Stevenage's Chris Day talks top-six pride, clean sheets and hopes for the future with Chris Burton.
Last Updated: 23/05/12 12:27pm
When Chris Day signed for Stevenage back in August 2008, the club were languishing towards the foot of the Conference table and looking anything but the pre-season promotion contenders they were made out to be.
Fast forward to May 2012 and the experienced goalkeeper has come within touching distance of helping Boro into the Championship.
Four remarkable years at Broadhall Way have seen Stevenage embark on an upward surge that has seen them transformed from non-league hopefuls into serious contenders for a standing in the second tier of English football.
They fell narrowly short in their efforts to secure a third successive promotion in 2011/12, but only one goal separated them from Sheffield United - a side that was playing Premier League football not all that long ago - in their League One play-off semi-final.
It has been some journey for those involved in Stevenage's rapid ascent up the League ladder, with there barely time to draw breath.
Success has become engrained in the fabric of the club and momentum - such an important commodity in football - has carried them further than anyone could have imagined.
The end of a campaign offers an ideal opportunity to reflect on just how far they have come in a short space of time and Day told Sky Sports' Chris Burton in the wake of Stevenage's play-off exit that the club take great pride in their achievements.
He said: "Definitely. We've come a long way this season again. We took it an extra week at the end of the season as well, taking it to the play-offs. Probably have to give credit to Sheffield United, they are a bigger, established club and we came up just short. But there is certainly a lot of pride and memories to be taken from the season."
Looking back at his time with the club and the progress Stevenage have made, Day added: "The club were always one of the bigger non-league clubs. Every single season it seemed as though Stevenage were favourites to go up but it didn't quite happen. It took a play-off failure to make us go on and be champions the next year (in 2009/10). There was a belief that we had to do it and we've just carried the momentum through. I think the key thing, which held us in good stead, was that so many of us stuck together through that amazing journey."
Asked for the secrets behind Stevenage's success, Day added: "I think being familiar with the people around you and understanding people, their personalities and the way they play, we certainly didn't have a big turnover in players during that time, which helped. It seems like that can't be helped in football, because people will move on from time to time, but for that little period in time, they were four special years where a lot of us stuck together."
Belief in their own ability has also allowed Stevenage to build year on year.
When asked whether pre-season plans last summer centred around consolidation in League One or another promotion push, Day said: "Definitely the latter. We did a lot of talking behind closed doors at the start of last year - we kept that quiet - and we had a belief that we could achieve this season. We didn't speak publicly about that, I think sometimes that can set you up for a fall. We had confidence that we could push on. There was no talk of being safe, there was no talk of relegation, it was just talk of being as good as we could be. We had a managerial change in there as well, but Gary (Smith) came in, picked the reins up and had his own thoughts. When he came in he set the target of the play-offs, but again we kept that behind closed doors."
For any side stepping up into a new division there is a need to find your feet quickly and make the most of the promotion euphoria sweeping through the club - and Stevenage were able to do just that in 2011/12.
Day said: "We had a steady start. We have been notoriously slow starters at Stevenage over the years, but what we do do well is that when the going gets tough, we normally get going - when the pitches get a bit heavier. That stands us in good stead. We got off to a steady start. It was difficult because we had an extra three weeks of football at the end of last season coming through the play-offs - budgets get spent elsewhere, different players we maybe miss out on as a club and you get less break - so it's important that you get your feet up but then you hit the ground running. We had a steady start this year and that held us in good stead."
While momentum and positive thinking can go a long way in sport, you still have to deliver where it matters most - out in the middle.
Stevenage have had little troubling producing on the field, but it has to be noted that a water-tight back line has provided the sturdiest of foundations - with only title-winning Charlton Athletic boasting a better defensive record than Boro this season.
Day said: "We have done that for the last few years. I have been very fortunate, I think I have probably got a 40/45 per cent clean sheet rate - me, the back four and the team as a whole. We pride ourselves defensively on working hard in training and we don't like to give away sloppy goals. If we do give away a sloppy goal, we go back, look at it and learn from it. I think that is what we have done ever so well over the year. We have been lucky injury-wise and we have all stuck together at the back. Whenever someone has dropped out, someone has stepped up to the plate. We share the goals around the team as well, we haven't got an out-and-out 20-goal-a-season man - never have since I have been here. But when you have got centre-halves and left-
backs scoring seven or eight goals each, that gives you a chance."
While it is important to revel in the success of the past, Stevenage are a forward-thinking club that have no intention of standing still - with Day admitting that there is still plenty for them to learn, not least from their play-off conquerors Sheffield United.
Asked whether they will take heart from a narrow 1-0 aggregate defeat or focus on what they could have done differently, Day said: "You can look at it that way, or maybe you can say that over the two games it was one moment of quality, one quality delivery, that created the chance. That's down to us to go away from this year and learn from it. If you can hit the ball in the right area, it can win you promotion. We'll learn from that game as a whole, we'll learn from the season as a whole, and move on again next season - I'm sure of that."
While Stevenage as a club will hope to go one better next term and book a place in the Championship, they must first negotiate a summer of change - with it vital that the core of the side that has carried them this far is retained.
Day said: "That's the only thing to worry about. We have seen people that have left the club, good people that have been around the club for many years. It's going to be an evolution in pre-season. Some of the boys are moving on out of contract and they all deserve their chances wherever they go because they have all worked ever so hard for the club over the last four years - and in some people's cases, nine years. It's going to be an evolution but all football fans, we all sit there and wonder about who your club is going to sign. It's that silly season part of the year now where there are rumours going around left, right and centre."
As is often the case in the Football League, many of those at Broadhall Way work on short-term contracts and will be heading for pastures new this summer.
Day is among the fortunate ones to have his future secured and the 36-year-old - who began his career on the books of Tottenham Hotspur - admits he could not wish to be in a batter place at this stage of his career.
He said: "Definitely. I'm in contract and happy to be here. I would love to sit down in the next week or two and extend my contract. I am more than happy to be at Stevenage. I have had four very, very happy years here and I'm looking forward to the future. I don't see why not. Older, wiser head at the back of the team and I'm looking forward to getting a new bunch in front of me and moving on again next year."