After this weekend’s 2-1 victory against Blackstones FC, Woodford United ended a run of 65 successive defeats dating back to April 2012. That’s around 100 hours, or 6,000 minutes of football. Two goals from Harry Beckley were enough to see out the away win in the United Counties League (UCL) Division One which is Level 10 of the football pyramid. In the words of manager Mitch Austin, “It was like winning the FA Cup!”.
“It’s been a long time coming”, said Austin. “The club’s been in a bad place for the past 18 months.” After relegation from the Southern League last season, Woodford decided to drop down another division in hope of finding their level. Over the past year and a half, their plight has been picked up on and Andy Ollerenshaw had earmarked this fixture as a game they were capable of winning in his piece for When Saturday Comes last week.
Austin had previously been ‘A’ Team manager at Bugbrooke St Michaels, who play in the same division as Woodford. But after an uninspiring pre-season as their assistant manager, he started to look for work elsewhere. Woodford presented a challenge.
“I see their results. They dropped down from the Southern Premier to the UCL Premier, and then asked to go down again to Division One. They lost their first two games 6-0 and 7-0.”
“I got hold of the club and said, ‘Why are your results like this? I’d be interested in coming over.’ I went over and met the chairman Andy Worrall. He made me a cup of tea and then offered me the job after about 10 minutes of talking.”
Last Saturday’s win against Blackstone was only Austin’s 12th game in charge but he’s starting to get to know the strengths of his young side, “I told the lads that it was a game we would expect three points from. Anything less would be a disappointment.”
Woodford did not disappoint. After a short-lived first half lead, Austin tweaked the formation in the second half. “They were slightly beating us in midfield – we had two in midfield, they had three. So I took one of our strikers off and put a central midfielder on so we had two holding, one in front.”
The result? A deserved winner for 18-year-old striker Harry Beckley.
Maybe Austin has something to thank for his tactical ability, “I’ve been playing Football Manager since I was about 13 – I’m 25 now. Daft as it sounds, it probably has taught me a thing or two.” However, he’s in no doubt that he’s got a tough task on his hands.
As highlighted in this piece by Ian King for Two Hundred Percent, Woodford suffer from a number of disadvantages. Being a village club in an isolated location has made it difficult to attract players. As such, the club have had to rely on younger players in recent months. Austin explains, “Being in the situation we’re in, we’ve had to get some young, unproven talent in and make them into UCL players.”
Ultimately though, this is a story about a club with a culture of losing who for one weekend at least have turned that around. Speaking about the post-match celebrations, Austin said, “It was crazy. We’ve been celebrating for a couple of days.”
The outlook is bright too, “Even if we finish second bottom, I think that’s a great achievement. And then next year we can look on and actually have a proper pre-season together, have a look at transfer targets together and push on. Who knows what the story is for next season?”