JOB DONE: The late Aldershot Town chairman John McGinty, left, and manager Gary Waddock celebrate clinching the league title at Exeter City. Picture: Ian Morsman
This week, Aldershot Town photographer Ian Morsman shares and explains the image that he cherishes the most
April 15, 2008
EXETER CITY 1
ALDERSHOT TOWN 1
Blue Square Bet Premier
It was one of those magical fairytale seasons that only come along once in a blue moon.
Gary Waddock had put together a group of players at Aldershot Town that no-one knew but on gelling almost instantly, became an unstoppable force.
An incredible 26-match unbeaten run had ensued and promotion back to the Football League – just 16 years after the demise of Aldershot FC – was suddenly within the club’s grasp.
The belief on the pitch had filtered its way into the boardroom and , in turn, onto the terraces. There was a real swagger about the place, without ever being arrogant. It was just a great time to be at the club.
Victory over Burton Albion three days earlier meant that Waddock’s men needed just one more point, at Exeter City on the Tuesday night, to cap their record season with the Blue Square Premier title.
Despite it being a Tuesday night and a near four-hour trip down to Exeter, the away end at St James’s Park was packed to the rafters – fans desperate to play their part in history.
The tension was palpable but Aldershot, without injured talisman Scott Davies, had started nervously and a scrappy affair ensued.
The Setanta Sports TV cameras were following their every move and Gary and [assistant] Martin Kuhl were like two cats on a hot tin roof barking orders from the sidelines. It was such a big occasion.
Tension mounted even more on 39 minutes when Exeter took the lead – the late Adam Stansfield played in by Matthew Gill to finish confidently.
But three minutes later, the noise ramped up a notch when Scott Donnelly popped up in the box and his mishit effort bounced awkwardly, just beyond the reach of goalkeeper Adam Marriott and dribbled over the line. Shots fans went potty.
For me, that was the moment the title was won. This team just had that unenviable habit of finding a goal when it was most needed and the Gods were clearly shining down on them.
If anything, the second half was worse that the first but, despite a few nervy, head-in-hands moments, you always got the feeling the season was reaching its conclusion. Aldershot defended resolutely and held on relatively comfortably until referee Chris Sarginson’s final whistle.
Cue pandemonium! On the final whistle, I made me way over towards Gary and Martin, who were hugging each other in jubilation on the touchline.
I then switched my focus to the team who, on embracing each other, made their way over to the supporters behind the goal. At one point, at least 10 of the players, plus Martin Kuhl, had gone over the barriers to join them! It was surreal. Usually you get the fans jumping over to celebrate with the players, this was the other way round! I’m pleased it worked out like that, though. Had fans stormed the pitch, I think it would have spoiled the occasion.
On climbing back onto the pitch, the champagne and banners came out as players posed for a few team pictures. It was then when I saw the chairman, John McGinty walk briskly towards us, wearing his Aldershot scarf and tatty old coat that he always used to wear.
Gary led a posse of people with arms out stretched, heading towards John and I was like a rabbit in headlights, I didn’t know what to photograph next. So much was happening.
The picture of John and Gary was in no way staged, it just happened right in front of me. Indeed, I could have used hundreds of pictures for this feature from that night but this was the photograph that meant the most. It summed everything up – a special image for a very special occasion.
John sadly died the following year but at least he got to experience his beloved club achieving their ultimate aim.
And whenever I look back at that night in Devon, it doesn’t take long before my thoughts turn to John. I’ve still got that big bottle of unopened champagne in my house. It’ll take some occasion for that to ever be cracked open!