Celebrating Success: Hellenic League Premier Playoff Runners-Up

Thursday 23rd May 2024

The 2023-24 season saw Royal Wootton Bassett Town's Men's First Team come within 90 minutes of earning promotion to the Southern League for the first time in club history as Sam Collier and his team were runners-up in the Hellenic League Premier Division Playoff final, having achieved a fourth place finish in the regular season.

That fourth place represented the club's highest ever league finish – with Bassett going one better than they had done in the preceding record-breaking campaign. While that season was an excellent, Bassett were even stronger in 2023-24. The team displayed a remarkable consistency all season long. Rarely blowing teams away, they earned a playoff place by grinding out result after result as the team demonstrated character and resolve over the course of a relentless, gruelling campaign.

Testament to those characteristics were the 14 regular season wins by a single goal and the number of games in which Bassett came from behind to salvage either a win or a draw and keep their promotion push on track. Bassett also never lost more than two consecutive games, while their longest run without recording a win was just three games.

The team hit the ground running, earning twelve points from twelve to begin the season. Opening with a comeback 2-1 win against Slimbridge, Bassett then saw off Wantage Town (4-0), Mangotsfield United (1-0) and Hereford Pegasus (1-0). That strong early season run eventually ended with a narrow 1-0 derby defeat away at Highworth Town before a thumping 7-1 reverse at the hands of Corsham Town. But the team bounced back, edging out Tuffley Rovers 2-1 before a four goal first half blitz set them on their way to a 4-2 victory at rivals Fairford Town.

A mini slump followed though. Away at Pershore Town, Bassett came back to level from 2-0 down only to lose 3-2 late on. A last minute equaliser was then needed to claim a point off Thornbury Town (2-2) before a disappointing 2-0 loss at Lydney Town. Those results left Bassett in tenth, albeit still within touching distance of the top five positions as autumn began.

Four consecutive wins then had Bassett headed in the right direction though as Thornbury (2-1), Hereford Lads Club (2-1), Brimscombe and Thrupp (3-1) and Roman Glass St George (1-0) were seen off. A 4-0 defeat away at title favourites Worcester City followed. But Bassett again quickly bounced back, coming from behind to snatch a last minute 2-1 victory at Westfields. At home against Pershore, Bassett drew 1-1 while having to play the majority of the second half with ten men. Collier's side then put Lydney to the sword at home (4-2) before prevailing 2-0 at Longlevens.

Those results had Bassett riding high in third place as they headed into their home Christmas derby with Highworth – a game that ended in a 3-1 loss. Again Bassett immediately returned to form though. Two trips to Hereford in the space of 48 hours yielded maximum points, with Pegasus seen off 3-2 and Lads Club thrashed 4-1. The positive results continued as Collier's team secured a 1-1 draw against Cinderford before another comeback win away at Worcester Raiders (2-1) and a narrow 1-0 triumph at home against Tuffley.

The end of January and start of February saw another brief slip up. Westfields got revenge for their earlier season loss by claiming a last minute win of their own (1-2) before Roman Glass squeaked out a victory (0-1). Bassett remained in third though. And consecutive 3-0 home wins against Longlevens and Wantage saw the team reach the 60 point mark and close within touching distance of the playoffs. A goalless draw at Mangotsfield brought them nearer still, with home defeats against Worcester Raiders (0-4) and Corsham (1-2) not overly damaging.

A tense 1-0 Friday night triumph against Fairford settled the nerves before Brimscombe were brushed aside 4-0 to reach 67 points. Bassett then pushed Worcester City all the way in a thrilling game that ended in defeat (1-2).

That left two remaining away fixtures against fellow playoff contenders Cinderford and Slimbridge. Points were still needed with Bassett not yet mathematically secure of their playoff place. Six from six did the trick though, with Cinderford beaten 1-0 courtesy of a late goal and a 2-1 comeback triumph earned at Slimbridge.

Bassett would miss out on third spot as Highworth climbed above them. That meant an away playoff semi final against their rivals. The lack of home advantage did not prove an issue though. Bassett were the better team throughout against the Worthians and grabbed what proved to be the decisive goal just before the break for a 15th single goal league victory of the campaign.

With fifth place Cinderford seeing off league runners-up Corsham in the other contest, that meant Bassett would host the final. And it was a spectacular occasion with an unbelievable crowd of 934 packed into the Sustain Stadium. On the field, it turned out to be a frustrating night though. Starting brightly, Bassett came close to taking the lead when striking the post. A quickfire double as the visitors took advantage of a pair of defensive errors left Bassett with a mountain to climb. The woodwork was again struck early after the restart before Cinderford struck twice more to kill off Bassett's hopes as the Forest of Dean side won 4-0.

The result may not have been how Bassett wanted to finish what had been a fantastic season. But the success the team had in reaching the playoff final is certainly worth celebrating.

Men's First Team Team Photo

Last modified on Thursday 23rd May 2024 at 16:31.