On the evening of Tuesday 8th March 2016 I was standing on the terraces at Oxford City football club on a scouting mission as my team (Margate) were due to play them in the coming weeks, towards the end of the match there was a break in the play and I got my phone out to check scores from other games being played , as I scrolled through one score stuck out like a sore thumb – surely it was a misprint, surely there must have been an error I thought to myself as my eyes were staring at Chester 8 – 2 Aldershot Town. I made my way back to my car and just sat there for a moment totally shell-shocked – there had not been a mistake.
I was well aware that things at Aldershot Town had not been good for a while, I knew that there was deep unrest amongst the supporters who were concerned about their club and the direction that it was heading but an 8-2 defeat brought everything into much sharper focus and highlighted everything that was wrong with the football club it was unfathomable to me how a club that had played against Man Utd and beaten West Ham United only a few years previous were now getting embarrassed backed in non league football. Everyone who knows anything about the club was fully aware that it was the poor management at the top over previous years at the club which had got it into its current predicament with its mis-management of budgets and finances and the errors in appointing the wrong personnel but the real issue was now to stop looking for people to blame and to find a resolution and a game plan that would restore the pride and passion back in to Aldershot Town Football Club.
Fortunately the Chairman and board recognised previous failings and came up with the best possible plan for Aldershot Town moving forward and that plan was called “Gary Waddock” and for this they should be congratulated.
To be sitting here today writing this just over twelve months on from that debacle at Chester with Aldershot Town sitting in the play off places with only six games remaining is a testament to just what an incredible job Gary has done. Not only has he turned around performances and results on the pitch but he has given the fans and the club its mojo back – walking back into the ground a couple of weeks ago for the first time in a couple of years I can’t describe how different the atmosphere was around the ground, everyone from staff to supporters were happy and smiling again and the doom and gloom that had consumed the rec on my previous visits was nowhere to be seen.
I am comfortable when I say that in my opinion nobody else could have brought about the upturn at the club that Gary has, people will say that I am basis given my working history with him and the utmost respect I have for him as a human being but my views are not based on my personal relationship with him but the recognition of the skills and talents that he possesses.
The National Conference has a wealth that has never been seen before and will continue to grow every year, before a ball was even kicked in August there would have been at least eight clubs feeling that they had set a budget for promotion to the Football League as Champions and another 6-8 clubs that would have felt that the play offs were a very attainable target given the resources spent of the playing squad – I can assure everyone reading this that this was not the case with Aldershot Town which makes Gary’s job all the more remarkable as this resurrection has been built on know how, shrewd recruitment, hard work and a self-confidence that is evident every time he speaks – money has played no part in this remarkable revival.
The squad is small but balanced, the spine of the team is strong full of quality and experience, everyone is comfortable on the ball and the exciting young players mix flair and arrogance with hard work and commitment. The best thing about this team is that it’s exactly that a TEAM and a spirit between them is clearly identifiable.
Gary and the squad go into the last six games under less pressure than anyone else in the hunt for a play off spot but within the camp there will be a real hunger and desire to get the job done as they know that they may never get a better opportunity to get promoted as next season the rich that have failed will come back richer and I can’t see some of the teams that have underperformed this season doing so again. Everyone from the outside looking in will expect Aldershot to fall away and come up short but I seem to remember they all said that about us back in 2008 aswell.
My main concern is that it will take promotion this season to keep everyone together at the club as what has gone on this season will not have gone unnoticed elsewhere and in a day and age where money talks it is I feel inevitable that suitors will come knocking this summer with their cheque book open and unfortunately I fear with the majority of the squad out of contract in the summer the club will be powerless to stop it.
However the future can wait for another day as it’s the present that is the most important thing right now and as long as every single player in the squad truly believes they can achieve the dream then I wouldn’t put it past this group etching their names into Aldershot Town history and folklore forever come the end of the season. The most powerful weapon in any sport is momentum which Aldershot currently have in abundance and over the past few weeks I have witnessed it grow and build with my own eyes and those that come up against momentum find it extremely difficult to stop it.
There will be some that read this that would have been at that Chester match last March and not in their wildest dreams would they have expected or imagined that this season would be so good, if the Shots do not get over the line this season I hope that everyone takes the positives and recognises the progress, improvement and pride that Gary his staff and his players have brought back to Aldershot Town Football Club and they should all be commended for it.