We didn't realise how good a team we were – Boyland
ONE of the most prolific and gifted centre forwards ever to pull on a Cheltenham Town shirt, Mark Boyland is still heavily involved in non-League football.
The man who netted more than 100 goals for the Robins in three separate spells is now manager of Hook Norton, who are based near his Banbury home.
He combines running the Hellenic League Division One West club with his job as a self-employed carpenter and joiner.
Boyland left Cheltenham for the third and final time in 1992/93, during Lindsay Parsons' reign as boss.
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He signed for Gloucester City, spending seven months at Meadow Park before playing under Sammy Chung at Tamworth.
He then joined Cirencester Town, where he finished his semi-professional playing career at the age of 41.
He was also assistant manager to former Robins team mate Ray Baverstock at Cirencester.
Even then Boyland continued to play for his village team until the age of 47, such was his love for football.
It was a source of surprise to many that he never played in the Football League, despite his outstanding record in the part-time game.
"I would love to have played full-time football, which is every boy's dream, but I don't think I believed I was good enough until it was too late," Boyland said.
"I heard that Leeds were looking at me at one stage, but nothing ever came of it and I still thoroughly enjoyed my career.
"I wouldn't change anything because I have so many great memories and worked with some great people. I am proud of my goalscoring record."
It was not until Boyland caught the eye of Cheltenham boss John Murphy playing for Banbury against Bromsgrove that he was given the opportunity to play at the highest level outside the Football League.
He arrived at Whaddon Road in 1984 and quickly fired Murphy's men into what is now the Blue Square Bet Premier.
During the 1984/85 Southern League title-winning season, Boyland opened his account with a hat-trick in a 4-1 home win over Folkestone at Whaddon Road.
He finished with 31 goals in all competitions and he regards that title-winning campaign as the highlight of his career.
"We won the Southern League in my first season and for me that will always stand out," he said.
"We had a few new players and we all got on well on and off the pitch. Many of us are still friends today, even though we are scattered around. We stay in touch and I still speak to people like Paul Collicutt, Ray Baverstock, Steve Abbley, Anton Vircavs and Brian Hughes.
"We'd always have a drink with the fans after games and everyone was in it together, which is why I think we all still have such an affiliation with the club."
Of the players he played alongside in red and white, Boyland said it was hard to pick out the best.
"We were a good side and probably should have achieved more than mid-table in the Conference, but again I think it came down to belief," he said.
"I don't think we realised how good we were. Take people like Steve Brooks, he was an outstanding player with so much passing ability and vision.
"Bavers had the tenacity and will to win, which got him into trouble at times, but you'd always rather have him your team than playing against you.
"Anton was the same and of course we had Andy Gray, who I got on well with off the pitch and he was down to earth and put the work in at training despite the fact he'd played at the top."
Boyland left Cheltenham for Wycombe Wanderers, where he spent 18 months in a side with real aspirations of winning promotion to the Football League, something that seemed unlikely for the Robins at the time.
He then joined Aylesbury before Jim Barron re-signed him for Cheltenham in March 1989.
"I relished the opportunity to return and it was a fairytale return because on my first game we won 4-1 at Chorley and I scored all four," Boyland recalled.
"I played the rest of that season and a bit of the next season, but Jim Barron left and I went to VS Rugby for two years, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
"I played under Jimmy Knox there, the brother of former Manchester United assistant manager Archie. Sadly Jimmy died on Christmas Eve just gone, aged 77.
"I had another brief time at Cheltenham under Lindsay Parsons, but he had a very young side and I was 34 or 35 and a bit long in the tooth by then."
Boyland was at Whaddon Road this season for Cheltenham's FA Cup second round tie against Hereford United.
He also took particular interest in the third round tie against Everton, having played in the 1990 friendly match against the top flight club, a testimonial game for Nick Jordan and Baverstock.
"That was a fantastic night and I remember Neville Southall having a great time in goal for us, winding up his Everton team-mates and stopping them scoring!" he said.
Having enjoyed a long career, Boyland now places the emphasis on having fun with his Hook Norton side, who he has led for the past three years.
"We have no money whatsoever and I just do it purely for enjoyment," he said.
"It's two miles down the road from me. The club did have a bit of money, but they wasted it. It's all about making it fun on and off the pitch like it was when I played.
"I used to join in with training and the finishing drills because I couldn't resist it, but I've now had a knee replacement and a few back problems so I've had to stop myself now."