Remembering Newmarket Town's club-record run to the FA Vase quarter-finals
Throughout his non-league managerial career there is not too much Chris Nunn has not achieved.
From league title wins to promotions, cup final victories, FA Cup first round appearances and everything in-between – you could say Nunn has been there, done it and got the t-shirt.
And yet for all of that success – most of which has been accomplished during two stints in charge of Biggleswade Town – Nunn’s mind will still sometimes drift back to the 2005/06 season, when he was manager of Newmarket Town.
There was no silverware that season, no promotion or indeed no cup final.
However, to this day it remains among his fondest campaigns in management, with Nunn guiding the Jockeys to the quarter-finals of the FA Vase – a run that is still a club record.
Such is Nunn’s enthusiasm and affection for those days, he barely needs reminding of the run. Some 15 years on, he can recite each team Newmarket knocked out before succumbing to Cammell Laird in the last eight – Walsham-le-Willows, Long Melford, Tilbury, Welwyn Garden City and joint 7/2 favourites Winchester City.
It was a journey packed with thrills and spills – last-minute winners, come-from-behind victories, high-scoring contests and even a fourth-round replay defeat, only for it to be found that conquerors Welwyn had fielded an ineligible player.
It was not a Newmarket team packed with superstars. Indeed, they finished 17th of 22 teams in the Eastern Counties League Premier Division. But what they did have by the bucketload was a togetherness and a camaraderie that the man at the helm believes was key to the memorable run.
“It was a brilliant time with a brilliant bunch of lads,” said Nunn, who at the time was based in Exning.
“I was the manager, but some of these lads became great mates of mine. We were winning big games of football with people we really liked – there is nothing better than that.
“We were behind at times and managed to claw our way back. That can only happen if you have a tight group that are willing to fight for one another.
“Back then the Thurlow Nunn League was such a strong league. We knew we were never going to win it and our priority was always to get to 40 points and build on that.
“So we had a right go at the Vase and the momentum just seemed to carry us.”
The win that stands out above the rest was the 4-3 fifth-round triumph in Hampshire against a much-fancied Winchester side.
The Citizens had won the competition a couple of seasons earlier – beating Newmarket’s Eastern Counties compatriots AFC Sudbury in the final – but it was Nunn’s men who came out on top in the seven-goal thriller.
A young Sam Reed and Gareth Jones put Newmarket two goals to the good, only for the hosts to draw level. Andy Mee restored the away side’s lead, but once again Winchester fought back to force extra-time.
At this point, all logic would point to a Winchester victory given that the impetus should have been with them, but in the added 30 minutes Jon Olive popped up to send Newmarket through and earn them the Team of the Round award.
“What a game that was. I think we were something like 9/1 to win it with the bookmakers,” added Nunn, who captained Newmarket’s reserves during his playing days and also turned out for the first team.
“There was so many ups and downs, but we played really well and deserved to go through.
“I remember walking into the clubhouse after the game and the first thing I said to our chairman Alfie Collen was ‘how have we done this?’ It was a brilliant moment.”
But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and so it did for Newmarket on March 6, 2006.
Paul Shaw rose highest to head hosting Newmarket into a half-time lead, but Merseyside-based Cammell Laird were a very good side and they responded after the break with a couple of goals.
Such was the quality at manager Ian Doran’s disposal, one of Laird’s goalscorers – Ronnie Morgan – found the back of the net for the 39th time that season during a tie that was officiated by Darren Cann, who would later go on to be one of the referee’s assistants at the 2010 World Cup and Champions League finals alongside Howard Webb.
“I still kick myself about that one,” said Nunn.
“Paul had given us the lead at half-time but they changed formation in the second half and I just could not find a way to get us back into the game.
“We could not get at them enough and they dominated it.
“I remember Tommy Crawford having a one-on-one late on, but it was not to be.”
Ultimately, though, Nunn has nothing but positive memories of that era.
“I have been lucky enough to win a few things down the years as a manager, but that run with Newmarket has to be in my top five,” he concluded.
“The fact that we are still talking about it now – 15 years or so later – that is when you realise just how big it was. Step 5 was so strong back then. Not just in East Anglia, but across the whole country.”
And for Tina Murray, who was sports editor of the Journal at the time, it was run a she remembers fondly.
"The match at Winchester was the most exciting match I've ever been to – and that includes Ipswich Town's FA Cup final win and their Championship play-off final, both at the old Wembley.
"Looking back, I would say that cup run was down to Chris Nunn's tactical awareness, man management and his ability to keep the momentum and the morale going. He also had great support from the chairman Alfie Collen. The team spirit was fantastic."
More by this authorLiam Apicella