A tale of the unexpected…
Little Salisbury City FC from Wiltshire are finally making a mark on the football map in this country. The club who play at the Raymond McEnhill stadium in the City currently sit in tenth place, only seven points off the play-off places in the Blue Square Premier League, formerly the Conference National.
This is a remarkable rise for the little known club with an undistinguished past, and who very nearly folded only five years ago.
The club as it is now known was formed in 1947. They played variously in the Western League, Southern League Southern Division and Southern League Premier Division. In 2002 with the team struggling, attendances low and getting lower, and the finances of the club in disarray it seemed as though the days of Salisbury FC were numbered.
The current chairman of the club, Nev Beale, led a consortium who managed to take control of the club and rescue it from its precarious position. They then produced a master stroke when they managed to persuade the former FA Cup winner at Southampton, Nick Holmes, to take on the role of team manager.
The 2003-04 season saw The Whites gain promotion from the Southern League, but following the major league reorganisation they found themselves placed in the Isthmian League. After staying there for just one season Salisbury found themselves back in the Southern League Premier.
In 2005 Nick Holmes recruited Tommy Widdrington to be a player-coach at the club. Widdrington had extensive experience as a pro, including a spell at Southampton. They formed an immediate bond and the two men then set about taking Salisbury City FC to the heights they had never before experienced.
The 2005-06 season saw The Whites run away with the Southern League Premier title. This took them to the Conference South, their highest ever position, where they were promoted at the first attempt by beating Braintree 1-0 in the play-off final at Stevenage in May 2007.
This season, The Whites were predicted by many to struggle against relegation, but they have again defied the odds and are sitting comfortably in mid-table. Last Saturday they defeated Oxford United 3-1 to take them above their illustrious opponents in the league table. This is a remarkable position for the club to be in.
With many of the clubs players now going full-time, average attendances reaching around 1500, and the management skills of Holmes and Widdrington, the club is going from strength to strength. The youth team progressed to the second round of the FA youth cup last season, only losing to Swindon Town in extra time, and the current Reserve side are running away with their league. The whole atmosphere of the club is buzzing.
Do not bet against Salisbury City FC making a sustained attempt for League football within the next two or three years. They have already achieved miracles, but I have a feeling that there is still more to come.