For the majority of the 2000s, the yo-yo nature of Hednesford Town’s form put their supporters through the mill.
From Conference relegation in 2001, FA Trophy triumph coupled with further relegation in 2004, play-off glory at Chippenham under Chris Brindley to the boom and bust years of Dean Edwards, Phil Starbuck et al, it wasn’t until the appointment of Rob Smith and Larry Chambers on Monday 27 September 2010 that things began to click.
The current Pitmen boss celebrated his 200th game in charge last Saturday against Harrogate Town, a feat which comfortably makes him the longest serving manager since the halcyon days of John Baldwin and the former Telford boss took the time to reflect on a journey which has seen him guide the club through double play-off defeat and eventual sweet retribution against FC United of Manchester last season, to a situation where his squad now harbour genuine hopes of reaching the Skrill Conference for the first time in over a decade.
Smith first discussed his top moments as Hednesford manager, which are almost too numerous to cover on one page.
‘We talk about this a lot on away trips. We have had so many amazing days that it is difficult to pick a top three or four but I suppose the most memorable will be the FC United Play-Off game, the away FA Cup game at West Auckland and for me, Worksop away last season sticks in my mind as a superb all round performance. Although the most amazing moment alone has to be Elliott’s goal at Bradford earlier this season!!’
The drama that Smith and his players have brought throughout his stewardship is another undoubted reason why The Pitmen’s stock is still on the rise. Supporters of the team, both home and away, can think of so many dramatic nights at Keys Park and beyond but, true to form and just like every Hednesford fan if they answer truthfully, Smith had no doubt in choosing that game on August 29th 2011 when a Marvin Robinson hat-trick re-wrote the record books with a first league win against arch rivals Stafford Rangers in over 60 years.
‘The West Auckland game when we won on penalties in a replay with nine men will live with me forever but the Fylde Play-Off Semi Final game was as dramatic as it comes. However, I think the single most amazing comeback was the Stafford 5-4 win. That really was drama personified!’
Despite all the good times, Smith was keen to stress that there have been days when things haven’t run smoothly and he believes the way his players have recovered from those have been equally as important.
‘Two major turning points stand out for me. Half time at Grantham last season, we were losing 2-1 and would have dropped to 12th with a defeat. During that half time a lot happened and we turned the game round, went on a really good run and didn’t really look back from there on in. The other was the 5-0 Play-Off defeat to Bradford Park Avenue. That forced my hand to make the wholesale changes necessary; that summer was difficult and also a gamble but thankfully it paid off.’
As he prepared to start his 201st game in the Hednesford dugout, Smith was understandably positive about his reign so far.
‘I look back at my time here with real fondness. I was made to feel very welcome at the club from day one and fortunately for me we have achieved a great deal both on and off the pitch. We have seen a big increase in attendances and on the field I have managed to get some good players to join, seen them grow individually and as a team. To see players like Elliott, Cheyenne and Clemmo go on to bigger and better things is very satisfying for me. The supporters have been fantastic as well. The away support in particular has been amazing; it has been a real pleasure to play a part in the club growing so much.’