You could be forgiven for thinking that Paulton Rovers have some connection with West Ham United. Their badge looks suspiciously like the Hammers’ crest and there’s a proliferation of claret on their website.
But there’s nothing east London about Paulton. It’s in the Bristol area and they’ve been around longer than West Ham United, formed in 1890. In 2014-15, “The Rovers” will play at the highest level they’ve ever reached after winning promotion to the Southern League Premier last season.
Paulton is a large Somerset village (population 5,000), so it’s another of those clubs that have seemingly come from nowhere on the back of small crowds to find they’re punching above their weight. Many such clubs fly high for a while then find their wings are made of wax and them plummet to earth. Will Paulton go the same way? In their region there’s been many clubs who have come through the ranks and flickered at a high level before settling back to less grandiose surroundings – witness Clevedon, Mangotsfield and Yate. Are Paulton better equipped?
Paulton beat Merthyr Town in the Southern League South-West play-off last season after finishing fourth in the table, 11 points behind champions Cirencester Town. It was a successful end to only their ninth season in the Southern League and compensated for losing out in the play-offs a year earlier. They finished the campaign in style, winning eight of their last nine games.
It’s not the first time Paulton have made headlines. In 2009-10 they reached the FA Cup first round and faced Norwich City at home, losing 0-7 on TV.
As for the 2014 vintage, manager Nick Bunyard is convinced his squad is good enough to make an impact in the Premier Division. As the season ended, he was more concerned about keeping some players who might get lured away from Paulton – indeed, the man who scored the two goals that beat Merthyr in the play-off, Nick McCootie, has already departed for Spanish third division football, along with midfielder Brandon Barnes.
Skipper Dan Cleverley and defender Stuart Tovey, a pair of Paulton stalwarts, both committed themselves to the club’s first Premier campaign. And Bunyard was expecting key men like goalkeeper Kyle Phillips, Sam Teale, Scott Brice, Josh Klein-Davies and Mike Perrott all to sign on.
Bunyard was also looking to strengthen his squad and secured the services of former Exeter midfielder Olly Knowles. Mike Bryant and Tom Seery have joined Rovers from Yate, and Poole Town winger Jon Davies has also been signed on. Conor Clifford, a promising full back, arrived from Bideford and Kane Ingram from Weston Super Mare. There’s been a lot of activity at the Athletic Ground in Winterfield Road, the club’s home for more than 50 years. Attendances there are healthy given the size of the village, averaging around 170, a figure that’s been consistent in recent years. In the Premier, they could rise to 200-plus.
Paulton’s most famous sporting son is Don Rogers, remembered for his virtuoso performance for Swindon Town in the 1969 Football League Cup final. Perhaps in 2014-15, the village club can stake its claim for a place in local history…or perhaps they already have?