Following promotion to Regional Hockey for the first time in the club’s history, this season was expected to be one of consolidation in a league containing clubs who have played a higher standard of hockey for a number of years. There were many ‘unknowns’ as we faced new opponents most weeks and also had to contend with many long trips to away matches. A quick review using ‘Google Maps’ revealed that travel to the 11 away matches would involve 1,698 miles with return trips varying from 60 miles to Romsey to 234 miles to Addiscombe who play in Croydon.
Preseason indicated that the squad had the potential to perform well with creditable draws against Winchester (who subsequently won Regional 1) and Trojans who play in Premier 2. The squad hit the ground running and won their first 5 league matches including away games at Bank of England and Romsey. In hindsight it was actually our first match that set up the season with a last minute goal giving us a 4-3 win at home against a talented London Academicals side. The team were to score a number of very late goals during the season!
The team ‘bounced back’ after away defeats against a strong Fareham side and also at league leaders Reigate Priory The last game before the Christmas break again saw another 4-3 win secured with a last minute goal. The team ended the first half of the season in second place in the league – something way beyond our expectations.
Christmas gave the team a chance to reflect on what had been achieved and there was a change in attitude. From feeling that ‘survival’ in the new league would be a good result there was a realisation that ‘we could do this!’ Perhaps this change of attitude was the cause of some patchy form as the season restarted. Players may have put too much pressure on themselves and therefore played with less freedom. Only four points were gathered from the first four games of the new year, which also saw the introduction of Bru Baker as our new coach, so there was a period of transition as the team and the coach got used to each other.
Three victories followed before the ‘crunch’ game at home against Addiscombe who had emerged as our main challengers for 2nd place in the league and promotion. What went wrong that day will remain a mystery as the team produced one of their worst displays of the season losing 5-2. Heads did drop after that result which left Addiscombe effectively only needing to win 2 of their last 4 games to finish ahead of us, even assuming that we could get maximum points from a very difficult run in of matches.
The following two weeks saw a remarkable turn-around in fortunes starting with Addiscombe losing to Reigate and our best performance for some weeks resulting in an excellent 4-0 away win at Sunbury. These results boosted Wimborne’s confidence that everything was not lost and a team meeting felt that 3 wins in the final 3 matches might put pressure on Addiscombe. The penultimate weekend of fixtures was decisive. Wimborne played some fantastic hockey to beat league leaders Reigate 5-1 at home. It was a performance of the highest quality that was much appreciated by the home supporters. At the same time Addiscombe lost at home to the improving London Academicals and they then lost their game in hand on the Sunday against Sunbury.
These results meant that Wimborne needed just a point from the last game away at Camberley to achieve the ‘unthinkable’ of back to back promotions. This was not going to be easy as Camberley were, in spite of their mid table position, a very good side. This turned out to be the case – Camberley were not just ‘good’ but, with one or two additions to their team, they were probably the best side we played against all season. Wimborne never really came to terms with a bouncy pitch and quick, aggressive opponents but the team spirit shone through as they held on for a 0-0 draw to retain second place and promotion to Regional 1.
So how do you sum up the season? Voting for the ‘player of the year’ probably says it all. All players said that it was difficult/impossible to choose as this was a real team effort. How do you select from
· Two forwards in Todd Clark and Sam Butterfield who scored 60 league goals between them
· Our attacking midfield of Simon Ridley and Luke Smith who set up so many chances and won so many short corners for the forwards to put away
· Our two ‘youngsters’ in Conor Moors and Connor Gould who made such good impressions
· Our defensive back 5 who, for the second season running, conceded the fewest goals in the league and this year surpassed themselves with 6 clean sheets. Dan Bartram and Nick Clark played vital roles in front of the back 3 of Chris Ridley, Ross Adams and Todd Straughan
· Our goal keeper Martin Blake who organised things at the back and made a number of crucial saves during the season
The fact that every player deserved an award resulted in 6 players receiving nominations for ‘player of the year’, the prestigious award eventually going to Luke Smith for his work rate and creativity in midfield.
So a fantastic year for the 1st XI and, with the 2nd XI also achieving promotion after an unbeaten season, the playing strength of the club has never been higher. What does next season hold for us? Consolidation or, you never know ……………… !!