BRACKLEY TOWN – HISTORY
Brackley is a small but growing Northamptonshire market town of around 15000 inhabitants situated between Northampton, Milton Keynes and Oxford. The nearest point of reference for many people would be the Silverstone motor racing circuit and Formula One has a big presence in the town as base for the world champion Mercedes team.
THE EARLY YEARS
Founded in 1890 Brackley Town was, around the turn of the century, a prominent side in the local area. At one time the name of Tottenham Hotspur appeared on the fixture list, London being a short journey away on the newly opened Great Central Railway.
The Club then slipped into relative obscurity, competing mainly at a very junior level. Most of the time before the war was spent in the Oxfordshire League, games being played in Manor Road, before they transferred to the North Bucks League in the post-war years. Here they stayed until 1968 when they took what appeared to be a step down the ladder by joining the Banbury & District League. During this time they had moved their ground to the Buckingham Road with the changing facilities and
headquarters situated in The Plough public house.
THE MOVE TO ST JAMES PARK
In 1974 the club moved back to the North Bucks League and this coincided with a move to the current St James Park ground. A small clubhouse and changing rooms were built and within 3 years the major step up into the Hellenic League was made. They stayed in Division One until 1983 before moving into the United Counties League, winning the Division One title at the first attempt and gaining promotion into the Premier Division.
Then followed some difficult years with even the very survival of the club in doubt. The 1992/93 season ended with the ignominious distinction of having the worst playing record of any senior side in the country. It was only the fact that others did not have the required facilities for promotion that they were spared relegation.
But in 1994 they moved back across the pyramid into the Hellenic League and fortunes improved dramatically with former manager Phil Lines returning and in 1996/97 winning the Premier Division title. Minor miracles were then performed in order to make the ground suitable for elevation into Southern League.
With finances at full stretch however, the club was forced into voluntary liquidation in February 1999. It was saved at the last minute to ensure that the season was completed. The “new” club finished bottom of the Southern Section and were therefore demoted back into the Hellenic League.
The 2003/04 season saw an exciting run-in and the championship shield lifted on the last day of the season and with it promotion back to the Southern League.
Mike Ford took over as manager in October 2004, guiding the team to the fringes of the play-off positions. Ford departed in February 2006 with the club again just outside the promotion frame. Phil Lines and his Assistant Andy Sinnott took over and guided the club to a third place finish culminating in the heartbreak of losing in the last few minutes of the play-off final.
The 2006/07 season finally saw the team fulfil its potential. Leading the table from early December, the league was won at a canter. Lines then stepped aside and the club appointed the experienced Roger Ashby as they took the step into unknown territory at Step 3.
With Lines once again back at the helm an eleventh-placed finish in 2008/09 consolidated Premier Division status and the club’s growing ambitions and proceeds from a successful FA Cup run, reaching the first round proper for the first time, brought a new all-seater stand behind one goal to match the newly constructed, small covered terrace at the cricket ground end. The FA Cup run that ended at Eastwood Town was matched by a first appearance in the first round proper of the FA Trophy. Cup success was topped off by a third appearance in the Senior Cup Final and in April 2009 a new era was ushered in by the appointment from the playing staff of former Kettering Town and Rushden and Diamonds player, Aussie Jon Brady as Lines’ managerial successor.
2011/12 saw arguably the most successful season in the club’s history to that point culminating in winning the Southern League Premier Division and a second Senior Cup victory. The team lifted the Southern League shield at a jubilant St James Park after a 6-0 thrashing of St Albans City.
INTO CONFERENCE NORTH (STEP TWO)
The new season had seen the start of major ground improvements including new changing rooms, terracing, improved parking and the upgrading of the floodlights. The first season in the Conference North began with a 4-1 win at Altrincham to announce the arrival of Brackley Town at Step 2 and saw the side make it all the way to the play-off final losing by a single goal to FC Halifax Town at St James Park.
The 2013/14 season brought a 7th-placed finish and FA Cup success beating Division One Gillingham at St James Park in a 1st round replay on live TV. The addition of an artificial grass pitch was a further big boost to the club as it expanded its community programme and improved training facilities.
There followed two difficult seasons each of which ended in fairy-tale escapes at the wrong of the table with last day wins. In April 2015 only three wins from three could save the Saints and, with two wins in the bag, a 1-0 home win over Hednesford on the final day of the season courtesy of Ryan Rowe’s stunning late strike saved the day against all odds.
Jon Brady’s time in charge ended in October 2015 with ex-Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair taking temporary charge before former Cobblers striker and Nuneaton and Wrexham manager Kevin Wilkin was appointed to the hot seat. Wilkin led an FA Cup charge to the first round, losing only in a replay at league side Newport County, but the team laboured at the wrong end of the table until only a last day combination of a Brackley win at home against Tamworth and results elsewhere going their way would be enough to maintain National League North status.
For a second successive season the remarkable happened and Glenn Walker’s goal allied to Lowestoft’s inability to beat Gloucester City brought another heart-stopping afternoon that ultimately saw the Saints survive on goal difference only.
Rumours of moves into National League South proved unfounded and a fifth season in National League North saw Wilkin’s side finish just a single point outside the play-off places. The season also saw great cup success reaching Round 2 in the FA Cup having beaten League One Gillingham (again!) in a televised replay at St James Park in Round 1. The 4-3 win every bit as thrilling as you might expect from the score-line and including James Armson’s hat-trick. The quarter-final stage was reached in the FA Trophy with defeat at eventual winners York City. Further milestones in 2016-17 were reached by Glenn Walker and Steve Diggin each completing 200 games for the club.
2017-18 was a remarkable season and the club’s most successful ever with a third placed finish earning a play-off spot and a Wembley appearance against National League Bromley in the FA Trophy final. The defeat of Bradford Park Avenue in the play-off semi-final brought a play-off final at Harrogate Town but that game proved one match too far. The following Sunday Kevin Wilkin and captain Gaz Dean led the side out at Wembley in front of over 7000 Brackley supporters and over 30,000 in brilliant sunshine. The game matched the weather as Dean’s added time equalizer led onto a penalty shoot-out which was won 5-4 and sparked wild celebrations. A day and a season never to be forgotten.