From Shoreham to Swansea – A review of the 2007/8 campaign

Swansea 2007-8a

With the impending closure and redevelopment of their ageing Queen Street ‘home’, the 2007/8 campaign was always going to be an emotional one for the followers of Horsham Football Club. Those that had sat, stood, worked and played at this charming venue were desperate that the old place be given a suitable send off and, although it was to be a disappointing final few months for John Maggs‘ side, few could argue that the season had given them thrills and excitement the likes of which this historic Sussex market town could seldom have witnessed in the preceding 104 years.

For this was a season of exciting cup runs, of record transfers and television coverage that really did take the club to a worldwide audience of millions. A season of stunning ‘highs‘ and frustrating ‘lows’ that saw the club briefly top the table but also, inexplicably, beaten by Leyton for whom a final tally of just 4 league wins was to spell inescapable relegation weeks before the campaign‘s conclusion. The club’s loyal band of supporters were winning new friends and drawing praise at every corner except, it would seem, their home town as the numbers increased through the rusting turnstiles, drawn by the side’s early season swagger that saw Maggs‘ players unbeatable at home until mid October and scoring goals aplenty. But, in a repeat of the previous campaign, the season was to fizzle out in the latter stages when injuries and departures prompted a late season collapse that left the club facing a further season in the Premier Division after an 11th place finish had left them well adrift of the promotion play-off places.

The summer provided little in the way of squad development although, in Gareth Williams‘ departure to Sutton United, there were concerns over the lack of cover for goalkeeper Alan Mansfield until the October arrival of Paul Seuke from AFC Wimbledon. The attack was strengthened by the signing of Lewes‘ Lee Farrell, whose successful loan spell earlier in the year prompted Maggs to splash out a club record £2.5k, and the controversial Chamal Fenelon, a powerful striker whose protracted debut was the result of an eight week ban for County League misdemeanours. Farrell was to make an instant return on the investment, scoring both goals in a controversial opening day victory at Premier Division newcomers Maidstone United, and three straight wins put the Hornets top of the table until a bank holiday trip to Margate proved to be far from a stroll on the beach, the Hornets going down 2-0 in a game that saw Lewis Taylor pick up an injury that was to force the midfielder to miss much of the next seven weeks’ action.

With Farrell also confined to a spell in the treatment room, Maggs drafted in Simon Austin from Maidstone and he enjoyed a winning debut as Carshalton Athletic were beaten 4-1. But it was a topsy-turvy September that saw rock bottom Leyton presented with their first points of the season and Kevin Rose’s first half header was enough to give Hastings a 1-0 win in the first Sussex ‘derby’ of the season, not that the concussed Gary Charman would recall too much of the afternoon’s events. The month was to end on a high note, though, as the FA Cup dream got underway with Carl Rook’s first ever hat-trick for the yellow and greens in a 7-1 trouncing of Arundel before eventual champions Chelmsford City suffered a second successive defeat at Queen Street, thanks to an outstanding late winner from Jacob Mingle. But it was arguably an inspired substitution from Maggs that turned what might ultimately have been a season of average achievement in to one of unheralded euphoria when, with his side trailing FA Cup 2nd qualifying round opponents Bury Town 2-1, he sent on the half-fit Taylor who powered home the equalising goal before playing his part in Rook‘s late winner in front of a ecstatic 404 crowd.

Horsham‘s 100% home record continued in to October with back-to-back 4-0 victories against Hastings (League Cup) and Wealdstone before an enterprising Staines Town side took all the points in a 4-2 win at a misty Queen Street. Hardly ideal preparation for a visit to AFC Wimbledon, a side unbeaten by their Sussex opponents since their formation in 2002, but a goalless draw at the Kingsmeadow set up a night of high drama as Lee Carney held his nerve to slot home the winning penalty in a nailbiting shoot-out to take the home side to within ninety minutes of a place in the first round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1966. Cup competitions were to dominate the fixture calendar with no less than fourteen ties played in eleven weeks and, although brief success was made in the FA Trophy with a 3-2 win at Ramsgate, it was – as always – the FA Cup that really captured the imagination of the Horsham public and a thrilling win at Chippenham gave the latest generation of fans a taste of the ‘big time‘. Despite initial disappointment when the live televised draw paired them with fellow non-leaguers Maidenhead United, supporters soon realised that this could provide the club with its greatest ever chance of progression through to the second round of the famous competition and the tie certainly captured the imagination of the local populace who turned out in force to witness one of the most sensational Horsham performances in many a year, marred only by the dismissal of Gary Charman for over-exuberant celebration. The BBC cameras were also there to capture Nigel Brake’s explosive strike that not only earned the hosts the interval lead but also a place in Match of the Day’s Goal of the Month competition and the full-back a nomination for the FA’s ‘Player of the Round‘ alongside Carney, whose two second half goals were equally as spectacular. Surely this, more than any planned send off, was the perfect way to commemorate the ground’s long, long history?

