Club History - Part 3 - 2002-to-2004

On Wednesday March 20th 2002 - 10 years to the day since Aldershot FC played its last ever league fixture - after a lengthy and painstaking interview and selection process, Aldershot Town FC appointed its fourth manager. Another Londoner, Terry Brown, arrived at the Recreation Ground from Conference side Hayes after a nine-year spell in charge at the Middlesex club. He had managed to take Hayes from the brink of relegation from the Isthmian Premier Division through to third position in the Conference, just six points behind champions Cheltenham Town in 1999. It was a difficult call for Brown, who was a former Hayes player, but small attendances at Church Road ensured that he was always forced to sell his best players, including future Premier League striker Jason Roberts. With the best days at Hayes behind him, he applied for the Aldershot job and was selected for the job ahead of 50 other candidates. His recruitment proved to be a shrewd piece of work from the board of directors.

Brown Provides Stability A Shots Reach Conference

The first move by the former Wokingham Town striker (who remains the record goal scorer for the Berkshire club) proved a popular choice with Shots supporters as he retained the services of Stuart Cash, who had done a sterling job in steadying the ship as caretaker manager after the departure of George Borg. An experimental end of the campaign saw plenty of players used as preparation had already started for the following season. It did, however, end with a positive sign as a Stafford Browne hat-trick secured the Hampshire Senior Cup again with a 3-1 win over Havant and Waterlooville at Southampton's St Mary's Stadium.

During the summer of 2002, Brown set about transforming Aldershot Town. No fewer than eleven first team players were released or moved on. Slowly, Brown brought in players he knew and admired. Eleven new players were signed from the lower reaches of the Football League and the Conference. With an experienced squad assembled, Brown set about the task of taking Aldershot forward. After a few setbacks and injuries to key players, he steered Aldershot to the top of the table in mid-November. The Shots never relinquished that position despite Canvey Island trying to close the gap. In April 2003, over 2,400 Shots fans made the journey to Canvey Island for what was billed as the title decider. A Roscoe D'Sane penalty saw an epic performance rewarded with victory despite losing the services of key defender Ray Warburton early on. In truth, the league title was won in Essex that night, but confirmation had to wait a touch longer.

Six days later, after a 5-1 demolition of St Albans City, the Shots travelled to Sutton United needing just one point for the championship. Another D'Sane goal secured a
1-1 draw and the Shots won promotion to the Conference at the fifth time of asking. The last game of the season saw 3,000 Shots fans head once again to St Mary's as the Shots retained the Hampshire Senior Cup with a 2-1 win over Bashley. With the 2002-03 season ending in triumph, a new chapter in Aldershot Town's incredible history was about to be written.

The Conference Era Begins

The new chapter started at the Recreation Ground in front of Sky Sports cameras and 3,680 supporters as Accrington Stanley became the first side to play Aldershot Town in a national league. A 2-1 win for the Shots was the perfect start to life among the non-league elite on a special day. It was a romantic occasion as Accrington were the previous side to lose their Football League status mid-season way back in 1962.

The victory was just a taste of things to come as the still part-time side constructed by Terry Brown went on to stay in the play-off positions in the league table for all-but-three days of the season, surrounded by full-time, professional former Football League sides. The Shots equalled their best-ever run in the FA Cup, reaching the 2nd Round and losing 1-0 to Colchester United at Layer Road in a hard fought encounter. More club records tumbled as the side also reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy, losing to eventual winners Hednesford Town. The average attendance for league matches at the Rec ended on a record high of 3,303, the highest since the 1978-79 season. A 1-1 draw against Tamworth on the last day of the season carried the Shots into the play-offs for a place in the Football League.

Over two legs, the Shots held their own against red-hot favourites Hereford United, drawing 1-1 at the Rec and 0-0 in the away leg. Extra time finished without any further score on the Bank Holiday Monday and the tie was concluded on penalties, with the Shots winning the shootout 4-2 amid frantic celebratory scenes at Edgar Street.
Aldershot were 90 minutes away from the Football League status that the town had lost in 1992. Shrewsbury Town, relegated from the Football League the previous season, were the opponents in the final. In a build-up and atmosphere that Shots supporters will never forget, a crowd of approaching 20,000 attended Stoke City's Britannia Stadium. The Shots took the lead through Aaron McLean’s first half effort and the dream was realistic. Shrewsbury levelled and took the game to extra time. However, it was not to be for Aldershot Town as the Shrews returned to the Football League with a 3-0 shoot-out win. There had been no real expectations at the start of the season, so reaching the play-off final was a major achievement for Brown, his coaching staff (which now included former Portsmouth and Birmingham City midfielder Martin Kuhl, who had held several positions at the club since 2001) and the players. Certainly a case of over-achievement. One player to depart at the end of this season was local product Jason Chewins. The defender had spent ten seasons at the club registering 489 appearances, a club record.

Picture Gallery

Terry Brown and Stuart Cash after 2003-04 play-off semi-final success at Hereford United
Chairman Karl Prentice and manager Terry Brown at the play-off final at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium
The captains and mascots before the play-off final in 2004
Nearly 20000 spectators attended the 2004 play-off final
Hampshire Senior Cup winners 2003
Paul Buckle, Lee Holsgrove, Mark Hammond and Nikki Bull after the 2003 Hampshire Senior Cup triumph
Roscoe D'Sane celebrates after scoring v Accrington Stanley in 2003-04
Hampshire Senior Cup winners 2002-03
Roscoe D'Sane and Aaron McLean at Hereford United in 2003-04
Tim Sills scores at Telford United in 2003-04
The 2002/03 programme was called Rec Voice and wasa 48 page edition. Chairman Karl Prentice provided a two page opening called Inside Forward. Brown's Red and Blue was the manager's page in Terry Brown's first full season. Ian Morsman's photos were recorded under You've Been Framed. Other new articles included Physio Alan McCreanney's In The Home Dressing Room and Simon Pullen and Martin Kuhl's Keeping Pase With Youth and Reserves. The price increased to £2.
The Rising Phoenix was the name of the programme for the first Conference season in 2003/04. A 44 page publication from the Adline Group cost £2 and included more colour in the history of Aldershot programmes. Terry Brown's article was called On The Bench with coverage of The Shotsline was called 7 Day A Week. Secretary Morgan covered his page called ATFC Team Member. There was also updates from the Stray Shots supporters throughout the world.
Penalty shoot out celebrations at Edgar Street in 2004
Aaron McLean, who went on to forge a fine career at Peterborough United, in action at Hereford United in 2004
More 2004 play off action at Hereford United
Paul Buckle, who went on to manage Torquay United, captaining the side during the 2002/03 Isthmian championship season
Striker Tim Sills in Conference action in 2004
Nikki Bull celebrates at Hereford after penalty shoot out drama
Bully celebrates with captain Ray Warburton