A Fifty Year Holiday Pt. 14

March begins with a rare (of late) league match. Only five of our last thirteen matches have been Division 3 matches, with our schedule getting rather congested due to our Cup exploits. I send out a watered-down version of an XI, as we have two more Cup matches within a week.

Bedford are dispatched easily enough, as we close in on the Third Division title. While Beck has been phenomenal up front for us, there’s not a lot of drop-off from a skill perspective down to O’Rourke and Griffiths. Having former England international Steadman bossing the midfield doesn’t hurt the cause either.

Magic Number (Title): 22
Magic Number (Promotion): 20

Having suffered a heart-breaking loss to Carlisle to be eliminated from the League Cup in the 90th minute of the SF, Canvey Island’s only chance at any silverware is the Vans Trophy. Standing in their way of making it to the Southern Section Final is a Purfleet side that’s in a bit of a purple patch (our entire last two seasons???).

We’ve yet to lose at The Rock this season and — although Canvey level the score on two occasions — their defensive dam bursts and we’re through, making it look more comfortable that it actually was. I suppose this isn’t quite the draw that the other Cups are, but 465 fans to see us thump a team from the division above? I know it’s drizzly Tuesday night, but come on!

The South Final will be a two-legged affair with Margate, and by the time those matches are finished, eleven of our last fifteen matches will have been Cup matches.

The Swansea FA Cup 4th round match on the 25th of January that required the 8th of February replay didn’t fit on this screen shot..

It’s only the fifth of March, we’ve got thirteen remaining league matches and we’ve officially secured a promotion playoff spot.

I also get my first (I’m assuming) job offer and Bohemians are out of luck. Sorry folks, my work here is not yet finished.

Off to St. Andrews next and we’re probably getting to the point in the FA Cup where teams will stop underestimating us and send out their best XI. Plus the Blues are still looking content in their playoff spot with little chance of upward or downward movement, so there’s no reason they won’t go all out.

Timo Beck is a gosh darn superhero. Down 3–1, he takes the match by the scruff of the neck and single-handedly snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. We dominate the second half and the victory was wholly deserved.

It’s us and three Prem teams left: Chelsea (1st), Leeds (16th) and Carlisle (19th). One guess as to who I’d like to avoid…

Lovely! And at a venue that we recently became quite familiar with! So Premier League side Carlisle will have a schedule of:

30th March: Purfleet, League Cup Final, Wembley
2nd April: TBD, UCL Quarter Final First Leg, TBD (they’ve qualified from their group with a match to spare)
6th April: Purfleet, FA Cup Semi Final, St. Andrews

Our next two matches are our away and home legs of the Vans Trophy South Final. I’m hoping we can wallop them in the away leg and have a nice lazy home leg.

It’s a win, but not a great one. Beck bails us out again. We’ve got a week before the second leg and we’ve not had that much time off since before Christmas. Loads of time to rest and get ready for the second leg.

We lose Hiner and Rasmussen during the week to training ground injuries, but we should still be easily strong enough to dispose of Margate here in the 2nd leg. Especially from the comfy (for us) confines of The Rock.

All square in a goalless but exciting match. If Margate had played like this all season, they wouldn’t be down in 15th place. We did manage 4,444 fans for this one, which set a record for gate receipts for us. I hope we get a few more than that on the 20th of April as we face West Brom at Wembley in the Vans Trophy Final!

We’ve got a few league fixtures before we re-embark on our Cup quests and we’re feeling pretty comfortable about our position. Twenty points clear with five matches in hand may be a position no team in history has ever been in.

Magic Number (Title): 7
Magic Number (Promotion): 5

We’ve got the “X” teams in quick succession here. And they’re all fighting to keep their promotion play-off spots: at Oxford on the 22nd, hosting Exeter on the 24th, and at Halifax on the 26th.

A bit of fatigue rotation, as we’re short Beck, Vos and Seedorf. Hans captains us as we trot out.

We certainly allowed Oxford a few too many attempts on our goal and it was a nervy second half. We also didn’t convert enough of our own and really, my nerves should have been settled already. We did manage to do enough to get the three points we needed…and deserved. A Brentford draw leave us with a Magic Number of 2, for both promotion and the Div 3 crown.

We’re looking a bit leggy as Exeter roll into town, but it’ll only be worse on Wednesday after our third match in 96 hours. Still, I have faith in our supporting cast and having four of our best front five should mean we’ll be dangerous in attack.

