Stratford-upon-Avon is hardly a footballing hotbed, but it has had its share of drama, tragedy and comedy. William Shakespeare has ruled the roost in the Warwickshire town of 25,000 people for centuries. It’s what people come to Stratford for. But amid the olde-worlde charm and American tourists dying to see “Stratfoured up on Avon”, the local football team is challenging the “Bard of Avon” for headlines.
For some bizarre reason, Stratford were placed in the Southern League South/West division for the past two seasons. When you consider their neighbours, Bedworth and Rugby, were in the Central Division, sometimes geography takes a strange twist when it comes to league allocation time.
But Stratford dealt with it well. They are on an upward trajectory at the moment, having won promotion twice in three seasons. To some, they have come from nowhere. In fact, when some non-league fans were looking at the constitution for the 2015-16 Southern League Premier, they assumed that Stratford may have been a Stony Stratford or perhaps a little-known small-town or village club from the west of England.
The club dates back to 1941, although it wasn’t until 1998 it changed its name from Stratford Rangers to Town. They had been members of the Midlands Alliance from 1994, but it wasn’t until 2013 that they won the championship. They edged out Westfields by just one point in a free-scoring campaign that saw them score 106 goals in 42 games.
Into the Southern League, Stratford consolidated nicely under manager Carl Adams, the former Birmingham and Stevenage (among other clubs) forward. They finished 10th in their first season, but the goals kept coming – this time 103.
Stratford started well in 2014-15, but it was a 10-match winning streak between September and the beginning of November that rubber-stamped their promotion credentials. December was a rocky month, but by the end of January, they were back on track. A 13-game unbeaten run from February to the end of April secured third place in the South West Division and a play-off berth.
Adams’ side beat Taunton in the semi-final 2-1 and then disposed of Larkhall Athletic by 3-2. Adams believes Stratford are outperforming. If nothing else, this refreshing approach is tempering expectation for next season. “We are probably going to be an average Joe in a very big league, but we will certainly try to punch above our weight,” he told the local media.
Adams has already been busy assembling his squad for the challenge ahead. He has just signed Richard Gregory from Rugby Town and Jamie Sheldon from Sutton Coldfield. Other key men from the past two seasons have committed themselves to the club: Tyrone Fagan (“the heart and soul of the team”, according to Adams), Simon Forsdick, Scott Hadland, Joe Halsall, Rob Thompson-Brown, Kevin “Goals” Charley and Aaron Moses-Garvey. Stratford have also just signed Dior Angus, son of ex-Fulham and Northampton player Terry, and Coventry Academy player Liam Francis.
Stratford will have work to do on their DSC Stadium, which is based in the nearby village of Tiddington. Last season, they averaged around 200 for league games, not bad considering their proximity to their league stable-mates. The 2015-16 may see more traffic heading out on the B4086 to see Stratford’s newest attraction.