Page last updated at 03:14 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 04:14 UK

The rise of the phoenix

By Pete Oliver

A single point from Tuesday night's match at Exeter has put Aldershot back in the football league. The joyous scenes which followed the match marked the end of a momentous journey back from football's wilderness for the army town.

John Grant (pic: John Morsman)
John Grant has scored 19 goals this year

When Aldershot Town was formed following the demise of the town's Football League club, the new team incorporated the rising phoenix on its badge.

Sixteen years on, the bird has escaped the flames and in August the Shots will again take flight as a League Two club after securing promotion from the Blue Square Premier as champions.

John McGinty, one of Town's founding board members in 1992 and now its triumphant chairman, told BBC Sport: "Our ambition has never left us.

"We thought that the club was capable of supporting a League team.

"You've got to feel proud. I feel proud that I am the chairman that has taken Aldershot back into the Football League. That will be nice.

A flagon of rum given to the club when it formed in 1992 has been saved for their League return
Aldershot chairman John McGinty

"But it's been every man jack of us, lots of lads who have been with us and have left us along the way."

The long journey back started on 22 April 1992, less than a month after the financially troubled Aldershot FC had been wound up in the High Court and their records from the then Fourth Division expunged.

At a public meeting in the Royal Aldershot Officers Club, supporters were told that Aldershot Town FC (1992) Ltd had been formed.

Within two months a new board had been appointed, which included McGinty, Peter Bloomfield, who is still a director, Karl Prentice, who was chairman through the Shots' early years in the Conference, and Terry Owens, a former chairman of the Save Our Shots campaign.

Starting out in the Isthmian League Third Division but still playing at the Recreation Ground, the new Shots had five levels to climb through to make it to the League.

"I always thought we would get there and there were times when we nearly did," added McGinty.

Chairman John McGinty
Chairman McGinty has been at the club from the start

After immediate back-to-back promotions, the Shots went up again in 1997 and in 2003 under the guidance of Terry Brown - only the club's fourth manager - they made it to the Conference (now the Blue Square Premier) and the top of the non-league ladder.

Twelve months later, only a penalty shoot-out defeat in the play-off final cost Aldershot their place in the League and in 2005 Brown's side again lost on spot-kicks in the semi-finals to eventual winners Carlisle United.

Such an opportunity was not to knock again for Brown, who left towards the end of last season following a serious illness to his wife.

But having come so close, McGinty was determined not to let the dream die and in October 2006 increased his financial support and stepped up from vice-chairman to take greater charge.

"Looking at the finances, that's what I felt needed to happen," said the 71-year-old, a supporter for the past 50 years and a successful businessman in the removal industry.

Critically, McGinty and his board also had to choose a new manager last summer and in Gary Waddock they hit on the right man.

"It's like putting your hand into a draw and you don't believe you will draw the winner and you don't believe the winner will be so good.

Manager Gary Waddock
Waddock has placed an emphasis on youth in his side
"Gary Waddock has got a lot of burning ambition. I can see that in him. He has done such a good job and I am thrilled about it," McGinty said.

Waddock's previous management experience had come in an unsuccessful stint at Queens Park Rangers but given a second bite at the cherry the former Rangers, Luton and Millwall midfielder has excelled.

The 46-year-old and assistant Martin Kuhl, who previously worked under Brown, have nurtured a predominantly youthful squad which has won a remarkable 31 games and which is on course for a possible league record tally of points after dominating the title race.

"People here are very excited and the crowds are growing. But we have to be sensible with this and turn it into a business that is sustainable for the future, and not just a one-year thing," McGinty added.

The chairman wants to attract further investment to make the Shots a viable and progressive League club with no thoughts of the problems that dragged them down almost two decades ago.

There is much planning and work to do but in the meantime Aldershot can toast a deserved success.

A flagon of rum which the landlord of the Spotted Dog in Clapton gave to the club when it was formed has been saved for the day they sealed their League return.

And the draw at Exeter on Tuesday earned the Shots the point that made the return to the Football League a reality.

"It's a large step in our history," said McGinty. "We had to take a step back to the bottom part of the leagues and work our way through and now it is an unbelievable situation.

"A team that gets to the top of the league in October and stays there right the way through the season is a phenomenal thing."

Exeter 1-1 Aldershot
15 Apr 08 |  Eng Conf
Shots promise to attack for title
14 Apr 08 |  Aldershot Town
We will not lose focus - Waddock
07 Apr 08 |  Aldershot Town
Shots star Grant relishes run-in
04 Apr 08 |  Aldershot Town
Aldershot Town win Setanta Shield
04 Apr 08 |  Eng Conf
Aldershot turn eyes to the double
04 Apr 08 |  Aldershot Town
Waddock asks fans to be patient
28 Mar 08 |  Aldershot Town


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