The team that took the pitch against West Bridgford in Midlands One East at the start of September 2021 showed 5 changes from the side that played the last home fixture of 2019-20 against Hertford in London & South East Premier, a season which saw Bedford Athletic in the relegation places when time was called early on league action. As it happened that opening game produced one of the stronger performances of the season against a side also featuring at the top of the table and resulted in a 39-18 win with six tries scored. The withdrawal of Rugby Lions reduced the league to 13 teams and Bedford Athletic lost just once in the opening half of the season. Early performances were frustrating as although the side scored at will, they also leaked tries particularly late on in games, with Belgrave, Dronfield and Lutterworth all leaving with bonus points despite being heavily beaten over 80 minutes. This was offset by good performances away from home in victories over Derby (26-22) and Kettering (21-13) but the thorn in the side of the team needed to be overcome. This was done emphatically in a 68-10 rout of Oadby Wyggestonians at the end of October when ten tries were scored, two conceded and Leo Mortimer went close to setting a new record for points in a league match ending the day with 28, a personal best but short of the 34 he needed.
Defeat followed at Old Northamptonians but a grittier mindset had taken root and was in evidence at home to another top three side Peterborough as the side toughed out a 32-15 victory. The loss of the match at Peterborough Lions was frustrating when they turned their real and problematic injury crisis into a non-existent and invented Covid scenario to force a postponement, but the year ended with two robust performances away from home with wins at Towcestrians and Belgrave, the one at Towcestrians particularly pleasing as a 9-0 half time deficit was overcome for a bonus point victory.
Christmas was reached with the team eleven points clear of Kettering and Derby in the league but just as pleasing was the number of new players blooded in the first XV. Josh Walker, Tom Allwright, Ellis Jackson, Richie Ellingham, Robbie Taylor, Lewis Sharp and Cameron Brough (Forwards) and Luke Denham, Regan Marshall and Felix Mallalieu (backs) all made debuts as the side sought a top three finish and with it promotion to the new Level 5 next season.
January looked to be a tough month fixture wise and a test of the side’s promotion credentials. Matches against Derby (3rd), Dronfield (6th) and Kettering (5th) all loomed. In the event the team dealt with the challenge admirably recording wins at home to Derby (42-22) and away to Dronfield (35-25) and Lutterworth (28-17) but the highlight was undoubtedly the derby victory at home to Kettering by 75 points to 26 in what must be a record victory over our East Midlands rivals. Eleven tries were scored including hat tricks for wings Josh Cassell and Luke Denham but the groundwork was laid by a dominant forward performance. In fact it was the forwards who came to the fore in this period as they laid the foundations for the run of victories. Ben Thompson, Liam Walsh and Ryan Taylor provided strength and stability in the front row, Ryan contributing two tries having popped out a rib at Lutterworth, Erran Singh-Soomal increasingly added power from prop or the second row, Ben Middleton maturity and experience in the second row and Rob Watkins, Adam Harris and James Wallace a high workrate in attack and defence from the back row, cutting down opponents and opening up opportunities as the circumstances dictated. All of which meant by the end of January the lead at the top of the table had increased to 18 points.
Into February and the 33-27 victory at home to Market Harborough marked both captain James Wallace’s 100th 1st XV appearance and a club record ninth bonus point victory in a row.
The bonus point run came to an end the following week at Oadby Wyggestonians but a 22-10 victory was enough to secure promotion. The end of February saw a mix of first and second teamers overcome Ampthill Jets 19-12 in the Bedfordshire Cup semi final and the start of March saw the sole defeat of the season to date avenged with Old Northamptonians defeated by 26 points to 14.
All of which meant that the match away to Peterborough provided the first opportunity from the final four games to secure the win that would deliver the league title. This was delivered in style as a pacy and powerful second half performance inspired by Stephen Woodhead from scrum half blew Peterborough away the score moving from 20-7 at half time to 51-14 at the final whistle. Again it was the forwards who provided the platform but the backs who scored all the tries led by a brace from Josh Cassell.
With the title secured, Bedford Athletic returned to Putnoe Wood to record their highest score and biggest win of the season, seeing off one time rivals Peterborough Lions by 81 points to 19 scoring 13 tries in the process and reaching the 50 mark by half time. The match marked a record 250th first XV appearance for Ben Middleton and 100 appearances for Harry Sawford-Smith. It also contained a hat trick of tries for the increasingly influential Felix Mallalieu in his debut season.
The season concluded with a home win over Towcestrians by 68 points to 19 which saw the team complete an unbeaten season at home and their third in a row in seasons at this level, a winning run of 38 matches. The final game was a 55-42 win away to second placed West Bridgford with the 55 points pushing the points total for the season to 1,001. Josh Cassell finished the season with two tries to take his total as the leading try scorer to 19 for the season and Leo Mortimer ended with 280 points. The final winning margin in the league was 23 points and the total of 112 saw just eight points dropped all season. There could have been an opportunity to finish the season in style but Leighton Buzzard forfeited the Bedfordshire Cup Final.
It was still a double winning season as the second team secured the East Midlands Merit Table title with ten wins and a draw from the thirteen matches that they played.