When I captained Salisbury City FC against Dover FC to promotion to the National League, the overriding feeling, when the referee brought the curtain down in extra time and Salisbury City were victorious, was relief. It was a strange feeling- an absence of the expected uncontrollable joy and euphoria an in its place- emotional exhaustion,  pride and a sense of accomplishment. On Monday afternoon when our heroic goalkeeper Ryan Gosney saved AFC Totton’s final penalty and Salisbury FC were promoted to the National League South, I was expecting similar feelings to overcome me. I was expecting a stillness, an inner calm whilst everyone else was in a state of frenzy. But I can emphatically say that wasn’t the case! Pure joy and elation drew my body and legs down the touchline towards my team-mates and fans into the eye of the glorious and rapturous Salisbury FC storm! Calling my players ‘team-mates’ may come across corny and insincere but I can assure you it’s from the heart. I can count on one hand this season when I’ve had to be a ‘manager’. The bond and closeness myself and the staff have with the players is the strength of this group. Always in it together, trying to find solutions, picking each other up and rallying round when individuals are having tough moments. We had no egos in the group, just a squad of talented footballers who were willing to do not only their own hard yards, but also go the extra mile for their team-mates when required.

We began our campaign at home to Beaconsfield. There was late drama and luck as we were awarded a penalty. It was missed, only for the referee to demand the penalty to be retaken as the Goalkeeper encroached off his line. The second penalty was dispatched by our nerveless Captain Sido Jombati. That game was a catalyst for our season, which led to us being undefeated at the Ray Mac up until the New Year. It taught the group to never give up and keep believing right to the very end. Trying to summarise this team is really difficult. George S Patton once was quoted “There is no such thing as luck, merely opportunity meeting preparedness”. Thats probably the way I look at this team; a team that created its own opportunities through discipline, dedication, sacrifice and sheer hard word. No stone was left unturned in preparation for success. The group was wiling to train and learn outside their comfort zones, so if an opportunity to create some luck was available to them they would and could take it. I’m very comfortable with this team being called a lucky team because I know the true meaning and value of the word luck. Through luck or hard work, depending on your preference, this group of players has finished this season in the club’s highest ever position, with the highest ever amount of home wins, the highest points tally and of course, promoted to step 2!
I must commiserate the other playoff contenders. Bracknell Town are a fantastic club who were desperately unlucky not to be promoted last season, and they put in a hell of a run at the business end of this season. I’m sure they will come again with the spirit they have. Gosport Borough just like Salisbury were resurrected this season and returned to the force they once were, fighting it out for a title through the excellent leadership of Joe Lea and Pat Suarci. Finally, AFC Totton, whose hierarchy arguably acted naively by putting the tickets on general sale and allowing the final to be held at ‘The RayMac South’. However, regardless of who surrounded the pitch, on the pitch we knew how difficult Jimmy Balls AFC Totton side would be. They had won nine of their previous eleven games before the final and were heavy favourites. They’re an excellent team who will no doubt recover from the heartbreak of losing a playoff final on penalties and come again.

I must pay thanks to everybody who has a played their part this season. Starting with my family who have been the bedrock behind the success I have enjoyed this season, without their support none of this is possible. Our wonderful Chairman Ian Hammond and his family Helena, Cara, Owen and Amber. They have given me unwavering support, and other than demanding we win football matches by wider margins to reduce stress levels (!), they haven’t interfered with any of my work. Amanda Newberry, who became a Director this season, has been a breath of fresh air for the football club. Her knowledge, expertise, but most importantly kindness, has allowed the club to grow and flourish. Jeremy Harwood and Hilary Billmore who have been on hand to assist myself and the first team with anything we felt would aid them to be more successful this season, such as GPS units or post match nutrition. Doug Ferraro our overworked secretary who had his work cut out from day one when we only kept three players on from the previous campaign. The office staff Ian Pearson, Jim Ayres and Colin Cooper who beaver away behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly and everyone can enjoy themselves and the match day experience. Jon Murphy who has worked tirelessly for the club on comms and social media outlets. Pete Robinson the groundsman/bar manager, we needed a pitch that would help us play attractive football this season and Pete delivered through dedication and pride in your work. Dion and Jade Cobb for all their hard work behind the bar this season. They have often been overrun but super fans like Suzie Iles Whitton and Aidie King have mucked in to ensure everyone gets served. Dave Todd for the wonderful match day programmes he puts together. I’’m a nightmare for leaving my programme notes until the 11th hour, but no matter the deadlines I miss, Dave has never complained, what a guy. The Tuesday/Friday club volunteers who are the heartbeat of the football club, supporting the team home and away, and always positive no matter how gloomy the outlook. Their generosity and sacrifice for the football club knows no ends. The safety team and stewards who make sure the environment we all enjoy is safe and fit for purpose. The supporter’s club who are always donating or supporting the club in a way that creates togetherness and a sense of community. 
My staff, Mickey Western, Jason Brice, Sam Chapman, Andy Phillips, Becka Harris, Theo Lewis, and Callum Hart. I am a very demanding manager and (wrongly) expect their mindsets to be as if this was the only job they have. It must drive them bonkers how demanding I am of them, but because they’re so passionate about Salisbury being successful, they worked incredibly hard to deliver you this fantastic team we have witnessed this season. That brings me onto the players, who are ultimately the reason Salisbury FC were successful this season. We identified them and brought them together, but from that point on it became the easiest job in the world because the players bonded and gelled without any help from us (which was ideal because I’m shit at karaoke!). The players were prepared to sacrifice the comfort zone and the easy life of picking up their pay packet and having a few beers on a weekend, for something more meaningful and a lot harder: A common goal of returning Salisbury and its City back to the glory days of a packed out Ray Mac together, united and fulfilled. 

Finally a thank you to the fans who we do this for. You stuck with us last season and we all suffered together. It would of been easy for you to point the finger but you’ve always been fairer than that, something I’ve experienced ever since I have been associated with the football club. We started a fresh this season and we grew together. With every positive result the confidence and buzz got bigger until it reached fever pitch at home against Gosport Borough for a place in the playoff final. We have all seen the images- it wasn’t a penalty the foul was committed outside the box, we got lucky. How could two competent officials come to the conclusion the foul was in the box when they had clear views when it was two maybe three yards outside the box? It’s because two thousand Salisbury fans convinced them both it was. This was and now is the power of the Ray Mac. I said from the start that for us to be successful this season we need the Ray Mac back and you haven’t disappointed. Over twenty thousand fans have walked through the Ray Mac turnstiles this season. That’s almost more than the past two seasons combined. You have motivated and inspired us and made this one incredible season. We as a group cannot thank-you enough for all your support.

Time for looking back is now over for me. I must focus on making sure all the hard work and success of this season isn’t undone by complacency and sliding into the comfort zone. I am excited by the prospect of Salisbury FC upsetting the odds next season and producing another team that the City can be proud of.

See you all soon,

Salisbury FC
May 13, 2024
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