Well, when you start writing an FM15 blog like this I guess you hope that there is something to write about come the end of the season, and just like I was when I wrote the first two “Johnny Cooper” books I have been incredibly lucky. We went into the final four league games needing to swing four points in our favour to get promoted and we had an FA Vase Semi Final against Thatcham to look forward to.
First up was the tricky trip to Enfield. We were walking a tightrope, any slips now would kill off the season promotion-wise, so it was very much fingers crossed for a win. We went into the fixture knowing that FC Romania had been held the day before, 1-1 at Sawbridgeworth. This was a huge chance to make it one point between us. And boy, did we take that chance. Enfield 3, Clapton FC 7 (seven). They went ahead, and I feared the worst. It was pissing down wirh rain, it was an own-goal and things were not looking good. In the 6th minute Cooper played a pass back shorter than the average dwarf and Coote was left very exposed as we went two down. Half an hour in, and we woke up. A lovely move saw Moloney hit a skidding shot into the corner from twenty five yards. We were not awake too long though, they got a third minutes later. I felt we needed a goal before half-time to give us a chance, and we got it. Their centre back slipped ala Steven Gerrard and it allowed Barney in to score with a clinical finish. Incredibly, straight from the kick off, Gilfedder found himself clean through and nailed it, 3-3. Thirty-nine for the season for him now. The second half started well, Gilfedder laying on a tap-in for Barney and then the floodgates opened. Gilfedder got his 40th, yes 40th of the season to make it 5-3, Axten followed up Nade’s shot that hit the post and made it six and, finally, Moloney rounded it all off. What a comeback, and we were now just one-point behind FC Romania.
We went into the FA Vase semi final with Thatcham with one eye on the rest of the league fixtures. It felt weird wanting to get a semi-final out of the way, but I did. And we did, we absolutely hammered them, 6-2. Rafa Nade was untouchable, scoring 4 and Barney and Green got the other two. The game was never in doubt, even at 2-1 we were all over them. The most surprising thing was we scored 6 and Gilfedder didn’t get any of them. The final would be our last game of the season, against Peterborough NS. The surprising thing was that it was going to be home game for us, I had presumed the FA Vase Final would be played at Wembley – that was a shame. However, I had more important things to think about before then, like somehow getting us promoted which had suddenly felt unlikely.
FC Romania had had the week off whilst we played Thatcham. We had Waltham Forest at home whilst they entertained Bowers & Pitsea. Both sides picked up three points, we beat Waltham Forest 5-3 and FC Romania triumphed 2-0. The next weekend saw us travel to Bowers & Pitsea whilst FC Romania had a tricky game at Stansted. I prayed for them to drop points as I really, really didn’t want the last game against them to be a situation where we had to win to get promoted. We did our bit, running out 4-0 winners. Stansted held on until the 86th minute, but FC Romania nicked a 1-0 win. So, going into the final round of games we were one point behind them, meaning we had to win whereas a draw would be enough for them to get promoted. Tense wasn’t the word!
Now, I really wish I was able to just show you the game and let you make your own mind up. Sadly this option is not available to me. You are going to have to put up with me talking you through the extended highlights. FC Romania travelled to The Old Spotted Dog on Sunday 3rd May knowing that avoiding defeat meant they, and not us, would be promoted. We needed to win, and if we did it would be the first time we topped the table all season. This would be, for me, almost the same as Arsenal catching Liverpool in 1989, without the ultimate drama of an exact score being needed – and let’s be honest, we are no George Graham Arsenal side.
I named what had become the usual side in the run-in: Coote; Cooper, Axten, Nimmo, Herron; Moloney, Battipiedi, Osborne; Barney, Nade, Gilfedder. Over to them, I could not do more. I had avoided a team meeting in the week, worrying that I may end up saying something to destroy morale, and for the game I just gave it an assertive “good luck” and “I have faith in you.”
The game unfolded like this. FC Romania had the first chance of note, Valcu forcing a wonderful close range save from Coote. It was the sort of save that gives a whole side confidence, as going one-down then could have had a disastrous impact on our belief. It was a nervy game, turgid even. Bar the Coote save, neither team had created a clear cut chance. Then, on the stroke of half-time, a breakthrough. Barney’s corner was half headed clear and Kieron Osborne struck the ball into the roof of the net from fifteen yards. What a time to score! We went in 1-0 up, and the team talk was one of calmness. 45 minutes of hell to come! Two minutes after the re-start we nearly doubled our advantage, Osborne crashed a shot against the post. Everytime they went forward I panicked, but still nothing clear cut was being created. On the hour, Osborne forced a fine save from their ‘keeper. Seventy-five gone and Gilfedder headed a Cooper cross against the bar, and it was starting to feel like we were not going to get a goal to make the game safe, and they would bite us royally on the ass. In the 85th that fear so nearly came true, Petresc hitting a 30 yarder inches wide. Then glory! 88 minutes gone when Battiepiedi, booked which meant he would miss the FA Vase Final, headed down a corner for Nade to thump home. We had only gone and done it. CLAPTON FC HAD WON THE ESSEX SENIOR LEAGUE. Wow. Wow and again, wow. I would be lying to say I believed we could do it. Incredible. Incredible!!
Forget the FA Vase Final for a moment, this how the league season ended.
It was a very, very proud moment and thanks have to go to @merryguido for giving the world his strikerless formation as it gave me everything I dreamed of for my first season at Clapton.
But, we still had an FA Vase Final to go and win!
Except, sadly we failed to turn up. Battipiedi is so important to us, and his suspension totally killed our ability to run the midfield. Peterborough NS were the better side on the day, and hammered us 5-2. I don’t want to dwell on this, as I am still buzzing from getting promoted and I am sure the side were drained from it too.
So, the first season in my drive to take Clapton FC to the Football League ended with the best outcome imaginable – promotion into the Isthmian D1N. Incredible.
Join me soon for pre-season, and please feel free to ask me anything in the comments section below.
Follow me on Twitter: @comeontheoviedo
FM15 Blog: www.comeontheoviedo.wordpress.com
Author of the “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager” series available on Amazon here
Read the first chapter of “The Second Season Syndrome” at www.chrisdarwen.com