THERE was a pain and anguish at Cantilever Park in the aftermath of Warrington Town’s super play-off defeat that I have seldom experienced in my years covering sport.
The high and lows of sport are why it’s so addictive, why it’s loved by millions around the world.
There is no doubt that the manner of the Yellows’ 3-2 defeat to King’s Lynn Town was as painful as it comes.
Already forced in to an extra game for promotion, when in any other year before or after this they would have already gone up, they conceded a penalty five minutes from the end to force extra time, and were then beaten by a Michael Gash strike five minutes from the end of that.
A long season of 54 games, two of which were chalked off the record books, ends with little to show for it, save for a play-off champions trophy that will act as a reminder of the silly format that was enforced on clubs for this season alone.
Manager Paul Carden, his staff and his squad did virtually everything they could to earn promotion and it remains to be seen how many of that squad will be kept together for another tilt in 2019/20.
Carden has led the Yellows to third place finishes in both of his full seasons in charge, and his stock as a manager will continue to rise to the extent that clubs in leagues above will be looking at him. How long Warrington can repel those advances will depend on the club’s progress.
In terms of players, there is a mix of youth and experience that will perhaps be the telling factor when it comes to who stays and who goes.
Captain Mark Roberts, Dave Raven, Tony McMillan and Tony Gray are in the twilight of their careers and should stay, but there’s no doubt that Ben Garrity will attract offers from full-time clubs, having already knocked one back.
Robbie Evans will have suitors, while Jack Dunn and Jack Mackreth are both more than capable of stepping up again, meaning the Yellows could well be faced with searching for a whole new midfield.
Alex Whittle, at 26, won’t have given up on a full-time career as a professional yet, nor will Mitch Duggan. Josh Amis’ New Year form may well have attracted clubs from the National League.
Shaun Beeley, one of the better performers on Saturday, quit full-time football to focus on his career away from the game and as such could be persuaded to stay, and there won’t be many who Carden won’t try to keep on his books.
There’s also the fact that after such a successful season, the same players will rightly be asking for a pay rise, as anybody in any profession would do, and how that stands up against the ever tightening purse strings.
The most frustrating thing is that this squad, with a couple of additions, could have competed handsomely in National League North.
Carden was able to keep only a sprinkling of players from last season – in fact only Gray remained from the starting team that lost in last season’s play-off semi-final – and will be hoping it isn’t as quite an upheaval as last summer, if for nothing else being able to avoid the international clearance farce that cost Warrington points in the first few weeks of the season.
A lot will depend on fan numbers too. A crowd of 2,200 packed in to Cantilever Park, just a week or so after 1,400 had watched the play-off semi-final on a Tuesday night, and there was a real sense that momentum could be carried in to next season with promotion.
Alas, it was not to be. Hopefully the Warrington public has been captured enough to come back. Those play-off attendances boosted Warrington’s average crowd to 464 this season, but increasing that has to be a priority if the club is to continue competing and progressing up the football pyramid.
Even nudging that average up to 600 would make a significant difference to budgets.
Season tickets are likely to go on sale in the coming weeks, and that will provide a useful barometer to just how much can be invested in the team.
Saturday provided a glimpse of what football could look like in Warrington on a regular basis, but it’s now or never – it’s up to those who came, to keep doing so, and the improvements to the ground and further investment in the team can help fire the Yellows up to at least National League within the next few years.