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Stevenage revel in their remarkable success

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Paul Fletcher | 21:19 UK time, Saturday, 28 May 2011

The remarkable, undeniable fact is that Stevenage did not lose a single game throughout their 2010-11 League Two campaign after they had taken the lead.

It was the same story at a windy Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon as the Hertfordshire club became the first team since Exeter in 2009 to complete back-to-back promotions from the Blue Square Bet Premier to League One.

Their performance as they defeated Torquay United 1-0 in front of a sparse but noisy crowd of 11,484 in the League Two play-off final featured many of the qualities that have propelled Stevenage straight out of the fourth tier.

They were well-organised, competitive and determined. There is no such thing for a Stevenage player as a lost cause and they have an admirable togetherness and a team spirit that is formed in part through the long hours they spend every day on the training pitch and in the gym.

"The lads achieve incredible things," said skipper Mark Roberts.

"There is a mentality at the club that I never known before; the players and everyone connected with the club has that X-factor, that special something.

"It comes from the very top, manager Graham Westley, who is the most inspirational and motivated man I have ever met. He drives us every day. All the coaching staff are winners through and through and instil that into the players."

Roberts, a life-long Manchester United supporter who used to have a season ticket in the Stretford End, and makeshift striker Darius Charles exemplified on Saturday what the captain described to me as "the Stevenage Way".

The defender made a series of committed, last-ditch tackles and marshalled his troops with courage as Torquay attacked with spirit and skill in the second half after John Mousinho had put Stevenage ahead with a brilliant low strike.

Roberts, raised in Northwich just down the road from Old Trafford, slumped to his knees at the final whistle, unable to comprehend the scale of his team's achievement. All of his team-mates charged towards their fans but the 27-year-old put his hands on his head before burying his face in his shirt as though attempting to enjoy a private moment in a very public arena.

"I do not mind admitting that there were a few tears," added Roberts. "In the dressing room afterwards there was a mixture of enjoyment and reflection on what we have achieved."

John Mousinho

Stevenage were 17th in the table at one point in January and looking an unlikely bet for promotion but the belief within the squad never wavered. Not for a moment did they think that their hopes of winning successive promotions had evaporated.

"We spoke about an incredible promotion," said Charles. "People will now say we have done the impossible but we never had any doubts.

"The gaffer drove his desire and passion into us. As a group we do not just canter, we are all about being progressive and moving forward."

Ealing-born Charles ended last season as a central defender relegated from the Blue Square Bet Premier with Ebbsfleet United. He finished this campaign as a battering ram of a striker who had just claimed the man-of-the-match award in a play-off final to seal promotion to the third tier of English football.

The muscular Charles was everything you could want from a target man on Saturday; bold, brave and committed. With a little more composure he might have scored the goal that his performance deserved. He left the field with a nasty scratch under his right eye, although it turned out that the injury was the consequence of an overly-raucous celebration of the game's only goal.

His story is typical of many of his team-mates. Before moving to Stevenage last summer his career had never really taken shape. During five years at Brentford he had loan spells at Thurrock, Yeading, Staines Town, Crawley Town, Sutton United and Ebbsfleet before he joined the latter on a permanent basis in 2009.

"If you look at the boys, the majority maybe did not make it somewhere else or fit in at another club but the gaffer has brought us all together and instilled a belief that is second to none," added Charles.

"We do not have any barriers. We run through them. That is what we do. Anything is possible."

Roberts struggled to establish himself at Crewe, going out on loan at Southport, Chester, Halifax and Northwich Victoria, where he also had two permanent spells as a player in addition to a spell at Accrington, before moving to Stevenage in 2008.

"There is a certain type of individual who succeeds at Stevenage and if they don't they are very quickly shown the door," added Roberts.

"It is a never-say-die attitude, not just when we play on a Saturday and a Tuesday but every single day, we fight for every inch at training."

Roberts reckons that when other clubs scaled down their training during the poor weather through December and January his team worked extra hard, doubling the intensity of the work they put in.

Stevenage are a club that have their detractors and Westley is not the most popular manager in the Football League. Some say they operate on the edge of the law, that they are strong and physical and are the beast that has overcome beauty to win promotion.

I saw them win at Accrington in the play-off semi-final and again at Old Trafford. There is no doubt that they deserved their victory in both games. They press their opponents and ask questions of their resolve and determination.

It felt slightly strange watching them win promotion at a ground whose owners were down in London for the Champions League final. Stevenage will never have the fame or success of Manchester United but several of their players support the Premier League champions and were pleased the final was at their home rather than at Wembley.

