The wait for some is almost over

I’m not sure as I write this which I am more pleased about following the government’s decision on Monday to definitely release us from a second lockdown on 2nd December, coincidently my birthday, the fact I may well be able to attend a National League football match or the fact I can resume writing programme columns and even think about trying to get some more clubs on board.

No one can deny this hasn’t been the year for very much, granted this blog has been outstanding to write and to see the viewing figures and visitors on a daily, weekly, monthly basis has been the one shining light through 2020.

As most of you reading will know I backed the #LetFansIn campaign way back at the end of summertime, started by Dorking Wanderers and taken on by the many. Whilst at Steps 3-6 we saw supporters from the first game of the season in September the promise of that for the National League ‘elite’ from 1st October was dashed away just days before reality.

Now as we head into December and dependant upon what tier they decide your club’s area will fall into, some fans should be watching top level non-league football for the first time this season and about time too.

In my opinion there was no reason why a dumbed down version couldn’t have been started from that October date with pilot event numbers of around 1000 fans, whilst I appreciate cases were rising it was no different across the world and especially in Europe where they decided to allow fans into watch and across the pond in the NFL it’s been going on for weeks.

The next few days will doubt be full of speculation as to whether you will indeed be watching your National League team in person or still via a stream. Not everyone will be comfortable in attending, it should be down to personal risk and your own choice whether you decide football is safe enough for you, if not I hope clubs persist with streaming games, its vital for a lot of people’s mental health to be able to watch their team in some shape or form.

Despite allowing fans back in, some clubs are going to be under capacity for what they would normally be allowed across a standard season, this however is the start and unlike Steps 3-6 where it was a one size fits all for levels 3&4 and for 5&6 regardless of your average support, the NL has put it together on a club by club capacity basis.

I believe there should be a re-think of the levels allowed now for the rest of non-league football. There are a few clubs who hit the 600 and 300 maximum mark a few times during the opening two months. I’m not suggesting we go crazy here and make it almost a free for all, but we’re in the open air, transmission levels we know are much lower and there is space to social distance. I believe allowing an increase of 200 on those levels would be enough to allow more income into these clubs which has been sadly lacking since March.

Most clubs will not hit these figures especially if some of those who have been taking in games after not being able to watch their own team in action decide to return to those clubs.

The next question will be away fans or not? Whilst it would make things easier to police for a lot of clubs would it be detrimental to the action on the pitch? And by that I mean if the home side is not in the ascendancy and their fans start to get on the player’s backs then advantage to the away team, I’m sure it’s a big discussion point across meetings at this very moment.

I write currently for three clubs, East Preston, and Langney Wanderers in the Southern Combination League and Met Police in the Pitching In Southern League, the latter beginning literally just before lockdown. Two of the three have their own custom written column which changes every home game, no two pieces are the same.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to having deadlines during the week, a bit more normality as I had during September and October. Needless to say there will be plenty to write about as always and with this four week break in proceedings more midweek football to find and write about to keep this blog smashing the figures it keeps doing…….

December here we come!

Lockdowns can prove to be a very tough time, especially for all of us who love to get out and watch non-league football. Things were progressing nicely since 1st September, games, pints, pies, people.

And now here we are three weeks to go until we can enjoy these things once again, or should I say with fingers crossed? It does seem very strange that we can still pop to a garden centre, send our kids to school in what appear to be less covid-secure places than a football ground.

Out in the open air, socially distanced in most cases should surely mean as safe as can be, I mean all clubs went through the rigorous processes in the short close season to ensure we began in September so has something changed in the meantime?

We’ve had the #LetFansIn debate heard in Parliament, something I got involved in during August, begun by Dorking Wanderers and championed by many. Now the DCMS have three more weeks to come up with a plan, there is absolutely no reason why there shouldn’t be one in place to allow us back into stadiums at higher levels before much longer.

It’s happened in Europe and granted some have suspended that inclusion for the time being, but the point is that they are far in front of us. If and this is a big if the authorities have seen that fans in most cases have been inside non-league grounds safely, no or very minimal evidence that transmission of covid-19 has come from a football ground, then why should levels not be raised for non-league clubs as well?

