Magnificent season full of memories

IT IS only right and proper that Heanor Town’s magnificent championship winning season should be recorded for posterity.

But full justice cannot be given to it in these columns, much as one would like to do. To précis the enormity of the achievement is not easy, but here goes.

Ignoring cup ties the start to the league season was bitter sweet. Bitter inasmuch as the opening day defeat at Radford, despite coming back from 3-0 to 3-2, was, to say the least, a disappointment.

Needless to say there were five changes for the tough visit to Barrow Town where Neil Grayson’s first appearance for the club was marked with a classic header in a truly memorable 3-1 win.

It was the start of a 14-game unbeaten run of which 12 were won, 53 goals scored – 14 of them from Nathan Benger, and 38 points accrued. The Lions had been top of the table since 29th August, and apart from a short spell when form had a little blip during January, they remained there for the rest of the season.

It is easy to look back in hindsight over the fixtures during this remarkable spell, but before Anstey Nomads came to the Town Ground on 26th November and walked away with a deserved 3-2 win, Heanor had taken two mighty scalps – 2-1 wins at both Borrowash Victoria and Oadby Town.

Six wins and a draw was the backlash of the Anstey defeat. Sandwiched between was a never to be forgot visit to the new stadium of Chesterfield for a Derbyshire Senior Cup tie which ended in a 5-3 defeat but certainly not a disgrace.

January duly arrived and it was a bad month. All teams go through a bad spell at some stage during the season, and Heanor’s began at St. Andrews where they were fortunate to salvage a point (and keep 11 men on the pitch!).

Barrow Town arrived at Heanor and for the second successive season left with all three points. The 6-4 scoreline was a rude awakening for Heanor.

The awful refereeing and handbags at ten paces bust up followed at Thurnby, a ground Heanor will not be sorry to miss out on next season, saw another defeat.

But it was the start of another magnificent run of eleven games without defeat with which to finish the season. It might well have been eleven wins had Graham Street Prims not thrown the script out of the window and walked away with a point from their Town Ground clash.

During this spell doubles were completed over challenging duo Borrowash Victoria and Oadby Town. In the Oadby thriller on the Town Ground Heanor had to come back from 3-1 down to get the winner in stoppage time.

And here is an interesting statistic. Nathan Benger ended the season with 46 goals, 36 in the league, and he failed to score in only seven of his appearances in league games. But he did not score in any of the matches against either Borrowash Victoria or Oadby Town. The only teams in the league that he failed to register a goal against.

Heanor went into their Easter games chomping on finger nails. They came out having done just about enough.

The title was sealed in torrential rain against Blackwell Miners Welfare on the Town Ground in teeming rain. The weather was the only injustice to a splendid season of entertainment.

In the end, the seven point gap between the Lions and runners-up Borrowash, and ten between third placed Oadby, gave the impression the title was won comfortably. Not so. The Lions had to work hard for it and they had to entertain into the bargain.

They scored 121 goals in their 38 league games, a record for the competition. In Nathan Benger they had the league’s leading goalscorer. And it was testimony to the way the Lions played that they drew their opponents biggest gate of the season on no fewer than 13 of their away trips.

In all, 5,158 spectators saw the Lions league and cup games last season. Of these, 3,048 attended games on the Town Ground and 2,110 away from home.

Heanor used 41 players during the course of the season with Nico Degirolamo being the only one to play in every one of the 45 games. Nathan Benger played in all but one.


(substitutes in brackets):

Askham, Lee 5 (3)

Austin, Phil 35 (2)

Benger, Nathan 44 (1)

Cancellara, Ryan 27 (7)

Capuano, Julian 4 (4)

Claridge, Danny 19 (10)

Commons, Spencer 1

Debrouwer, Keiran 20

Degirolamo, Nico 45

Dunn, Handlee 1

Easom, Lee 1

Fields, Daniel 1

Foster, Jason 35 (3)

Frost, Mark 33

Frost, Stef 25 (4)

Gardner, Ricky 1

Gee-Pemberton, James 9 (1)

Grayson, Ash 8 (1)

Grayson, Neil 12 (3)

Guest, Richard 1

Gutteridge, Tom 3

Hopkins, Craig 1 (1)

Kay, Adam 8 (2)

Kirkwood, Glenn 1 (1)

Land, Thomas 6 (2)

Littlewood, Mark 6 (4)

Lowry, Phil 4 (3)

Naughton, Lee 1

O’Donnell, Danny 5 (5)

Orme, Danny 1(1)

Peel, Brett 40

Royce, Joshua 21 (5)

Slater, Carl 11 (3)

Stevenson, Lee 38 (5)

Vernon, Jake 38 (16)

Webster, Gary 38

Wells, Graham 27 (8)

West, Neil 8

White, Rocky 6 (4)

Whitehead, James 2 (2)

Williams, Dan 7 (4)

Lee Stevenson took his overall appearances for the club to 175, Gary Webster to 146 and Graham Wells to 127.

Heanor’s 141 goals came from:

Austin, Phil 1

Benger, Nathan 46

Cancellara, Ryan 4

Claridge, Danny 3

Debrouwer, Keiran 6

Degirolamo, Nico 10

Foster, Jason 7

Frost, Stef 6

Grayson, Ash 6

Grayson, Neil 2

Kay, Adam 1

Lowry, Phil 1

Royce, Josh 10

Slater, Carl 2

Stevenson, Lee 1

Vernon, Jake 21

Webster, Gary 5

Wells, Graham 6

White, Rocky 1

Williams, Dan 1

Own Goal 1


And just one apology from last week. A typing error on my records showed Paul Mable as scoring 38 goals in the club’s Central Midlands League championship winning season of 1996/97, when it should have been 48, and I am grateful to Bill Fossey for pointing this out.