Guildford City lifted the Combined Counties League trophy on a sunny afternoon in Dorking, but had to wait until the last five minutes to really get the party started. Only an eleven goal defeat would have prevented City from winning the league title, but there was little to worry even though opponents Bookham had several good chances to score. In the end, Joel Greaves and Ben Rayner scored within minutes of each other to put Guildford City three points clear of runners-up Chertsey Town. The visitors were presented the trophy by league officials and celebrations continued well after the final whistle (something that has a major part to play in the sore head and aversion to light as I write this report).
The game itself had, unsurprisingly, an ‘end of season’ flavour to it. Bookham had their unfortunate fate confirmed earlier in the week and are now resigned to finishing bottom. City, on the other hand, knew they just had to avoid losing by eleven goals.
Ben Camara dropped his shoulder and turned past Dan Oliver early on, but his curling shot didn’t cause Dan Cole too much trouble in the Bookham goal. A Ben Rayner through ball was neatly flicked by Joel Greaves to Luke Bradnick, whose edge of the area shot zipped just wide. At the other end, a strong run by Mark Jarman culminated in a tame shot at Antony Hall. Luke Bradnick had another chance as he chased a looping pass, but the ball ran away from him as he turned inside the last defender.
Hall gave City a scare when he was beaten to the ball by Jarman, well outside of his area. The Bookham striker saw his shot blocked by Simon Cooper on the City goal line. Claudio Defreitas nearly capitalised when Tony Chaplin’s header fell kindly at his feet, but the Bookham midfielder’s effort went wide and the teams went in goalless at half time.
Early in the second half, a long ball from Cooper was chased down by Greaves. As City’s top scorer ran through on goal he was challenged by goalkeeper Cole. It looked a certain penalty but referee Grey signalled a goal kick. Had a spot kick been given, Cole would have had to be dismissed – the referee perhaps showing a leniency that let the game continue in good spirit. Minute later, Ben Camara made a powerful run into the box and passed for Greaves, who turned and shot just wide from close range.
Bookham had yet another chance when a flick from a long ball bounced fortunately off the back of Tom Penson. Jarman picked up the ball and raced towards goal, but Antony Hall saved his low shot well. Bookham then had penalty claims of their own turned down when substitute Breslin and then Currie were tackled in the box. A smart through ball offered Bookham their best chance of the match – Hall producing a magnificent save to deny Jarman yet again.
The party started in the 85th minute, when Joel Greaves latched on to a pass from Ben Rayner. He powered past Reece Davis before nudging the ball past Cole to give City the lead. Players and supporters celebrated by ‘doing the Greaves-y’ – the goal celebration we’ve seen so much of this season. Just two minutes later, Greaves returned the favour as he won the ball and passed for Ben Rayner to slot home.
The final whistle prompted the celebrations, with the players being awarded their individual trophies before captain Simon Cooper lifted the trophy amidst a shower of champagne. There was even time for Cooper to be reunited with Patch, his fluffy mascot that had been dognapped by an ‘unnamed assailant’ earlier in the season – fittingly, when City had faced Dorking at Meadowbank in October. The trophy was passed around City’s players and supporters, and the photographs continued long after the final whistle.
The trophy was a fitting reward for an excellent season, not just in the league but with some excellent Cup and Vase performances. Kevin Rayner, assistant Roly Martin and all the players should be very proud of their achievement, and their name joins a long list of Combined Counties winners including AFC Wimbledon and Godalming Town.
Video highlights can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AIq0rTTHMo
Antony Hall, Tony Chaplin (Corey Holder 57), Ben Rayner, Simon Cooper, Jamie Thoroughgood, Tom Penson, Luke Bradnick (Austin Gacheru 70), Dan Clayton (Lance Banton-Brown 57), Joel Greaves, Ben Camara, Dan Moody.
Unused substitute: Michael Hall.