Horsham’s final match of the 2006/7 campaign was a fitting way in which to sum up their debut season in the Ryman League Premier Division. The 4-3 victory over Tonbridge Angels produced a good start, backed by an enthusiastic crowd, gave way to an indifferent spell around the midway point before ending strongly to provide a successful conclusion despite the loss of several key players through injury. It was a season that had begun with concerns over the side’s ability to cope with life at a higher level, only to end in slight disappointment when falling away after finding themselves in such a promising position. A campaign in which the club hit the heady heights of first place, topping the table for two weeks as November gave way to December, but also plumbing the depths with dismal defeats at Walton & Hersham and Worthing. There was also the emergence of young talent, at first through necessity and then on individual merit, and the introduction of new players who would quickly become terrace favourites but, crucially, the departure of a prodigious goalscoring talent whose void became almost impossible to fill, leaving Horsham FC wondering what might have been. Molesey, 22nd April 2006 proved the realisation of a dream as the Hornets‘ victory earned the club automatic promotion to the Premier Division of the Isthmian League — the highest level the club had reached in it’s 125 year history. Yet amid the euphoria of the occasion, many supporters were already raising doubts as to their side‘s chances of survival in the company of such revered teams as Chelmsford City, AFC Wimbledon, Margate and Bromley although a magnificent display against Conference South side Lewes in the Senior Cup Final gave a glimpse of what John Maggs’ side might be capable of in the season ahead.

Maggs showed loyalty to his promotion winning squad by inviting every player back to the club for pre-season training but with Florian Mateos, Dominik Hudak and player of the year Mark Hawthorne electing to move on, the manager cast his eye over several new faces during the pre-season friendlies with, perhaps, the most keenly fought position being that of goalkeeper following the announcement that Rob Frankland was likely to miss the entire season after requiring operations to his knee. Gareth Williams and Alan Mansfield were brought in from Corinthian-Casuals and Three Bridges respectively while Eric Pudaloff found it difficult to live up to his previous heroics for the club and was promptly moved on to Horsham YMCA. Little known AFC Wimbledon midfielder Lewis Taylor was brought to the club and he was to quickly make his mark on the side with his incredible fitness levels and powerful shooting while much rested on the front pairing of Carl Rook and Jamie Taylor who shared seventeen goals between them in a useful pre-season workout. The much anticipated first match of the season saw the club travel to Middlesex, and to Staines Town‘s impressive Wheatsheaf Park whose immaculate playing surface and excellent facilities had encouraged Brentford, Wycombe Wanderers and Premiership new boys Sheffield United to take part in ‘friendly’ fixtures during the summer. A good sized travelling contingent were suitably impressed as the Hornets created a hatful of chances before having to content themselves with a goalless draw in which Williams excelled in goal for the visitors. There was a quick return for Hawthorne as the first midweek fixture saw much fancied Carshalton Athletic visit the Atspeed Stadium and it was Rook who gained the distinction of scoring Horsham’s first ever Premier Division goal when he swept home Gary Charman’s low cross. However, a defensive howler meant they would have to wait before celebrating their first victory as Colin Hartburn’s injury time free—kick looped gently into the net to register arguably the softest goal conceded by the Hornets during the entire season. All that was forgotten though, just three days later, as Hendon were swept aside by Jamie Taylor’s dazzling hat—trick in a 4-1 romp and our first maximum points haul on the road quickly followed on the Bank Holiday Monday when Slough Town got a foretaste of their struggles to come with a 3-1 home defeat.

September began with the visit of 2005/6 championship rivals Ramsgate who could find no answer to the excellent John Westcott who scored one and ‘made’ one as Taylor bagged yet another hat-trick to reach the landmark one hundred goals tally for the Hornets in another 4-1 win. The victories continued as Boreham Wood and Chelmsford City were defeated 2-1 and progress was made in the Westview League Cup with the players making no mistake in beating Carshalton Athletic this time. However, success came at a shocking price when Ian Payne suffered an horrific multiple leg break at Boreham Wood that was to keep the popular full—back out for the remainder of the season. The mood was understandably buoyant, though, as league matters were put aside for the team’s trip to the Kingsmeadow to face AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup. Another good performance looked like bearing fruit only for a linesman‘s flag to deny Charman a valid goal before Darren Grieves delivered the knockout blow with an injury time header to end H0rsham‘s hopes of Cup glory before they had barely begun and it was left to club mascot Howie the Hornet to gain some small revenge by beating his Wimbledon counterpart over a furlong in the Mascot Grand National. Former Folkestone Invicta defender Stuart Myall enjoyed a winning debut at Leyton alongside winger Jose Goncalves whose arrival had some supporters believing the club had signed a midfielder by the same name from Scottish club Hearts. The month was concluded with the unbeaten league run ended in devastating fashion, Walton & Hersham picking up their first win of the season with a stunning 5-1 win. The unlikely demise at Stompond Lane was to set the tone for the start of October as Division One (South) Walton Casuals equalled their neighbours‘ feat by knocking five past their bemused opponents to knock them out of the League Cup and Harrow Borough became the first visiting side to profit from the annual Kids 4 Free Day when recording a 4-1 win. A training ground injury to Gareth Williams had led to Mansfield’s introduction to the side and the shellshocked ‘keeper was picking the ball out of his net for a tenth time in three games as Jamie Bunn gave East Thurrock the lead before a moment of brilliance from Goncalves stopped the rot with a 1-1 draw.

