This weekend saw me head ‘home’ to Kent and to Greatness Park, home of Sevenoaks Town. I lived in Kent for nearly 31 years until I moved down to Sussex, Sevenoaks might be the hometown but Otford Utd were my club having lived in the nearby village for 18 years. However, going home to places from my childhood I really love but this was to be the first time I had watched Town in an enclosed ground scenario.
I saw many great games and battles between the two clubs and sadly while Otford went out the Premier Division via relegation, Oaks went the other way and won the title and with it promotion to the Kent League. Stabilisation in that competition eventually led them to another league title and into the the Ryman/Bostik/Pitching In Isthmian South East Division where they sit now. They were 10th in the table before Covid-19 struck in March and on Saturday it was a first return to competitive league action since then.
Of course this ‘new normal’ is quite different for each of level of grounds you go into. Pre-paid for ticket is now expected, easily done, face recognition for a temperature check is a new one in the first three weeks, luckily I passed and of course sanitising points as you enter the turnstiles and a one way system to enter and exit the ground, very well thought out. Also a word or two to say about the stewards/volunteers here, first class from the car park to inside the ground, happy to answer any query we had, even got a printed team-sheet without needing a picture of the written board!
What I wasn’t expecting when I got here was to see two very familiar faces to me, firstly Jason Bourne, the ex Tunbridge Wells player and manager, who knows my family very well and secondly Julian Leigh, a man I’ve known for the best part of 30 odd years through him playing for Otford and Sevenoaks as well, again well known to my family and nice to have a short catch up before the game began.
A game that wasn’t ever going to be for the purist with wind dominating the full 90 minutes, Bridges with three ex Worthing players in their ranks, Mason Doughty, Hayden Skerry and Brannon O’Neill were the brighter starters playing with the wind with the latter controlling the game from midfield in front of a good sized crowd of 137.
Oaks also included an ex Rebel in Joe Tennent who had a fine game at centre back alongside Thomas Ripley, but they struggled to created anything in the final third of the pitch and it was no surprise to see the visitors take the lead on 12 minutes through Alex Barbary.
The home side didn’t find any joy down the wings either and despite O’Neill probing and prompting Bridges couldn’t add to the scoreline and one of the few attacks on the visitors goal saw Oaks draw level on the stroke of half time. A corner headed back across goal landed on the head of striker Kyle Da Silva who nodded home from just a few yards out to send the sides in level at the break.
The goal certainly came at the right time for the home side who hadn’t offered much in the first 45 minutes but came out with a better game plan in the second half. Had Bridges continued to play in the same vain against the wind, there might have been a better outcome for them but it was Sevenoaks who played the better football with more joy down the flanks whilst Bridges struggled to get any joy from Tennent and Ripley.
Oaks took the lead on 71 minutes after Jason Thompson broke the offside trap, rounded the keeper and netted. Just four minutes later, Thompson added his second after great work from Tyrell Richardson-Brown down the right hand side who squared to the striker to slot home. Those two quickfire goals put the game out of Bridges’ reach and with James Bessey-Saldanha adding a fourth in stoppage time a comprehensive victory goes down in the record books before a trip to Corinthian in Tuesday’s FA Cup tie.
Manager Mickey Collins will certainly be pleased with the way his side responded in the second half but knows a stern test will await his team on Tuesday evening. For Bridges, a long way to go with this being only the first league game, the front two of Barbary and Tom Tolfrey will give a few sides problems this season and had they taken one or two of the chances that did come their way in the first half the game could have ended with a different complexion.
Tuesday night is FA Cup night again and my first look at Adam Hinshelwood’s Worthing who started the season with a good 2-1 victory at Folkestone Invicta, East Grinstead are their opponents and a new ground I’ve yet to visit, I’m certainly making the most of this season!