The football league is taking on a distinctly nostalgic tinge. Two seasons after football’s most famous milk drinkers, Accrington Stanley, won promotion to the football league the familiar name of Aldershot Town has fought its way out of the non-league pyramid and into League Two, sixteen years after the original Aldershot FC went bust.
Of course neither Stanley nor the Shots are the same team. Both reformed as a new club at a much lower level after going out of business midway through the season. For Stanley supporters, who saw their club fold in 1962, it was a long journey back. Aldershot’s return has been shorter, but on that fateful day back in 1992, Shots fans just wanted to keep a team to support.
The birth of football, the rebirth of a club
If you subscribe to the Sky Sports / modern football theory, football in England truly began in 1992 when the Premier League was formed, giving us endless Super Sundays and hyping of Manchester City v West Ham as The Best Game Ever.
But if modern day football changed for good during that year, a small part of the game really was reborn in Hampshire. The original Aldershot FC were wound up for debts of less than £100,000. On Wednesday 22nd April the new Aldershot Town were formed and took their place in the Isthmian League Division 3. In August that year, 1493 watched the newly formed club defeat Clapton 4-2, a higher attendance than many of their league games. Before the game then-Clapton chairman Mike Fogg presented the Shots with a flagon of rum and told them not to open it before they returned to the football league.
Despite only having one player on their books when they first reformed, Aldershot went onto take the Championship by 18 points, and manager Steve Wignall lead them to a second successive promotion before departing to take charge of Colchester United. Only goal difference prevented new manager Steve Wigley taking the Shots to a third successive promotion in 1995. Wigley narrowly missed out in the next two seasons before leaving to becoming the youth development officer at Nottingham Forest . He was replaced with George Borg, who lead them to the Isthmian First Division title followed by the Isthmian Premier championship and a Ryman League Cup, as well as bringing the first league team to play at the Rec since 1992 when the Shots took on Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup in 2000.
But despite the success, the Shots first assault at promotion to the conference stuttered and Borg left after a series of stuttering performances. In his place came Terry Brown. After overhauling the squad, the Shots arrived at the top of the table in mid-November and never relinquished that position and in 2003 Aldershot Town moved to one level below a return to the football league.
Life in the Conference
The Shots first season in the conference exceeded all expectations. Their first game, ironically enough, was against Accrington Stanley and ended 2-1 to the Hampshire side. The Shots stayed in or around the top five for the rest of the season and a draw against Tamworth on the last day sent them into the playoffs, where they saw off the favourites Hereford on penalties. But the dream of returning to the league was not to be and Aldershot lost out to Shrewsbury Town on penalties in the final.
The season after the Shots yet again made the playoffs, with a Tim Sills brace on the last day of the season against Scarborough ensuring a second successive top five finish, but there was no repeat final experience with Carlisle defeating Terry Brown’s men on penalties in the semi-finals.
Following two years of relative success in the Conference, the next two seasons were ones of relative underachievement. The 05/06 season saw Aldershot struggle to 13th, while the year after was similarly disappointing 9th. Brown resigned and at the start of this season former Republic of Ireland winger Gary Waddock took over. Despite Torquay being favourites for the title and subjecting the Shots to a three-nil home defeat, Waddock’s men were never out of the top five and by Christmas it was a two-horse race between Aldershot and the Gulls. As late as February Paul Buckle’s men were still in with a shout of taking the title. But fifteen games unbeaten saw the Shots race to a 17 point lead and for several weeks it has been a question of not if but when they’d take the title.
That moment came last Tuesday at Exeter City, who needed a result from the game to keep their playoff hopes alive. City took the lead through a cool Adam Stansfield finish but Scott Donnelly’s equaliser ensured honours were even in the game and the Shots very youthful team couldn’t be court.
But the Clapton bottle of rum won’t be opened until this evening when Waddock’s men take on relegation-threatened Weymouth at the Rec. Despite a goalless draw away at Halifax on Saturday, win, lose, or draw Hampshire will have a celebratory rum-induced hangover tomorrow morning.