Poole of talent

Poole Town have had a nightmare season. Colin Tapner reports

It is too easy to be seduced by pre-season form. When Poole Town beat an understrength Dorchester 1-0 in a friendly in August, I was brimming with confidence for the season ahead. Eight months and thirty-nine straight defeats later, we were on the brink of breaking a British record.

The long road that brought Poole to this point began six years ago. Lacking the cash to pay for all his promises, the then Chairman departed leaving a mess behind, in particular the ground, which we shared with a speedway team. A new board stepped in, but couldn’t prevent relegation to the Beazer Homes League Southern Division in 1992. The council, Liberal Democrats acting like the most hard-hearted of Thatcherites, now had control of the ground and in November 1993 accepted a plan to have only speedway and greyhound racing there. No matter that the stadium had been our home for over sixty years, football, in their words, was no longer commercially viable. Come the end of 93-94 we were out.

We began this season only too aware that it was going to be a struggle. The council had declined to help upgrade our temporary home, at Dorset Combination side Hamworthy United, and had told us that it would be our responsibility to find a site for a new stadium. A 1-0 defeat on the opening day was greeted as a victory. Four days later, visitors Newport cruised to a 5-0 win. The following Saturday, Hungerford Town went two up in our FA Cup tie, had a man sent off, then went on to win by five. We didn’t get our first goal until the end of September. Visitors Witney were ahead by the time we scored, and I’d already left. Last November, citing commercial viability once again, the Council dashed our last hopes of a return to the old ground. With no social club of our own, no money was coming in, so the club had to stop paying wages and several players duly departed.

Having stayed loyal through the move from the old ground, our regular band of just over a hundred fans stuck fast through the crisis. It had now become something of a crusade. No-one wanted to miss that first point. By the start of April sixty-three players had been used, including several schoolboys and seven keepers. It seemed that fate had it in for us, especially when, in response to a plea for support, over five hundred came to a match against next-to-bottom Erith only for the game to be called off ten minutes before kick-off due to a sudden storm.

A 5-0 loss at Tonbridge on 2nd April brought us level with Stockport County’s record. As a result our attendance for the next game, at home to Bashley, was boosted by a media circus. A dull first half, which reduced the large crowd to silence, passed with no goals. It was the kind of uneventful game that you know is always going to end nil-nil but, afraid of tempting fate, I kept that thought to myself.

Their manager was to claim later that the pressure had been too much for Bashley. It had the opposite effect on the Poole players who rose magnificently to the occasion, creating most of the few chances that occurred. Despite having a team mate sent off, the players just wouldn’t be denied. An injury-time corner safely held by Poole keeper Jamie Smith produced the biggest cheer of the afternoon thus far. An even louder one followed just two minutes later when after some agonizing stoppages the referee finally answered our screams for him to blow the whistle. Finally, applause for something other than a gallant display in defeat. Kenneth Wolstenholme had been brought down by one paper and declared himself aghast at the dire quality of the game. For all of us who’d dreamed of the moment, the match had been greater than even Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt.

The thought of the hacks who’d come to see us lose having to leave disappointed made the result even sweeter. Many relegated us to a footnote, a simple mention of the length of our losing run more than enough. The story behind that figure – of a club battling for survival against terrible odds, in a town where many are happy to wear the latest Manchester Utd shirt but won’t come to see their local side – was plainly not as appealing as the chance to depict us, and thereby non-League football, as a laughing stock.

Two days later we lost 6-0 at Weymouth, followed by an 8-0 thrashing at home to Trowbridge. Looks like we’re winding up for another tilt at that record . . .

From WSC 112 June 1996. What was happening this month