Hadleigh United players reflect on their Thurlow Nunn Leage Premier Division title triumph in 2013/14
It is six years ago since Hadleigh United won the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division title for the first time. RUSSELL CLAYDON caught up with some of the players involved.
There is no doubt the 2013/14 season culminated in the greatest day in Hadleigh United’s history.
Stuart Crawford’s side, who had finished the previous campaign in eighth, had looked like they were going to canter towards the title after building up a vast lead heading in to the turn of the year.
But an FA Vase last 16 2-1 defeat at home to Wisbech Town in front of a home crowd of more than 500 in February kickstarted a nose dive.
It came as both Felixstowe & Walton United and Brightlingsea Regent kept closing the gap behind them.
Hadleigh managed to roll their sleeves up, though, and produce a trio of wins to ensure they went into the final day leading by a significantly better goal difference to Brightlingsea in second.
It left them knowing a win at home against a Mildenhall Town side with nothing to play for would ensure a first Step 5 title.
After former AFC Sudbury stalwart Shane Wardley put them ahead in the first half it appeared things would be plain sailing.
But home hearts sank when Michael Harvey equalised with five minutes remaining, coupled with the the crowd knowing Brightlingsea were beating Norwich United.
A minute later, though, Duane Wright leapt like a salmon to head home a Wardley cross and provide one of those magical moments that only sport seems to conjure up.
Centre-back Paul Donnelly, who captained the side, was in disbelief at what he had witnessed inside that penalty box.
“There was no bigger moment in my football career to turn around and to see that. And Duane with all of his veins and everything popping out of his neck,” he recalled.
“I remember where I was standing. The cross came over and he had to jump over, or at least through, two people and the goalkeeper to put it in. Especially considering halfway through the game Ollie Canfer got knocked out and had to go to hospital after a collision with the goalkeeper as well.
“Credit to him though, it was fantastic and saved us on that day.”
Donnelly believes the people that deserved the most praise, though, for that campaign, which proved to be his last full season playing despite being 26 then, were not on the pitch.
“A lot of credit needs to go to Stuart and Dilly (assistant Allan Dilloway) who really built the team,” he said.
“Looking back we were always aware Stuart was looking at new players and what we can do to get things better.
“He just got players at the right time.
“On average our squad was in the 20-24 bracket with the likes of Josh Mayhew, Ollie Canfer, Scott Chaplin and those guys and then you had the likes of Shane Wardley, Goldy (Mark Goldfinch) and myself who were that bit older.
“I think the balance of experience and youth was really good and it worked well off the field as well as on it.
“It was like you were playing with your pals rather than playing with your team at times.”
Crawford had brought Josh Mayhew back to the club aged 22 from Brantham Athletic.
And the now Stowmarket Town hotshot led the club’s title charge with 23 goals that season.
Of that dramatic final day he said: “It was a real roller-coaster of emotions really and summed up our season.
“In the first half of the season we were cruising and then we went into freefall and it all seemed to feel like that in one match.
“When they equalised it was like ‘how have we done this, how have we blown it?’
“Luckily there wasn’t too long before we scored again and it was just a wave of different emotions, so it was relief more than anything that we had done it.”
With the club not applying for promotion, Mayhew left in the summer to test himself two levels up with Witham Town.
But he has very fond memories of his time at the club.
“I loved it and I still love going back there,” he said.
“There is a lot of good people there and I used to always really get on with Dilly the assistant as well, who was a good laugh.”
He added: “There was not any groups in the changing room, everyone was all together.
“I still speak to a lot of players now and I think that sums it up really.”
Last day hero Wright, who at 34 is still turning out for Whitton United Veterans managed by Hadleigh title winner Tesfaye Bramble, said: “We should have won it a long time before that last day but scoring that goal was pretty fun!”
Like Mayhew, he felt had they progressed to Step 4 together they could have more than held their own.