This is personal risk now like every shop you go to, every person you want to see, streaming games I hope will continue for the foreseeable future for those who don’t feel comfortable to return, work needs to be done on that and I know clubs are very keen to encourage and show things are as normal as they can be and a safe environment for all to watch our beloved game.

I plan over the next three weeks to speak to managers, chairman and other people inside the non-league game to find out how these four weeks will affect them and their clubs, we all know that most just about struggled to survive through from March to the new season with no income and there is no doubt the next month will be just as challenging for most.

It’s not just the football clubs this four week break affects. The guys who produce the programmes, the supplier of food and drink to clubhouses all lose out over this period as well and some will not return either having worked so hard to get moving again after the sudden cut off in March and the late return in September.

Then there is the very important aspect of mental health and that applies to everyone in the game from the chairman to the tea lady to the staff and players and to the man, woman, or child on the terraces. Anyone can suffer from a number of withdrawal symptoms through all walks of life, missing something so close to them, be it a loved one, be it their favourite sport.

Now is the time more than ever to look out for those you know you won’t see for a few weeks, drop them a text message or give them a call, you’d be surprised how much difference it will make, already just a week or so into this time I’ve sent a few messages out to people I see struggling across Facebook and Twitter, it’s up to us as people to look after each other and get everyone out the other side into December and watching football on a cold crisp night.

One week down, three weeks to go, I can already smell the chips and burgers and taste that pint…………..

The night before lockdown

The final hurrah! Well, till December football is now suspended unless you are ‘elite’ and if you are then you can’t be watched inside a stadium! 26 games in two months and a day is not a bad return considering I normally do 20-25 in a complete season.

Being that lockdown started on Thursday, classed as a key worker delivering for Amazon won’t see much change for me apart from the likelihood of getting much busier!

I made sure however that I got games in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week for the first time, trips to AFC Varndeanians and Three Bridges in the Sussex Senior Cup followed by the final road trip for now to AFC Porchester to watch United Services Portsmouth take on Bournemouth Poppies to conclude things before the midnight deadline.

The first choice venue was Farnborough but with the Southern League calling all games off the FA Vase took centre stage with two sides I’ve never previously watched at a ground I’d never previously been to, winners all round!

AFC Porchester is certainly a spacious ground, no trouble with getting enough people in safely to watch the final game for a few weeks. Not knowing too much about Wessex League football meant this was very much an unknown quantity to watch and sometimes they can turn out to be the best games.

What I’ve got to do is make mention of the travelling Poppies support! Around 12 of them singing and chanting the whole way through, non-league songs and adapting others, these guys were fantastic throughout the 90 minutes and much to credit to them, it was great to hear, made us chuckle, thank you!

The game itself played on a sloping pitch was certainly very possession based from both teams trying to play football and out from the back as well, Services though used the ball better when they had it whilst Poppies although playing their part struggled to play a penetrative ball when it was back with them.

However, it was Poppies who took the lead on eleven minutes, a cross from the left hand side from winger Jack Kinge-Phillips looped over the head of Services keeper Tom Price to give the visitors the lead.

That early goal was pretty much as good as it got for the Poppies, relentless attacking from the hosts ensured the night was going to be a long one. There were however one or two good chances to increase the lead but none were taken and each time the hosts pressed forward for an equaliser they threatened to score.

That goal did come in the 33rd minute through Dec Seidon, a thumping shot Jones was unable to keep out despite getting a hand on it. Worse was to come just four minutes later as Andy Todd put the hosts in front and turn the tie on its head in a matter of minutes to send Services in at the break with the lead.

Services kicking down the hill in the second half tried to put the game beyond the Poppies in the opening fifteen minutes, but Jones was in the way and when he was beaten the bar came to his rescue more than once.

Just before the hour mark Services did put the game out of reach of the visitors, James Franklyn neatly played through and he slotted past Jones for the hosts third goal, on the balance of play no more than they deserved.