In to the black velvet bag, then, for the second round draw and this thrilling ride hit new heights when Horsham were rewarded with a home tie with Swansea City and, given the Welsh club’s position at the top of League One, the ‘biggest’ opposition of the round. The club website went in to overload with more than eight thousand ‘hits’ registered in a single day and, with messages of support and demands for tickets swamping the email and telephone lines, it led to many a late night for the club’s officials. Yet amid all the euphoria, there was one person who was suffering his share of heartache. Goalkeeper Mansfield, harshly sent off in the League Cup rout of Eastbourne Town, was confirmed as ineligible for the Swansea match, dealing the former Three Bridges ‘keeper a cruel blow that was to have huge implications on his season. But the club was to suffer even greater damage when assistant coach Tommy Warrilow left to take up the vacant manager’s role at Tonbridge Angels, ending an eight year association with the Hornets and taking with him reserve team boss Cliff Cant and popular winger John Westcott. To the fury of Horsham’s supporters, Warrilow would return to tempt yet another terrace favourite away with a handsome cheque and the deal-clinching promise of pasta !

The quest for promotion was taking a back seat as the games began to stack up and a 2-0 defeat at surprise package Hendon left us in seventh place, fourteen points behind leaders Chelmsford but with some five games in hand. The home game with Harrow Borough was negotiated safely enough, with Mansfield unsurprisingly replacing Seuke, and the preparations for the Big Game began for real. Alan Parry, one of the country’s best known commentators, became an instant hit with the Lardy Army as he donned a green and yellow rasta hat and posed for photos in exchange for snippets of information on the Horsham players, while SKY cameramen set up around the ground to determine the best vantage points for the following Friday’s events. Illnesses to Seuke and Carney gave Maggs a few scares on the day of the match, as did the torrential rain that threatened to leave some 2700 spectators disappointed – not to mention the club’s accountant at the thought of missing out on the £125,000 windfall from SKY Television. That the game went ahead was down to the sheer determination of the groundstaff, and a huge inflated canvas that had covered the pitch during the afternoon, and a thunderous roar went up from the soggy terraces as the players finally slipped and slopped their way in to the arena at 8pm. What followed was a cup tie in the great traditions of FA Cup football. Perhaps not a classic in terms of quality but 100% commitment by both sides who refused to buckle under the conditions and tried to play the kind of football that was to become the trademark of both sides throughout their respective campaigns. Swansea struck first when Guillem Bauza expertly converted Andy Robinson’s cross at the near post but the impeccable Seuke was to remain unbeaten for the remaining fifty minutes, allowing referee Kevin Friend to produce the real moment of drama, five minutes from the end of the match, when Farrell went down under Alan Tait’s challenge and Taylor, “the landscape gardener”, made light of goalkeeper Dorus De Vries‘ gamesmanship to smash the ball home and put Horsham in to the hat for the third round of the FA Cup!!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the players who had given their all on that memorable night. The Senior Cup tie with Wick was switched to Crabtree Park, and the League meeting with AFC Wimbledon was postponed to February, after the Queen Street pitch was left unplayable. Stark contrast to the near perfect pitch that greeted Maggs, his players, and nearly 400 travelling supporters as they entered the Liberty Stadium for the rematch with Swansea City. Arguably the finest outside the Premier League, it was a sad inevitability that the ground was less than a third full although, once again, Horsham‘s directors were left rubbing their hands at yet another generous financial offering from SKY for the ‘live‘ transmission. With fellow non-leaguers Havant & Waterlooville awaiting the winners, the Hornets shocked their hosts by having a penalty appeal turned down after less than ten seconds before taking the lead through Farrell‘s cool lob. The Swans hit back to equalise but it was Farrell again, capitalising on a howler from De Vries to make it 2-1 after twenty-three minutes and it was party time among the Horsham followers. However, three goals in five minutes left the visitors with a mountain to climb in the second half – a mountain that proved beyond the lads who eventually bowed out with heads held high.

