Sports probably shade it. They were a Peterborough League club as recently as 2013, and they didn’t even with the title before an ambitious jump to semi-professional status.
Nine years and five promotions later Sports can look forward to tackling a host of clubs who used to be regular opponents for Peterborough United in the Football League. Quite what York City, Darlington and Chester will make of the Bee Arena is anyone’s guess, but they’ll know they’ve been in a game for sure.
Put right into context this 2-0 Southern League Premier Division Central play-off final win over Coalville leaves the city side two promotions shy of the Football League and three promotions away from a Peterborough derby. Sports may well have reached their ceiling for now, but their remarkable rise will never be forgotten no matter what comes next.
And they deserve all the plaudits that have been heading their way since the final whistle blew to spark wild celebrations among the vast majority of another club record crowd of 1,895 – just the1150 more than the previous best – who had witnessed a match with many talking points, not all of them good as a crowd disturbance meant the half-time interval lasted 45 minutes before play resumed, soon after legendary manager Jimmy Dean had taken to the microphone to ask for, or more accurately, demand calm was restored. No-one messes with the gaffer in these parts.
That was the bad, but it was comfortably overshadowed by the good, most notably Sports goalkeeper Peter Crook who saved two penalties from former ace Football League marksman Billy Kee in the final stages. That was enough to earn the number one the man-of-the-match award, but there were many other contenders like full-backs Isian Bazeley and Luke Warner-Eley, plus industrious midfielder Dan Lawlor who is quick to see danger and usually snuffs it out.
A dominant Sports start was rewarded with a cool finish from Mark Jones after good work from Lamine Kaba Sherif and Dion Sembie-Ferris in the 12th minute. Lawlor whistled a shot over the bar soon afterwards as Coalville struggled to get out of their own half in the first quarter, but their threat increased as the half wore on.
Sports centre-backs Ryan Fryatt and Richard Jones had to react smartly to clear after Coalville had broken into the area from wide positions, while Thomas McGlinchey struck the top of the crossbar from the edge of the area.
The extended break as rival fans appeared to indulge in beer-throwing contests helped to halt Coalville’s momentum. Sports regained control at the start of the second-half and crucially scored again when on top as a deep corner was kept alive by Fryatt and prolific midfielder Josh McCammon was on hand to convert from 10 yards in the 58th minute.
That seemed to be that until the visitors roused themselves in the final 20 minutes. Crook kept a Kee shot out with his legs, while a succession of corners caused problems until Richard Jones appeared to panic and was penalised for a blatant handball. There were still 20 minutes to go and a goal would have led to a nervy finale, but Crook thwarted Kee from the penalty spot, again with his legs.
And the pair squared up once more eight minutes from time after a McCammon push was spotted by impressive referee Matthew Norton. This time Crook dived to his right to save the penalty and watched happily as Kee fluffed the rebound.
That knocked the stuffing out of Coalville who were left chasing shadows in the final stages as Sports knocked the ball about with the skill and intelligence befitting a team about to create more club history.
Sports: Peter Crook, Isiah Bazeley, Luke Warner-Eley, Ryan Fryatt, Richard Jones, Dan Lawlor, Josh McCammon (sub Lewis Hilliard, 88 mins), Dion Sembie-Ferris, Lamine Kaba Sherif, Jordan Nicholson (sub Ky Marsh-Brown, 53 mins), Mark Jones (sub Michael Gash, 76 mins). Unused subs: Brad McGowan, Dan Jarvis.
Coalville: Tiernan Brooks, Alexandear Dean, Eliot Putman, Jake Eggleton, Christopher Robertson, Stephen Towers, Luke Shaw, Joe Doyle-Charles, Tyrell Waite, Billy Kee, Thomas McGlinchey. Subs: Connor Smith, Tomasz Bokowski, Kian Taylor, Kalern Thomas, Dave Assuncao.
Goals: Sports – M. Jones (12 mins), McCammon (59 mins).
Cautions: Sports – M. Jones, R. Jones, McCammon, Sherif.
Coalville – Robertson, Doyle-Charles, Waite.
Referee: Matthew Norton 8/10.