Good Game: The series looking at the amazing, utterly memorable, unbelievably dramatic and downright ludicrous games that involved Stevenage
Borough over the years. But we’ll insist that we accept no blame for memories warped by time, age or alcohol consumption at the time. We’ll never refer to any games involving Macclesfield Town either – particularly any at Broadhall Way. Those sort of things never happened, dontcha know…
Stevenage Borough 4-0 Woking
Broadhall Way, Stevenage — 08 April 1996 — GM Vauxhall Conference
As you might know from the bang average 2001 fillum, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour (yeah, there’s a U in that word) on 7 December 1941. In a speech a day later, Franklin D Roosevelt – the guy running things in the US – described it as “a date which will live in infamy“. Alas, he shuffled off his mortal coil more than half a century before a seismic event that we think is more deserving of the title.
Easter Monday. 1996.
Starring Michael Sheen as Paul Fairclough.
Now, there are two sides to this tale. So, we’ll start with the less salubrious one; that of the Cards. Under the leadership of Geoff Chapple, the Surrey side had risen in prominence and were going through a purple patch. After claiming the Diadora League Premier Division title in 1992, they set about making a nuisance of themselves in the GM Vauxhall Conference. In their debut campaign, they ended up in eighth position.
In 1993-4, they came third; eight points behind champions Kidderminster Harriers. The next season, they were ‘best of the rest’; coming five points behind champions Macclesfield Town in second position. Those two campaigns also saw them clinch back-to-back FA Trophies. It was fair to say they were staking a claim to be considered among the non-league elite.
So, it stands to reason after two solid efforts that 1995-6 would be their year. And they were very much in the running up until this point. But they hadn’t reckoned on Boro’ coming from nowhere and getting in the mix. Technically, the Silkmen (and Hednesford Town) were still in the race for the title – even if many considered it to be a two-horse showdown.
Easter Monday was going to be a biggie at Broadhall Way. A capacity crowd was coming. The battle was on an even keel. Two days before, we’d lost 1-0 at Morecambe; a slip-up allowing Chapple’s men to close the gap to a solitary point. We had a game in hand. But there’s a lot to be said about momentum. A Cards win would’ve put them top and in the driving seat.
Oh – we’d never beaten Woking in six previous meetings before this either.
Stevenage Borough 4-0 Woking: The rundown
Stage set, innit.
It’s worth saying, too, that Boro’ already knew promotion was unlikely to be secured even if we won the title. BHW wasn’t up to scratch by 31 December 1995 under the archaic Football League rules we all came to love. It would end up being a matter for the courts. So, perhaps the Cards may have thought there was a psychological element they could tap into.
Meh. We aren’t sports psychologists, so who knows… and who cares?
Boro’s preparations weren’t helped by suspensions to Alan Paris, Kenny Webster, and Corey Browne. But most of the nearly-4,000 crowd inside BHW were soon to be put at ease. On his first match back for us, Neil Trebble split the Cards’ defence on three minutes; sending Dave Venables through on goal to slot home. That sound? The pendulum swinging in our favour.
Venners and Trebble went close again before we doubled our lead on the half-hour mark; a Paul Barrowcliff corner played to Scott Cretton, who sent a cross in. Venners missed it – but Barry Hayles did not. Boro’ went in two goals to the good, and came out for the second half in total control. The Cards, it seemed, had folded.
Still, there was work to be done and Boro’ extended their lead on 68 minutes; a Hayles shot heading wide until Efetobore Sodje got a foot on it to poke it home. Venners then worked in tandem with Steve Berry in a move that resulted in Trebble notching our fourth goal. Hayles nearly made it five in stoppage time after a couple of late Cards chances. But that was that.
Stevenage Borough 4-0 Woking: What happened next?
The main outcome of the match was that Boro’ re-established their four-point advantage at the top of the Conference table. The game in hand was still intact too. And yet we still didn’t put the title race to bed. We had to fight back from two down the following Saturday against Stalybridge at Broadhall Way, while Woking again narrowed the gap with their own victory.
Thankfully, Boro’ found the much-needed consistency to get over the line. Three away wins on the bounce saw us come into the penultimate weekend of term with a seven-point lead and three still to play. A 1-1 home draw against Morecambe wasn’t ideal – but the news that Woking had fallen to defeat at Northwich Victoria meant the race was over. We’d done it.
Woking started the 1995-6 season as 5-2 favourites to win the Conference title. But it wasn’t to be for them. It was as close as they’d come to promotion to the Football League too. For the next couple of seasons, the Cards hung around at the top end of the table. Yet, they did not get close enough to the eventual champions on either occasion.
There would be a few top-half finishes over the seasons that would follow. But ultimately it was a downward path they’d find themselves on; relegated from the Conference National in 2009. We too had a few mediocre years between 1996 and 2009. The main difference is we’d eventually get ourselves back on an upward path; winning the title once again in 2010.
Easter Monday lives long in the memory; a time when the Woking rivalry really hotted up.