Saturday will be an historic occasion for Bracknell Town who make a return to step 4 of the English Football Pyramid after eight years away.
Perhaps even more importantly for Robins fans of a certain age, it’s a return to the Isthmian League – or Bostik League if your prefer for the first time in 14 seasons – or since 2003/04.
That season Bracknell finished 14th in Division 1 South after the previous terms last day escape from relegation – the Robins had been promoted up two levels following a restructure in the summer of 2002.
That final season the Robins were up against the likes of Dulwich Hamlet, Slough Town, Worthing and Hampton & Richmond Borough.
On Saturday, Bracknell entertain Essex side Waltham Abbey for what we believe is the first ever competitive meeting between the sides. If it’s your first time at Larges Lane, make sure you read the ground guide.
What happened in the summer of 2004?
The end of the 2004 roughly marks the time the Football Association started moving clubs laterally based on geographical boundaries, breaking down decades of leagues hoarding clubs.
The change made a lot of sense, but for Bracknell – who were one of the Western most clubs in the Isthmian League, transferring to the Southern League added a hefty financial travel burden along with a completely different style of play.
I think most Bracknell fans of that era will agree that the Southern League clubs played a much more robust version of the game. The Robins, used to playing a bit more on the deck never really got to grips with the bigger, stronger teams of Western England – ultimately leading to their relegation to the Hellenic League at the end of the 2010 season.
Plenty to look forward to
The start of the new season of course is always one of hope and excitement, and Bracknell fans are riding the crest of a wave after promotion from the Hellenic League Premier Division and a second League Cup win in successive seasons.
The Bostik League’s official website has polled supporters of every club and has the Robins down for a play-off finish – which doesn’t look out of reach even before a ball has been kicked.
The club have two experienced goalkeepers battling for the number one shirt in Chris Grace and Mark Scott while upfront they may have lost TJ Bohane, but a trio of former Thatcham Town strikers in Liam Ferdinand, Gavin James and Josh Helmore should ease the burden on Adam Cornell.
The club have also kept hold of flying wingers Joe Grant and Seb Bowerman and added some youthful competition in key areas.
Arguably the one area of disappointment will have been seeing several new recruits depart as centre back Scott Rees has already left for Thatcham while James Tripp has dropped down two levels to join Hellenic Division 1 East Burnham.
As well as the South Central Division 1 campaign, Bracknell can look forward to a return to the FA Trophy competition for the first time since 2009 and a Velocity Cup (the Bostik League Cup) tie and against famous FA Cup giant killers Kingstonian later in August.
The Robins will of course also feature in the restructured Berks & Bucks County FA Cup which was a big success last season and gave the side important tests against National League side Hungerford Town and then Southern League Premier Division Slough Town.