It was a day that the club had waited for. For a very, very long time.
As for the last 17 years, since moving up from the Manchester League into the North West Counties, the club had held a desire to progress into the Northern Premier League.
But, in truth, they had never really come close. A few top six finishes but nothing really to excite the Rammy faithful of that desire becoming reality.
That was, until 2009/10 season when Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley took charge.
A fourth place finish – way behind the runaway league champions Newcastle Town – came that season followed by closing second behind New Mills the year after.
Today marks the ninth anniversary of the home game with Winsford United in 2012 that finally saw that desire actually become reality as the Rams sealed the North West Counties Premier Division title.
I am hugely grateful to Tony Cunningham, who was assistant secretary then, to players Grant Shenton and Phil Dean and to co-manager Anthony Johnson for their recollections of the build-up, the game and the afterwards! I have added my memories of this run in as well.
TC – Escaping the clutches of the North West Counties League was an annual battle as only one promotion spot was up for grabs.
AJ – We had lost to Runcorn Town, who were our big rivals for promotion that season and then drew with Bootle and lost to AFC Liverpool. One point from a possible nine in February as we slipped to second in the table.
TC – Strange what memories come flooding back, but on the way over to the AFC Liverpool game, came news of the radio that Monkees’ Manchester-born member, Davy Jones, had died relatively young. Why that should stick in the mind, I have no idea, but my attention then focused on the match. I seem to remember an almighty goof in the game and after 90 minutes, I departed Hope Street acknowledging that we had handed Runcorn the title on the back of a disappointing 2-1 defeat.
RI – I don’t think in my short time watching Rammy, I had left a ground more disappointed than I did that night.
AJ – After the AFC Liverpool game, Bernard and I sat in the clubhouse – they were playing at Prescot Cables ground – until 11pm with Eric Whalley and Harry. Anyone who knows me knows what I am like after a defeat but dropping to second in the table, I was pretty down. In fact, we were talking for so long that the bar staff kicked us out as they wanted to go home!!
TC – Thirteen league games to go and we would need to virtually win all of them to achieve our goal. Impossible, thought I, looking forward to another campaign in the NWCFL.
GS – I remember that run of games we went on after the AFC Liverpool match. It was unbelievable – win after win after win!
AJ – We knew that we had to win every single game we had left to play and hope that Runcorn slipped up somewhere. Everything changed on Easter Monday.
With eight wins and a draw after the AFC Liverpool game, we travelled to Bacup Borough while Runcorn were playing Linnets in the local derby. A late goal from Grant Spencer put us ahead and we were getting fed news that Runcorn were 2-1 down. That was the moment that I thought, this is ours now.
GS – In only one game did we not pick up full points and that was against the third placed team Bootle, where we drew 1-1, if I remember correctly. So to be top of the table going in the last game was incredible.
TC – A 4-1 thrashing of Ashton Athletic in the penultimate game had the whole place buzzing as Winsford United rolled into town on the last day of the season.
AJ – A few of the players, coaches and a few supporters had gone up to Barnoldswick to watch Runcorn’s game which they won in the last minute and a few of their supporters and coaches turned up to our win over Ashton.
TC – A defeat could still have cost us promotion as Runcorn Town had club on to our coat tails all the way through.
PD – There was definitely a lot of tension and nerves but quite a bit of excitement in the dressing room because we’d been close to the top of the table for a few years. We’d come second to New Mills the year before
GS – Prior to the game, I had all my family coming to the game for the first time – my dad, my brothers, even my uncle so I was excited for them to see me play.
AJ – We went into the final game of the season with Winsford with every confidence.
TC – As the gates opened and well in excess of 500 rolled in, the carnival atmosphere was never going to lead to disappointment.
GS – I do remember being very nervous before the game but also confident at the same time.
PD – The game, well, it was as plain sailing as you could’ve hoped for. I remember Gassy putting us one up and I think Flanners scored a header to make it 3-0 and it was comfortable from there.
AJ – We were 4-1 up at half-time! We were incredible and the atmosphere in the ground was amazing. I remember Ian Street, the Winsford manager, pulled me aside at half-time and just said, “don’t make it double figures, don’t make it embarrassing for us.” I went into the dressing room and told the lads to be ruthless, really go for it!
GS – All the nerves were going very quickly with the start we had! In some ways it was an anti-climax. More because with us needing to win the secure the title, you automatically think of Hollywood movies when it’s down to the last kick of the game to get the win. For me it wasn’t that dramatic, pretty much a run of the mill for us that season!!
TC – We won the game comfortably 5-2 and it had me playing over the PA system a rather obvious choice of Queen’s “We Are The Champions”, from what I can remember, more than once as the players celebrated with the supporters.
PD – There was a party in the club but, if I remember right, the bigger party was the week before when we won at Bacup and Runcorn slipped up which meant we were back top again.
GS – Bring on the celebrations – Gstop with his top off! Jordy doing something crazy.
AJ – We were relentless. We just had too much fire power for a lot of sides. We had won the league and finally dragged the club out of the Counties, where they had been since 1995. We felt that the ceiling for the club was anywhere! If this team could stay together, we would have got to the National League.
RI – We had waited a very long time for the club to be in a position to get out of the Counties but as a passionate supporter, the feeling of seeing the team lift that huge trophy was incredible. Just two months previously, after that AFC Liverpool defeat, I and I know others, didn’t think we would be in that position.
GS – Unfortunately I don’t remember the majority of the night. I was a bit wet behind the ears back then so didn’t know when enough was enough. But it was the perfect end to that season, even if I drank myself into a slight coma!
TC – Job done, and the Rams had progressed to the league I felt they deserved to be in. Wonderful memories ahead of more to follow over the next couple of years.
GS – We didn’t even train like a team who would win the league – a night spent at the Village Hotel in Bury having a beer was far more beneficial to us!!
AJ – We had won the league with a bunch of misfits, as Harry called them, a bunch of mongrels. We didn’t sign anyone from higher level clubs – Jordan came from Padiham, Sharpy was free, Pilky from Runcorn Linnets, Whiz was at school, Flanners wasn’t playing anywhere and Shents was U18 at FC United. We were rejects but we played for each other and enjoyed it!