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Monday, April 19, 2010

Stevenage settle a score

After Stevenage Borough finally secure promotion to the Football League, Nobes reports on the end of a long wait for Borough fans.

Joel Byrom celebrates scoring for Stevenage as they clinch the Conference title

Amongst all the joy and jubilation, they'll be another feeling coursing through the Hertfordshire town of Stevenage this summer - justice.

Fourteen years on from winning the Conference but being denied promotion to the Football League, Stevenage Borough have finally reached the promised land.

Their 2-0 win at Kidderminster Harriers at the weekend capped a memorable season for Graham Westley's side - who have the chance to do the 'double' in the FA Trophy final next month.

It's the realisation of a dream for Borough fans, who have seen their side come agonisingly close to promotion in the past, only to see those hopes dashed.

Most notable of those occasions was in 1995/6, when Borough finished eight points clear of Woking to clinch the Conference title.

It was only their second season in Non League's premier division, but, while great progress had been on the pitch, the same couldn't be said off it. Their Broadhall Way ground was deemed unfit for the Football League and the club had to stay down.

It was the third year in a row that fate had befallen the Conference Champions, the same fate happening to Kidderminster and Macclesfield in the two previous seasons.

Perhaps it was appropriate then that Stevenage's elevation was sealed at Aggborough and a club who knew the exact pain the Borough fans had felt.

Of course, Harriers made-up for their denial in 2000 and have since come down again, while the Silkmen have been a Football League side for 13 years.

Now Stevenage have completed the trio of teams to vanquish the bitter recriminations of their promotion denial.

Not that it is any surprise that Borough have finally joined the 92, they have been knocking on the door frequently in the past.

In 2005, Westley - in his first spell at the club - took the Hertfordshire outfit to the play-off final. On that occasion, Carlisle's 1-0 victory saw the Cumbrians promoted at Stevenage's expense.

Last season they again made the play-offs, but threw away a two goal advantage from the first leg to lose to Cambridge in the semi-finals.

This time they have made sure there was no need to enter the end of season lottery again.

Stevenage's rebuilt Broadhall Way is now a ground fit for the Football League

To do so they have had to overturn early pacesetters Oxford - who mid-way through the season led Borough by four points and had a game in hand.

However, as the Oxen began to wobble, the Hertfordshire side capitalised - winning 15 of their 18 league games in 2010 to reign supreme at the top.

For their manager he now has the chance to show he can match his success in the Conference in the Football League. The re-appointment of Westley, an often controversial character, was greeted with a mixed response by Borough fans.

However, the 42-year-old has debunked the theory that managers shouldn't return to former clubs - this season's Conference title following FA Trophy success against York at Wembley last May.

It's a trophy they could retain as they face Barrow on May 8, hoping to add a final glorious finish to this most memorable of seasons.

Until, perhaps, next season that is. Stevenage can look forward with confidence and draw inspiration and hope from previous Conference winners who have established themselves and gone onto challenge in League Two.

Broadhall Way is now a ground built for the Football League and a side with a winning mentality and momentum will look to hit the ground running next term.

This season's basement division has seen the likes of Aldershot, Dagenham, and Morecambe - all promoted in recent years - challenging for the top seven. Westley will be hoping to emulate them.

He will also know his side are now a small fish in a big pond though, and Borough will be up against sides with bigger crowds and budgets.

At least they have the chance to compete though - for 14 years that's all they've ever wanted.

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