The man who started Aldershot's revival

COLCHESTER United supporters will always have a soft spot for Steve Wignall, the man who guided the U's into the old Nationwide Division Two via the play-offs in 1998.

Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United supporters will always have a soft spot for Steve Wignall, the man who guided the U's into the old Nationwide Division Two via the play-offs in 1998.

But he is held in even higher regard elsewhere - at the Rec, the home of Aldershot Town.

It was all doom and gloom at this famous old Hampshire club, when the former Aldershot FC folded in 1992. But from their ashes, a new club was formed, with ex-player Wignall agreeing to be its manager.


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And the Shots have not looked back since then, even though they began life at the bottom of the pile in The Diadora Isthmian League Division Three.

Wignall masterminded successive promotions, before moving on to Layer Road to succeed George Burley as Colchester manager in January, 1995.

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Back at the Rec, the Shots finally achieved what they set out to do 16 years ago - by winning promotion back into the Football League, thanks to a 1-1 draw at Exeter City on Tuesday night. That guaranteed them the Blue Square Premier title.

“I feel very proud to have been involved, and I've been invited back to the club next Tuesday, along with the rest of the original squad,” revealed Wignall last night.

“We will be presented to the crowd at the Weymouth game. It should be a fantastic night.

“I remember what it was like when the club folded, after the Cardiff game (March 20, 1992). Previous manager Brian Talbot had already left, with the money running out fast.

“I had a meeting with the old chairman, Terry Owens, in his back garden, together with Graham Brookland (chairman of the supporters club) about forming a new club. We didn't have one player at the time, and I certainly wasn't looking to get into non-league management.

“But the last manager, Ian McDonald, had left to become the reserve team manager at Millwall, so that left just me! I had been doing some coaching and physio work, so it was proposed that I should be the manager.

“We had a public meeting (at the Royal Aldershot Officers Club), where we thought 50 people would turn up. But instead, the place was packed with about 600 in attendance.

“I had to do virtually everything. I pumped up the footballs and washed all the bottles. My wife Anne worked on the commercial side, so it was a real family affair.

“I was manager-of-the-year in our first year, and won manager of the month about three times. We won the league by 18 points in our first season, and also won promotion the second.

“We were lying in about eighth spot in Isthmian League Division One when I left to join Colchester. The one season rule at that level, where there were kick-ins rather than throw-ins, really killed us, because we were going to clubs like Tilbury and they were booting the ball about 60 yards, knowing that they couldn't be offside!

“The chairman (Terry Owens) had set a 10-year plan to get us back into the Football League, and in the end it has taken 16, which isn't far out!

“I feel a great deal of pride, and it will be great to return to the old ground,” added Wignall.

Former centre-half Wignall, who is still based in Colchester and now renovates houses for a living, is held in very high esteem by the Shots. That is clear from this extract from the club's web-site:

“Steve built a firm foundation at Aldershot, from juniors through to the senior ranks. He should take credit for his input into the future successes of the club.”

The Rec faithful will no doubt show their appreciation next Tuesday evening, when the Messiah returns.

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