Last season, I set off on a journey to the FA Cup Final, all the way from the Extra Preliminary Qualifying Round, writing about each club along the way, round by round. This season, I am returning to each club, documenting what has happened in the previous 12 months between following them and today.
The road to the Final produced some truly magical moments – none more so than Bradford City’s incredible Fourth Round victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – but the journey began back in August with Spartan South Midlands League Division One side, Baldock Town.
Baldock, led by Scott Grant, dispatched Hatfield Town in the Extra Preliminary Qualifying Round, winning 3-0 away from home, before the roles were reversed in the Preliminary Qualifying Round, as Harlow Town won by the same score-line at Top Field.
Unfortunately for Baldock, their first ever foray into the FA Cup last season has proven to be their only one; they were not accepted into this seasons competition.
Lee Rusbridge, Club Secretary for the Hertfordshire club, explains why: ”We only just missed out [on entry to the FA Cup] as everyone down to Codicote in 8th place [in Spartan South Midlands Division One] secured entry. In a nutshell, there are only limited places in The FA Cup for clubs at Step 6 and those places are determined on a ‘Points Per Game’ ratio – we didn’t quite get enough. We really enjoyed our brief run last season and the publicity it brought, but we are all hoping it will be a one-season hiatus for us.”
There has been a lot of change at Baldock over the last 12 months – most notably with their ground and management. Scott Grant, manager of five years, decided to step down, with squad member Luke Gregson taking over, whilst the club departed Hitchin Town’s Top Field, in favour of a ground-share with Stotfold FC at Roker Park.
”Grant decided to step down after five seasons in charge’, said Lee. ‘We were sad to see him go as he – along with assistant Steve Morgan – had overseen the most successful period in the club’s history to date. Scott indicated to us that Luke Gregson had shown an interest in getting into management, so it seemed like a natural progression for the club and for him to take the role on. Luke was already with us as a player, so he knows the club well. He is a local lad and he has good playing experience to call upon, having played for Hitchin Town and Arlesey Town in the past few seasons. His team-mate, Dean Gilbert, was appointed as his assistant.”
Regarding the change of grounds, Rusbridge added: ”Our groundshare agreement with Hitchin was due to expire at the end of last season. It was no secret that playing at Hitchin was costing the club a lot of money, so when the offer of a groundshare came along from Stotfold, we decided it would be a good move for the club. The move was purely down to finance, really.’
‘We thank Hitchin Town for all their support over the past three seasons – they have been good to us. Stotfold are due to move to a new ground next season, so that should add excitement to our new agreement. Ultimately, the long term aim is to bring the club back to Baldock, though.”
After their FA Cup exit to Harlow Town, Baldock fought to a 10th placed finish in the league, but suffered more cup heartbreak, losing out to near neighbours, Letchworth, on penalties in the County Cup Semi-Final. Lee spoke of how the club were not too disappointed at their league placing, but found the cup exit a bitter pill to swallow: ”As a club, we weren’t too disappointed – it was only our second season at Step 6, so we are still learning the ropes, so to speak. However, the management team have high standards and after a promising first half of the season, our form slumped quite drastically after Christmas. There were still some positives to be taken from the campaign, though.’
‘It is always hard to take when you lose a game in any competition against your local rivals, but the fact that we had so many chances, particularly in the first half, to put the game to bed made it a tougher pill to swallow. Fair play to Eagles, though, who came from 2-0 down in the Final to win it against Belstone.’
‘We could meet them again in this season’s Semi-Final if results go our way – so maybe we can put things right this time around!”
The name of Danny Howell may not ring many bells with your typical football fan, but the now 42 year-old partnered a certain Kevin Phillips up front over two decades ago, as the former Premier League star began his career. Fast forward to 2015 and Howell has now re-signed for Baldock – and is still scoring goals!
”Danny played in the same team as Kevin Phillips, but has dusted off the boots after nine years out of the game and despite his age, is as fit as anyone. Having netted a couple in pre-season, we hope he can chip in with a few goals over the course of the campaign.”
Any chance of re-kindling the partnership, Mr Phillips, if you’re reading?!
Elsewhere in the squad, there hasn’t been many ins and outs, as Lee explains: ”Luke has managed to keep on the majority of last season’s squad. Michael Payne has departed to former club Stotfold, whilst last season’s top scorer, Tom Oram, has joined FC Broxbourne Borough. ‘Keeper Nicky Stillwell has taken up a coaching position with our reserve side, whilst the likes of Jack Farmer and Harry Holland have returned after playing for the club previously.”
And so to this season. With no FA Cup on their minds, under new management, Baldock can focus on one thing – promotion. ”The aim is always to finish as high in the league as possible and go on a run in all the cup competitions’ said Lee. ‘It will naturally take time for the new management team to find their feet and to get the squad how they want it, but I know Luke and Dean have aspirations of promotion in the next season or two. A good run in the FA Vase would also be a welcome bonus for the club.”
Don’t forget to visit Baldock’s website HERE and to follow their progress in the Spartan South Midlands League Division One and FA Vase.
Gregson’s men begun the season with a 5-1 thumping from Hillingdon Borough on August 8th, but fought back just four days later, picking up a 1-0 win at Woodford Town. Another home defeat followed, this time from Broadfields United, who won 3-2, but consecutive victories (2-0 v Langford and a 4-0 win at Harpenden Town (complete with manager’s hat-trick!)) have steadied the ship.
Next Up: Harlow Town.