Both sides traded shots over the final ten minutes but neither did enough to really trouble either keeper, Services fully deserved to progress into the next round whenever that might be played.

Overall, 184 happy souls saw a game of football, the last time for 28 days, we’re keeping everything crossed that on 2nd December we’ll all be rejoicing again that football is back for good this time and no more interruptions………

Bridges claim cup win

It was a Tuesday night before lockdown and a mad rush to get in as many football matches as possible before battening down the hatches for the second time this year.

Although to be fair, Three Bridges vs Worthing in the Sussex Senior Cup was always going to be my destination far before the realms of unpredictability rolled the dice once again, a second viewing of Bridges and a third of the Mackerel Men.

Having caught my first 0-0 of the season the previous evening in the same competition I was hopeful that was just a blip and more goals would be on offer, well that 0-0 had to have a penalty shoot-out, so not counted really is it!

One huge bonus for the visitors was the return of Alfie Young to the heart of the defence, a big player for Worthing and one needed since Aarran Racine decided to step away to concentrate on his business.

Having seen both sides in action at least once already this season, there was less of an unknown quantity about either side. As you would expect the Mackerel Men had most of the possession but Bridges were content to make the most of the play when they had the ball.

The first real chance of the game came on 16 minutes, Worthing Mo Diallo was denied by Bridges stopper Kieron Thorp after fashioning a chance himself. Bridges though came back and ex-Mackerel man Brannon O’Neil brought a fine save out of Roco Rees in the Worthing goal.

With Worthing enjoying their better spells down the flanks, the next good chance came from Dajon Golding cutting in from the right wing but blazing wildly over when looking set to open the scoring.

The game should have turned on its head in the 42nd minute, a lunging challenge from Bridges centre half Dean Lovegrove on Jasper Pattenden saw the defender receive his second red card in as many matches and leave his side with just over half a game to complete with ten men.

Worthing certainly had a little more intensity in the second half, trying to pull Bridges across the pitch and make the most of the extra man advantage but the hosts made the visitors work hard defending well against Diallo and Omar Koroma, not allowing either striker much sight of Thorp’s goal.

Koroma did get a sight of goal just before the hour mark, bursting through the Bridges defence beating Thorp but hitting the defender on the line which kept the scores level.

The hosts were increasingly creating chances on the counter-attack as Worthing pushed forward trying to break the deadlock and indeed were nearly caught out as Gayler sent the ball over Rees goal when well positioned.

The Mackerel Men made them pay for that miss as substitute Ollie Pearce was slipped in and fired emphatically past Thorp to give Worthing the lead on 82 minutes.

The lead was to last no more than a minute as Bridges replied immediately through John Lansdale. Skipping through the Worthing defence, the ball found it’s way through to Lansdale hammered the ball past Rees to give Bridges renewed hope and a way back into the tie.

Worse was to come for Worthing as minutes later Curtis Gayler finished off a fine counter-attack with a measured finish past Rees to give the home side the lead and under three minutes left to play.

Koroma thought he had levelled the scores in the last minute, a Golding cross picking him out in the six yard box but the tall striker’s header hit the bar and the loose ball cleared away to safety.

Bridges held firm in stoppage time despite a barrage of balls into the box and secured their place in the last sixteen of the cup at the expense of their higher league placed opponents.

After the game I caught up with Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood to get his views on the game:

‘Bit frustrated we didn’t take our chances, but we should have had a penalty in the first ten minutes instead of an offside decision going against us which changes the game in my opinion, but on the night we didn’t show enough quality in the final third and they fully deserved to win.’

‘We made a lot of poor choices on the ball and clinical ruthless finishing was lacking for me, we would turn down a simple pass for a more difficult one. It’s football though, it happens and we’ve already identified improvements to be made and the players like myself will be working hard to improve.’

