From play-offs to rock bottom
What a year it has been for Basingstoke Town.
From claiming the club’s highest ever league finish in April to dropping like a stone to the bottom of the National League South following a disastrous start to this campaign, Dragons fans have been through it all in 2015.
Throw a heartbreaking play-off loss, an FA Cup run and a new manager into the mix, and it would be safe to say that the ‘Stoke dominated the back pages over the past 12 months.
Without question, the biggest Town-related story of the year was the club’s amazing run to finish in the Conference South play-offs.
Rewind back to the start of the New Year and Basingstoke were flying, with Jason Bristow’s side securing four wins on the bounce over the festive period to cement their position in third spot.
And that’s where the Dragons would eventually finish four months, 32 points and 19 matches later, following a run of nine wins, five draws and five defeats to set up a semi-final double-header with fourth-placed Whitehawk on April 29 and May 2 respectively.
Top scorer Chris Flood’s early goal in the first leg ensured that Basingstoke returned from East Sussex with a 1-1 draw to put them in a fantastic position to progress to the play-off final.
But with promotion to the Conference within their grasp and a bumper 1,749-strong crowd cheering them on at The Camrose, the Dragons were narrowly defeated 1-0 in the second leg to end the 2014/15 season in disappointing fashion.
Keen to prove that last season wasn’t a one-off, Town boss Bristow handed new deals to 13 of the play-off squad over the summer in a bid to go one step further this time around.
But Basingstoke could not have had a much-more contrasting second half of 2015 to the heroics of the opening few months.
From narrowly losing their opener at Ebbsfleet United, the club has never really recovered, with fans now preparing themselves for a relegation battle instead of promotion.
While Town have managed to replicate last season’s run to the FA Cup first round proper – narrowly losing to League Two Cambridge United – they have found things much tougher in the league this time around.
After going 13 games without registering a single league win, Basingstoke ironically finally ended that run at the end of October with victory over Whitehawk of all teams.
That win would turn out to be Bristow’s only one in the National League South however, as he stepped down after three years at the helm in November.
Assistant Michael Gilkes has since taken his place as first-team manager, with the club bottom of the league.
But Town have started to show signs of recovery since the arrival of the new boss, and finally ended their long-wait for a league win on the road at the start of this month with a dramatic winner at Bishop’s Stortford in the fourth minute of injury time.
Here’s to hoping that it will be the first of many under Gilkes.
Herd on course for first title
After the glory and drama of the 2013/14 double winning season, Basingstoke Bison were always going to struggle to replicate such heroics last term.
And so it turned out – with the Herd ending last campaign empty handed following an aggregate play-off defeat to Manchester Phoenix.
Doug Sheppard’s side narrowly missed out on matching the previous year’s second-placed finish in the English Premier League (EPL) as they instead secured third spot, while they also failed to defend their League Cup title.
But the good times look set to return to the Basingstoke Arena over the next few months and beyond, following a superb start to the season for the Stampede that currently sees them firmly in the running to win all three titles on offer.
After securing the futures of the likes of Miroslav Vantroba, Joe Baird and new skipper Aaron Connolly, as well as bringing in Shaun Thompson and import netminder Tomas Hiadlovsky to the club over the summer, Bison have come storming out of the traps.
The Herd are currently engaged in a three-way battle with Milton Keynes Lightning and Peterborough Phantoms at the top of the EPL table as they look to claim their first league title.
While it would be unfair on the team to single out any one player as being the main reason for Bison’s fine form, Basingstoke’s home performances at Planet Ice have undoubtedly been the catalyst for their improvement so far this season.
An amazing 13 consecutive wins on home ice before Christmas sent league records tumbling on a weekly basis, while more importantly leaving the Herd’s rivals fearing visiting a genuine title contender who are bang on form.
Rose blooms again during top year
He may not have been able to add to his solitary major title but this year undoubtedly represented one of Justin Rose’s best in sport.
The North Hampshire golfer emphasised just why he is universally viewed as one of the best players in the business right now by putting in a string of fine performances all-year long.
Aside from a disappointing 27th-place finish at the US Open, Rose was a model of consistency in each of the other three majors on offer.
He got the ball rolling with a career-best finish at the Masters at Augusta in April – tieing second spot with Phil Mickelson.
And the 35-year-old came close again to adding to his 2013 US Open title at the PGA Championships where he finished in fourth place, alongside claiming a share of sixth spot at The Open.
Rose also claimed his seventh career PGA tour win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April, while finishing twice at two other tournaments to cement his position as world number seven.
And the former Robert May’s School student managed to claim a European Tour title for the fourth season in a row at the Hong Kong Open in October, with Rose ending the season in fourth spot in the overall Race to Dubai standings.
Collard claims multiple podiums in top-10 finish
Although he may have seen his position in the overall standings fall on the previous season’s showing, Rob Collard achieved more podiums than in many a year.
The Hook-based racing driver finished in the top-three seven times in total over the 2015 British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) season.
In total Collard won three races, coming at Brands Hatch, Croft and Knockhill respectively during a stop-start campaign that saw him finish in 10th spot in the individual standings with 226 points.
While he showed some masterful driving in the seventh round of races at Knockhill in August to claim back-to-back first and second-placed finishes, the biggest highlight of the experienced West Surrey Racing (WSR) Driver’s season actually occurred two months earlier at Croft.
Collard picked up successive finishes of third, sixth and first to collect a massive 45 points on a weekend that also saw WSR teammates Sam Tordoff and Andy Priaulx both take the chequered flag.
Joy for ladies and despair for rugby club, while Collard Jr comes close
Basingstoke Town Ladies managed to outshine the men’s side after claiming the Southern Region League Chairman’s Cup for the first time in the club’s history.
After disappointing in the league, ‘Stoke more than made up for it with a dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Fleet Town in May – with Emily Edwards stepping up to score the winning spot kick.
And Hook’s Ricky Collard, son of BTCC racer Rob, just missed out on the MSA Formula Championship by 11 points to winner Lando Norris.
Basingstoke RFC couldn’t have had a more contrasting year however, as the club suffered its second successive relegation, with Gareth Hatherley -Hurford’s side currently in real danger of a triple drop following a disastrous start to the new London Two South West season.
Elsewhere, Basingstoke and North Hampshire Cricket Club finished third in the Southern League Division One, while Basingstoke Hockey Club men’s firsts ended last season’s Hampshire Surrey 1 campaign in fourth spot.