The new season began with hopes of an improvement on recent 14th place finishes in the Evo-Stik League second tier, but as September turned into October, such hopes appeared to have been already dashed, as a League record of 3 wins, 3 draws and 3 defeats from 9 games seemed to indicate that another campaign of mediocrity was about to unfurl.
Added to the disappointing league start, the fact that the Rams had already been knocked out of the FA Cup and League Cup merely added to the general air of despondency amongst the clubs’ faithful supporters.
Then came news that the management team had decided to move on.
Swiftly, Chairman Harry Williams contacted former player Chris Willcock, whose managerial record included a promotion and trip to Wembley for Glossop North End, and an impressive 12 victories from 15 games at the end of the previous season for the now-defunct Shaw Lane club in Barnsley.
Having watched the Rams on a number of occasions, Willcock was quick to point out that fitness levels needed to improve, and he soon brought in new players, whilst releasing a number, to match his winning mentality.
What happened during the next six months was more than most supporters could have dreamed about.
Although the ultimate prize of promotion was missed, the subsequent FA Trophy run, and the race up the league table ensured that the club had it’s most entertaining and successful season since the Johnson-Morley days.
Willcock’s reign began with two draws, but having gone behind in the opening minutes away to Trafford in the Preliminary round of the FA Trophy, most supporters had resigned themselves to exiting yet another cup competition at the first hurdle.
Not so. Signs that this new-look Rammy team would have a little more bottle shone through as the deficit was overturned and the club had it’s first knock-out success of the season. More would follow!
In the league, four successive victories were achieved without conceding a single goal. Two visits to Prescot Cables’ Hope Street ground within four days certainly lived up to the name as hope began to surge through the club. Tenants Skelmersdale were easily cast aside on the back of a 3-0 win, whilst the landlords were put to the sword more emphatically by four goals to nil.
The FA Trophy saw a visit to Frickley Athletic, and again, the team responded with a fine 3-0 win, setting up an away day to Yaxley, who, after much searching, was found to be near Peterborough. As one of the club’s longest ever-trips, the original Saturday date eventually turned into a Tuesday night, despite protestations made to the FA, but it did not deter the players from returning home in the early hours on the back of a 2-2 draw.
Attempts by Yaxley to play the original game to a conclusion were brushed aside, and in the midweek replay, which saw the visitors having to endure the same journey in reverse, the home side totally dominated proceedings, and moved onto the next round courtesy of a 5-1 hammering.
This was quickly followed by a another away draw, this time seeing the club make the journey up to north Yorkshire to meet Pickering Town. An uneventful game resulted in a goalless scoreline, with a swift return to the HWRS, where a 2-1 home win was enough to see the club make further progress.
In the league, a disappointing and highly controversial home clash with Runcorn Linnets saw the team register their only league defeat in seven games, with two Ramsbottom players shown a red card by an over-enthusiastic referee who appeared unable to understand certain tactics that were being deployed.
However, that defeat apart, the Rams would go into the new year with a league record under Willcock of played 10, won 7, drawn 2 and lost 1, with 22 goals scored and just 8 conceded. The rise up the table from the lower reaches to the edge of the play-offs had been both dramatic and entertaining.
As was the FA Trophy run.
Another away draw, the fifth on the trot, saw the latest reward being a long journey up to Evo-Stik Premier Division side Workington, but again the team refused to buckle in terrible conditions, and another replay was earned courtesy of a 0-0 draw on the Cumbrian coast. Back at the HWRS, the Reds were to return home on the back of a 2-0 defeat, and, at last, the club’s name came out first when the draw was made on the radio for the next round.
And what a tie it was. Weymouth, riding high at the top of the Southern League Premier Division had the long journey to contend with.
An over-night stop for the Terras in Bury, had them in prime condition when Saturday afternoon arrived, and it looked as though this former Conference club would finally see off the impudent Ramsbottom team, now the lowest-ranked side still in the competition.
Injury time arrived with the visitors 2-1 up, and the home supporters accepting that the long run was about to come to a glorious end. Not so. A last gasp scrambled equaliser was met initially with rapturous joy, before the realisation sunk in that it now meant the team would have to make the 500 mile round journey to the south coast just four days later!
After much confusion, the team travelled down on the day, and what are now regarded as the “Weymouth 17” supporters also made the long trip, much to the delight of the players and management.
