Stevenage will face Sheffield United in the League One play-offs in only their second season in the Football League. This is the sort of story that compares with Wimbledon’s rise in the 1980s. Yet very few people give Stevenage any credit, and, in stark contrast to the club’s over-the-top approach in its non-league days, it has all been achieved fairly quietly.
Stevenage secured sixth place in League One with a 3-0 win against Bury on Saturday in front of nearly 5,000 people.
What is remarkable is that Stevenage have achieved this despite changing manager in mid-season. Graham Westley, who masterminded the club’s Blue Square Premier title win in 2010, and took them up via the play-offs from League Two, defected to Preston North End in mid-January.
His replacement, Gary Smith, was a relative unknown, having plyed his trade in the footballing backwater of the US. Westley had built Stevenage’s success on the back of a high-octane style, eight-hour training sessions and ruthless efficiency. Smith seems to have kept the script intact.
Stevenage have only lost three times in the league since Christmas and also held Tottenham in the FA Cup. Their pedigree is growing yearly, as it was only last season that they beat Newcastle in the FA Cup – and look where they are now!
Stevenage, as a town, is made for Football League status, and after the club got over the heartache of missing out in 1996, it took time to regain the momentum. But in that time, the club geared itself up properly for making that jump. If they had gone up in 1996, they would have surely struggled to make the grade – their rise from non-league’s lower reaches had been too fast. The club received certain benefits from the local authority, who may have recognised the benefit that a Football League club can bring to a town the size of Stevenage
In the past decade or so, chairman Phil Wallace has presided over the evolution and made them a well-organised and far more respected club than they have been in the past.
Sheffield United is a tough hurdle, but don’t write Stevenage off.