Season 9 – Knockbreda FC, NIFL Premier Intermediate League
Board Expectations: Mid-table finish
Players In: 5 + 2 @ $0
Players Out: 1 + 0 @ $0, stacks released
This time I set about bringing in some new players that would suit the tactic we settled on late last season; the two of note were Brains, a young Northern Irish striker who’d been a youth player at Reading, and countryman Happy, a central defender who’d been discarded by Oxford United.
We proved ourselves draw specialists to start the season, but it soon emerged that Happy was marshalling a particularly mean defence – even if we didn’t score too many.
When we knocked Premiership side Cliftonville out of the Bet McLean Cup 1-0 at their place, it all of a sudden felt like we could do a lot better than mid-table.
As the season progressed it was two of last season’s strugglers, ourselves and Belfast Celtic, who would break away at the top, trading the top two spots for several weeks.
With two weeks to go, Belfast were above us by three goal difference only. Then we beat Kilmore Recreation 4-0 and they could only manage a draw with PSNI.
The last game of the season? Belfast Celtic vs Knockbreda, on our turf.
In what was essentially a grand final to us Aussies, Celtic took the early lead and I read the riot act to the team at half time.
It didn’t really work, so I subbed off my underperforming left winger and this prompted a change in fortune; chances created all over the place until a central mid stepped up to the plate and sent in an absolute thunderb*stard from 35 yards out in the 83rd minute.
Two minutes later, we had the ball in the net again – but it was ruled out for a foul in the box. Then Celtic appealed for a penalty down the other end, which wasn’t given.
They then had a player sent off! In the final minute of normal time our trusty AMC Plumber got loose in the box and slipped one past the keeper, and the title was ours for sure. In the fourth minute of extra time we added another, and soon enough the title was being lifted on the podium in the middle of the pitch.
NIFL Premier Intermediate League: 1st (14-5-3)
Northern Irish Cup: 4th Round (out to Ballyclare Comrades 0-2 AET)
League Cup: Quarter Final (out to Coleraine 0-3)
Steel & Sons Cup: Third Round (out to Belfast Celtic 1-2 AET)
Northern Irish Intermediate Cup: Quarter Final (out to PSNI 0-1)
Player of the Season: Plumber played every one of our games and scored better than a goal every two games, feeding off Brains very effectively (perhaps I should have called him Zombie.)
Season 10 – Knockbreda FC, NIFL Championship
Board Expectations: Mid-table finish
Players In: 6 + 2 @ $0
Players Out: 3 + 0 @ $0, 6 released
Coming up as champions, the board figured we would need to finish at least mid-table in the Championship.
I had no idea how strong the competition was, but did notice that some of the players released by sides in both the Championship and Premiership were far better than my own; I picked up two new central mids as well as a new striker.
This annoyed a couple of the fringe players and I promptly ended their non-contract deals before any problems arose.
I otherwise backed my tic tacs and while we started in a slow and unspectacular way, it was really only the promotion chasers like Ards and Armagh City that caused us big problems.
By mid season we were safely mid-table and the board now wanted top half; Crusaders didn’t help things by coming in and grabbing key striker Brains, who I wasn’t really able to adequately replace for the rest of the season.
When the division split into two in January to close out the season, we were in the required half – but unfortunately sharks were circling, and CB Happy was poached by Ards, which all of a sudden meant we were shipping two or three goals every other match.
This dented our run home and made our form quite patchy, but we rallied long enough thanks to a loanee CB acting as a bit of polyfilla.
The board was delighted with a very respectable fourth, but realistically we were miles back from the top three sides and far closer to those in the bottom half.
Replacing Happy is going to be the big ask for next season, as is keeping my remaining top players; non-contract deals are the norm here and the board shows no sign of changing this, particularly while our finances are in the red.
On the plus side, we did set a new gate takings and attendance record when Cliftonville came and beat us in the Quarter Final of the League Cup (incredibly, scoring 3 goals in extra time). 1,442 people packed into 2,500-capacity Breda Park and its 200 seats. 1,321 of them were away fans!
NIFL Championship: 4th (12-8-12)
Northern Irish Cup: 4th Round (out to Coagh United on pens)
League Cup: Quarter Final (out to Cliftonville 0-3 aet)
County Antrim Shield: 1st Round (out to Carrick 0-1)
Player of the Season: Even though he was stolen from us at the end, Happy was by far and away our best player this year.