Boston United

Boston United have defied the odds and are now 90 minutes away from promotion to the National League, some 15 years after administration sentenced the Pilgrims to an era of non-league football.

Extraordinary things often breed from extraordinary seasons. Boston United have been far from their best in the National League North this year, scraping into a play-off place in dramatic fashion on the final day of the regular season.

For the Pilgrims, getting promotion has always been the objective, but that seemed a distant dream at the turn of the year, when manager Craig Elliott left the club at the beginning of January in seventh position, only just in the play-offs.

His replacement, Paul Cox, may not have dazzled and produced title winning form straight away, but he did enough to give Boston a chance in the play-offs, and you have to be in it to win it.

The task was daunting. To win promotion Boston would have to win three games in nine days, all away from home, against teams ranked higher than them in the league, starting with one of the star giant killers of this season’s FA Cup – Kidderminster Harriers.

A 2-1 win on Thursday, May 12 gave the Pilgrims the perfect start on their quest, and the play-off semi-final over the weekend produced the moment of the season so far for Boston.

On Sunday, May 15, Boston United travelled to third placed AFC Fylde as underdogs, but this is play-off football we are talking about, so write off anybody at your peril.

As has often proved the case this campaign, Danny Elliott was the go-to man for the Pilgrims, as he scored a brace to take his season tally to 31 and fire Boston into the final.

The scenes at the end of the game were incredible, with the travelling supporters joining the players on the pitch for mass celebration at the achievement. The Pilgrims are just one game away from a promotion that has passed them by so many times before.

Boston will now prepare to travel to York City on Saturday for the final, with the winner earning promotion to the fifth tier, and the loser condemned to another campaign in the National League North.

The prize at the end of the tunnel is a spot in the Vanarama National League, the highest tier of non-league football and just one step below the professional English Football League.

They are no strangers to this situation. Boston have lost in four separate National League North play-off campaigns since 2010, none more brutal than defeat to Altrincham in the final in 2020 – which happened to be the last game ever played at York Street before Boston moved to the Jakemans Community Stadium.

It is 15 years since Boston United’s darkest hour. The club were relegated from League Two after going into administration, with HM Revenue & Customs sanctioning the club and demoting them two divisions as they entered a Company Voluntary Arrangement.

The Pilgrims have not been higher than the sixth tier since 2007, and despite the previous heartbreaks from play-off campaigns, Paul Cox’s Boston have a chance to write their name into the famous history of this football club forevermore.

Boston lost to Guiseley on penalties in 2011/12, then to Chorley, again via spot kicks, in 2014/15, then to North Ferriby in 2015/16, and most recently to Altrincham in 2019/20. Will there be one more moment of devastation for the Pilgrims? Or can they get over the line at long last?

The demons of the past must be abolished, Boston United are a team determined to spread their wings and compete at the highest level possible. While some clubs in Lincolnshire had felt a disconnect with the fan base, this bond feels like it’s never been stronger.

Should Boston United win promotion to the National League, they will be the third Greater Lincolnshire club in the fifth tier, joining Grimsby Town and Scunthorpe United, both of which have been relegated from League Two in recent seasons.

Boston United are inviting applications for the role of first team manager after previous boss Craig Elliott parted company with the Pilgrims on Tuesday.

Elliott, 43, left his role as Boston United manager following the 3-2 home defeat to Alfreton Town on Sunday, January 2.

He was in charge of the Pilgrims for just over four years, taking over in November 2017 and memorably guiding them to the FA Cup second round in 2019, as well as the National League North promotion final in 2020; which they narrowly lost to Altrincham.

Boston have had an indifferent start to the season in comparison to the club’s ambitions of promotion, sitting just inside the play-off places in 7th position, with 28 points from 19 games.

The Jakemans Community Stadium. | Photo: Boston United

As well as Elliott, assistant manager John McDermott, first team coach Lee Stratford and goalkeeping coach Rich Lawrence have also left the club.

Experienced midfielder Paul Green has accepted the role of caretaker manager for an interim period, while a permanent choice is made.

The club are now hunting for Elliott’s replacement in charge, and have invited suitable candidates to send in their CVs and covering letters to club secretary Craig Singleton via email. Applications will be accepted until 5pm on Tuesday, January 11.

Boston United are said to be looking for a manager with experience of “successfully managing at National League North level or above, although applications would be welcome from managers wishing to progress their careers who are currently successfully managing at a lower level.”

The requirements for the job continue by saying: “Applicants should possess a good knowledge of non-league players, and have good contacts within the game, together with excellent coaching and man-management skills.

“With the club now established in our new purpose-built Jakemans Community Stadium, it is an exciting time for the right candidate to help deliver success on the pitch to meet the ambitions of the club.”

The Football Association has suspended and fined two Boston United players after they were charged with betting misconduct.

Midfielders Andi Thanoj and Jay Rollins were both charged with misconduct in relation to betting in August 2020, after it was found that a total of 757 bets were placed on football matches over a six year period.

The pair breached FA Rule E8, which states that a participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct, permit, cause or enable any person to bet on the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of any football match, or any matter concerning football in the world.

Thanoj was charged with misconduct after 319 bets had been placed on football matches between September 2014 and May 2020, while Rollins was charged after 438 bets were placed on football matches between September 2015 and February 2020.

Andi Thanoj was given a £950 fine and a five month suspension from all football and football related activity, while Jay Rollins was banned for one month and fined £500.

It is unclear whether the players were betting on matches they were directly involved in or on other football games taking place across the globe, but both have been hit with fines and suspensions for their actions.

Rollins is Boston United’s longest serving player, having joined in July 2015, while Thanoj is also somewhat of a stalwart at the club, joining the Pilgrims in December 2017 after beginning his career at Grimsby Town.

A spokesperson for the football club said: “Boston United acknowledge the Football Association bans from football handed out to contracted players Andi Thanoj and Jay Rollins.

“The bans relate to historical breaches of FA betting rules as part of a wide-ranging investigation across non-league football.

“Clearly, we are very disappointed with the situation as the club has clear policies regarding betting. The club will make no further comment at this stage.”

In more positive news for the Pilgrims, they have been given a home draw for the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup, where they will face Southern League Premier Division Central side Stratford Town on Saturday, October 16.

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