The small crowd did their best to create an atmosphere and I heard somebody joke that they did a better job than 70,000 United fans manage most weeks.

Charles had played at Old Trafford before when he was still at school with Drayton Manor. He scored the winner in that seven-a-side game and is rapidly developing a love for the ground.

Goalkeeper Chris Day once conceded a hat-trick there in a youth game when he was at Spurs. Ryan Giggs, in action against Barca on Saturday evening, scored all of the goals.
Day had relatively few saves to make on Saturday as his team preserved to the very end what I think is their excellent record of not losing after scoring in a league match.

"It is amazing," said the veteran keeper. "It is credit to the guys in front, the way we work in training, and the backroom staff. It is all about detail. We do not sit back when score, we try to stay on the front foot. That is as many secrets as I will give away."

Day appeared out of the dressing room with a red and white jesters hat on his head and a bottle of beer balancing precariously in his shorts. He was everything you might expect of a footballer celebrating promotion.

But when he was asked about the prospects for next season a serious look crossed his face before saying: "The sky is the limit."

The Stevenage way, it seems, is built on their belief that they can do just about anything.

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    As a very, very tired Stevenage fan, I don't have much to say other than - great article!

    This has been a great few years to be a fan of Stevenage, but has been somewhat dampened (for me) by the negative attitudes of many others who seem intent on minimalising what we have achieved. "Small, tinpot club" seems prevalent. What's wrong with that? In any other subject, the underdog succeeding far beyond expectations would be hailed as a fairytale, but sadly for us it has instead seen accusations of negative tactics (no worse than many other League Two sides) and often downright cheating. Why not congratulate the little guy for a change?

    As I mentioned on your previous Stevenage article, the club has a lot to be admired for. Phil Wallace and Graham Westley run the club incredibly well. The club stay strictly within a budget and have earned all this success through prudence and wise investments.

    Congratulations Boro, well deserved! Although, commiserations to Torquay, I spent half the journey home feeling gutted for them!

  • Comment number 2.

    Am incredibly jealous.

    As a Lincoln fan who didn't enjoy the spate of play-off miseries that we suffered in the last decade, I see Stevenage's success and think 'what if?' We used to play in a similarly physical and pressing manner and that is what you need to get out of the league (at the right end). As it is - we lost all of our bite under managers who wanted to 'play football' and Steve Tilson didn't have the players, or ability to adapt, to turn it around.

    Congrats Stevenage - I just hope for your sake that Westley sticks with his tactics and motivational focus next year. Either that or you sack him for a bigger name and he comes to pick up the shoddily held reins at Sincil Bank.

  • Comment number 3.

    What's not to like. For people who want to support a local team irrespective of if they are "the best", a team playing beautiful football having gone from 8th tier to 3rd since my first game in the late eighties is what makes English football so good. By the way all this stevenage denied promotion in 1996 due to the ground not being good enough is not the whole story. Ours was safer than the team that were spared. Today, who cares?

  • Comment number 4.

    I follow Alfreton and just been promoted to Blue Square Premier from Blue Square North. Alfreton could go from one big jump into the big time, to a concurrent big jump in to the big time in to the big leagues.

    Stevenage show these things can be achieved.

  • Comment number 5.

    Paul
    Can you please explain the money that such clubs receive in the league one and so on??
    Cheers

  • Comment number 6.

    A victory achieved from a season of bullying, gamesmanship and bending the rules at every opportunity.

    Perry, I love it when a small team does well but I don't like Stevenage because of your team's 'negative tactics and downright cheating', as you put it. Contrary to your belief, not many teams used this approach in 2010-11 but following Stevenage's success the whole of League 2 will be at it next season. A dark prospect.

  • Comment number 7.

    Sour grapes Peter and frankly really boring. Perry's comments are spot on and are the best rebuttal, particularly as they're from a non-Stevenage fan.

    Direct football isn't unexciting or unlawful. The criticism is the same that Stoke get but both sides play more than one way, they mix it up according to what's in-front of them. This is actually intelligent football and something that even a team as eminent as Arsenal get criticised for not doing (probably by the same unimaginative critics!). Anyway football's not figure skating and god help us if some fool of a football administrator ever attempts to create a points system for 'style'.

    Having more passion, preparation and a willingness to work harder than the opposition are virtues, which in Stevenage's case have also led to sustained success. Oh and BTW very few players and teams at League Two and below really can play football 'properly', on the deck. Keeping possession in the middle third without penetrating, hitting mis-timed passes (on the deck) and out of play, not having any aerial threat is not the mark of a 'footballing' side, it just means there's a wannabe manager. Football's about winning, simple as.

