Mid-season review: on course for plenty of success
Sunday 24 December 2017 - by Stuart Smedley (Updated on 24 December 2017 at 13:21)
It's safe to say that Royal Wootton Bassett Town can look back on the first half of their 2017-18 season with pride.
Success has been enjoyed across both its senior and youth sections, with numerous teams set to enter the New Year with silverware firmly in their sights.
Meanwhile, the club has continued to grow. Operating twenty-five teams this year, the biggest developments have been the introduction of a Sunday side and the rise in numbers taking part in Veterans football within the club, meaning that Bassett can proudly boast of offering football opportunities to men, women, boys and girls of all abilities and, importantly, all ages.
After a difficult start to the season, which saw Rich Hunter's team record their first win only in September, Bassett's first team have enjoyed a solid few months, which has put a top half finish in the Hellenic League Premier Division well within their grasp.
The midfield of the table is congested, but Bassett currently stand eighth. And if they can recapture some of the form that saw them win nine straight games in all competitions in September and October, they could even wind up with a top six placing.
What has stood out so far this season has been a team spirit which is much better than any witnessed since Dave Turner's years in charge of the first team. On and off the pitch, the players have clicked and, to their credit, even sought to develop links with youth section teams.
While there have been a few off days on the pitch – a number coming recently, they have always responded, delivering some standout performances, notably at home against Binfield and in hard-fought away victories against Tuffley Rovers, Windsor and Ascot United.
Bassett have enjoyed cup success too. The disappointment of defeat in the FA Cup against Crawley Green was more than made up for by an FA Vase run that matched Bassett's best ever performance in the competition thanks to home wins against Faiford Town, Codicote and Ampthill Town. They then excelled in defeat in their second round clash with Horndean, pushing their Wessex League Premier Division opponents all the way despite controversially having to play for an hour with nine men.
They remain alive in the Hellenic League Challenge Cup and Floodlit Cup too, though difficult ties in both competitions await in January.
After securing league runners-up honours and a cup win last season, Bassett's Ladies side would have been forgiven for thinking that topping those achievements was going to be an extremely tough prospect this time around. Particularly so given they were now playing a step higher in the South West Women's League Eastern Division.
But fuelled by a prolific attack and stingy defence, Becky Gammon's team enter the New Year with a perfect eight wins from their first eight league games. They don't sit top at Christmas thanks to Portishead Town having played a game more, but Bassett can claim a two-point advantage if they win their game in hand over the Somerset side.
At the start of the campaign, Bassett would have settled for a season of consolidation. Now their focus is on a league title, as well as the Wiltshire County Cup, with a semi-final berth having been secured.
The summer decision to alter Bassett's Wiltshire League side from a Reserve to Development team seems to be paying off.
Under the guidance of Paul Gerrish and Rab McLeod, they sit sixth at Christmas in a competitive league, which, alongside the second-string teams of fellow step five and six clubs, features teams who in recent years have played at the equivalent level of Bassett's first team.
Though they have suffered some heavy defeats, Bassett have achieved a league double over reigning champions Wroughton and also recorded a convincing victory against high-flying Cricklade Town.
Teams just below Bassett do possess games in hand. Yet, if the Development team's youthful side can continue performing at the level they have been playing at, then there's no reason why they can't preserve their current position.
Formed this summer, Bassett's Sunday side have enjoyed a fantastic start to their Swindon Sunday League Division Two campaign. Under the management of Danny Groom and Dave Terry, they sit second after eight games, with just one defeat to their name.
The division's leading scorers, they'll be hoping to secure promotion come the season's end and are well placed to achieve that.
Headed by Nick Warren, Bassett's Veterans section has grown at an exceptionally fast rate, particularly so in the last year.
They are one game into their Wiltshire County FA Flexi League winter season, and will be hoping to again be competitive in a competition they have entered for all its editions so far.
The Veterans have also held friendlies against other local teams, and their Friday night intra-club games continue to attract vast numbers whatever the weather.
A number of youth teams are in the hunt for honours after making great starts.
Stars of the season so far have been the Under 13 Blues, who have won all twelve of their league games, amassing a 21-point lead in North Wilts League Division Two, and the Under 15 Yellows, who have dropped just two points from eight Division Three games, putting them four points clear.
The Under 15 Blues sit top of Division One too, have made it to the last four of the North Wilts League Cup and remain alive in the Wiltshire County Cup. After winning the League Cup and finishing runners-up in the league last season, they'll be hoping to add at least one more trophy to their impressive collection.
Also topping the table at Christmas are the Under 14 Blue side, with a four-way tussle for the Division One crown likely.
Other teams are well placed too.
The Under 18 Blues go into the winter break with four wins from four in North Wilts League Division One, and appear to be in a title battle with current leaders Malmesbury Victoria Youth DT.
While sitting in the middle of the pack in the league, the Under 18 Yellows have worked their way through to the North Wilts League Cup semi-finals, where they will face Division One side FC Chippenham Youth for a final place.
In their first season of competitive football, the Under 12 Blues – fifth at the moment, but still in touch with the Division One leaders, Under 12 Yellows – second in Division Four, and Under 12 Girls – third in the Wiltshire County Girls League – have all shown great promise.
After a difficult 2016-17 season, the Under 16 Blues are fighting for a mid-table finish this season, and are well placed to secure that.
Meanwhile, there was a pre-Christmas boost for the Under 12 Whites as they got a second win of the campaign.
Both the Under 14 Yellow and Under 13 Yellow teams are still searching for their first wins. But they are no doubt around the corner given those sides have been involved in some close games.
There has been success at the non-competitive age groups too. Four teams – the Under 8s, Under 9 Blues and Yellows and Under 10 Blues – all triumphed in their North Wilts League Autumn Trophy competitions.
There's therefore plenty to look forward to after Christmas with league and cup titles in sight, as well as the Holland Tour – the annual highlight of the youth section calendar.
Here's to more of the same in the second half of the season for all of Bassett's teams, with plenty of silverware to celebrate at the end!