The defeat in South Wales, and the loss of leading scorer Carl Rook to Tonbridge, signalled the start of a malaise as Folkestone Invicta, Maidstone United and – for the second year running – Walton Casuals all recorded victories that brought a sense of reality to the club after their FA Cup escapism. The arrival of Lewes striker Jean-Michel Sigere on a month long loan sparked a revival, though, and he marked his debut with a stunning forty yard lob in a sensational Boxing Day win against Warrilow’s side before a rare goal from Andy Howard ensured that 2007 was bade farewell with a win against visiting Margate. Sigere ended his brief stay with two goals against East Thurrock on January 12th in what was a generally successful month with only Lewes blotting Horsham‘s copybook with a narrow success in the Senior Cup quarter-finals. The player carousel continued with the return of Chamal Fenelon, after a brief flirtation with Havant & Waterlooville, and he was instrumental in an excellent win against promotion rivals AFC Hornchurch but January was to end on a sour note when a physical encounter with Ramsgate was to see Matt Geard dismissed and, more damaging, Carney and Brake pick up injuries that would rule them out for much of the remainder of the season.

Maggs introduced a number of additions to bolster his depleted squad over the coming weeks with former Player of the Year Mark Hawthorne signing forms along with Ben Rayner, Jason Ward, Dean Lovegrove, Gavin Bolger, Danny Davis, Steffan Cox and Dwain Clarke but February began in disappointing fashion with just four points collected out of a possible twelve. A wonder goal from Mingle was the highlight of a 5-1 demolition of beleaguered Leyton but then followed three goalless returns before a disputed injury time penalty saw us to a 2-1 success against Hastings. Tom Graves and Andy Howard showed their forwards the way by notching the first half goals that ensured a league double over the Urchins and both played their part in a superb display that earned a point at Chelmsford to leave the club hopeful of getting their promotion aim back on track. However, back-to-back home defeats against Heybridge Swifts and Hendon took us in to March and, arguably, the month in which our aspirations were all but ended. Abject performances at Harrow and Staines saw us on the wrong end of 4-0 defeats and Warrilow was to gain revenge for the earlier humiliation with a comfortable win at Queen Street on Easter Monday. There were highlights, though, as Davis scored after just three minutes to set up a win against form side Ashford Town before the players stunned even their own supporters with an unbelievable 4-2 win at AFC Wimbledon. A slim hope of reaching the play-offs remained but it was clear that the club’s best chance of success was to come in the Brighton Charity Cup where a makeshift side had already seen off Southwick and Shoreham to set up a semi-final trip to Pagham.

Maggs, though, was refusing to write off his side’s promotion chances but April’s dismal league record of played five lost five meant that we were destined to  finish exactly halfway in the twenty-two team table, a disappointing end to a campaign of such promise. There wasn’t even the consolation of a celebratory send off for the ground as Billericay spoilt the party with a 1-0 win in front of an array of specially invited guests but, thanks to a 2-1 win at Pagham, Queen Street would at least be able to sign off with a cup final as the holders welcomed, for the third time in six seasons, East Preston to contest the Brighton Charity Cup Final. This, at least, was an entertaining spectacle for the 337 crowd as the County Leaguers took their hosts to extra-time before succumbing to a winning effort from local boy Gary Charman who later held the trophy aloft with skipper Eddie French before the Queen Street lights were switched off for the final time and thoughts began to turn towards Woodside Road, Worthing, and the next chapter in the club’s fine history.

Most league appearances: Tom Graves (37)
Most league goals: Lee Farrell (10)
Number of players used: 29 (league only) 36 (all competitions)

Played 42 Won 18 Drew 5 Lost 19 Goals For 63 Goals against 63 Points 59 Position 11th

Played 62 Won 31 Drew 8* Lost 23 Goals For 112 Goals against 90
*Won FA Cup tie v AFC Wimbledon on pens

FA Cup: 2nd round replay (lost 2-6 v Swansea City)
FA Trophy: 2nd Qualifying round (lost 2-3 v Witham Town)
Sussex Senior Cup: Quarter final (lost 1-2 v Lewes)
Ryman League Cup: 4th round (lost 1-2 v Walton Casuals)
Brighton Charity Cup: Winners (won 3-2 v East Preston)

Jacob Mingle

7-1 v Arundel (FA Cup)
5-1 v Tonbridge Angels (Ryman League)
5-1 v Leyton (Ryman League)

2-6 v Swansea City (FA Cup)
0-4 v Harrow Borough (Ryman League)
0-4 v Staines Town (Ryman League)

3,379 v Maidenhead United (FA Cup)
1,150 v Billericay Town (Ryman League)
162 v Hastings United (Ryman League Cup)
128 v Wick (Sussex Senior Cup) ‘home’ tie played at Wick*
318 v Staines Town (Ryman League)
11,286 (Ryman League) Average: 537
20,976 (All competitions) Average: 656