As 2018 draws to a close, it's time to look back and reflect on what we all have achieved in the year as a Club, and what we can do together in 2019.
On New Year's Eve last year, by keeping the faith, we had, as a club battled to overcome a dreadful start to our third National League promotion campaign and fought our way back up to sixth spot in the table, eight points behind Macclesfield Town.
Despite a torrid game on New Year's Day at AFC Fylde, we made a strong challenge in the second half of the season, culminating in a day none of us will ever forget on 12th May 2018 and achieved promotion at Wembley in a fashion which made headlines around the footballing world.
It wasn't to be any boring one nil victory - it was a masterclass in triumph over adversity, overcoming the fastest ever sending off at Wembley, an injury caused by a thrown bottle, all of our subs having been used before half time, a potentially soul-destroying equaliser nine minutes into injury time, a cross supplied by a player who had been in a coma only a week before, and two unforgettable goals by Andy Cook and James Norwood. It was truly the stuff of fairy tales and a day that will be etched on my memory forever. But it was also a lesson in what this Club can achieve when we keep together on and off the field.
Looking at the comments that were being made in the summer, the majority of the SWA would have been happy to settle for safety in League 2 in our first year back, but Micky and I were always confident in the squad and I, for one, considered the Play-Offs to be a realistic possibility.
I think we have surprised many by being there or thereabouts for the first half of the season. We currently sit only two points off the Play-Off spots, and four points off the automatic promotion positions. To put it into context, in 2015 when we were relegated from the League, we went down with 39 points. Today, we have 38 points after just over half the season has played.
So although some of our recent performances may have been somewhat below the best that we are capable of, let's appreciate how far we have come and how well the players have made the transition to League football. In addition, the hard won third round FA Cup tie against Spurs is a reward to those fans who have stuck through the Club through many years of disappointment. The big games are back again.
Nevertheless, as we come into the window we will be looking to see if we can strengthen the squad. Money is available to Micky to bring in additional players where he feels he can improve in key positions. Whilst our plans were being laid as early as September for the January window as well as 2019/20, the position is helped by a financial boost from our excellent FA Cup run.
At the same time as we are looking at some players to strengthen our ranks, some of our own are also in the sights of other Clubs, and equally as important as bringing in new players will be trying to retain and secure the players who we wish to remain with us for next season or beyond. These are all matters on which we have been working behind the scenes for some time and we will do all in our power to keep them here.
As you would expect, the three years in the National League caused the Club a lot of financial pain, and although we expect to be back into profit in the current year, there are still some holes in the balance sheet that need to be filled as a consequence of the loss of League funding.
The money from the FA Cup will therefore be spent on a combination of things, including an increase in the playing budget (which was already twice the budget that the Club had when last in League 2), further investment into income producing assets which will produce income for the Club for years to come (such as a 3G pitch at the training ground) and paying down some debt.
I said when Nicky and I came to the Club that our aim was to make it financially self-sustainable and we are now on the way to doing that. Although I am sure that many of you would like to see every penny being spent on the playing budget for this season, it is a balancing act that ensures we keep the momentum in the Club both on and off the field
If I had been writing a year ago and predicted that in 12 months time that we would:
- Have been promoted
- Be chasing for a further promotion
- Be looking to make a modest profit in the year; and
- Looking forward to an FA Cup 3rd round tie against Spurs
You may have had some doubts... But against all of the odds we have done it. Significantly, so many people have played a part in making it happen - the players, the manager and his staff, the many other members of staff who work tirelessly in the community and behind the scenes in the shop, the hospitality areas or the office, the TROSC and Supporters Trust Committees who have backed us every step of the way and provided valuable support and guidance, the volunteers (including the Associate Directors and the TRIC Trustees) who provide so much help, and of course each and every fan who turned up week in, week out, home and away for the unglamorous fixtures and not just the Wembley and FA Cup high points.
But now is no time to rest on our laurels - we still have lots to be done if we are to repeat the pattern of the last few years and have a strong second half of the season. Let's just take this evening to bask in the glow of a great year, because tomorrow the hard work starts again to continue together to re-build this Club and create the next generation of fans
Happy New Year to you all.