‘Great to have Alfie (Young) back, a real big player for us and the way we want to play, but for the two goals last night I have already had a conversation with him on how he could’ve done better in both situations and potentially prevented them which he agreed with, so he will learn from it and that’s what this group of players do, they are honest, hard working and Alfie epitomises that, he is very brave to get on the ball and play it out from the back.’

‘With the lockdown coming in, its very frustrating but it is what it is we have to deal with it and then try and find the momentum we were building in the league on the return. Hopefully, a shining light will be that the pitch can be done in this time.’

‘We’ll try and do some Zoom sessions with the boys over the next four weeks and keep in touch with them as much as we are allowed to do, obviously no training for the same period of time I hope has no or little effect when we do re-start.’

Spot kick success give Wanderers the win

Monday night football at the Withdean Stadium, current home of AFC Varndeanians and Brighton Electricity, was drawn to me given the fact by Thursday non-league football is once again on the back burner.

Not often you get games thrown at you so early in the week but those restrictions coming in have certainly made me look at getting a few extra in the bank as much as I can.

As it was, Varndeanians were hosting Langney Wanderers, the Eastbourne based club one of three I write for, more work being put on hold for the sabbatical, and with Simon Colbran returning to manage the club after departing shortly before the season started a chance for a look at what he was aiming to build once again.

The V’s came into the game off the back of a weekend 2-2 draw at Wick, whilst Wanderers suffered a 2-0 reverse at Broadbridge Heath, attentions now turned to the Sussex Senior Cup.

When Brighton & Hove Albion frequented the Withdean I never saw my team Barnet win there, got soaked a few times, generally quite miserable. This was my first return to the ground in some ten years or so, derived of temporary seating now but of course the running track remains.

A reasonable sized crowd was in for this one, no doubt a last football fix for some keen to take in the fresh air and the play on offer. There was certainly no tentative start from either side, lots of endeavour and a keenness to get the football on the grass and pass it forward.

Varndeanians were the first to strike hitting the post just four minutes into the game, Ben Whiting beaten and relieved to see the ball bounce back out to his defenders and cleared to safety.

Wanderers though made sure the V’s didn’t have everything their own way, Pete Cooper and Tim Bennett making sure the hosts experienced back four were being tested across the park.

The first half was short on clear cut goalscoring opportunities for both sides, but not devoid of attacking intent and with some more guile and composure in front of goal either side could have gone in at the break in front but goalless was the scoreline.

Wanderers were the brighter of the two as the second half began, although Varndeanians made sure their opponents had to work hard either side of the ball. The home side came close to breaking the deadlock mid-way through the half but failed to test Whiting in the Wanderers goal whilst at the other end much probing resulted in a similar vain for the visitors.

Wanderers skipper Pete Featherstone thought he finally had the ball in the net only to see his shot hit the post on 78 minutes, the follow up shot blocked and Varndeanians scrambling the ball away.

There was one final chance for the visitors to win it, a mazy run in the closing stages from substitute Delight Akerjola ended with a fierce shot fizzing over the bar sending the game to penalties.

Spot kicks didn’t begin well for Langney with the first penalty saved, but Wanderers went on to win the shoot out after Varndeanians hit the post and then sent their final penalty high over the bar giving the visitors a place in the last 16 to be played whenever we resume once again.

On Tuesday morning, I caught up with returning Wanderers boss Simon Colbran to get his views on the game:

‘I thought the first half was pretty even, but we looked the better side in the second half and deserved the win. We worked very hard all game but just missed that clinical edge in front of goal, but overall a great performance against a good, experienced side.’

 ‘I was confident we wouldn’t concede so it was either getting that winning goal or having to do it on penalties.’

‘Despite the fact we now have to stop for a month it might work in our favour so I can assemble the squad I want ready to go again in four weeks’ time.’

‘I’m pleased to be back involved again, at the time I left family had to come first but football is so much in my blood, it’s great to have that feeling once again.’

City provide the sting in the tail

Is this to be the last Saturday blog of the season? Fingers crossed it’s only the four weeks we have to suffer and we get back to football soon, not that it’ll stop me until Thursday!

