Over the summer the club had made further improvements to Broad Lane by erecting a 100 seat stand which had been purchased from the Army. Mick Packer was to continue at the helm but was to be joined by Mick Loughton as Assistant Manager following his departure from Chelmsford City earlier in the year having guided them to the brink of the Gola (now Conference Premier) League. Despite losing the services of Gary Taylor, Geoff Harrop and Mark Farthing who all departed for Braintree Town, other main stays of the previous season, Neil Milburn, Mitchell Springett, Gary Higgleton, Nigel Theobald, Chris Dines, and Jan Waters all remained while Mitchell’s brother Gavin was brought in from Halstead Town, full backs Wayne Ward (Tiptree United) and Kevin Harvey (Haverhill Rovers), midfielder Matt Bennett (a former West Ham United Youth), and goalkeeper Bobby Hanks (returning from Clacton Town after 13 years away from the Dragons) were also signed. Pre Season went well with three away victories over Brantham Colts (2-1), Little Oakley (3-1) and Brantham Athletic (3-1) plus a 2-2 draw at Haverhill Rovers.
The season got off to a dream start with a 3-0 victory at Eton Manor thanks to a brace from Mitchell Springett and a debut goal from Matt Bennett. Mitchell netted two more against Witham Town to secure a 2-1 win while further victories over Brentwood (2-1 home), Coggeshall Town (8-1 away) and East Ham United (6-2 home) saw us sitting top of the league. The latter game had seen Freddie Claydon make a surprise (but all too brief two game) return to the club and net a hat trick while Neil Milburn was also getting amongst the goals as he spent the season operating between an emergency centre forward and his usual defensive duties. Our 100 per cent record came to an end on Saturday 7th September as, despite Steve Sharman putting us two goals ahead at the break and Milburn giving us a 3-1 lead, we crashed to a 3-4 defeat at second placed Bowers United.
(Gary Smith (on the ball) whose transfer to the Dragons caused a rift with Clacton Town.)
Off the pitch long serving Eddie Goldsmith stepped down and was replaced as club Secretary by Roger Cordey, who had held a similar post at Basildon United, while Mick Loughton took over sole charge of First Team affairs (Mick Packer continuing as a player only) prior to the home game with Stansted which had been moved forward to Friday September 20th. The Friday night experiment was a success as 458 spectators turned up to see a single strike from Sharman give us the points. It was now that Loughton tried to boost his squad with Terry Price joining from Tiptree and Neil Pickard and Gary Smith being brought in to strengthen the midfield. The latter duo’s arrival caused some upset as Clacton Town put in a protest over the signing of Pickard from them and the registration transfer of Smith from Brightlingsea United (as he also held “duel” registration with the “seasiders”). In the end it came to nothing and Pickard made his debut in a superb 1-0 win at Witham Town, secured by Nigel “Rambo” Theobald who blocked a clearance with his chest, played a one/two with Mitch Springett before rifling home an unstoppable drive from 20 yards, while Smith’s debut came four days later in a 1-2 loss at East Thurrock United.
October began with Milburn on centre forward duty against Sawbridgeworth Town on the 5th and he profited from a constant supply of crosses from Smith to score four times in a 5-1 victory (“Smudger” netting the other himself). Now things can change very quickly in football and this was demonstrated over a 24 hour period as the Dragons crashed to 0-4 at Braintree Town in the Eastern Floodlight League on Tuesday 22nd October then defeated Lexden Wanderers 6-0 at Broad Lane in the Worthington Evans Cup the following evening (scorers M.Springett 2; Higgleton; Smith; Milburn and Dines). We then hit a bad patch as, with Ward and Bennett injured, we won just two of our next nine games with defeats including exits from the Essex Senior Trophy, League Cup and F.A.Vase, although one of our wins came over 3rd placed Chelmsford City Reserves thanks to goals from Mitchell Springett and Chris Dines. With Kevin Harvey departing to Brightlingsea at the start of December and keeper Hanks suffering injury (being replaced by Reserve custodian Russell Milburn) the Dragons continued to stutter. Forward Will Love had been signed in October and finally broke into the 1st team following a 2-4 defeat at Sawbridgeworth and scored his first league goal in a 3-1 win at Halstead Town on 21/12/85 (Waters and M.Springett also on target).
