In a preview of this season that appeared on this website back in July, I wrote that I expected Romford's season to be one of "highs and lows, with the occasional spectacular defeat balanced against some unexpected and remarkable victories," but that I doubted we would be challenging for a play-off place. I confess that that was a tad disingenuous since like most of my fellow Boro supporters, my thoughts were more about avoiding that single relegation spot than gaining promotion. While that may sound unambitious, it was in fact an acceptance of the realities that face a club groundsharing nine miles from their home town and with a playing budget of precisely nothing, and in a division - Bostik North - that looked stronger and more competitive than at any time since Romford were promoted in 2009.
And so it proved, with Romford occupying one of the bottom two places for the majority of the season and battling it out with Norwich United to see who could avoid the dreaded drop. The strength of Bostik North this season is evident from the fact that Norwich went down with a staggering 40 points, a total that would under normal circumstances have seen them avoid a bottom three finish, let alone bottom place, because since the division was expanded to twenty-four teams, the previous best points total accumulated by the wooden spoonists was Redbridge's 28 in 2015-16.
Romford boss Paul Martin
The highs and lows of Romford's 2017-18 campaign have been many and various. After beating Tilbury in late August, Boro did not taste victory in a league game again until mid-December when Cheshunt were beaten on their own patch. This was followed by three wins out of four - at Maldon & Tiptree, at Grays Athletic and at home to Brentwood Town. Hopes that this would be the start of a surge up the table were dashed however as Boro proceeded to lose ten of the next eleven matches, a run that included an alarming 9-1 defeat to a rampant Heybridge Swifts side and an equally chastening 6-0 defeat at home to local rivals and eventual league champions, AFC Hornchurch. There was some light relief in the team's BBC Essex Senior Cup run, with victories over Maldon & Tiptree, Canvey Island (both on their own grounds) and Grays Athletic earning Boro a place in the Semi-Final at Billericay Town, the first time the club had reached that stage since reforming in 1992. Unsurprisingly Billericay were the victors, progressing to the Final (where they beat National League South side Chelmsford City) with a 6-1 scoreline.
Apart from the hefty losses at the hands of AFC Hornchurch and Heybridge Swifts, a lot of Romford's defeats were by the odd goal or two, and many performances brought praise from opposing supporters and officials. But there was little consolation in being told - as we often were after a defeat - that we didn't look like a side that were bottom of the table when that was precisely where we were.
Goals proved to be Romford's biggest problem - scoring them and keeping them out - with a goals for tally of just 51 (the third lowest in the Bostik League's three divisions), while it took until the thirty-eighth league game of the season before a clean sheet was recorded (in a 0-0 draw at Mildenhall Town). There was one night in mid-April when those twin failings were starkly evidence and brought Romford supporters to perhaps their lowest ebb. With four games remaining, Boro travelled to Witham Town and lost 1-0 in a match that neither side really deserved to win, while Norwich United were pulling off a stunning 4-1 win at Canvey Island. When Romford lost 2-1 at Brentwood Town on the last but one Saturday of the season and Norwich United were 3-1 winners over AFC Sudbury, Boro trailed The Planters by five points with two games left. And Norwich's superior goal-difference meant that one point from their remaining games would be enough to see them safe and consign Romford to the Essex Senior League. With just three minutes of Norwich's penultimate game of the season - against Heybridge Swifts - remaining, and with the scores level at 1-1, Romford were down, but a late winner for Swifts kept Boro alive, for twenty-four at least. A third win of the season over Grays Athletic the next evening meant that a win on the last Saturday of the season against Maldon & Tiptree would keep Romford up, so long as Norwich were beaten at Cheshunt. Which, in real Roy Of The Rovers fashion, is what happened.
I've seen Romford win league titles and triumph in cup finals, but I don't think I have ever experienced tension, despair and euphoria to quite the same degree as I did last Saturday. And it is just as well that Romford stayed up, otherwise the Player Of The Year Presentation held that evening would have been something of a damp squib otherwise.
Romford striker Nick Reynolds is denied
It is doubtful that avoiding relegation is going to win Romford boss Paul Martin (generally known as Magic, and how he has lived up to that sobriquet again this season!) a manager of the year award, but he really deserves some sort of recognition for pulling off The Great Escape and yet again keeping Boro in the Bostik League, despite - as usual - having to put together a new squad after some high-profile departures during the last close season. And having put together one new squad, Magic had to rebuild it during the season as players came and went; by the end of the campaign a remarkable 57 players had pulled on a Blue and Gold shirt in Bostik League matches.
Naturally, this being Romford we are talking about, not all of the drama has been confined to events on the pitch. News that Thurrock FC owner Tommy South was selling up brought an end to Romford's groundshare at Ship Lane when no buyer came forward; happily, agreement has been reached with National League South club East Thurrock United use their FutureFuel Stadium in Rookery Hill next season. No happy ending for fans of Thurrock, unfortunately and they will have to get used to life without a club to follow next season, something Boro fans will sympathise with as it is exactly forty years since the incarnation of Romford FC formed in 1929 went out of business.
Headline image- The matchwinners shirts on display- image by Steve Gardner. All other images by Alan Blackholly.