John Grant and Lewis Chalmers celebrate on the marvellous night in Exeter
picture is copyright http://www.theshots.co.uk/
Memories on Mondays is a series that will be memories of matches I have been to or watched on TV. The first match is Exeter City vs Aldershot Town on 15th April 2008. If we avoided defeat on that night then we would be Champions and finally get promoted to the Football League. We had beaten Torquay United our closest rivals in the last minute of injury time in March but they had carried on getting results and kept on our tails. We could have won the League the previous Tuesday at Ebbsfleet United if Torquay United lost their match and we won. We ended up drawing 2-2 and Torquay won theirs. It moved onto Saturday 12th and the same happened where if we won and Torquay lost then we would be Champions. We won 1-0 at home to Burton Albion but Torquay (after being behind twice) beat Stevenage Borough.
Going down to Devon, we knew it would be a tough game. Exeter also needed points to get into the play offs themselves and had some very good players.
Our coach turned up early and I went straight into the away terrace. This was something I hadn’t managed to do 8 years previously in an FA Cup tie I had come to at Exeter when Aldershot had reached the 2nd Round. Exeter expected around 250 Aldershot fans to come down for the game and we brought over 2,000. The fans were all crowded in and the gates were locked with hundreds of fans locked out! Some fans at the front of the queue outside started pushing the gates and the game kicked off as if nothing was wrong! I had travelled down with my Dad, Granddad and sister and we were still far down the queue. We were eventually given restricted view seats in the old Main stand full of Exeter fans!
Back to April 2008 and there was plenty of space for me this time! The away end is a small narrow uncovered terrace but it was soon full as the players came out. The game was nerve racking and the Shots were attacking towards us in the first half. We created a few chances but nothing that caused Exeter’s goalkeeper any worries. And then disaster struck, Exeter took the lead. Their super striker Adam Stansfield (who sadly passed away last year) broke free and ran through and nudged the ball past an on rushing Nikki Bull. St James’ Park went mad and we just stood there in silence. The problem with going to away games and conceding is that all the other stands are full of happy celebrating fans and you are just left there standing hoping your team can get a quick goal back!
Before half time though we equalised. A young midfielder Scott Donnelly hit a tame shot from the edge of the box and somehow Andy Marriott in the Exeter goal let the ball roll over him and into the net. All the Shots fans in the away end went potty and we were jumping with joy. Now all we had to do was hold on for the rest of the first half and see the second half through and we would be Champions!!
There was a strange feeling amongst the fans at half time. It was happiness that we were 45 minutes away from the Football League but also fear that we would throw it away and make it all the more difficult for ourselves (the Aldershot way!)
The second half lasted forever but I don’t remember much of it apart from one outstanding save from Nikki Bull and it was the best save I had ever seen live. He jumped full stretch across goal and clawed the ball back from going into the top corner after an effort from an Exeter player. The ball rolled out away from goal and was chipped back into the six yard box at the far post over Bully. He hadn’t given up and sprung to his feet and threw himself back across goal and with Ricky Newman our ageing centre back let the ball go off the pitch.
At this point we felt like it must surely be our night as there was only a few minutes left but they went on forever. During the whole of stoppage time whistles from the Aldershot fans filled the Devonshire air, urging the referee to finally blow the full time whistle. When he finally did, the roar from us was so loud!! Random strangers were hugging each other and people were shouting “we’ve done it”, others were crying. I just stood on the spot relieved the game was over!
The players were celebrating too but on the pitch. Someone had given them a flag with “We are going up!” on it and Gary Waddock our manager and all his staff were on the pitch. John McGinty our late chairman came onto the pitch and hugged Gary. Scott Davies, who scored the late winner at Torquay was hobbling towards us on the pitch using crutches after picking up an injury.
The players went back down the tunnel to the dressing room to be interviewed in front of the TV cameras and celebrate a bit more. They then came back out and came down in front of the fans and Rob Gier our right back started break dancing! The best was to come as they then decided it would be a good idea to jump over the advertising boards and join us in the away end. I grabbed Nikki Bull and shouted in his ear “You’ve got to sign a new contract…this is what’s it’s all about at Aldershot!!” His contract was up in the summer and guess what? He signed a new contract! My doing? Who knows?!?!?!
On the way out I called my Dad to say thank you for taking me to my first Aldershot Town game back in February 1994 as I wouldn’t have experienced this otherwise. As soon as I got back to the ground at Aldershot where Dad was going to collect me I went to the pitch which was obviously completely dark and ran on the pitch. I felt like a little kid again running around with my arms outstretched shouting “Champions, Champions!” It was one of the best moments supporting the Shots for me so far.This video was recorded in the last minute of the game and the immediate celebrations after the final whistle. It was brilliant!