The New Year got off to the worst possible start as we lost 0-1 at Ford United on 4th January and then 2-3 at home to Eton Manor seven days later leaving the top of the table looking as follows;
PL W D L FOR – AG PTS
Wivenhoe Town 21 12 2 7 49 30 38
Maldon Town 16 10 4 2 29 15 34
Witham Town 16 10 3 3 32 15 33
Chelmsford City Res 18 9 4 5 29 21 31
Loughton moved to bring striker Mark Farthing back from Braintree Town which allowed Milburn to return to the back line which was leaking far too many goals. Farthing scored twice in a 2-1 home win over Halstead in the Harry Fisher Memorial Trophy on Saturday 18th January and then netted again 7 days later as, added to goals from Milburn (2) and Smith, we were cruising 4-0 up at Canvey Island only for a total defensive collapse to see us end up with just a point from a 4-4 draw, a result that really summed up our campaign as a whole. Following a narrow 1-0 victory at Stansted on 31/1/86 (scorer Smith) the rains came and Wivenhoe did not manage to play a game for five weeks. Witham recorded two wins during this period and sat 3 points behind the Dragons but with five games in hand. At this point all we could hope for was that we would find some consistency and Witham would slip up in their bid to overhaul us at the top.
(Mitchell Springett (pictured scoring against Wokingham in 1992 – Shaun Duffett is in the background) who, along with Gary Higgleton, played in every game throughout the 1985/86 campaign and finished leading goal scorer.)
March arrived with the news that goal scoring legend Paul Harrison had returned to the club from Heybridge Swifts and he immediately got back into the groove with a brace in a 7-2 win at East Ham United on 8/3/86 where Farthing (2), Ward, Packer and M.Springett also hit the target on a day that saw Witham lose 1-2 at home to Chelmsford Reserves to extend our lead to 6 points. The joy of home victories over Burnham Ramblers 3-0 and Maldon 2-1 was cut short by the news that Witham’s defeat to Chelmsford had been “scratched” from the records as City had fielded an ineligible player and the game would have to be replayed. This, coupled with throwing away a 2 goal lead at home to 10 man Ford United on 29/3/86, probably brought about the end of our faint Championship dreams and we were eventually overhauled by the Spa Road outfit on Saturday 3rd May having led the table since the second week of the season.
The Dragons continued to fight for some silverware as two goals from Harrison and one apiece from Packer and Farthing saw us beat Brightlingsea 4-2 to reach the Final of the Harry Fisher Memorial Trophy. Champions elect Witham Town stood in our way in a tie played at East Ham’s ground. A goal down in 5 minutes, we levelled the scores in the 57th minute when Dave Jarvis headed home Gary Smith’s deep cross from the left. Jarvis then put Paul Harrison through with a defence splitting pass in the 74th minute and he finished with a low shot into the far corner beyond the keeper to secure a 2-1 victory and land the trophy. What made the win even more remarkable was that it was achieved without a recognised goalkeeper as unavailability and injury meant that defender Gary Higgleton had to play the entire 90 minutes between the posts with “Higgy” pulling off a superb point blank save in the dying seconds to preserve our lead and make it four wins and a draw over the Champions during the course of the season. We also got to the Final of the Worthington Evans Cup but fell to a narrow 1-2 defeat (scorer Smith) to Maldon Town on 30th May.
The Reserves under Alan Springett started off as early pace setters but 1st team call ups and injuries eventually resulted in them finishing 8th in the table while they also managed to reach the Quarter Finals of the Tolleshunt D’Arcy Cup before going down 0-1 to Tollesbury.
Off the field under Chairman Dave Whymark Wivenhoe’s ambitions to progress up the Non League pyramid appeared to have been dashed due to a dispute between the Essex Senior League and the Isthmian League. With this in mind the club attempted a “sideways” switch to the Eastern Counties League to open up a route of progression up into the Southern League, however, the Isthmian League blocked the move and eventually accepted the Dragons into their set up after further improvements were made to Broad Lane thanks to the support of club Patron Dave Watts.
25 – Mitchell SPRINGETT, 16 – Neil MILBURN, 9 – Mark FARTHING, 9 – Paul HARRISON, 9 – Gary SMITH, 7 – Chris DINES, 5 – Mick PACKER, 5 – Steve SHARMAN, 5 – Jan WATERS, 4 – Will LOVE, 3 – Freddie CLAYDON, 3 – Dave JARVIS, 3 – Wayne WARD, 2 – Matt BENNETT, 2 – Gary HIGGLETON, 2 – Gavin SPRINGETT, 1 – Nigel THEOBALD, 1 – Clayton WRIGHT, 2 – Opponents OWN GOAL.