Last weekend, PSV Eindhoven finally stopped winning. They had held a perfect record with 17 wins from 17 league games this season, until Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Utrecht brought their run to an end. “It is incredibly impressive that we have come this far,” said their proud manager, Peter Bosz.
PSV were the last perfect team in Europe’s top leagues, but there is one club who have outdone them. In the ninth tier of English football, at the top of the Combined Counties Premier Division South, sit part-time Farnham Town with an immaculate record that this week went one step further than the Eredivisie leaders: 18 games played, 18 games won.
Farnham’s performances have been as dominant as they sound, with 71 goals scored and only 10 conceded. Excitement is growing in the Surrey market town, where attendances have been rising each week and have started to tip over 1,000 – numbers which wouldn’t be out of place at some League Two grounds and which are unheard of in the ninth tier.
Their feat is astonishing and at the same time hard to put into context. There is no great non-league Opta database to compare against. Reading won 13 in a row from the start of the 1985-86 Third Division campaign. Manchester City and Liverpool both managed 18 wins in a row in recent years, but those streaks came mid-season. A Eusebio-led Benfica won 29 in a row in 1972, but split across two seasons. Certainly, Farnham can lay claim to being the last perfect team standing in England’s recognised pyramid, and across Europe after PSV stumbled.
Farnham have gone on a journey over the past 18 months, with fresh impetus in the volunteer-led boardroom bringing energy as well as much-needed investment to improve every department, from the squad and facilities to the matchday experience and a growing online presence.
The latter has been driven by 29-year-old club director Harry Hugo, a local entrepreneur with his own social media agency. Farnham put out a stream of content including smart graphics, match clips and weekly fly-on-the-wall YouTube videos in what they have dubbed their own ‘All or Nothing’ documentary. They’ve garnered more than 100,000 followers across all platforms, which isn’t bad for a team in a town of 20,000 people.
The social media channels chronicle the feats of an eclectic blend of working men – electricians, office workers and personal trainers among them – who, alongside full-time jobs, each have a personalised programme drawn up by the club’s fitness and nutrition coach. On Thursday nights they meet to train once a week, and on the weekends they can’t stop winning.
“The board gave us the backing to go and get what I wanted early in pre-season,” Farnham’s manager, Paul Johnson, tells The Independent. Among the new arrivals were combative full-back Jack Dean, attacking midfielder Harry Cooksley (amusingly dubbed ‘the Surrey Zidane’ on Wikipedia), as well as commanding defender and new club captain Ryan Kinnane. “They’ve all won [non-league] titles over the last couple of years, so I knew I was bringing in winners.”
Kinnane says it was not just the influx of talent but the right blend of characters which helped the team get off to a fast start.
“Talented players do make a difference, they’re very good footballers. But also how quickly we gelled as a group was important to hit the season running, rather than being a slow burner. I think that’s a big part of it, just getting on in the changing room and outside of football. It makes everything so much easier. There’s a lot of social [activity]. We’re just normal people, no egos, no one thinks they’re better than anyone else. It’s just, ‘have fun and enjoy it’.”
Kinnane, 29, is an account manager for a confectionary firm, which doesn’t always sit well with his tailored health plan. “I’m normally quite good but we have days like yesterday near the factory, looking at products for Christmas 2024, so there was a lot of snacking on chocolate. But I try to be good.”
Like most of Farnham’s new recruits, he has played at a higher level but was persuaded to join by the club’s long-term ambition. The Memorial Ground is a short walk from the town centre, surrounded by houses and a civic hall on one side, and it has been transformed in recent months with new catering (a ‘mystery kitchen’ serves fans a different cuisine each week), a pitchside bar and an outside toilet block. There’s a new 180-seater stand and another coming in February. The club are trying to engage young fans, with free season-tickets for youth players and thousands of tickets handed out to local schools.
With all this going on, Kinnane wanted to play his part. “For me, it was, ‘can I be part of getting the on-field [project] moving?’ The higher up the league you go, the more people come, so they go hand in hand.”
Naturally, the success and attention has garnered a few snipes in the replies online, and occasionally on the touchline on a matchday.
“I think the club gets a fair bit of banter,” says Kinnane. “There were plenty of people quite happy when we lost in the FA Vase the other week! I get it, we’re quite big on socials and we tweet a lot. That side’s brilliant, and other people and clubs don’t seem to take to it too well sometimes. Personally I don’t pay too much attention … let people talk on social media. Any publicity is good publicity.”
Johnson is equally conscious of the outside noise, but it comes with the territory. “The thing that gets talked about is the money we’re spending,” says the manager. “We get that all the time. It’s all fun and games. But like anything, money doesn’t always win and we’ve done it in style.”
Johnson says his biggest challenge now is keeping his players’ feet on the ground. They have already surpassed PSV, after all. But promotion to what would be Farnham’s highest level in their 118-year history is still the primary goal. Kinnane insists they are not getting ahead of themselves, despite the growing interest around their winning streak and how long it might last.
“It’s there and everyone’s aware of it, but – it’s a boring cliche – it is just about game to game, week to week,” the captain says. “The reality is we’ve played 18 league games and we’re almost at the end of January, so there’s a long way to go. [The streak] has not really been spoken about that much. It’s a case of, just turn up for the next game, and we believe if we play to the level we can every week, then we’ve got a very, very good chance of winning that game.”