You know how Spurs fans are still sure that it’s lucky for them when the year ends in “one”? Well, the 2007-8 campaign adds weight to our little-known theory that Boro’ don’t have a good time of things when the year ends in “eight”. Let’s look back over the years before that. In 1988, we were relegated for the first time as a club; tumbling out of Vauxhall Opel League Division One. The 1997-8 campaign? Hmm. This is an oddity. On one hand, we had the epic FA Cup run that led to a Round Four replay against Newcastle United at Sid James’ Park. But it was the highlight in an otherwise bang average league season. We finished 15th! So, what was the problem with 2007-8?
And should we be worried when 2027-8 rolls around in a few years time?
2007-8 Blue Square Premier: The background
Boro’ came into the 2007-8 season on a huge high. We’d been to the ‘new’ Wembley Stadium and pocketed a shiny lump of silverware you’d know as the FA Trophy. The consensus was that, under Mark Stimson, we were one of the teams to beat in the race for promotion. Now, you can argue that we were always there or thereabouts in the bookies’ running. But the momentum from winning that FA Trophy Final was due to drive us on in the hunt for promotion. We didn’t exactly have a bad squad, did we? Moro’ up top, Adam Miller and Stuart Lewis running it in midfield, and a decent foursome at the back. Stimmo’s stock as boss had never been higher.
A record-breaking run…
We had a duff opening day. A 2-1 defeat away to Crawley Town was on no-one’s agenda. But we didn’t let it faze us. We bounced back with a win three days later at home to Histon. What came next, we believe, still remains a National League record to this day (though someone did equal it). Boro’ recorded eight consecutive clean sheets; only dropping points during that run in a goalless draw indoors against promotion rivals Oxford United. The other seven matches ended in victory. And that type of run doesn’t normally have a bad impact on your fortunes. As it was, Boro’ soared to the top of the pile going into late September.
Of course, the season is a marathon and not a sprint. Cambridge United rocked up at our gaff on 22 September and shattered our run; both in terms of not being defeated and not conceding goals. The Us won 2-1 and we started to wobble. Three days later, it was the turn of Forest Green Rovers; Boro’ going down 4-2 at the New Lawn. We did pick ourselves back up after those back-to-back defeats. Seven points was our haul over the next three games. But, again, Torquay United proved we still had work to do to firmly establish ourselves as a team to beat; a 4-2 defeat at Plainmoor occurring – weirdly – on a Sunday. It was all academic in terms of what was to follow, however.
…and an acrimonious split
Gillingham. They were all over the shop and just binned their manager. Stimmo was the man of the moment in non-league football and the Gills wanted him. We think that Phil Wallace obviously shunned their interest; offering the gaffer a new deal in a bid to convince him to stay and lead us into the Football League. But Stimmo took matters into his own hands. “Mark has resigned today and he’s told us that he took legal advice before he made that decision,” Wallace was quoted as saying. “We don’t know where he’s going but he obviously feels that this action is in the best interests of his future career and only history will show whether he was right or wrong.”
We all knew he was going to Gillingham.
Stimmo’s power-play came a day before we were due to host Burton Albion on one of those famous Thursday night live games on Setanta. Boro’ rescued a 3-3 draw in a topsy-turvy clash more befitting the off-field events that had gone on in the days previously. We then hauled ourselves through the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round at the expense of Salisbury City. We needed a replay, which is fair enough. The most important thing is that we didn’t end our cup run there. We saved that particular moment for Exeter City two weeks later. And ain’t that an awful game we want stricken from the records. Still, we had the pleasure of a new manager in bound soon enough.
Peter The Tailor
It baffles us even to this day that our next move in the managerial market was ex-England manager Peter Taylor – who did well at Hull. It was billed by PW as a “Championship appointment in the Conference“. We’re sure he was paid well enough for the pleasure. But his main aim was to maintain our promotion bid and steady the ship after a rocky period. So, it probably wouldn’t help that he’d soon be losing a couple of Stimmo’s main men. By the end of November, Adam Miller and John Nutter had moved to Priestfield on loan; a permanent deal closed out during the January transfer window. Our results were far from ideal too.
