It’s been quite the year in one part of Kent.
When I travelled to Mill Field in October 2014 to watch the FA Cup Third Qualifying Round tie between Grays Athletic and Bromley, I found the whole day uneventful, to say the least. A drab goalless draw was fought out between the two sides, with the away side advancing to the Fourth Qualifying Round via a replay, which they won 5-0.
However, from that day onwards, the Ravens went from strength to strength, losing just 8 games in the remainder of the season, securing promotion to the National League and the Conference South championship title – and now, they have their sights set on the Football League.
At the time of writing, Bromley sit in 9th place in the National League table, three points off the play-offs, having won 10 of their opening 21 games. They have also clocked up seven wins (in all competitions) on the trot earlier in the campaign, with one being a remarkable 7-3 victory over former Football League side, Torquay United.
”Winning seven on the bounce was brilliant’, Bromley captain, Rob Swaine, told me. ‘We were playing so well and everything seemed to be going our way. I doubt there has been many teams to achieve that in their debut season.”
On the subject of the Torquay game, Swaine responded in a professional manner, stating the the score-line left him a little more disappointed than he should have been: ”The Torquay game was amazing, but at the same time, disappointing. What a result, against a huge club, but to concede three goals was really disappointing for me and took the edge off it a little bit. But, attacking wise, we were unbelievable.”
Matt Hall, Bromley fan and match-day announcer, stated that the run was ‘amazing’: ”The first game couldn’t have gone much better – a 3-1 win over Wrexham was the stuff of dreams. Nobody expected it, not least Bromley fans themselves! We came crashing back to earth with a few tough results after that, but to bounce back and win seven games in a row in all competitions was amazing. We hit the headlines in various places and rightly so!”
A run of 12 wins in 16 games between November and March cemented Bromley as genuine title contenders last season, but a few slip-ups in the final couple of months put their success in jeopardy. A 2-1 defeat to Ebbsfleet United, coupled with a 1-0 defeat at home to Staines Town set hearts racing, as rivals Boreham Wood crept up on the outside, but a 2-1 Easter Saturday victory over The Wood, followed by a 4-4 draw at Maidenhead United, plus consecutive wins over Eastbourne Borough (2-1) and Weston-Super-Mare (3-0) meant that the title would be coming to Hayes Lane.
Matt claimed that he always knew the side would win the league, but admitted that there were some worrying moments along the way: ”From the midway point of the season, I always had faith and belief that we’d win it. We had an up and down start to the season and our home form left a lot to be desired, but I feel the strength in depth we had saw us through – that’s something we’ve really lacked in previous years. Even when we lost at home to Staines, who were one defeat away from relegation at the time, I still believed we’d bounce back and claim the title.’
‘Don’t get me wrong, though – there were some nervy moments!”
Swaine added that the view inside the dressing room was that the Ravens had perhaps had their chance multiple times, but felt confident of victory when crunch time came.
”In truth, we had some really poor results towards the end of the season, where we did think ‘maybe it’s not our time’ – scoring in the 93rd minute against Hemel Hempstead, only for them to equalise in the 95th minute, with the last kick of the game, being 2-0 up against Bath City away, with 15 minutes to go and drawing 2-2, with a late equaliser again, too. But, all the same, we were always quietly confident as we knew how much quality we had in the side.’
‘Going into the Weston-Super-Mare game, we all knew we would clinch it then. The opposition were on a run of bad form and we just knew it was our day – and what a day it was! I’ll never forget it.”
The skipper had the honour of lifting the trophy in front of the adoring home fans and gave me an insight into what that meant for him personally, as well as the team as a whole: ‘Winning the league was amazing; my greatest achievement to date in my career. I’d previously captained Billericay to the Ryman Premier League championship, which was really special, but this was just that little bit better. I have some very good friends in the team, so to win it playing alongside them meant a lot. The dressing room was a very good place to be. Everyone was buzzing so much at what we had achieved. Differences were put aside and we were all as one.”
From the fans point of view, Matt suggested that the day will live long in the memory. ”Winning promotion was an amazing moment for everyone associated with the club. For me, it was a surreal experience. We’d been at the top for most of the season, but even on the day when we actually sealed it, it didn’t sink in! Obviously, being the announcer, it was my duty to do the presentation of the medals and trophy on the pitch, which was a real honour and pleasure – that will live long in the memory.”
It wasn’t just the league that provided excitement for Bromley fans – an incredible Kent derby with Dartford in the First Round of the FA Cup received national exposure, as the Darts edged an epic 4-3, in the mud and gloom of a November afternoon at Hayes Lane.
”The Dartford match was a crazy one for many reasons’ said Matt. ‘Obviously, the score was quite something – unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of that. Having BBC film their highlights show at Hayes Lane and having such a big crowd was a phenomenal highlight and a strange experience, in all honesty. Although gut wrenching to lose to such a big rival in a match that meant a lot financially and in football terms, it was a great occasion to be a part of.’
‘It was also the day where a close friend of mine, who I met at the club, came to his first Bromley match, so there was a silver lining to the defeat on a personal level!”
As with any club that experiences a promotion or relegation, there are a number of ins and outs as management set-ups look to strengthen/clear the decks for the season ahead. Matt runs the rule over Bromley’s comings and goings, especially for us…
”We’ve had lots of comings and goings – I’d be here all night talking about all of them, so I’ll keep it brief! The most notable departures from last seasons squad were Jamie Slabber and Danny Waldren, both of whom had fantastic seasons for the club – the latter was the longest serving member of the club. We still miss them both and always check up on how they’re doing. They’ve got a special place in our hearts and they can always be proud of the part they played in our success.’
‘We’ve had striker Alex Wall come in from Luton Town, as well as midfield duo Max Porter and Lee Minshull from Newport County. Brendan Kiernan has also returned to the club on a non-contract basis – I’m glad to see him back; he is a great guy and a top player. Aaron Tumwa also joined the club after a successful trial, to boost our defensive options, as well as Sean Francis, who is a great player at this level and has certainly shored up the defence when playing. One of the most significant signings has to be Ben Chorley, who was captain of Portsmouth last year and has a wealth of experience in the Football League.’
‘Chris Kettings has also joined on loan from Crystal Palace as our first choice goal-keeper, Alan Julian, has been injured – he’s done well for us so far.”
Despite their start and despite currently sitting just outside the play-offs as the Christmas period approaches, when asked about their hopes for this season, both Rob and Matt claimed that the main aim was to avoid the drop back into the National League South.
”It will sound silly to some, but avoiding relegation is still the priority’ said Matt. ‘Anything can happen in football and we’re not going to be resting on our laurels, I’m sure. A mid-table finish would be great, but the priority has to be staying in this division to give us a chance to push on next season.”
Finally, as well as echoing Matt’s thoughts, Rob had a message for the Bromley faithful.
”In terms of this season, the number one priority is to stay up. The problem is, after having such a great start, we have set the bar and everyone’s expectations seems to be that if we don’t hit the play-offs, then it’s a disappointing season.’
‘We have a great squad and I do believe we have a good enough squad to get there, but ultimately we are enjoying ourselves and we will just see what happens. We have some brilliant fans who have supported the team for years and years – I’d like to think we have made those people incredibly proud.”