    Many, many congratulations to Stevenage, hope they can stay up, consolidate and begin to build the crowd base - perhaps within the medium term they can compare to a Peterborough, Doncaster or Barnsley and seriously aspire to the Championship.

  • Comment number 8.

    Whoops - meant to reference Baggioforpresident in the last post, not Perry.

  • Comment number 9.

    congrats to stevenage! i think next season will be a good one... But its a fine line in division 1. Keep your squad, and don't go mad. Just spend maybe £150/200k on 3 or so quality players to add to the mix & you'll be ok. As a stockport fan, i wish we'd invested a bit more in players. Frankly, it's vital...

  • Comment number 10.

    Well done to Stevenage. They gave us (Pompey) a good game in the Carling Cup back in August and it's good to see them succeed in the play-offs.

    I do, however, find it slightly strange that you mention they "became the first team since Exeter in 2009 to complete back-to-back promotions from the Blue Square Bet Premier to League One." That was only two years ago after all.

  • Comment number 11.

    Well done to Stevenage? Who cares how they did it? Seems like it's sour grapes from Peter. Didn't make the playoffs did you? Aw, diddums.

    Next season Crawley will do the same as Stevenage, but they DO have a very unpopular manager in Steve Evans.

  • Comment number 12.

    Ken #7- I can see where you're coming from, but I don't think it's the physical element of Stevenage's play, or the 'long-ball' tactics which have upset people, but rather the gamesmanship involved. If I remember correctly, Paul wrote a blog a few weeks ago highlighting the fact that Stevenage had been the subject of an enquiry by the FA for diving and faking injuries. As an Aldershot fan I did notice similar things when we played them.

    It's hard on Torquay as they're a team who play football the right way and I would have liked to see them go up, as opposed to Stevenage whose style of play leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.

  • Comment number 13.

    Well done to Stevenage. They do deserve to go up, but referees need to wise up more to their time wasting, feigning injury and all round unsporting behaviour.

  • Comment number 14.

    ShotsPaauul #12 I've been thinking about the gamesmanship a lot obviously. Stevenage haven't been investigated for feigning injury, diving or cheating generally - what they have done is take lawful advantage of a stop in play to get drinks to the players. The fact that every game has a period of stoppage time for treatment means that it makes sense to prepare for this happening, when a player goes down get the drinks on - it's not illegal. It's called not leaving anything to chance - I bet there are managers looking at the tactic and wishing they had thought of it first! Get organised people and stop whining.

    Leaving aside the great defensive record, always winning when they take the lead and the 9-5 training schedule - they apply themselves more than others are willing (or perhaps able) to. For instance no-one has commented upon the pre-second half routine where they do sprints at the side of the pitch immediately before the KO. This is designed to get people psychologically and physically tuned-in ready to perform instantly. Limited resources means that you have to work hard on the margins - where a competitive point of difference can be gained - This is 'management' theory stuff, which Westley is very well versed in but its also a type of thinking that has been seldom demonstrated within football (especially at the lower levels).

    Unfortunately I'm left thinking that the criticism is a mixture of jealousy (particularly from the clubs with big stadia, crowds and incomes but who somehow never quite make or sustain success) and also fear of someone like Graham Westley because he's a 'bit different' to his peers.

    Who knows, at some post-Westley point in the future Stevenage might decline and slide back but I really hope the approach is representative of a sea change in approach and thinking amongst football managers generally.

    Having seen the club move up 5 divs and have the crowds increase more than 10 fold since I've been following them - and all this without a sugar daddy just leaves me in awe of Wallace and Westley - Now's the time to congratulate and emulate I think.

  • Comment number 15.

    Now then,

    There is no doubt that Stevenage divide opinion. I just posted a tweet talking about Stevenage and was not short of replies criticising Graham Westley and his team.

    I'm not even sure that it is sour grapes or anything like that. I really think that a lot of people have it in for Stevenage - the way they play, their tactics and supposed time wasting.

    But whatever you think of them there is no doubt that they have a strong bond and togetherness. They work hard and are currently enjoying their rewards.

  • Comment number 16.

    Well done for promotion, but... it's League 3, whichever way it's spun by Sky/FA/the FL et al, it's the third tier and so League 1 is a ridiculous misnomer. These riduclous titles [Championship, League one/two etc] were simply introduced to make the fans of all four tiers unconsciously believe they're at or near the top. Consider League 2, are we really believed that 4th=2nd??? Pathetic symptom of this modern day, where those who control society attempt to convince us all of the nonsense, that is "everyone's a winner!"

