There’s been a bit of noise coming from Royston for a couple of years. A town of 16,000 people, it’s big enough to host non-league football at a higher level than the Spartan South Midlands League fare it got used to between 1994 and 2012. There have been rumblings for some time that they were about to move to a new ground away from their Garden Walk home, giving them a springboard to make Royston into a credible force.
There’s no reason why Royston could not “do a Biggleswade” if they find a way to upgrade their stadium. Biggleswade and Royston are comparably-sized towns. They are treading a similar path – although they have had something of a setback in recent weeks with manager Paul Atfield, the driving force behind their rise to the Southern League Central Division, resigning through ill-health.
Atfield has a serious condition which – thankfully – is not life-threatening, but nevertheless required him to relinquish his post. Royston have been advertising the job, but the rumour-mill suggests that Steve Fallon, the current manager of Soham Town Rangers, is set to take over.
Since Atfield resigned, Royston have lost their way in the Central Division. They started the season superbly, losing one of their first 11 games, but then they were beaten 1-3 at home by AFC Hayes. They recently lost 4-0 at Barton Rovers, a result that suggested that all was not well at Garden Walk. Not the best time to meet Slough Town, the biggest club in the Central Division and nomadic under-achievers.
Royston’s ambition, and apparent wealth at this level, was underlined over the past year with the signing of players from clubs like Cambridge City. They signed Tom Pepper, Ady Cambridge and Craig Hammond, suggesting that the Royston wallet was bulging.
Slough’s fans have had to endure a lot of disappointment in recent years. Without a ground, they continue to play at Beaconsfield SYCOB, and they have been languishing at Step 4 level for too long. They are under new management this season, saying farewell to Steve Bateman, who is now at Aylesbury and welcoming the Godalming duo, Neil Baker and Jon Underwood. Baker and Underwood look menacingly like “the management”, but they brought a new team to Slough, leaving their old club bereft of resources.
And the new Slough team looks half decent. Solid at the back, spritely on the flanks and dangerous up front. Before coming to Royston, they had scored 40 goals in 16 games and conceded just 19. They had won their last four games, the most recent a 3-1 victory against Daventry Town, who also have designs on promotion this season.
Slough’s prolonged stay at this level, and a series of disappointments may have dulled the flames of passion among the Rebels’ supporters. At Royston, they certainly swelled the gate from the usual 170-odd to 263, but in the past, they would have expected more to make the trip to the Herts-Cambs border.
The travelling contingent were soon celebrating, however. In the fifth minute, the Royston defence failed to clear the ball and Warren Harris, one of the former Godalming boys, scored from just outside the six-yard box.
It was a bad tempered game at times, with a number of skirmishes. Royston, particularly, seemed to moan and remonstrate at every opportunity. Slough had the upper hand for much of the half, but the Royston keeper, George Darlow had an excellent game, pulling off a number of spectacular saves.
Just before the interval, Royston came into the game more and centre forward Antonio Murray struck the top of the crossbar with a shot from outside the area. At the other end, Ed Smith – complete with Movember tache – should have scored from close range and another Godalming refugee Johnny Dyer saw his shot acrobatically saved by Darlow.
Royston threatened to equalise, but up front they lacked the power to distract a very solid Slough defence, in which Guy Hollis and Adam Foulser (guess what, two more signings from Godalming) were impressive. Final score: Royston Town 0 Slough Town 1.
Of the two teams, it is difficult to see Royston challenging for promotion, although the new manager – Fallon or not – will undoubtedly revive their recent form. Slough, though, look good enough to make the step up to the next level. But then, they’ve have been punching below their weight for a few years now.