Football: Cotterill savours a champion party

Cheltenham look to future after winning League place

AS THE morning after the night before broke over the Cotswolds, bleary-eyed and sore-throated Cheltonians pored over their newspapers to make sure it had not all been a delirious, drunken dream. After 107 years of habitual under-achievement, Cheltenham Town really had won promotion to the Football League.

None of the 6,150 people who packed Whaddon Road to its capacity on Thursday will quickly forget the identity of the player whose header deep in stoppage time defeated Yeovil Town and clinched the Nationwide Conference championship for Cheltenham. With his surname, Jamie Victory was probably destined to score the winner. It said much about the mayhem of the final moments and the party which followed that his fellow wing-back, Michael Duff, was adamant he had applied the decisive touch.

Confirming that Victory had officially been credited with the goal, the Cheltenham manager, Steve Cotterill, put the friendly dispute into perspective. "Who cares who scored it?" the former Wimbledon striker said yesterday. "All that matters is that we did it."

The 34-year-old Cotterill, who is Cheltenham-born and bred but based in Bournemouth, finally left the celebrations at the club at six o'clock in the morning. He fell into bed at his parents' home at 6.30, only to be awoken at 8.0 by his excited daughters.

Cheltenham, who visit Hayes today, will have played six matches in 15 days before taking their leave of the Conference at home to Welling next Saturday. Only then will Cotterill start planning for next season, but he intimated that his squad, which includes a window-fitter, fitness instructor, mobile-phone salesman and two house-husbands (Victory and the captain, Chris Banks), will go full-time.

Cheltenham were in the Southern League, which provided their only previous title in 1984, when Cotterill arrived from Sligo Rovers 27 months ago. Promoted only because the champions, Gresley Rovers, could not satisfy the Conference's stadium requirements, they promptly finished runners- up to Halifax Town and won the FA Umbro Trophy last season.

Cotterill, who was not joking when he said he expected "the freedom of the city", is confident Cheltenham can hold their own at the higher level. Average crowds of 3,000 demonstrate their potential, though they may have to fend off interest in their ambitious manager, who came close last autumn to landing the job at Swindon Town, 40 miles away and now their closest League rivals.

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