We’re second best all over the park and though we take the lead twice, Exeter hit back both times. Exeter score a winner in the 92nd minute only for an angel of an assistant referee to raise his flag on our behalf. It saves our blushes but we’re still a solitary point from winning the league.

I try to bolster the squad with a late addition prior to the transfer deadline, but the Board reject the deal. We’ve got £16M+ in the bank and I’m permitted to spend £1M of it at a time. I’d offered £275k and another £275k if (when) he played ten matches for us. He’d also agreed to reasonable wages of £1.4k/week. I realise that he’s not fully scouted, but I’m still less than pleased.

One point and we’re champions. We’re at The Shay to face Halifax with another very rotated XI.

We’ve done it! Allowing zero shots on target is a very good recipe for success, and thanks to Atkinson’s very first goal for Purfleet, we leave with all three points and a big old trophy!

I quickly manage to get Gallagher (our Board-rejected transfer) scouted and shockingly not only do they agree to the deal, but it gets sorted prior to the deadline. He wanted a minimum fee release clause but I swapped it for a non-promotion release clause, having just been announced champions… And just look at the state of this lad. He’s Cup-tied, but good grief he’s tasty.

It’s time for the biggest match in Purfleet history. It’s our first trip to Wembley — of the season and of our existence — in the League Cup Final. Having dispatched of Wycombe, Liverpool, Tranmere, Reading, Fulham and Q.P.R., only Carlisle stand in our way of hoisting our second trophy of the last two matches. With a UCL QF match against Sevilla in a few days, I’m hoping we’re the lower priority for them.

A few injuries mean we’ve got reserve players Kerr and Mulder on the bench as cover for our back five, but it’s a strong side otherwise.

We’re absolutely demolishing Carlisle at the break, but we’re only a goal up. Seedorf and Lindskog are potentially injured at the break, so they’re yanked for McCann and Persson for the second half.

We aren’t able to hold them off for long enough and thanks to a late Steadman equaliser, we’re headed to extra time. All my changes are now made, so we’re rolling with what we’ve got.

Carlisle take the lead at the end of the first period of extra time, with with ten minutes to go, McCann levels. Despite being the better side for the vast majority of the match, we’re going to see everybody’s favourite part of football: Penalties.

Didn’t even need the fifth shooters! In front of almost 86k people, Purfleet — a scrappy little Third Division side — are crowned League Cup champions!

It’s a feel good story that turned most of the neutrals in attendance into Purfleet supporters. Wembley felt like a home match as the crown favoured the Div 3 David to the UCL QF-ists Goliath. Callebaut finishes on a 7, which seems fair. He allowed four goals, but he DID save two of their kicks. Beck is named MotM (again) with a perfect 10.

Our income for the match is massive and gate receipts alone paid for more than I spent on Gallagher. We’re up over £17M in the coffers now and we’ve still got a few more big matches to come.

Do League Cup winners get a European spot???

We’re in to April now. And as if. Stoke went 2–3–1 while we earned more points (ten) in four matches going 3–1–0. Stoke sit one place outside the playoffs and we play them on Matchday 45. I plan on destroying their dreams.

Desperate times call for desperate measures as we’re knackered. I also want to rest a few of our more vital players ahead of next weekend’s rematch with Carlisle in the FA Cup SF. Gallagher gets a first match for us (he’s Cup-tied anyway) while Contreras and Kerr are both starting after being recalled from the reserves. Boston United are in town for this one. They were an early season draw of ours and we hope to improve on that.

For the second time this year, they register a goal on their only shot on target, but this time we’re a bit more clinical. We may have fielded a weakened team but it’s more than enough today with debutante Gallagher winning MotM with a 10.

There’s a bid for Hans from Coventry, so I ask for much more money than they originally offered. We’re past the deadline, so this wouldn’t happen til summer anyway…and by then we’ve got a Bosman lined up to fill his boots (and then some).

Really, Premier League? This is the best you’ve got to offer? That's incredibly unimpressive. Even the runner-up isn’t anything to write home about.

OK. Carlisle time again, only this time at St Andrew’s in the FA Cup semi final. They just took a 1–0 lead in their UCL quarter final mid week, so hopefully they’re distracted with that and not out for revenge…

The first half could have gone better, but not by much. We’re playing very well and though I’d have preferred that we scored BOTH penalties, we’re in good shape for the next 45 minutes.

Well, last week’s match could have gone either way, but thank whatever deity you’d prefer that this one didn’t. Losing a match after missing a penalty and being up a man for 84 minutes would have been heart-breaking. Beck, our saviour yet again.