The last game before the March lockdown was full of rain, a complete performance from Barnet at Woking and for a while it looked as if the rain was going to be a big factor once again after a morning deluge in West Sussex and with that in mind it was a first trip to the new Horsham Camping World sponsored stadium.

This one was on my list to get to last season and of course the early finish put paid to that! But no such issues this time around thankfully and with an FA Trophy tie against Welwyn Garden City the possibility of an upset and/or penalties.

The ground itself was pretty decent for a new build, lots have a ‘lack of atmosphere and character’ levelled at them, soulless and something that doesn’t fit in for your average fan, but I was pretty impressed with how this one looked.

Very helpful stewards on the way in set the tone for a pleasant visit, first impressions as a new visitor can make all the difference. Once inside space was never an issue, lots of room and easily capable of hosting 600 people socially distanced, 473 made it in to watch.

The Hornets have had a steady start to their league campaign which is about to be put on hold for four weeks, and hosting a side one step below, they were hoping for a comfortable passage into the next round.

The visitors made the early running and almost took the lead inside ten minutes hitting the post from a free kick which Horsham keeper Brad House was expecting to go wide of the mark.

Horsham though tried to settle into their stride but found it hard to find some sort of penetration through an organised City side but they did eventually find a way through, Chris Smith with a fine finish to give the home side the lead on 18 minutes.

The home side were getting a majority of their attacks going down the right hand flank through former Barnet wing back Tom Day but the City rear-guard dealt with most balls into the box leaving the home side to lead by just a single goal at half time, pretty much a lack of rhythm going forward.

City came out in the second half not in awe of their opponents and looked more likely to give Horsham more of a game for the final 45 minutes, substitute George Ironton forcing a great save out of House on the hour mark.

The visitors however did equalise on 68 minutes when Ironton pulled the ball back onto his right foot and fired it into the top corner. Fellow substitute Jordan Kinoshi almost embarrassed House when he robbed the keeper of the ball and almost put the visitors in front on 72 minutes.

Hornets substitute Aaron Hopkinson thought he’d won the tie for the home side six minutes later having looped the ball over the visiting keeper only for it to bounce off the inside of the post and cleared to safety.

Despite some strong Horsham pressure over the final ten minutes, they couldn’t make the breakthrough and off we went to penalties!

Welwyn dispatched all five into the net whilst Hopkinson saw his penalty saved as the visitors moved into the next round of the Trophy, Horsham left to reflect on a lack of clinical moments in front of goal to be able to put the tie to bed.

With any luck I should get to two more games before the shutters come down, and then it’s back to compiling a blog list to get everyone through another lockdown…………

Comfortable win for Leafe

This time of year when the clocks go back is the time of year when you start to fear the dreaded P-P appearing everywhere. Pick a game and pray, whether it’s the weekend or midweek. That happened to me on Tuesday night, Wick vs Selsey in the Southern Combination Division One was to be my port of call but washed out by mid-afternoon.

With not a great deal of choice locally, I was mildly tempted by Potters Bar vs Worthing, but having watched the Rebels on Saturday and faced with a two hour journey, I settled on Whyteleafe vs Burgess Hill instead.

Like Chipstead who I visited in the last few weeks, Whyteleafe I also spent time at in my youth with Tandridge League finals there too but this was my first game here for many a year.

Arriving at Church Road Hill found themselves in the bottom two and in need of some points while Leafe were in the top four looking to replicate the form they showed last season when it was curtailed. Extra for me to take in were two former Barnet players, one on each side in Ryan Gondoh and Martyn Box.

Before we’d made ourselves comfy in a standing spot, Leafe were in front. Just 4 minutes on the clock, Aaron Watson who impressed me throughout finished off a slick move to give the home side the lead and really set the tempo of the match, any time Leafe broke forward they looked likely to score.

Ten minutes later it was 2-0, a fine run down the left by Gondoh, whose pace troubled Hill anywhere on the pitch, was finished off with a simple tap in for Omari Hilbert at the far post.