  • Comment number 17.

    http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/sport/football/prem_league/premier_league/read_article/8931610.Stevenage__time_outs__probed_by_League/

    'The Football League are still awaiting a response from Stevenage after writing to them to ask for answers to allegations from rival clubs that they systematically feign injury in order to create time-outs during matches.'

    Sounds like gamesmanship to me.

    That said, I'd agree with you- at this level you use what you've got to win, and you've got to respect Westley for that. Just don't expect supporters of other teams to like you for it.

  • Comment number 18.

    Well done to Stevenage. They were always going to be successful in the league because they have been groomed to play a way that would get them out of the Conference. The hardest division in English football. There is no gap between the two divisions and the success of the teams recently promoted proves there needs to be an extra promotion/relegation place. 4 up 2 down just doesn't make sense. Crawley will go up again next season and AFC will do well, neither will be battling for relegation that's for sure.
    Stevenage may struggle next season but Rochdale were tipped to come straight back down and they nearly made the play offs.

  • Comment number 19.

    Paul, that stat you quoted sounds impressive. But looking at the link you posted, Stevenage actually did quite poorly at preserving a lead.

    They may not have lost, but Stevenage drew 10 times from winning positions - dropping 20 points, which is poor compared to the teams around them. They also showed little fight once they'd fallen behind: they were 23rd in the league at overturning a deficit, with only Port Vale showing less grit.

    In fact Stevenage's second halves were poor altogether. They conceded 17 goals in first halves, against 28 in second halves. Ouch! They also scored less.

    It seems to me that Stevenage will need more stamina and more leaders if they are to prosper in League One. Still, they've proved their doubters wrong once: let's hope they can do it again.

    If they prove me wrong, I'll be the first to applaud.

  • Comment number 20.

    As I said in another blog post to those trying to spoil our celebrations: Don't get BITTER - get BETTER.

  • Comment number 21.

    Once again, an excellent article overshadowed by some comments which wont give us the credit we actually deserve! Personally i dont think we need much strengthing just one or two new faces but i feel that we are strong enough to survive! Yesterday was one of the greatest days i have supporting Stevenage and for 13 years it makes the likes of travelling to Northwich, Altrincham worthwhile as we now get to visit the likes of both Sheffield clubs and Charlton! A proud achievement for us and many thanks to people who have wished us well!

  • Comment number 22.

    I don't like football, but it's nice to know a nearby town is doing well and getting some publicity :)

  • Comment number 23.

    Well done Stevenage, good luck in league one.
    Good to have one less hoofing team in league two, should improve the quality no end. Barcelona showed us what coaches, managers and players should be trying to acheive at all levels in British football.
    Unfortunately in Britain hoofing physical teams tend to win at most levels except the very top.
    If any of our international teams are ever to compete at the highest level this playing culture must be changed, starting at youth level.

  • Comment number 24.

    Westley will get the normal reception in League 1, hostile. The style of football won't do them any good in L1 either. Torquay looked the better footballing team on Saturday, though didn't get their tactics or effort right. Stevenage just threw players behind the ball. Boring!

    Wasn't good what he did to Farnborough Town all those years ago.

  • Comment number 25.

    highlights are up on the main page. anyone referring to Stevenage as hoofball please see the goal, fine bit of play and a strike worthy of any division!

  • Comment number 26.

    I remember the old football ground on London Road. I supported Stevenage Town and then Athletic. I remember the roped off section on King George's Playing Field. I never would have dreamt in a million years that one day I would watch a Stevenage team playing both Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United in league games. I think the team played really well on Saturday and I am not prepared to let sour grapes take the feelings I have away.

  • Comment number 27.

    Stevenage will always have their detractors but the fact is they have a way of playing and mental toughness that has made them very successful. Of course there are a lot of people who don't like them, especially if they support formerly successful clubs that have managed to near bankrupt themselves and slide down the pyramid by wasting greater resources and fan bases than Stevenage have had at their disposal. The answer for these "footballing" sides is simple, beat Stevenage and prove that your way is better. Newcastle certainly didn't.

  • Comment number 28.

    All this talk of being 'physical' and 'drinks breaks' really is getting old. I've heard that Peterborough do exactly the same thing (don't quote me on that though). Still is that really relevant or important? We finished 6th in the table, and after 3 games we're in League One. All you idiots who haven't seen us play week in week out, don't know about the commitment and work ethic we put in, and we can play a bit too. Stacy Long and Darius Charles just epitomise that. As Westley said, it is jealousy. People can't stand to see a side on the up.

