Buxton chairman Dave Hopkins a proud man after 'dream season'
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The Bucks have enjoyed a remarkable campaign that also saw them reach the second round (proper) of the FA Cup where they played live on the BBC against League One side Morecambe, before going on to secure league honours last weekend to gain promotion to the National League North.
And with a change of management also having taken place during the season, Hopkins says it’s been incredible to see how things have panned out.
He said: “I guess ‘dream season’ is the best way to describe it and it’s created a massive buzz around the town.
"When we started out last summer we knew we’d built a strong squad, our preparation was very good as we’d got our business done early and played all through pre-season with the squad we’d put together, rather than with lots of trialists and so on.
"But football doesn’t always go to plan and we had to use the time wisely. I think being prepared so early helped a lot, particularly with the FA Cup run as we were a well-oiled machine by then.
"Only Jamie Ward came in later, ahead of the last friendly, and he was the final piece of the jigsaw.
"What then followed was unbelievable. Usually at this level you either have a good FA Cup run or win the league, it’s very rare you do both.”
The departure of former boss Gary Hayward and his assistant Mark Ward in early November was met with surprise by many given the strong position the club were in, but Hopkins defended the move as well as acknowledging the work done by incoming boss Steven Cunningham’s predecessors.
Speaking before Cunningham’s departure from the club on Thursday, Hopkins said: “We felt it was the right decision at that time and credit goes to the previous management as their record on the pitch and points-per-game ratio was very good and they got us through the first four rounds of the FA Cup.
"Steven then came in and picked things up, got us through the cup win at York City and although we had a bit of a wobble after the Morecambe game due to injuries and so on, we then went on a 15-game unbeaten run, began conceding fewer goals and maintained our title challenge.”
Hopkins said the reality of the situation really began to sink in over the Easter weekend.
He said: “At Mickleover on the Saturday we conceded a last minute equaliser at the same time as [second-placed] South Shields scored a late winner at FC United of Manchester, causing a four-point swing in an instant.
"That meant the Matlock game on Easter Monday was huge as we had to win to ensure we didn’t lose ground, but with respect to Whitby I don’t think many expected them to beat South Shields that day.
“When all of a sudden we we’d won our game and they’d lost late on it was surreal as we pretty much knew we’d won the title, but couldn’t over-celebrate too much given it was still not mathematically secure and we didn’t have the trophy in our hands.
"In fairness, South Shields boss Kevin Phillips was magnanimous and publicly conceded his side were no longer in the race and we then enjoyed the weekend at Stalybridge Celtic of course.”
Looking ahead, Hopkins says the club will be looking to continue its momentum into next season in the National League North, and hopes the club’s fans and players will stay on the ride with them.
He said: “We said to all the players that signed that we wanted to take the club on a journey, and we’ve certainly done that but it’s only just begun.
"The same goes for the supporters, who have shown the potential the club has by turning out in large numbers and giving us average gates of over 700 – in fact over 1,000 if you factor in the FA Cup ties – so we now want them to help us take things forward and compete at the higher level.
"We’re not going into that division to make up the numbers, nor do we want to have any fear of dropping straight back down. We want armoury sufficient enough to ensure teams in that league know we’re there.
"We’ll talk to the players, all of whom want to stay. There will inevitably be departures but there will be new arrivals too, some of whom the fans will be pleased to see. We want to maintain the good mix of young talent and more experienced players.
"There will also be continued ground development to add to work already done.
"What’s happened this season has been down to a lot of hard work that’s gone on in the preceding years, but my plan this year was to build a squad that would win this league and compete at the level above.
"We brought in players who were winners and not just wanting a pay packet. They’ve all been a pleasure to work with and set us off on a journey of which we are far from the end.”