Forest Green Rovers are enjoying the week of their lives, celebrating a league and cup double after winning both trophies within the space of 48 hours.
They added the Gloucestershire County Cup to their haul of silverware on Tuesday, just two days after clinching the Premier League Division One South West title without even playing, to round off their finest season.
Players, officials and fans had endured a nail-biting day off on Sunday before finally hearing confirmation that they had won the league – and promotion to the Premier League’s top tier.
Most were at the club’s reserves’ game, listening to the final stages of rivals Exeter City’s attempt to overhaul them via a mobile-phone link.
Rovers finished their fixtures the previous Sunday but had to wait while Exeter – the only team who could catch them – played their final game at second-to-bottom Cheltenham Town.
Victory for the Devon club would have put them level on points with Forest Green, but they needed to win by at least an 11-goal margin to snatch the title.
And at half-time, with the score 5-0, it was looking like a miracle might actually occur. By the time the eighth unanswered goal went in, on 88 minutes, Forest Green nerves were almost completely shredded.
But the task proved just too much for Exeter, and Forest Green were able to celebrate in style as the referee finally blew the whistle.
Pre-season will be a key factor in how we perform next year. We will need to do some things to a higher standard, and we understand that – Josh Giddins, manager Forest Green Rovers
Manager Josh Giddins told Sent Her Forward: “I went to watch the reserves, who won 3-1 and played really well, before retiring to the Green Man, at the club, where me and some of the players listened nervously to a live feed via mobile phone of the Exeter game.”
On the final whistle, with Exeter just three goals shy of what should have been an impossible dream, the celebrations at Forest Green’s The New Lawn began.
Premier League Division One South West – how they finished
|Forest Green Rovers||16||10||2||4||44||19||32|
* Three points deducted for fielding an ineligible player
It was agonisingly close for Exeter, who had had to make up a backlog of fixtures, and so nearly got there, winning their final three league matches.
But it was also heartbreaking for Swindon Town, who actually won more points than either side, but were deducted three for fielding an ineligible player earlier in the season – an error that also cost them their places in the FAW Cup and the FAW Premier League Plate.
However, both clubs rose above their disappointment to extend their congratulations to Forest Green.
— Swindon Town LFC (@SwindonTownLFC) April 12, 2015
Congratulations to @FGRLFC on their title win & promotion. Good luck next season!
— Exeter City LFC (@ExeterCityLFC) April 12, 2015
Giddins, a keen climber, had contemplated avoiding a day of pressure over which he and his players had no control by tackling a mountain. Instead, he headed to the reserves game with a number of his squad.
A representative of club sponsor Glevum Security travelled to Exeter and gave live updates of the final few minutes by phone – an incredibly tense time, considering how close the Devon club came to pulling off the seemingly impossible feat.
Despite the vastly superior goal difference before the game, there was unease in the Forest Green camp, with their opponents, condemned to finishing second-to-bottom and, with no relegation this season, little to play for.
While Exeter’s fine end-of-season form and Cheltenham’s miserable end to the campaign made a home victory inevitable, there would surely have been a few raised eyebrows if the Devon side had managed to score the 11 goals they needed to make up the goal-difference deficit.
Despite not having picked up a point since October, Cheltenham had not lost a league game by more than four goals all season, while before Sunday, Exeter’s biggest league win had been 5-0.
Yet in the first half of their most critical fixture, Exeter matched that score and looked on course for the most unlikely of championship coups.
But they managed only three more goals in the second, allowing Forest Green the narrowest of successes and condemning the Devon side to runners-up spot for the second season in a row.
Exeter’s goals came from Natasha Knapman (4), Kirsty Caunter (3) and Vicky Barter.
Congrats to our friends over @FGRLFC on their promotion
— CTLFC (@CTLadies) April 12, 2015
— Forest Green R LFC (@FGRLFC) April 12, 2015
Giddins said he felt “great pride” that the hard work of so many people at the club had paid off.
“Also [pride] for all the unsung heroes who do a lot of work behind the scenes that allows us to get on and play, and pleased that we have represented Forest Green Rovers – the club and owner, who have given us such great support over the years and continue to do so.”
“This season’s success, I feel, is down to good leadership, planning, team work – the coaching staff and players – [and] having support off the pitch, which allows the team to focus on their task in hand.”
The manager also cited the importance of ensuring all players understand their roles and responsibilities, effective communication and inspiration. “Combine these key areas with a good hard-working team, who quickly learn from their mistakes, and I felt we were halfway there,” he said.
Giddins acknowledged that changes will need to be made to make Forest Green competitive in the top level of the women’s winter game next season, and he said: “I think pre-season will be a key factor in how we perform next year. We will need to do some things to a higher standard, and we understand that.”
The champagne may have been flowing on Sunday night, but it was back to the football on Tuesday for Forest Green, when they met Bristol Union in the final of the Gloucestershire County Cup.
And despite going a goal behind, strikes from Annie Martin, Ellie Olds, Ella Hitchcock (2) and a penalty from Kirstie Richardson earned Forest Green a 5-1 victory to retain the trophy and seal a memorable double.