In the middle of our evening celebrations, Hans informs me that he’s come to terms and would like to leave for Coventry and the Prem in the summer time. I tell him that I’m happy for him, but warn him that we’ll be there soon enough. He replies with something along the lines of “I’m sure you will, Boss. If you weren’t so loyal to this club I’m sure you’d have been snatched up by a Premier League side already.” I assume that’s what he said. I‘d already tuned him out, the traitor.

We’re at Tamworth with nine matches to go. Sure, the league has been won. But we’re ahead of the pace to set the record for points in a season. Having set the Conference record last year, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to set the record all the way up the ladder.

Well, that’s good and bad. Overcoming adversity to get a win, three points and a come-from-behind (that’s what she said) victory. But a very early bath for O’Rourke probably means we’ll be missing him for a spell…

Well, the spell is four matches…but right AFTER our Vans Trophy Final at Wembley and over long before our FA Cup Final at Wembley. Which I’m sure he’s happy about, having been left out of our League Cup Final at Wembley last week due to fitness issues. Did I mention we’re going to end up with three matches at Wembley this season?

Margate at The Rock. Let’s keep the reds and injuries to a minimum, shall we?

A comfortable win, with Gallagher scoring his first (of many) Purfleet goals. He sits on a 9.0 after three matches and looks like a bargain. Oh, and it looks like they’d forgotten to book a ref, so they just grabbed some tweenager out of the stands. Thanks Jason!

The Second Division’s relegation is set, with us swapping leagues with Stockport, Runcorn, Maidenhead and Tranmere. Still nothing set in stone for 2nd through sixth in Div 3 yet. Brentford looking odds on to move up with us. I also just realised that the Goals Scored record is within reach too.

Counting down:
Total Points record: 12 needed
Total Goals record: 13 needed

Only one change for today, swapping O'Rourke and Griffiths around up front. I imagine this will be a very similar XI to the Vans Trophy one I’ll send to Wembley on Sunday, health-permitting.

I should have knocked on wood after than “health-permitting” remark. And I usually have wood while watching Gallagher play. Beck is injured in the 5th minute. Three weeks, he’s gone for. He MIGHT make it back by our FA Cup Final if we’re lucky. Plus, for four of the matches he’s missing, O’Rourke is suspended. Bloody hell. A win is great, and we’ve broken the hundred point mark with six matches to go, but it’s not as happy a day as it should be.

I am cheered up later in the day when I see the UCL QF results. Carlisle had a tenuous grasp of their tie after a 1–0 home win in the first leg that Sevilla completely destroyed with 3–0 victory of their own in the return fixture.

We line up with an almost ideal XI for the Vans Trophy Final. West Brom is playing well of late, sitting two points from the top of Div 2 with a match in hand. The last time we played, we knocked them out of the FA Cup 5th in style with a dominant 1–0 away win. Let’s do “dominant” again.

That’s what I’m talking about, lads. Winkler is potentially injured at the half, and conveniently is also the only player on a yellow, so he’s replaced by Seeger. More of the same for the next 45, please!

It’s one-way traffic again made much easier by a W.B.A. red card just after the break. We miss the penalty, but after I make our final substitution and ease off the gas, O’Rourke decides he wants to add another red card to his résumé. This time for “being furious”. Is that red-worthy? I’m livid now, but somehow that’s NOT red-worthy. Seedorf converts a penalty on our second attempt of the match and we’re two-for-two at Wembley.

Three more matches tacked on to O’Rourke’s four match suspension would see him miss the FA Cup Final (the 7th match). Even a one match reduction would cheer me up…slightly. I appeal this time.

Bloody hell. Despite reading the Laws of The Game (®) forward, backwards and upside down, I’m unable to locate a “being furious” section. Sure, you can get red-ed for using offensive, insulting or abusive language, but the referee’s match report mentioned none of that.

Cardiff are in 4th place with a chance of moving up and earning automatic promotion. But they could also drop down a few spots and face a tougher playoff opponent. They’re gonna want this one. But so do we.

And we get it! Our countdown to the goals record isn’t going so well, but we’re now six points from setting the points record.

We had a very disappointing draw with Barnet earlier this season. Massively outplayed them with seventeen shots on target while netting only once. No idea how their keeper ended on only an 8 that day.

I mean, a win is a win. And no injuries or red cards is a plus. But what happened to our free-scoring ways? We’ve netted five or six goals a few time this season, but it hasn’t happened for ages. We’re just three points from the record haul with four matches remaining, so I can’t complain TOO much.

