'The title was in our hands' - Risborough Rangers manager reflects on season

Celebrating their golden jubilee, Risborough Rangers finished their first Step 5 season as league runners-up – but manager Mark Eaton is still disappointed.

By Zoe Ashton
Monday, 9th May 2022, 6:05 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2022, 6:05 pm
Risborough Rangers manager Mark Eaton celebrating one of the club's many successes during the season Picture by Charlie Carter

And to rub salt in the wound, the FA have ruled they won’t be promoted – even though the required ground grading work will be complete by the end of the month.

"The way it’s ended is all quite raw at the moment,” he said. “We’re gutted not to be champions – and not to be going up. It’s devastating for everyone at the club.

"But I guess once the dust settles we’ll look back and be very proud of what we have achieved – and how long we went unbeaten.”

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Rangers were pipped to the title by a single point after being beaten 2-0 by New Salamis in the ‘winner takes all’ final game in the Spartan South Midlands Premier Division.

Their fantastic run over the last four seasons saw them go a record-breaking 52 games unbeaten and was only ended in January, 1-0 by Ardley United.

Their only other two league defeats were their last two games, at Tring Athletic and the title decider, showing what a phenomenal season it was – whatever the outcome.

Those slip-ups weren’t helped by a gruelling schedule of 12 games in the last 29 days.

"For three weeks we were playing Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, which is inhuman for any team,” said Eaton. “I’m not surprised we looked dead on our feet when it came to the crunch.

"Having said that we had enough opportunities to win the title earlier and we should have done, at Tring and drawing against teams lower in the division when we missed a lot of chances.

"There’s lots of factors but we have to blame ourselves as we had the title in our hands and have given it away.

"That’s hard to take, but we’ll dust ourselves down and prepare for next year,” he added. “We’ve got work to do close season.”

While the results were within their control, the ground grading issue wasn’t.

“It was certainly a double-whammy,” explained Eaton. “The planning application delay (from being submitted in August 2021 to being granted in March) was no fault of our own. The FA wouldn’t give us an extra eight weeks and it will all be done by May 31.

"What sort of support is that for grassroots football, stopping the progress of a growing club? It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”