The announcement of Andy Walker’s departure due to work commitments was tempered by the news of ex-Crawley Town skipper Kevin Hemsley‘s signing from Eastbourne Borough and the team were back to winning ways with a far from convincing FA Trophy win at Tilbury where the travelling fans accounted for at least two thirds of the day’s paltry 91 ‘crowd’ and Lewis Taylor and Gary Charman ensured that the month ended on the right note with two quality strikes that earned a last gasp win at Ashford Town. It was a familiar face, or should that be backside, that ended our Trophy dreams as Lee Newman’s brace helped Maidenhead progress, the winning goal coming off the former Lewes striker’s rear after Mansfield’s goal—kick had hit the target man and rolled into the empty net. Yet that was to be one of only two defeats in November as the Hornets recaptured their form to record some spectacular wins against fancied opponents. The new midfield partnership of debutant Jacob Mingle and Lewis Taylor were instrumental in making it a pointless visit to the Atspeed Stadium for Billericay Town, Taylor hitting the goal of the season in a 3-1 victory, and a fine_draw at leaders Heybridge Swifts was the prelude to a 4-O mauling of Walton & Hersham as revenge was gained in comfortable style prompting Maggs to claim that the squad was now the strongest he’d ever had during his time in charge. Sadly though, rumours were spreading of Jamie Taylor’s imminent departure from the club, the non-contracted player apparently offered the chance of playing Conference football at Woking, and it was against the Swans that Taylor was to register his last ever goal for the Hornets, slipping the ball under the goalkeeper for his fourteenth goal of another season that promised so much. Taylor was to remain for just three more games, leaving the club at the top of the table after a sensational 3-0 win at Bromley that Maggs was to acknowledge as one of the finest results in his seven year tenure at the club.

An inspired performance by Alan Mansfield helped the Hornets to their first ever league point against AFC Wimbledon as December was welcomed in with table-topping Horsham playing in front of 2700 spectators, a scenario that even Maggs might have struggled to believe likely during the summer months. However, they were brought down to earth with a bump the following weekend when Margate took advantage of a striker crisis to inflict Horsham’s heaviest home defeat in almost a year. With Taylor beginning his new life life at the Kingfield Stadium, and Rook suspended after a controversial dismissal against Hampton & Richmond Borough, Maggs brought in former Hornet Ryan Rummery from Whyteleafe to lead the line alongside Dan Rice, a new signing from the USA. But with Rice’s international clearance not completed in time for the match, the Kent side strolled to a 4-0 victory with all the goals coming in an eighteen minute spell late in the second half. Having already knocked neighbours YMCA out of the Sussex Senior Cup, Horsham found little difficulty in disposing of Arundel with Mingle and Rummery on target and the Margate defeat seemed a distant memory as the same players found the net in a superb 4-1 win at Tonbridge with Lee Carney impressive in an unfamiliar striking role. A fabulous year was ended in disappointing style when Folkestone Invicta were allowed to claw back a two goal deficit to earn themselves a point and the Boxing Day trip to Worthing ended in a woeful defeat as one-time Horsham player Leo Day claimed one of the home side’s three goals. The unusually inclement weather meant that we had to wait almost three weeks before completing our next match but not before Horsham Football Club said farewell to long serving secretary Jeff Barrett who ended more than twenty years’ association with the club. Of even greater consequence came the exciting announcement that the club had agreed the purchase of Holbrook Sports Club in the town, thus finally securing the club’s future, while successive abandoned matches had the statisticians researching the last time such a fate had befallen the club with officials at Carshalton Athletic called into account amid chaotic scenes when our match at Colston Avenue was ended prematurely.

