The season ended for the Vale of Lune's first team with two home defeats and when all the results for North One West had been tabulated they were in eighth place, their lowest league position since they were relegated from North Two West in tenth place in the 2007/08 season, although the have finished in eighth place before, at the conclusion of the 2009/10 North One West season.
By the standards of recent seasons in North One West it could be termed a mini disaster and when the dust had settled the Vale and coach Paul Woodward had parted company. His departure has kick started the rumour mill at Powder House Lane with speculation that there might be others swapping the cherry and white jersey for another, and so the tongue wagging continues.
A cursory glance at Vale's North One West record from the 26 games played shows that 10 were won, 4 were drawn, in addition 12 try bonus points plus a meagre 4 losing bonus points were collected. A final haul of 64 points, when viewed dispassionately by an outsider tells its own story, the Vale did not win enough games and drew too many, simples!
However, digging a little deeper does unearth some significant statistics as opposed to "dammed lies." Some spin can of course be put on them, but there are a number of pertinent facts that cannot be hidden which in turn can perhaps explain some of the reasons why the season went pear shaped but might, in a cynical world, be construed as excuses or sour grapes.
Certainly the season began to unravel following an injury to their charismatic, experienced, game changing skipper, scrum half, Darren Wilson, in November. Injuries were an undoubted factor because before the number nine hobbled off with a knee injury, he did not return to action until the middle of February, Andy Powers, who was equally at home in the front row, back row and the threequarters, had taken up residence on the sidelines.
Another back row forward, the highly rated Alex Baines, who was beset by injury throughput the season made only 10 appearances, and after only one game prop Mark Hanson reluctantly hung up his boots after a long battle to regain full fitness. Centre David Haigh, a hugely talented player, was unable to reach his full potential because of injury and work commitments.
Also missing at various times were hard grafting, eighty minute, players, Andy Garnett and Olly Cowey. Two names were also absent from the weekly team sheet, Danny Lin and Jimmy Moore due to a combination of career and family commitments. Lin, who was last season's first team player of the season, only played in 8 games, while Moore's solitary appearance was in the final game.
Both these players are intelligent readers of the game, they posses the vision to react quickly to any situation, excellent technicians in their respective roles of wing forward, or in Moore's case anywhere in the back division. Their skills were missed, in particular in the games where the Vale battled not only to attain the high ground, but once there, to protect what they had gained until the final whistle.
On the plus side prop James Hesketh returned after undergoing an operation during the summer for a nagging shoulder problem for the fixture at Wirral in November. Both Gareth Tudor and Ben Charnley were invaluable, resourceful players, quite able to switch roles between the back row and locking up the scrum when needs must.
Messrs Tudor and Charnley were not the only players out of the 44 who pulled on a first team jersey to play in positions that would not necessarily be their number one choice in an ideal world. The notion of being able to field a settled side on an a regular basis was a rare luxury for the selectors. The Vale were forced to mix and match to such an extent that is resembled at a times a bizarre game of "Rugby Cluedo:" Mr Blogs, in a number twelve shirt, at Kendal?
Changes were not only made on a match to match basis but disconcertingly daily, in some circumstances. Interestingly, but not entirely surprising, those clubs in contention for promotion, faced the Vale with almost the same personnel for the second meeting as they did when they had confronted each other earlier in the season.
The combination of players used is an indicator of some of the underlying problems that hampered the Vale in their quest to find a balanced, settled side. Although the front row had 9 different starting line ups there would always be a trio of players who were more than capable of holding their own against any opponents, they were equal too and in a number of instances, superior, in all aspects of life at the coal face.
With a small group of players able to ply their trade in the second or back row their integration did have a knock on effect with 11 different pairings in the second row and 13 in the back.
Outside the scrum the centres had 9 mixtures, comprising those players who could switch position, mainly from the wing or vice versa, three different players occupied the left wing berth, four on the right, three full backs, with six half back blends, hardly conducive to threading together winning sequences that could have done wonders for confidence; winning like losing can become habit forming.