No doubt expecting to return home empty-handed, that trip back must have passed in a flash as they were able to reminisce about one of the club’s best-ever victories, an unexpected, but thoroughly deserved 3-1 win, which even had the cushion of a missed penalty.
The draw for the next round had already been made, with a visit to the HWRS from Football League chasing AFC Fylde. A Lancashire derby to savour.
Back in the league, the first home game of the New Year proved a disappointment, as eventual champions Atherton Collieries arrived in town and departed thanks to a much-deserved 3-0 victory. A draw also at home to Leek Town appeared to have knocked the gloss off the main aim, but that blip was soon put to bed as the side launched into another impressive run, which again ensured that a play-off spot, at least, could be targeted.
A trip to Glossop saw a resounding 5-0 success, and as if to go one better, when Skelmersdale arrived in town a week later, they were thrashed even more convincingly, by six goals to nil.
Then came the game that attracted much media attention. The BBC cameras were down at the ground and various radio stations present as AFC Fylde arrived on a rain-sodden night, no doubt expecting a straight-forward win. So it appeared to be, for on two occasions, the Coasters strolled into a two goal lead, and the enjoyable run appeared to be over.
However, this team did not know when they were beaten, and after coming back on both occasions from that deficit, in the last ten minutes, the ground erupted as the home side finally took the lead at 5-4. However, a surprise result was dragged back by the visitors snatching a late equaliser, ensuring a visit to the new Mill Farm ground at Kirkham the following week.
It was there that the run into the last 16 of a competition that attracted well over 200 entrants from all over the country, came to an end.
On another miserable night, the Rams had the temerity to take the lead, but after a promising first half-hour, the hosts grabbed control of the match and finally ran out deserved winners on the back of a rather flattering 4-1 scoreline.
The FA Trophy saw the club compete in twelve matches and endure over 1300 miles of travel, as the run will live long in the memory of everyone involved with the club.
However, as we bade farewell to that competition, the primary task returned with a home win against soon-to-be-returning-to-Welsh-football Colwyn Bay, which was followed by two more emphatic victories, 6-0 at Newcastle Town, and 4-0 at Trafford.
Hopes were high that the automatic promotion spot was within our grasp.
Two home games were coming up, against a Colne side that invariably got the better of the Rams in recent seasons, and mid-table Widnes. Six points here would seriously put pressure on the top teams, and the fans turned up in expectation that these would be gained.
Alas, it was not to be, as Colne deservedly kept up their run against us with an emphatic win, whilst Widnes were fortunate to grab all three points.
Those two defeats but a dent in the side’s aspirations, but three wins and a draw in the next four games appeared to steady the ship.
Then came the biggest blow. Newcastle Town arrived, still smarting from the hammering they received in Staffordshire, and duly enacted revenge by gaining a surprise 2-1 victory.
Disappointing as that was, the team completed the remaining five fixtures with three wins and two draws, the last of which, in the home game against Kidsgrove, saw the visitors notch a last minute equaliser, which dropped the Rams into fifth place, and a play-off semi-final against local rivals Radcliffe the following Tuesday.
Having met just over a week previously at Stainton Park in an uneventful 0-0 draw, the whole season now rested on a possible two play-off games.
As it transpired, on the night, in front of a large crowd, the Rams failed to perform at their best, and few would argue that Radcliffe deserved the 3-0 win, which saw them contest the Play-Off Final, in which they were victorious against Leek Town, resulting in their promotion, whilst the Rams had to lick their wounds.
Although the ultimate prize just eluded the Rams, much can be gained from the campaign as a whole.
Mediocrity transformed into hope.
As one supporter stated “We used to go to matches HOPING to win. Now we go EXPECTING to win”, which probably sums up the changes that have been seen throughout the campaign.
A great run in the FA Trophy, and a fine campaign league-wise under Willcock’s stewardship which, in his 29 league games saw 18 victories, 6 draws and just 5 defeats, a massive improvement on recent seasons, and on the beginning of this one. Add to that his record in the FA Trophy (Played 12, won 6, drawn 5, lost 1) and the success since the appointment in early October, overall reads, Played 41, Won 24, Drawn 11, Lost 6.
The closed season gives everyone time to take a breather, but hopes will be high come August that next season can see Ramsbottom United make a determined, and hopefully successful, push for promotion.
FINAL LEAGUE TABLE