2018 has started badly for Bray Wanderers and is shaping up to be a long hard season. Fans of the club are no strangers to long hard seasons, having endured many dark times before. For me, 2010 stands out as the darkest of the dark times.
The club shouldn’t have even been in the Airtricity Premier Division [Airtricity became the main sponsor that year], having been relegated twice the season before and earned a reprieve each time. Bray had finished bottom in 2009 but Derry’s expulsion saw them contest the relegation play-off against Drogheda instead of being relegated automatically. Having lost that, they entered the promotion / relegation play-off against Sporting Fingal and lost that over two legs, meaning they were relegated again, only to earn another stay of execution when Cork were demoted just prior to the start of the 2010 season.
The 2010 Premier Division was possibly the least representative collection of teams to be called a ‘national’ league. Five of the 10 teams were Dublin sides – Pats, Bohs, Rovers, UCD and Sporting Fingal. Add in Bray just below Dublin and Dundalk and Drogheda just above Dublin and that made eight sides clustered within a very small chunk of the country. The two other sides were Galway and Sligo, meaning there were no sides at all in the southern half of the country, a bit like a head with no body.
These were dark days in general. The full reality of the financial crisis had dawned on us and the country – like its football clubs – was on its uppers. It was a depressing time. Football had always been a distraction from worries for a lot of people, but that year it became intertwined with the gloom that was everywhere else, especially in Bray.
Bray only scored 35 goals in their 36 matches that term, the fewest strikes in the division bar Drogheda, who finished bottom of the table and only found the net 30 times. Wanderers shipped a whopping 72 goals that year, only marginally better than the 74 Drogheda let in. We won only 6 times all year, and a 0-6 home capitulation to UCD along the way was humiliating and demoralising in equal measure. [Drogheda managed to lose 6-0 also that year, but at least it was in an away game against Sligo Rovers]. Thankfully there weren’t too many there to see it, and the 300 average home attendance was the lowest in the division that season.
We finished second bottom and so had to contest the relegation play-off against Galway, who had home advantage and had finished 11 points ahead of us in the table. Not surprisingly, we lost. Monaghan were up next in the promotion / relegation play-off and the dramatic penalty shoot-out win in the Carlisle Grounds to preserve our Premier Division status was the most euphoric moment of a bleak season. We’d been through a dark time, and survived.
History shows that the demise of Sporting Fingal just prior to the start of the 2011 campaign granted Drogheda a reprieve and they were reinstated in the top flight for 2011. If we had lost the play-off to Monaghan, possibly it would have been us to have been reinstated.
For the record, 2010 wasn’t a dark season for all. Shamrock Rovers won the title and a 2011-12 Champions League spot, while Sligo Rovers won the FAI Cup after a penalty shoot-out win over the league champions. Sligo, Bohs and Pats all won places in the 2011-12 Europa League. UCD earned a Setanta Cup spot, albeit as a replacement for Sporting Fingal.
Back to 2018. Eight games in and things aren’t going well for Bray Wanderers. One point – from a surprise scoreless draw on the opening day away to Dundalk – is all Dave Mackey’s men have to show and they are rooted to the foot of the table.
Defeats have been suffered away to Bohemians, Derry City, Shamrock Rovers and Limerick FC, and at home to Cork City, Sligo Rovers and St. Patrick’s Athletic. The club have also exited the Leinster Senior Cup at the hands of St Pat’s and the EA Sports Cup to Shelbourne. Two of the home defeats in the League were narrow, 2-1 in each case, but the Cork one last Friday at 4-0 was heavy and two of the away defeats were real hidings – 6-0 in Tallaght Stadium against Rovers and 5-1 in the Brandywell against Derry.
There’s no need to panic just yet. Eight games gone means 28 games are left, ample time to turn things around. But the clock is ticking and something needs to happen soon.
There are mitigating circumstances that explain the club’s predicament. Dave Mackey only came in as manager between Christmas and New Year, less than a month before the first competitive fixture [the Leinster Cup game against St. Pat’s] and had to assemble a squad in double-quick time.
Bray can survive but the fight needs to start soon. Already the club are six points adrift of Sligo Rovers who are second bottom and in the relegation play-off spot. Occupying that spot is something I’d take now for Bray, if offered, even though it means taking your chances in a play-off against a team in the First Division.