Haverhill Rovers' memorable 2006/07 season remembered
It would not be absurd to suggest that 2006/07 was Haverhill Rovers’ most successful season – certainly in recent memory.
After a 10-year stint at Step 6, this was the campaign in which Rovers finally secured promotion back to the Eastern Counties League Premier Division.
For good measure, the men in red also embarked on a club-record run to the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup and added some silverware to the trophy cabinet in the form of the First Division Knockout Cup.
And yet, those achievements only begin to scratch the surface of a campaign that was packed full of incident, uncertainty, twists and turns.
Richard Carter – notorious in the local area for having a high turnover of players – started the season in charge, and true to form, the entrance to Hamlet Croft resembled a revolving door.
The likes of Tom English and Charlie Henry – players that could have been operating at a much higher level – came in, and unsurprisingly Rovers were swift out of the traps.
Cornard United were beaten 9-0 on the opening day, a result which was followed up by a 6-0 victory at the home of a much-fancied Whitton United side.
They remained unbeaten in the league until mid-October, but the sheer volume of comings and goings eventually took its toll. Carter left on the eve of the FA Cup tie against Kidsgrove Athletic – at that point the biggest game in the club’s history.
Marcus Hunt, who despite largely playing at centre-half was Haverhill’s leading scorer that season, reflected: “There was a lot of money being thrown around.
“It felt like we had 10 new faces every training session and I remember having a pre-season friendly on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday – one after the other – just because the manager had so many players to look at.
“There was some real quality players coming in and some good guys, but it was never going to be sustainable.
“It was a strange time. The manager would pin the team on the board and then that would be it, no team talk. A few of the players decided the rest among ourselves.
“The first couple of games were ridiculous. I don’t think Cornard had a shot in the 9-0.
“If we had kept that team for the whole season we would have walked the league, but it was never going to happen.”
Ben Cowling, meanwhile, joined Rovers in 1999 and was one of the more established players when Carter arrived.
Yet, it became clear pretty quickly that he was surplus to requirements under the new regime.
“We had been improving in the two or three seasons before the manager arrived,” said the now Lakenheath boss, who has also managed Rovers and Haverhill Borough.
“We weren’t spectacular, but we were hard to beat and started finishing in the top seven or eight regularly.
“Richard came in with this reputation from his time at other clubs, but he said he was going to stick with the local lads and bring in three or four from the outside.
“Then I turned up for the first pre-season training and I barely knew anyone! There was so many people there.
“I don’t remember the manager ever speaking to me and at the time I had two very young children. I just felt I didn’t need it, so I didn’t go training, nobody contacted me and I ended up playing with my mates.
“You would still hear the rumours and see what was going on – it always looked untenable.”
With Carter gone and the FA Cup trail ending at the hands of Aldershot, Rovers – now with Steve Taylor at the helm – switched their focus to the bread and butter of league football.
As expected, many players had headed for pastures new, but a sprinkling remained. That included experienced centre-back Colin Vowden, who alongside Hunt, provided Taylor’s new-look side with the most solid of backbones.
Indeed, Haverhill kept clean sheets in 13 of their final 16 league matches, with their last defeat of the season coming on Boxing Day at the hands of Saffron Walden Town. However, Rovers would get their revenge on the Essex side, beating them 3-1 in April’s final to win the Knockout Cup.
With such defensively stability, Rovers perhaps should have won the title. Scoring goals had been an issue at times, though, as three of their last five fixtures ended in goalless draws.
And so it came down to the final day, with Rovers aware that a victory against rock bottom March Town United would secure one of three promotion slots, and possibly the championship.
Quickfire goals from Hunt, Neil Cogger and Adam Salmons had Haverhill seemingly cruising towards Step 5 football, only for March to score not once, but twice.
Fingernails were being bitten to the quick at this point, but they held on for a 3-2 win. And while Walsham-le-Willows finished top, Ely City’s surprise draw meant Haverhill took the runner-up prize.
Current Rovers manager Marc Abbott was part of the midfield that season, and said: “That was one of my most favourite seasons in football. I learned so much along the way.
“I had been at Cambridge City when I was young which was great, but socially it was quiet. At Rovers we all got on, we were good mates.
“Playing alongside the likes of Vowdy, you are only going to improve.
“That final day became a little nervy, but we clung on and I just remember the relief at the final whistle.”
Cowling, meanwhile, returned to the club following Cater’s departure and pinpoints one match as a turning point – both for himself and the team.
“A few players like me returned in early November and we went from there,” he said.
“It was tough because even though a lot of the big names had gone, everyone still wanted to beat Haverhill. It was like a cup final every time we played.
“It was a team in transition up until Christmas, but it really clicked in a 3-2 win at Melford in January.
“I scored and it was the first time since I had come back that I felt like I had an impact on the team. After that it was the best football I played for Haverhill.
“We kept building from there through to the March game. I was dropped to the bench for that one, which as you can imagine I wasn’t too impressed about! But we held on, which was the important thing.
“Vowdy was a big influence on that team. He wouldn’t accept anything less than the best, and if you weren’t producing your best, he would tell you to do something about it.”
As for talisman Hunt, he was delighted to have played a starring role in his hometown team’s promotion.
“We had been at that level a long time, and I did not want to look back on my playing days having never helped the club to get promoted,” he said.
“You have to remember how tough that level was. Even in our league we had the likes of Needham Market and Leiston – look where they are now.
“We probably should have won it but we didn’t score enough goals. Vowdy and I scored a good amount from the back, but we needed more.
“It didn’t matter in the end, we got up. The last game summed up the season – it was entertaining, probably the most entertaining season I’ve been involved in.”
More by this authorLiam Apicella