Would you rather have a night out in Boston or Wrexham? Pete Green reviews the 2006-07 season in what should surely be called Divisions Three
“Oooh, isn’t it a poor league this year?” This is a phrase recited annually, by supporters in every league, regardless of any real variation in standards. And so it was in the fourth division last season. True, the best weren’t half as good as Carlisle last time and poor Torquay looked set for the drop as the leaves fell from the trees. But, for the most part, the sides on the bottom rung plodded on much the same as ever. Darlington and Notts County failed again to fulfil the unreasonable expectations of sides with gates of four to five thousand, and Lincoln broke their own embarrassing record by losing in the play-offs for the fifth year in a row.
Perhaps this is harshness born of a missing story. No side yielded any tale as dramatic as Wycombe’s heartbreaking collapse last season, though Stockport turned heads with an extraordinary New Year run of nine straight wins without conceding a goal, making a star of on-loan Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey. The bubble burst – or just slipped through Hennessey’s fingers – with an equally extraordinary 7-2 home defeat by Rochdale (who underwent mixed fortunes on their travels, winning 4‑0 and 5‑0 at Grimsby and Darlington but themselves conceding seven at Lincoln).
County finally slipped out of the top seven, but the much-of-a-muchness of most of the division was shown by play-off winners Bristol Rovers. Mid-table after a defeat at Grimsby in February, the Gas lost only two of their 15 remaining games, charged up to sixth place and slaughtered Lincoln in the play-off semi. Shrewsbury seemed an immovable object in the other, overcoming a powerful MK Dons, and took an early lead in the final, but Rovers proved the unstoppable force, hitting back three times to secure only their fourth ever promotion.
Rovers’ success is the more admirable for having lost Junior Agogo to Nottingham Forest, but then the blow was cushioned by the arrival of the excellent attacking midfielder Ricky Lambert from Rochdale for £200,000. Tresor Kandol swapped the frying pan for the fire in moving from Barnet to Leeds and Peterborough’s Sean St Ledger was sold to Preston, but few players overall moved onwards and upwards. Many fans’ tip for bigger things is Lee Frecklington: the classy Lincoln midfielder earned a call to Ireland’s B squad, dictating forward play with a maturity that belied his 21 years and chipping in ten goals for good measure.
In a division with little to separate the teams, the promoted sides were driven more by the talent in their dug-outs than on the pitch. Richard Money in particular deserves greater credit than he has received for reversing the sickening plummet suffered by Walsall in the first half of 2006. Few would proclaim the Saddlers a spectacular side but, like champions Hartlepool, they did the simple things well, and in this division that is enough. Down at the bottom, Paul Ince’s surprise escape job with Macclesfield has already attracted the attention of chairmen higher up the League.
But if we cherish lower-league football for holding true to values that the Premier League has sold down the airwaves, then the story of the season was the morality drama played out at opposite ends of the table. Here good triumphed over evil, but both lost out to indifference. Shrewsbury won much goodwill by cleansing the play-offs of Milton Keynes, and there is a poetic justice in Boston losing their League place to Dagenham & Redbridge, five years after the Pilgrims’ financial jiggery-pokery appeared to win them the Conference title at D&R’s expense. But we’re deluding ourselves if we assume these truths to be held self-evident by the population at large.
Sure, plenty were glad at the just deserts for Steve Evans and Jim Rodwell, but plenty more travelled away to the National Hockey Stadium, to subsidise an operation whose success would threaten the future of all our clubs. And as me and my mates cheered the news of Boston’s final-day demise, a group two rows in front turned round and asked: “Where would you rather have a night out – Boston or Wrexham?” (They seemed to intend it rhetorically, as if southern Lincolnshire were noted worldwide for its pulsating cultural life.) I’d rather have a night out at home in Sheffield and see justice done, pal. But in 2007 even the fourth division seems to bear out the theory that the English have traded ideology for consumerism.
From WSC 245 July 2007