DONE AND DUSTED: Histon clinched their first promotion in 12 years last Tuesday night. PICTURE: Mark Hopkin
By Matt Badcock
Histon, the village team that nearly made the Football League before sliding back down the ladder, are on the up again – and boss Lance Key believes the old Stutes spirit is back.
The Cambridgeshire club sealed the Thurlow Nunn Premier Division title with a 3-0 win at Wroxham last Tuesday night.
It’s the club’s first promotion for 12 years and returns them to Step 4 after two seasons away.
Key was in goal for their famous climb through Non-League football and says the close-knit changing room that worked back then has made all the difference this time around too.
“We had a great start to the season and that gives you a base to build on,” Key told The NLP. “Then we had a couple of decent cup runs. We nearly upset King’s Lynn in the FA Cup on their patch – and then obviously got stuffed at home 7-0 – and in the FA Vase we got to the last 16.
“It showed the character in the squad that we lost in the league to Woodbridge, who were pushing for the title, and the following week we lost to Northwich in the Vase. You kind of think, ‘Is this where the bubble bursts?’
“But since then we’ve had, in 15 games, 12 wins and three draws. That’s huge testament to the squad.
“They set high standards for themselves. Even on Tuesday night. They were 3-0 up and still barking instructions at each other to make people work harder off the ball. That’s why we are where we are, no doubt.
“The dressing room is very close-knit – you can see that from some of the celebrations we’ve had and texts between the players and staff.
“It’s what it used to be like when I first came back to the club when I was 36 and we won the Southern Premier. It’s very similar – lads who are local, who socialise together and it’s made a big difference.”
Key has fond memories of his playing days at Histon where he began his career before joining Sheffield Wednesday and returning between 2004-2008.
“I’m still very good friends with a lot of those guys,” Key said. “Rocoe Hipperson was at the Wroxham game on Tuesday, people like Colin Bowden, Ian and Ada Cambridge, Neil Kennedy, Jamie Barker, Neil Andrews, Matt Haniver – we still keep in contact today.
“We had some good times and the one thing we did do was drink together, socialise together, nights out – it created a huge togetherness.
“That’s something we’ve tried to instil into the squad. We have lads who go out and enjoy each other’s company. It’s one of the best dressing rooms I’ve been involved with and it’s a credit to them.”
Part of the close-knit spirit is no doubt helped by links to the gaffer – Key’s son Evan, stepson Lee Smith and nephew Max York, the division’s top scorer, are all part of the squad he is convinced can make the step up.
“Sometimes it’s difficult coaching your own family but you also learn a lot about each other at the same time,” Key said.
“We’re a close family anyway, which helps, but when you’re competitive as we are sometimes you cross swords!
“But they all lead by example on the pitch and fundamentally that’s what they’ve got to do.”
The Stutes have lost just twice in the league this season and are determined to go a full campaign unbeaten at home.
Celebrations are already planned for the end of the season, but Key also made special mention for those who have helped turn around a club seemingly in freefall.
“It’s the first promotion for 12 years,” Key said. “We’ve had four relegations in that time, the club has been in financial difficulty and the board have pulled it round in terms of taking away the debt.
“You’re always struggling to make ends meet but certainly this will help bring in new sponsors, the academy can improve, the scholarship – the whole bigger picture of the whole club is moving in the right direction.
“They’ve had to make severe sacrifices in money terms to keep the club afloat. You also have to look at the sponsorship deals like Hill Residential who have been our main sponsor for 13 or 14 years and if it wasn’t for their backing the club could also be in trouble.
“So it’s not only what we do on the football pitch, it’s what has come from off the field that has made us stronger.”