Taylor recorded a maiden Boro’ win in his first match in charge; a 2-0 victory at Northwich Victoria. We were then comprehensively shown out of the FA Cup in a 4-0 reverse at Exeter. A league defeat at home to Halifax Town followed, before results picked up once more. In the league, we won two in two and you could be forgiven for thinking maybe the show was back on the road. No. More cup despair was on the horizon. As holders of the FA Trophy, we were humiliated; losing to lower league opponents Dorchester Town at the first hurdle. As for our defeat against Woking in the Setanta Shield the following week? Well, no-one cares about that competition.
We haven’t even mentioned the fact that, by this point, Taylor signed Junior effin’ Lewis as if that helped anything.
Promotion bid failure
Right, 2008 – a fresh start. Put the Stimmo debacle and cup exits behind us. Time to move towards the ultimate aim of ours: promotion. Of course, the year got off to a bumpy start as more players opted to join Stimmo at Gillingham. To be fair, however, we moved into January in good form. A run of four straight wins came to an end with a goalless draw on a bitterly cold Thursday at Farsley Celtic (yeah, TV again).
And then February decided to be an arse.
By this point, Taylor had been busy bringing in new recruits. Some were inspired moves; Scott Laird and Peter Vincenti both arrived on loan to start with. Others, like Isaiah Rankin and Ashley Westwood, were… Anyway, we can’t imagine such upheaval helped matters. But what we got in February was bang after bang after bang after bang of rubbish results. It all started with a second trip to Exeter City and a second 4-0 defeat. There were four other fixtures to play in February and we didn’t win any of them. Two goalless draws were as good as it got. We had to wait, literally, until the start of March to pick up a win.
Take out a 1-0 defeat at Weymouth and March wasn’t so shabby at all. We won four out of five going into a crunch clash with Oxford United on Easter Monday. We lost that. And then we lost at Salisbury City. We believe the phrase is consistently inconsistent. Whatever you want to call it, our up and down form was now seriously threatening our place in the playoffs; something that had been in our lap since all the way back when we were keeping clean sheets for fun in September.
Boro’ simply couldn’t string two wins together. And it was hurting us. The TV cameras came back to the Lamex as we overcame York on April Fool’s Day, but we followed that up with a defeat. Then we beat Woking at Kingfield. Huzzah! Except, wait. We then fell to successive defeats against Torquay United (home) and Burton Albion (away); the latter featuring an utter howler from goalkeeper Clark Masters. What it meant was that our promotion hopes were on the brink. And it would all hinge on a Tuesday night home fixture against Dino Maamria’s relegation-threatened Northwich Victoria. Nothing less than a win was acceptable.
What happened next?
For some reason, Taylor had fallen out with Daryl McMahon. Or, at least, McMahon had fallen out of favour with the manager. He was left on the bench as the Vics claimed an unlikely win that did wonders for their own great escape. McMahon came off the bench to pull a goal back – but it was too late. Boro’ lost and the playoffs were now out of reach; making our final day win at Halifax Town totally redundant. So, we’d have to watch on as Exeter City secured promotion through the playoffs. Out of all five teams who finished above us, we only won one of 10 fixtures; that coming in October against eventual champions Aldershot Town. Of the other nine, we lost eight.
Taylor didn’t last the summer as boss. His inglorious reign would be measured in months. And, of course, the number of promotion bids he managed to balls up. Maybe it was all for the best, though? If it wasn’t for such a hideous end-of-season experience, we’d be stuck with him – and PW wouldn’t have got GW’s number out of the filofax. As it was, GW would return in summer 2008; not without some ill-feeling at that news. But it was actually, in hindsight, the start of something that would become truly special. Out of the ashes that was the 2007-8 season, we took on a new identity and approach. We built a squad designed to win. And we’d ultimately have the last laugh at Stimmo’s expense.
- Goals For: 85 (82 league and 3 cup)
- Goals Against: 63 (55 league and 8 cup)
- Most Appearances: Steve Morison (47 out of 51)
- Top Goalscorer: Steve Morison (23 from 47)
- Biggest attendance: 4,533 vs Cambridge United, 22 September 2007
- Players Used: 45 (plus two unused subs)
- Points Per Game: 1.72
- Average Attendance: 2,251
Season Details: 2007-8 Blue Square Premier season
With thanks to the Stevenage Football Archive