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© Chris Byrne 2010


So City had risen to the top division of the Isthmian League, a level that they had not occupied for sixteen years. Around £50000 had been spent in total to bring the ground up to the requisite standard, and it was felt by many that this was probably as high a level as the ground would allow the Club to go. Still, manager Andy Thomas was reported as being excited at the prospect of high-standard non-league football, and the arrival of Bishops Stortford for the first league match was eagerly awaited by all. Goals from Andy Smith, Roger Charles, Howard Forinton and Thomas gave the side a 4-1 win, but the three successive defeats that followed put the challenge that faced the side into perspective.
Ex-Oxford United star Les Phillips moved on to Abingdon Town, but was promptly replaced by that contemporary of Andy Thomas at United, Kevin Brock, who was looking to get match fit for Conference football at Rushden & Diamonds.
Still that first FA Cup win since re-entering the competition eluded City as they went down 2 3 in extra-time to old rivals Witney Town after a 1-1 draw at Downs Road, and they had to wait until the end of September for a first away win in the league.
The start of October saw two home games played on successive Friday nights in an attempt to limit the problem caused by Saturday fixtures clashing with Oxford United. This coincided with an upturn in results and, by the time they won 2-1 at Dulwich in November City had risen to the giddy heights of third place. Much of this success could be ascribed to the excellent form in front of goal of Howard Forinton who had joined the Club in the close season from Abingdon Town: by early November he had already scored 16 goals and had become the target for several ‘bigger’ clubs.


As performances became less consistent City crashed out of the FA Trophy as they lost 1-6 at home to Basingstoke Town, and then failed to score (for the first time in the season) at bottom side Hendon. And at this point Andy Thomas, the architect of so much of the 1st XI’s success on the field over the previous couple of years, resigned, to be replaced by his assistant Alan Thorne.
For the second successive year the Boxing Day match was abandoned because of the weather. City had made the long trek to Yeovil and had played for 25 minutes before the referee decided to call a halt to proceedings and disappoint almost 3000 spectators: and Andy Smith drove back to Middlesbrough in his hired car where he was spending Christmas! However the match gave Yeovil another chance to see Forinton and, after protracted negotiations, he finally signed for the Somerset side towards the end of January for a reported £20000. (He went on to score a remarkable 23 goals in just 25 games to help propel Yeovil back into the Conference, before signing for Birmingham City at the end of the season.)
Meanwhile Andy Thomas had taken over the reins at Chesham and quickly snapped up Richard Peirson from City as he guided his new side to promotion.
Goals became scarcer and results suffered, and it wasn’t until mid-March that the side managed its first win of ’97, as the side slipped towards the lower half of the table. The ‘rematch’ at Yeovil produced a crowd of 3300 and ensured City enjoyed a good pay-out of around £5000 as the gate receipts were shared. The game itself, however, was lost 1-4 with Forinton scoring twice.
Only one more league win was collected in the last dozen games and, after such an exciting start, most were disappointed with the final 15th position.
The Oxfordshire Senior Cup was retained however. Relatively comfortable wins against Kidlington (4-1) and Witney (3-1) produced what proved to be an exciting tie against Carterton as the Final returned to the Manor. Richard Darvill produced a brilliant save from Liam Herbert’s penalty kick to take the game to extra-time, when Lee Sharkey hit the post from another penalty. Chris Panter then eased a battling Carterton ahead before Justin Lee took the game to penalties. Luckily the City players regained their touch as Brock, Lee, Sharkey, Herbert and Muttock all despatched their spot-kicks to win the tie.
The Reserves added the Intermediate Cup to their Suburban League title, and the U18 team won the County Youth Cup for a clean-sweep of the County trophies – probably for the first time in the Club’s history.

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