    We truly have made up for lost time after missing out on promotion to the Football League back in 96. In League One, with additions we could finish top half. I honestly believe that.

    As for all the critics and imbeciles who claim we play a negative way, sorry but did we just get promoted or not? Our system has worked, and quite frankly I don't care about how we play, as long as we win!

  • Comment number 29.

    As an Oxford supporter, I've seen Stevenage a number of times over the last five seasons. They are probably one of the fittest, paciest teams I've ever seen. Westley gets absolutely 100% from what is frankly, a very limited group of players. They are one of the best teams around for denying opposition and space. Westley is an intelligent man and to an extent they deserve their success. But there is another view.....

    That is that their 'time-outs' have no place in our great game. If I wanted to watch ice hockey I'd go to Canada. They play the game in the wrong spirit , i.e. by feigning injury to gain an advantage.

    Forget the fact that they play their football in a grim route 1 style, (that is their right but looking at their attendances I can't see Hertforshire football followers are terribly enchanted with that.)

    Stevenage are in fact detested by Oxford supporters for their timewasting. The 'time out' machinations are an abuse. Move on from this Mr Westley if you don't want continuing oppoprobium.

  • Comment number 30.

    Ring my friend I said you'd call Dr Robert
    Day or night he'll be there anytime at all Dr Robert
    You're a neeeewww and bitter man.....Doc Robert

    What could be more joyless than bringing the Oxford obsession of crapulent obsessive whining to this celebration?

  • Comment number 31.

    If people are criticizing Stevenage for thier gamesmanship tactic for feigning injury do they really gain a huge massive advantage?

    i) Players can take on fluids at any opportunity where there is a stoppage.
    ii) The time taken out for injury is added on.
    ii) The player has to leave the field of play for a few minutes.

    There are far worst gamesmanship tactics that go on that are employed by ALL clubs
    i) Diving
    ii) Trying to get people booked / sent off

    The above two are a million mile worse than taking a drink.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    Blimey did we just complete an incredible 2 years of promotion or did we get found out on dodgy FIFA-esque dealings? Such jealousy is understandable though, Stevenage have achieved something our rivals could only dream of, be they ex-prem failures or surrey county div 1 or whatever cards are now. Whatever happens next year I think us Boro fans are just enjoying the moment despite the "oppoprobium" or whatever (didn't attend your town's uni then, Dr R?). Show me a FA charge or instead give a bit of respect to a well-organised team and club. Up the Boro'!

  • Comment number 34.

    "Proud to be different".... that's us! :)

    Whether we go we're going to have to put up with the heckling and whining no matter if we deserve it or not. I for one am possibly one of the more volatile defenders of our club and style of play but even I am getting tired of the complaints year in year out from fans of teams below us or level (the majority seems to have been Oxford fans or sympathisers of the league's 'old boys club'.

    Take a look at Stoke who have recieved criticism since before they were even promoted to the PL. Throw in (no pun intended) the contraversy surrounding Delap (its legal and clever so I applaud it) and you have a team that at some points must have felt completely victimised and cut-off. Their fans are an absolute credit and take the attitude of "No-one likes us but we don't care" and I feel we are in the same situation. Please however note that when they reached the Cup final this year I'll bet there was at least one of their critics cheering them on... come to think of it we seemed to have temporarily converted people when we beat Newcastle 3-1 ;)

    At the end of the day the only complaints have come from the big old clubs who have become almost dinosaurs in the fast changing world of football. They heckle us for our modern, professional, no nonsense approach yet we see them languishing in the mid-leagues and lower tiers of English football. I can't remember ever reading any real substantial complaints from Bury, Shrews, Accy, Wycombe, Chesterfield, or Torquay fans. Note however the huge amount of complaints coming the mid-league and below (also throw in a few ex-league BSP teams).

    Their attitude is akin to that of a chain smoker. It feels good and is familiar, but it is killing them and they refuse to see this or change. Here's hoping they stop whining and accept change before its too late (we're talking about relegation and financial collapse here). Apologies to anyone who has lost anyone through smoking and you have my sincerest sympathy.

  • Comment number 35.

    Please re read.

    You'll see I gave Stevenage and Westley some credit in my earlier post.

    I'll repeat my point.

    If Westley continues with his 'time-out japes' in League 1, Stevenage will become one of the most disliked outfits in the Football League. Oxford supporters abhor Stevenage's approach particularly because we've known all about it for some time now. As for our lot, we could do with an injection of Stevenage's pace and power but we're on the right lines. it wont be long before our paths cross again.




  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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