And especially not complaining after this news! I didn’t even realise… I mean, we have only lost once and it was relatively early in the season, but it certainly wasn’t on my radar.

A bit of rotation is on the cards due to rest/fatigue as we welcome Grimsby to The Rock. We’re in the middle of a five-matches-in-196-hours spell and we’re trying to stay fresh.

Grimsby give us a very competitive match, but we grind out another victory and earn our second Div 3 record of the last two matches.

We’re off to Griffin Park to play fellow promoted side Brentford. My scout says they’re strong, especially this chap. Where do I know him from again? Oh yeah, we sold him for £500k because he wasn’t good enough for our team.

And I’m certainly not complaining, but 46 hours removed from our last match, our entire team are fit as fiddles. 100%s all around, save a solitary 98%.

We’re made to wait for it, but the winning goal eventually arrives from substitute Persson. I could do with some more if these type of performances against them in the Second Division next season!

Rasmussen and Schulte both pick up knocks in training and are questionable for the FA Cup Final.

Back to normalcy with the monthly awards though…

Coincidentally, we’ve got that MotM award fraud Tony Hill in our next match. They’re clinging to the final playoff spot by goal difference and I’d love to make their lives more difficult.

Fine. MAYBE Tony knows what he’s doing, sort of. We’re lucky to net a late tying goal, but we’re unlucky to lose yet another player to injury. We may need one of our player/coaches to suit up at this rate…

It’s our last league match of the season. We’ve easily won promotion and the league. We’ve set a pair of record for most points and most consecutive matches undefeated. We’re three goals away from setting the total goals scored record and we’re at home to 23rd place Altrincham. They’re fighting for their Third Division lives, ahead of Telford on goal difference. We’re tired, but we do have six days off before we face Chelsea…

With a 2–0 lead at the break and looking like we’re in no danger of conceding, we switch to an ultra-attacking 2–2–3–3 for the final half hour to try to break that goals record… Alas, it was not to be. We bump the points record from 109 to 117 and the undefeated streak record from 35 to 40.

The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed another interesting stat that must be a record, but isn’t listed anywhere. The “Least Exciting Team” award goes to Sheffield Wednesday, who averaged 0.26 goals scored and 0.22 goals conceded per match. And we accounted for three of those goals against in our pair of matches. Twenty-nine of their thirty draws were nil-nil draws, including a seven-match run of scoreless matches.

Our players performed admirably, as one would assume from the league table. Schommer still top of the charts despite leaving for £3M a couple of months ago. Though Beck (8.00 in 17 matches) and Gallagher (8.25 in 8 matches) would would have made the list had I found and bought them sooner!

Four starters (Gallagher, O’Rourke, Beck, Rasmussen) and two others are unavailable, but on the bright side, Chelsea are missing their top scorer through injury.

The XI we do send out are full of piss and vinegar (not literally) and ready to do battle with the now-3rd-place Premier League side. My scout says they’re very strong (shocking).

We do very little of consequence in the first half, but on the bright side, we’re not behind. Everyone is healthy enough, so I send them back out demanding more.

And we get more! Lindskog gives us the lead with a fine header from a Steadman cross. I was contemplating replacing Steadman, but that assist earned him an extra ten minutes. He’s fading fast, so Steadman is hooked for McCann in an attempt to keep up some pressure.

With fifteen to go, Lindskog is replaced by Persson. Both teams have survived crossbar scares since the hour mark.

Three minutes left and Seeger comes in for Schulte to bring in some fresh legs as we face a Chelsea onslaught.

FULL TIME! We’ve done it! I sprint around the pitch not knowing what to do or who to hug like a Canadian Jimmy Valvano. We’re three for three at Wembley as we complete a freakin’ quadruple as a Third Division side. The unlikeliest of seasons has ended in astonishing fashion.

The sheer number of victories that the media described as “shock” over the course of our League and FA Cup victories is incredible. Surely winning BOTH those Cups gets is into Europe as a newly promoted Second Division side??? And as a team, we’re currently on a ridiculous 64 match unbeaten run.

We’re also looking quite healthy on the financial front. I have a few summer Bosmans and transfers lined up to improve and replace the squad and as Iker is such a great support as our assman, I decide I’ve earned a bit of a break. Just enough time to recharge my batteries prior to another presumably busy summer. It’s only going to get more difficult as we look to get ourselves ready to make a run at another quadruple: Div 2, League Cup, FA Cup and some European Cup or another!

What a couple of seasons so far. Last season’s Vans and FA Cup are the only competitions we’ve NOT managed to win. Let’s hope for more of the same next season.