2018 has started badly for Bray Wanderers and is shaping up to be 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 for me personally, with other worries intruding. Football was always a distraction from worries for me, but that year it became intertwined with the gloom that was everywhere else.
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 not only the most euphoric moment of a bleak season, but one of my most euphoric moments ever. 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 grated Drogheda a reprieve and they were reinstated in the top flight for 2011. If we had lost the play-off to Monaghan, presumably that would have been scratched and it would have been us to be 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 SetataCup spot, albeit as a replacement for Sporting Fingal.