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Bray Wanderers – ‘’The team they couldn’t relegate’’

John ‘’Babbacombe’’ Lee is famous in English folklore as ‘’the man they couldn’t hang’’. He was convicted in 1885 of the murder the previous year of his employer, Emma Keyse, at her house in Babbacombe Bay, near Torquay in Devon. He was sentenced to hang but he survived three attempts to hang him and Home Secretary William Harcourt commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. He was released in 1907 and lived until he was 80, dying in 1945 having made a living telling the tale of his close encounter with death.

The official inquiry into why the gallows trapdoor failed to open three separate times for the executioner pointed to an incorrect assembly of the gallows mechanism allowing the trapdoor to rest on an eighth of an inch of draw-bar, preventing them from opening. That could be true – or maybe Lee really was ‘’the man they couldn’t hang’’.

If Lee was ‘’the man they couldn’t hang’’ then Bray Wanderers are ‘’the team they couldn’t relegate’’. Now in their 12th consecutive season in the Premier Division, only Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic have survived longer in the top-flight. Those 12 seasons have been anything but plain sailing for The Seagulls. There have been some infamous and high-profile brushes with relegation; some great escapes that Harry Houdini would be proud of.

Having been promoted in 2004, Wanderers finished in a respectable 7th position in the Premier in 2005. The following year saw the Premier Division reduced mid-season by one team after Dublin City folded. Effectively this allowed the bottom side avoid automatic relegation and contest the play-off. Bray managed to avoid the play-off spot, but only just.

In 2009, their fifth successive season in the top-flight, things really got tricky for Bray. They finished bottom and was relegated, but the subsequent expulsion of Derry City allowed Bray a stay of execution and they entered the relegation play-off. They lost this to Drogheda and this meant they had to contest the promotion / relegation play-off with Sporting Fingal over two legs. Despite a gallant effort [which included goalkeeper Chris O’Connor scoring a goal in the second leg] Bray lost this and was relegated for the second time that season. Or were they?! They got another reprieve when Cork was demoted two weeks before the start of the 2010 season, allowing Bray stay on in the Premier Division. You couldn’t script such drama!

With essentially a First Division squad and budget 2010 was going to be another long, hard haul for the Bray faithful in the Premier Division. They looked to be doomed but moved off the bottom near the end of the season to avoid automatic relegation. Having lost the relegation play-off to Galway, they had to contest the relegation / promotion play-off against Monaghan United over two legs. Both games ended 0-0, and with the sides still level after extra-time, Bray survived after a penalty shoot-out to the delight of the assembled crowd in the Carlisle Grounds.

In more recent years Bray has survived via a play-off win over Longford [2013] and various late-rallies. Things don’t look great this year but write Bray off at your peril. You don’t survive for 12 years in the top division without guts, determination and fighting spirit, qualities Bray have always had.

Brian Quigley

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