The last season has been probably the most successful in the history of Stratford Town FC. The club has achieved its highest ever league position and lifted the Southern League Challenge Cup.
However one milestone passed almost unnoticed on Saturday afternoon at Kettering when in the second half Owen James came on for his debut as a substitute, the town had played their 54th player of the season.
Although there are no official record or regulations used for calculating the highest number of players used during a season, the totals set by Darlington in 2009/10 and Blackpool 2014/15 are usually highlighted.
In 2009/10 the Quakers used 54 players in a season which included youth, first team and loan signings. As a result of liquidation the previous season the club were operating with financial restrictions which resulted in the need to use loan signings and youth team players to ensure they fulfilled their fixtures.
One of the lowest points of the season was 23 March 2010 when a crowd of just 1,290 attended the league hone fixture with Aldershot. At the end of the season the club were relegated from the league after over 80 years membership and have not returned again to this day.
In the 2014/15 season Blackpool named 56 players on match team sheets with 6 of these players not getting the chance to represent the club but were listed as non playing substitutes. The season would prove to be troubled for the Seasiders and they were relegated from the Championship to the First Division with 6 league games remaining.
The success of Stratford Town against a backdrop of having used a similar number of players is quite remarkable. The most successful teams before the modern squad rotational game could in the past win titles with a modest number of players. In 1980/81 Aston Villa won the First Division title with just 14 players.
There are no records of non league teams for comparison but there can’t be many clubs using over 50 players in a season and achieving comparable success to that of the Town. In fact the player count does not include the re-emergence of Kynan Isaacs, Nabil Sheriff and Mike Taylor having returned from spells at other clubs.
It is of course difficult to verify specific details of records however the rough ball park figure of around 54 would appear to be unofficially one of the highest number of players used in a season. The success of reaching the play offs is very impressive with the team having less continuity yet stil conceeding few goals defensively.
Credit should be given to Jimmy Fry who managed as Captain to lead such a large pool of players and play in 48 games and 6 as a substitute. Perhaps the club. could take the merchandising opportunity to produce a commemorative pack of playing cards of all the players used, there be would also still be room for 2 jokers!
This seasons success has been totally unexpected and it is possible there could yet be another unpredictable twist on Wednesday when the town make the long trip to face Kings Lynn in the play offs.
As the home team in front of a large expectant crowd Kings Lynn may feel more pressure playing town who can go and enjoy the challenge of being underdogs.
It is possible that it could be another big night if we shuffle the pack again and play our cards right!
Words by Martin Kenny