January saw just a solitary league win against struggling Slough Town as the pattern for the remainder of the season was set with draws against Staines Town and Bromley, just two of six draws that the home fans were to witness between January and the end of the season, while the individual achievement of the month came from the boot of on loan Lewes forward Lee Farrell who helped himself to all six goals in our Brighton Charity Cup rout of Littlehampton Town. A 1-0 loss at Billericay saw the Hornets slip to tenth place, our lowest position since the opening week of the season, with injuries playing their part – Carney, for example, seeing just twelve minutes of play since before Christmas. But the midfielder was back at the beginning of February as we shared the points with Heybridge Swifts for the second time this season. Farrell signed off with two goals as a fine team performance made a mockery of the slippery conditions at Carshalton with the game thankfully going the distance this time, much to the home officials’ relief ! The news that AFC Wimbledon were facing a possible eighteen point deduction for fielding an ineligible player gave renewed hope to those teams chasing the coveted promotion play-off places and just under 1500 people gave Queen Street it’s highest attendance of the season as we remained unbeaten in three attempts against the Dons but an even better display came four days later when we came within three minutes of pulling off a memorable win at Lewes in the Senior Cup, despite playing with only ten men for more than an hour following Mingle’s first half dismissal. The earlier postponements, and successful Senior Cup run, had presented Maggs’ players with nine games to fit in in March but they got off to the perfect start when Rook’s brace completed the double over Leyton with nomadic striker Kevin Cooper making his debut more than a year after Maggs’ first efforts to tempt the former Met Police forward to the club. Injury and illness forced Maggs to put out a depleted side to take on Lewes in the Cup replay and they were no match for the Rooks whose form had taken an upturn in fortunes at the worst possible time for Maggs‘ men and, to add insult to copious injuries, Farrell claimed the final goal in a 3—O win. With Myall, Taylor, Mingle and Charman all missing, and Brake and Carney carrying knocks, Chelmsford City took full advantage to boost their own promotion aims with a 5-0 thumping at their Melbourne Stadium ground but the players showed tremendous character to bounce back to earn a hard fought point at eventual champions Hampton & Richmond Borough in a bad tempered game.

The rigours of a long hard season were beginning to show on the small squad and an uninspiring display at home to lowly Ashford Town saw the visitors desen/edly claim a point with a last minute equaliser. The remainder of the month saw both sides of Horsham’s character with a good win in an East Thurrock snow blizzard bettered only by a draw at promotion chasing Margate while Harrow Borough and Boreham Wood each claimed wins over what might politely be termed as lacklustre opponents. The season looked to be heading towards a huge anti—climax as a third 2-0 defeat in four games, this time at Hendon (when even the players‘ coach broke down on the way home), threatened to make April a miserable month for the fans and when relegation threatened Worthing took an early lead in their do-or-die encounter at Queen Street most were expecting Maggs‘ patched up side to capitulate in similar fashion. Yet, with youth team players Jamie Baxter and Dean Wright adding their own zestful enthusiasm, the players battled back to earn a point and, from there on in, never looked back as they ended the season with five successive wins. A first ever triumph at Ramsgate was secured, against the odds, and that was followed up by the guarantee of a cup final appearance after Ringmer were beaten in the semi—final of the Brighton Charity Cup. Cooper’s ninetieth minute goal at Folkestone ensured that the Kent club would have to wait another week before being assured of their Premier Division status for another season and the striker made it five goals in thirteen games with the first in a 5-2 success over Chichester City United as we collected the Charity Cup for the third time in five years. With the season ending in a 4-3 win against Tonbridge Angels, the feelings of disappointment and antipathy that had been so prevalent just a few weeks before had given way to smiles and celebration of a memorable first season among the Ryman League’s elite. With the club now preparing for their final season at their dated Queen Street ground, supporters will be hoping that John Maggs and his aides are given the financial support to further strengthen the squad that has shown so much promise of an exciting future.

STATS
Most league appearances: Eddie French (42)
Most league goals: Carl Rook (17)
Number of players used: 27 (league only) 30 (all competitions)

LEAGUE RECORD
Played 42 Won 18 Drew 14 Lost 10 Goals For 70 Goals against 57 Points 68 Position 8th

COMPLETE RECORD –
Played 56 Won 25 Drew 15 Lost 14 Goals For 98 Goals Against 76

CUP COMPETITIONS
FA Cup: 1st Qualifying round (lost 0-1 v AFC Wimbledon)
FA Trophy: 2nd Quaiifying round (lost 1-2 v Maidenhead United)
Sussex Senior Cup: Quarter-final replay (lost 0-3 v Lewes after 1-1 draw)
Westview League Cup: 3rd round (lost 3-5 v Walton Casuals)
Brighton Charity Cup: Winners (won 5-2 v Chichester City United)

SUPPORTERS’ PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Eddie French

BIGGEST WIN
6-2 v Littlehampton Town (Brighton Charity Cup)
4-0 v Walton & Hersham (Ryman League)
4-0 v Slough Town (Ryman League)

HEAVIEST DEFEAT
0-5 v Chelmsford City (Ryman League)

BIGGEST ATTENDANCE
1,486 v AFC Wimbledon (Ryman League)

LOWEST ATTENDANCE
168 v Walton Casuals (West\/iew League Cup)
233 v Walton & Hersham (Ryman League)

TOTAL ATTENDANCE
5,614 (Ryman League) Average: 267
6,405 (All competitions) Average: 256