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LATE SURGE FOR PROMOTION

Back in 2009, it took just six weeks to go from mid-table to history makers...

It was late March in 2009 and Frome Town’s long-held ambition of promotion to the Southern League had been seriously derailed.


After a tame defeat at Sherborne, lowly Ilfracombe had snatched a point at Badgers Hill with a last gasp penalty, leaving The Robins languishing in ninth place with a third of the season remaining, thirteen Toolstation Western League Premier Division fixtures shoehorned into a hectic six-week schedule.

Runaway leaders Bitton looked highly unlikely to be caught but it was public knowledge that they were not in a position to step up to the higher level so any club clinching the runners-up spot whose facilities were up to scratch would land the promotion prize.


Next to The Hill were old foes Welton Rovers and the contest exploded on the stroke of half time with a twenty-two-man brawl which resulted in a red card apiece as a 1-1 draw led to further frustration before they finally got back to winning ways when a late Mark Salter goal settled a tense encounter at Ilfracombe, 3-1.


More good news followed on the morning of the home clash with Street as the ground was officially deemed fit for Southern League football which inspired The Robins, who struck twice in the last five minutes, to a 3-0 success, perfect preparation for the eagerly anticipated clash at table toppers Bitton.


A dry bumpy surface at The Recreation Ground was never going to create a classic contest as the leaders adapted better in building a two-goal advantage which they defended doggedly despite a late Salter penalty.


Frome needed to bounce back quickly, and they did so thanks to a Matt Cowler goal under the Badgers Hill lights against Wellington but it took a man of the match performance from keeper Richard Fey to preserve the lead as he made save after vital save in the dying moments.


Good Friday brought the visit of near neighbours Radstock, and many felt the promotion dream died there and then as The Miners struck three times (including one from former Robin Damien Preece) without reply but there was a flicker of hope five days later at Calne when a solitary 75th minute strike from Simeon Allison bagged the points.


They went two-up in twelve minutes against Melksham but that was squandered for a share of the spoils and after a routine 4-1 triumph at already relegated Devizes it left them with a tough run-in with three of the final four fixtures against top five teams.


Manager Andy Crabtree felt his side needed to win the lot and the task got harder as their erratic home form allowed Bideford to leave with a point in an entertaining 1-1 draw before they put on a real show for the home faithful in a five-star, 5-0 demolition of Sherborne where Allison, Nathan Rudge, Joe Gomes (back after a lengthy injury lay-off), Salter and Simon Millard were all on target.


Other results meant that, with two games remaining, the coveted runners-up spot was in their own hands as 295 (a decent turn-out in those days) flocked to The Hill for a Friday night showdown with champions Bitton.


It was the visitors who began brightly with Fey having plenty to do but against the run of play, Frome broke the deadlock as a deflected cross fell nicely to Leigh Burke who picked the ideal time to score his first goal for the club.

The ground erupted when Salter soon made it 2-0 but a missed penalty caused some to fear an anxious second half which, thankfully, did not materialise due to fine game management, epitomised by a man of the match performance from the ever-reliable Jamie Cheeseman who, later that joyous evening, picked up all three player of the season awards.


So, to the final league encounter three days later on Bank Holiday Monday at fellow high-fliers Dawlish where a point would clinch the prize as around 150 hopeful Dodge devotees swelled the Sandy Lane crowd.


A tense tight first half produced a goalless stalemate before Frome came out for the second period all guns blazing and deservedly took the lead when Adamo Missiato set up Salter to smash home.


They should have been awarded a 75th minute penalty but play was waved on, and Dawlish broke away to snatch an equaliser which set alarm bells ringing amongst the travelling masses.


Their angst was short lived for right from the kick-off, Allison cracked home a worldie from 25 yards and the promotion party could really begin.


For the first time in their 105-year history, Frome Town were now a Southern League club, something which seemed scarcely believable just six short weeks previously, but they hit form at just the right time as eight wins and two draws from the final dozen matches proved to be just enough.


To cap a memorable campaign, the Somerset Premier Cup was lifted later that week in a thrilling second half fightback at West Clewes against Paulton Rovers and a season of what might have been became a double celebration.


With grateful thanks to Colin Carpenter’s match reports

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