Friday 1st May 2020
Today, 1st May, marks ten years since Wootton Bassett Town sealed runners-up spot in Hellenic League Division One West – and promotion to the Premier Division – following a nail-biting 2-1 victory against Easington Sports on the last day of the season.
For Bassett that result in Oxfordshire represented a turning point, bringing to an end a five-year run at step six of the non-league pyramid. And in the decade since that promotion, aside from a two-season period back in Division One West after being demoted for ground grading reasons, Bassett have established themselves as a step five side.
Bassett had begun life in Division One West in 2005-06 under the management of Paul Burke and almost sealed an immediate return to the Hellenic Premier Division. But an agonising defeat away at Trowbridge Town in the penultimate game of the season denied them promotion.
Subsequent seasons saw Bassett slip to 11th and 15th before Dave Turner was appointed as manager in the summer of 2008. And, after a fourth place finish in 2008-09, Turner would deliver promotion in his second year at the helm.
This is the story of that campaign.
Bassett's 2009-10 campaign got off to an inauspicious start. Despite beginning with an FA Cup replay win away at Westbury United, their opening six league fixtures yielded two wins, two draws and two defeats – certainly not promotion form.
It did not help that Bassett faced a trip to title favourites Slimbridge, newly promoted from the Gloucestershire County League, for their opening match. Having lost their eight previous league encounters against the Swans, that streak was stretched to nine with a 2-0 defeat.
Bassett bounced back though with a 6-1 thrashing of Headington Amateurs, who came into their visit to Rylands Way as the division's leading scorers. But they were to experience frustration again in their next league fixture – a home Bank Holiday derby against Purton.
A superb James Turner strike had given Bassett the lead before Luke Sharps missed a penalty before the break that would have doubled their advantage. That proved costly as Bassett found themselves 2-1 down by the hour mark. But, on a day which saw three controversial penalties awarded, veteran Jon Holloway eventually scored a late equaliser from the spot to redeem a point. Deeper derby angst would follow as Bassett lost 1-0 away at Cricklade Town a fortnight later.
They again followed defeat by recording a resounding win, this time seeing off Lydney Town 5-0 at home. However, a 1-1 draw against Cirencester United – who would register just seven points all season – meant their underwhelming start continued. Indeed, only a late Mitch Wyatt goal spared Bassett from embarrassment that afternoon.
Turner's team made amends a week later, taking advantage of an Alex Green hat-trick to comfortably see off Cirencester 4-1 in the return fixture. And, after a late Ryan Banks goal earned a point at home against Letcombe, Turner's side finally hit their stride, reeling off five consecutive wins.
That run comprised relatively straightforward victoriess against Trowbridge Town (4-1), North Leigh Reserves (4-2) and Tytherington Rocks (4-1). But it also included a pair of hard-fought triumphs, Bassett edging out Easington 3-2 at home while a Craig Shand brace earned victory by the same score away at third place Headington.
It appeared as though the winning run would be stretched to six games when Bassett found themselves 2-0 up away against Lydney Town, but they let that lead slip as the Severnsiders came back to claim a point. However, a fortunate own goal saw them return to winning ways and go above opponents Cheltenham Saracens on 12th December.
Bleak winter weather meant Bassett would not play again until 30th January. That could have acted as a disadvantage when they eventually returned. But Matt Bown secured a 1-0 win on the road against Winterbourne United that lifted Turner's team to within two points of second place with a pair of games in hand. Three days later, rivals Cheltenham Saracens visited Rylands Way. Having notched 26 goals in their previous two outings, Saracens came into the match in fine form. However, on this occasion they were limited to one goal by Bassett's stern defence as a solo strike from Shand earned an important draw.
Turner's side then recorded maximum points on a three-game jaunt through Oxfordshire, seeing off Letcombe (2-1), North Leigh Reserves (3-1) and Clanfield (3-1), the latter result – earned by converted forward Sam Collier's second successive brace – putting Bassett in a three-way tie at the top.
However, the momentum gained from that run would be lost – and Bassett's promotion hopes seemingly dented – as only two points were taken from a trio of home games as February turned to March. Cricklade secured a season double over Bassett with a 2-1 triumph at Rylands Way to begin that disappointing homestand, before frustrating draws against bottom half sides Clanfield (1-1) and Trowbridge (2-2).
With seven games remaining, that run left little room for error. But Bassett would rise to the occasion in style.
To begin the final run in, Collier scored twice as Winterbourne were beaten 4-2 at Rylands Way. In the crucial fixture that followed away against Purton, goals from Banks and James Turner delivered a victory by the odd goal in three in a fiery derby affair at the Red House. With their promotion chasing rivals appearing to falter too, Bassett then climbed to the summit with a 5-0 thrashing of Launton Sports as leading scorer Collier led the way with a hat-trick.
A ten-day layoff meant Bassett's time at the top was brief. But the visit of Slimbridge to Rylands Way offered the chance to reclaim that position and take a huge step towards promotion. It was a massive, challenging game played on a balmy April afternoon.
The match started perfectly for Bassett, Holloway stabbing home after Slimbridge failed to clear from a corner. The visitors restored parity shortly after the restart with a thunderbolt of a strike. However, Collier responded with an outstanding effort of his own, executing a sublime lob to score what would be the winner on the hour. Victory and a Purton defeat meant Bassett's destiny was now firmly in their own hands.
Three away games remained though. A 3-1 triumph at lowly Launton moved the team within a point of guaranteeing a top three finish. And that was duly secured thanks to Ryan Thomas' match-winning goal away at Tytherington.
Combined with other results, that meant Bassett, Slimbridge and Headington went into the final game of the season level on points. Slimbridge had the clear advantage on goal difference, but were hosting Headington, setting up a dramatic final day. The Swans would ultimately take the title, as they prevailed 1-0 against their Oxfordshire opponents.
But for Bassett, who did what was required of them to maintain their hopes of lifting the trophy, the season finished on a massive high too.
Matt Bown's 20-yarder gave the visitors the lead at Easington on the stroke of half time, before the hosts levelled shortly after the restart. In a finely poised contest, a resolute defensive performance kept Easington's threatening strike force at bay for the remainder of the game. And that allowed Collier to seize on a defensive error and procure a winner. It marked his twentieth goal of the season – not a bad mark for a player who had begun the season as an out of sorts left back.
That victory allowed promotion to be celebrated in style and was a deserved reward for a quality side.
The team that took Bassett up were certainly well-rounded. The 74 league goals they scored was the club's highest mark since entering the Hellenic League in 1988, with eighteen players pitching in to find the net. At the other end of the pitch, Bassett boasted the second-best defensive record in Division One West, conceding just 34 times in 30 games and no more than twice in any league contest.
The side was remarkably resolute too. This was evidenced by the nine wins ground out by a single goal margin across the season. Above all though, their resolve was shown by the sixteen-game unbeaten league run from September to February (bookmarked by defeats against Cricklade) and the seven straight victories recorded to finish the season when the pressure was on.
It was a team – led by manager Dave Turner, sadly no longer with us after his tragic death in 2014 – whose efforts and achievement deserve to be remembered.
The match report from Bassett's promotion clinching 2-1 win away at Easington Sports can be read here.