The Thundercliffe Files: leaping around

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

28 February 2020

Leap years tend to be turning points in Town's fortunes. What might 2020 bring?

Thundercliffe Files

Town’s home game against Northampton on Saturday will be just their seventh played on 29 February. The last leap day fixture was in 1992 against Bristol City, Neil Woods getting a scruffy equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Our record on the date is played six, won three, lost two and drawn one.

The biggest win came in 1936 against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup sixth round, a 3-1 victory that saw Town play in their first ever semi-final. That game, played at Leeds Road against Arsenal, saw a narrow 1-0 defeat and a defining moment in the club’s history was delayed for 62 years.

In leap years, Town have had a positive run, the extra day almost proving vital to success. Promoted in 1956 as champions of Division Three North, there were further triumphs in 1972, under McMenemy, and then the feted team of local heroes and Irish charm of 1980. That promotion, sealed in front of more than 20,000 was the culmination of a 15 match unbeaten run, buoyed further with the League Cup run that season. The forthcoming book and launch night in April will surely bring back the memories.

We've had some relegation leaps too. In 1948, we went down from the top flight, sealed with an 8-0 defeat to Arsenal. We were never to return; fifth in the pre-play off second division in another leap year, 1984, is the closest we have come.  There were relegations in successive leap years in 1964 and 1968 followed, bringing our first encounter with Division Four. We were back there again in 1988, relegated after a dismal run after Christmas and a missed Marc North penalty.

The last leap year relegation season, 2004, saw Town win three out of their last 13, appoint a disastrous manager in Nicky Law, and still have it in their own hands. Those there at Prenton Park will never forget the meekest of Mariners moments.

Other leap years had sticky ends. In 1992, we avoided the drop after losing nine out of 15 games when Tommy Watson scored the winner against Port Vale in the last game. The 1999-2000 season, with one win in 13 and four goals, saw Town slump, and ultimately Buckley II departed. Buckley III produced a Wembley appearance in 2008, but it was at the start of an eight game losing streak that we never recovered from.

The last leap year, 2016 reached its crescendo at around 5.54pm at Wembley Stadium, Nathan Arnold slotting home to sheer unbridled joy and relief. That we had almost messed it up was palpable, the scenes unforgettable. The sight of Podge the other night, in a Newport shirt, was a reminder of the unravelling of that side so soon after our return into the Football League.

So what will 2020 bring? Better football currently, a non non chairman and a manager apparently in a unique position in this country. It took a bit of a leap of imagination to picture Holloway at the wheel but the leap of faith he took could ultimately prove that this year is the year when the foundations were built for Town to leap up the leagues once more.