40 Year Anniversary: The 2000's Season To Remember

By Sam Elliott

We’re getting ready to celebrate the 40th year in the competition’s history - so we’re revisiting a key season from each decade as we build up to the big day

The 2002-03 Nationwide Conference season began with great anticipation as, after many hours of discussions, the number of teams promoted to the Football League was finally increased from one to two, and play-offs were introduced to determine the second team to be promoted along with the champions.

The title race ended up being a comfortable success for Yeovil Town, one of the most famous names in non-League football due mainly to their FA Cup exploits.

They had been galvanised at their new-ish stadium outside the town at Huish Park by Gary Johnson.

They won the title by a then record number of points (17), scoring exactly 100 goals and remaining unbeaten at home.

The Glovers` style of play was a breath of fresh air, based on smooth, quick passing and using wingers and playing through midfield.

Sometimes though the style of play didn`t always sit comfortably with the Huish Park faithful, who had to be patient at times when they were demanding the ball be `smashed up to the big fella!`

The fact that, in the end, Yeovil possessed nine semi-pro internationals in their squad was also testament to Gary Johnson and his assistant Steve Thompson, the current Dorchester Town boss.

They had many consistent performers, such as Chris Weale in goal, former manager Darren Way, Terry Skiverton, Gavin Williams, Adam Lockwood, Nicky Crittenden, Colin Pluck, Michael McIndoe and the bosses` son Lee Johnson, who of course now manages Bristol City.

Kirk Jackson only really became a regular in the Yeovil side from November onwards once Carl Alford had been sold to Nuneaton Borough but ended the season as second top scorer in the league with 26 goals – one behind Doncaster Rovers` Paul Barnes, who helped the Yorkshire side to the second promotion spot.

Whilst the Glovers comfortably won the championship, the battle for positions in the remaining top five places to determined the home and away legs of the new play-offs was extremely tight.

In the end, Morecambe finished as runners-up on goal difference from Doncaster, with Chester City and Dagenham & Redbridge following behind.

So Doncaster would take on their former Football League rivals Chester in one semi-final and the Shrimps would tackle the Daggers in the other.

Chester`s hopes were boosted when they held Rovers to a 1-1 draw in Yorkshire in the first leg – and that only after Tristan Whitman had cancelled out Kevin McIntyre`s 37th minute opener in stoppage time at the end of the game.

The Daggers gained a narrow 2-1 lead from their first leg at Victoria Road, courtesy of a Mark Stein brace after a Lee Goodwin own goal had pulled Morecambe level.

The second legs of both semi-finals produced thrilling finales in front of 5,000-plus crowds.

At Christie Park, a Steve West own goal goal gave the Shrimps parity on aggregate and then Adriano Rigoglioso put them 2-0 ahead of the day and 3-2 up overall.

However, a Paul Terry leveller in the 89th minute sent the tie into extra-time which ended goalless and the Daggers triumphed 3-2 in the resulting penalty shoot-out.

At Chester, the home side took a 31st minute lead through Wayne Hatswell to lead 2-1 on aggregate.

But the division`s top marksman Paul Barnes popped up with Doncaster`s equaliser in the 57th minute and, as at Morecambe, the sides couldn`t be separated again, so this one also went to spot-kicks which Donny won out by a 4-3 margin.

The final between Doncaster Rovers and Dagenham & Redbridge was played at Stoke City`s Britannia Stadium and in front of a crowd of 13,092 this too ended up being a dramatic encounter and just showed how even these teams were.

Paul Green gave Rovers a 39th minute lead that Morley doubled 10 minutes into the second half.

Mark Stein reduced the deficit 8 minutes later and then Tarkan Mustafa pulled the Daggers back on level terms 12 minutes from time.

Back then, we were all enthused by the `golden goal` rule which went as quickly as it came!

However, for the Daggers, it was to prove to be the factor that condemned them to a few more seasons in non-League football when a midfielder now known affectionally locally as 'Sir' Francis Tierney, scored the extra-time sudden death goal in the 110th minute to take Doncaster back into the League.

Whilst it was joy for Doncaster and Yeovil, two of the Glovers long-time former rivals, Kettering Town and Nuneaton Borough, suffered the drop along with Southport.

The Poppies endured a really awful season and their fate had been sealed relatively early, and they were forced to play in the Isthmian League for the first time in their history.

The other two relegation places at least went to the last game of the season, and with Port and Boro both losing, they joined Kettering in being relegated to the feeder leagues.

Taking their place in non-League football for the first time were Shrewsbury Town and Exeter City – and for the Shrews, it was to prove to be a short tenure.

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