usual refreshments and were chuffed when Danny Hunter acknowledged us in the stand before the kick off. He, like the rest of us, kicked every ball in the nerve wracking but sweet victory. Halifax may have spoiled the potential party, yet the Wood had given themselves a great chance of staying up.
I was a little unsure about whether to attend the Welling match. Part of me felt that this day belonged to the die hard fans, those who had followed the team up and down the country for years. But Hunter intervened again. Imploring everyone to try and make it down to Welling and back the team, it was the kick up the backside I needed. My son couldn’t make it, but I knew it was a match that I didn’t want to miss.
And what a day it turned out to be. The permutations were a little complicated, but the bottom line was win and the mission would be accomplished. The Wood Army were vociferous, basking in the sunshine as the team tore into already relegated Welling. There were a few nervy moments when news of Guiseley winning drifted through, yet the players did the club proud and allowed a party to break out in the away end.
A comical own goal and then a superb one-two between Howell and White saw the former give the Wood a 2-0 advantage at the interval, and Kamdjo’s header in the second half truly sealed the deal. There was even time for a conga to break out as the seconds ticked by. The Wood were staying up, and now everybody would believe us.
At the end of the match, the players, management and Hunter all came across to celebrate the achievement with the away fans, a wonderful bonding moment for all concerned. And then I headed off happily into the Welling sunset, to grab some beers for my train journey back to Bletchley, determined to carry on the carnival.
Quite often my fellow Arsenal supporting friends queried why my son and I went to Boreham Wood during the season. My response was simple: because we both really enjoy it. Surely that is what matters at the end of the day? That should be the main reason we all go. The winning is a bonus. Staying up for Boreham Wood was the cherry on the cake.
Maybe the Wood avoiding relegation isn’t quite movie material such as everyone is discussing with regards to Leicester. But there would be a good book in it.