Ten players were making their débuts, two fewer than the previous season. Some made only fleeting appearances and disappeared off the radar, but others like Jack Turton, Oliver Carter, Oliver Dobson, who was literally thrown in at the deep end when he took over from Wilson, Ross Pillow, Adam Foxcroft, Dan Rainford, were all forced to dig deep alongside their relatively more experienced colleagues, when the Vale started to hit the wall.
Rookie Turton made an immediate impact, scoring a try on his first outing at Broughton Park and converting four of his side's tries in a 28-23 victory. He ended the season as the 4th leading point's scorer in North One West with 171, and third in the goal kicking rankings with 136; not a bad tally for a talented young player in such a pivotal position at stand off.
Another statistic for the archives was Nick Royle's 41 tries, comprising 38 in league fixtures which made him the league's leading try scorer, 11 ahead of his nearest rival, plus a hat trick in a club fixture at Stoke on Trent at the end of August. Royle broke the previous record of 36 set by Mark Nelson in the 1983/84 season.
The former England Sevens player, who also played at Sale Sharks and Fylde, and rugby league for Widnes Vikings and Warrington Wolves, featured in all 27 of Vale's fixtures, coming on as a replacement on two occasions and only failing to cross the whitewash four times. In his record breaking total, which could well stand for some seasons to come, Royle ran in three or more tries in five games.
Winger James Curran's try count reached 15 from his 24 appearances, his 13 tries in league games put him in 8th position in the North One West standings. Rob Ward, who will be leaving at the end of the season after finishing his course of studies at Lancaster University, ran in 6 tries including a hat trick against Altrincham Kersal. Fraser Spavin's 5 tries made him the leading forward for five pointers.
Royle and Curran were joined in the "20 Plus Club" by Gareth Tudor, 25 appearances, Adam Macluskie, 23, Ben Charnley 21, Jonty Higgin 21, Phil Berry 20.
A number of individual milestone were reached and passed during the season by, James Curran 116, Darren Wilson 113, Alex Cowey 101 and Phil Berry 55, while Hesketh ended the campaign poised on 99. The season ended on a sad note when it was confirmed that one of Vale's stalwarts over many season, Andy Garnett had decided to hang up his boots after 154 appearances since he made his first team debut in May 1998 on tour in Barcelona.
Vale's playing record shows they scored a total of 706 points from 27 games, made up of 103 tries, which included 2 penalty tries, 67 conversions and 57 penalty goals. Drop goals proved elusive as always with a nil return, in fact in the last ten seasons only 3 drop goals have been registered. In the debit column the Vale conceded 593 points.
Despite the eventual rather lowly league position the season did contain some pleasurable nuggets, and they were unlucky not to record deserved wins at Widnes going down 13-10 and at Wirral in a controversial 10-10 draw, but in both games they did not have the rub of the green. For the second season in succession the double was completed against Liverpool St Helens and definitely something else to cheer about was the first ever victory against Broughton Park at their complex at Houghend Crescent; the last victory on Broughton Park territory being at their old ground at Chelsfield Grove in September 2000.
Before the wheels started to come adrift at the end of November the Vale had remained in contention and were in 4th place with 7 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats. They had scored more points than anyone, 416 and in the standings were 9 points adrift of leaders Wirral. Unfortunately the away defeat, 32-14 at Birkenhead Park on November 30, marked the turning point of the season and only 3 more wins, plus a couple of draws, were accumulated in the ensuing 13 games.
There were times during the season when the Vale had reason to think, and rightly so in some instances, that "Lady Luck" had dealt them a duff hand when in close games at Wirral, Widnes and a 17-13 loss at Kirkby Lonsdale the Vale had "tries" disallowed in circumstances that left players, coaches and supporters brow beating and head scratching into the early hours.
After a complex and difficult season a safe harbour was found, but the Vale had taken quite a battering and even while the anchor was being lowered there were whispers circulating around the upper and lower decks that there would be changes on the bridge and in the engine room before the "SS Vale of Lune" next cast off her mooring ropes; plenty to ponder over in the forthcoming dog days.
It is extremely doubtful that the 2014/15 season is going to be plain sailing either, some turbulent and unchartered waters await the clubs in North One West because looming on the horizon is the prospect of a wholesale reconfiguration of the leagues, down from 14 to 12 clubs, for the start of the 2015/16 season. Bon voyage!