The game was effectively in the hosts control on 24 minutes if it wasn’t already, Watson sent through and smashing the ball home for his second and the third for the home side. Box thought he pulled one back before half time, his free kick just lacking enough curl to send it into the top left hand corner.

That was the best effort of the half for the visitors, completely blown away by the pace and intensity shown by Whyteleafe and struggled to get any momentum when attacking the Leafe goal.

With the hosts fully in control of the game, I expected the game to either go the way of a tighter second half performance from Burgess Hill or Whyteleafe to go on and run up a goal difference busting win.

Watson completed a well-deserved hat-trick just after the hour mark, a neat finish side footed into the far corner followed shortly after with a red card for Hill’s Andrew Herring after a bad challenge in the middle of the pitch.

Box came close again for the visitors with another free kick this time the ball going the wrong side of the other post. The introduction of Tom Chalaye on loan from Worthing couldn’t improve Hill’s efforts on goal, the Leafe back line dealing with any ball into the box or cutting off the supply lines from the wingers.

Leafe then added a fifth goal eleven minutes from time, Watson again the scorer for his fourth of the evening to wrap up a very impressive individual performance in amongst a polished team effort.

As mentioned Gondoh’s pace was simply electric all evening, Watson just clinical with anything that came his way and with a largely untroubled evening for their defence, all in all a good night’s work for the Surrey side.

Rebels run away with a win

Saturday afternoon was a road trip, after the last two weekends in Sussex for games, I needed a break. With so many fixtures over the last two months I’ve visited a lot of the grounds I’ve wanted to get to and some twice over, so with that in mind and wanting to get a bit further away I settled upon East Thurrock vs Worthing, joined by Gareth Spinks.

This was going to be the third time of watching the Rebels in action so far this season, a season where things have to be repeated and an end result this time as table toppers would be nice!

The hosts began the day in the bottom three after a wretched start to the season having won just once so far, Worthing meanwhile appear to be intent on making sure last year wasn’t a one off and are pushing once again in the early table at the top end.

Bolstered by a couple of new signings for the visitors and playing a very attacking formation, Worthing tried to make the most of the tentative start by the hosts by attacking at will but failed to really test Rocks keeper Arthur Janata.

Joel Colbran almost gave the visitors the lead just before the half hour mark but he couldn’t quite guide the ball home, just missing the far post with Janata beaten. Reece Meekums and Mo Diallo were next to try their luck, the keeper saving from the former and followed up by not allowing the latter to hit the target.

It was Colbran however who gave Worthing the lead on 35 minutes, picking up a loose clearance from a corner and smashing the ball back past Janata. Three minutes later and it should have been two, a delightful slaloming run from Ricky Aguiar past three Thurrock defenders ended with his effort hitting the crossbar and bouncing away to safety for what would have been an outstanding goal.

As it was they didn’t have to wait long for the second goal, Aguiar again unleashing another shot to hit the woodwork but this one fell to Diallo who slammed it home from a tight angle to give the Rebels a 2-0 half time lead that was fully deserved.

The Rocks began the second half with a bit more purpose, the wind in their favour as Worthing struggled to get hold of the ball and get it back on the grass,  Roco Rees being the busier of the two keepers.

The game then took a little bit of a twist with Rebels defender Cam Tutt dismissed for a bad challenge on a Rocks striker, no complaints from left back as he made his way down the tunnel leaving his team-mates to defend their 2-0 lead for half an hour.

Boss Adam Hinshelwood responded with a couple of changes, a debut for striker Omar Koroma and Danny Pappoe coming on to shore up the backline, Worthing content to soak up the pressure and hit the hosts on the break.

Koroma came a good focal point holding the ball up to allow the players around him to break as the Rocks had to push forward to try and halve the deficit.

Just to ensure there was enough protection for his back three, Hinshelwood sent on Darren Budd for Dajon Golding, to keep things simple and tidy and maintain possession.

Six minutes from time, Koroma made his way into the penalty area before being fouled, stepped up and converted coolly into the bottom right hand corner and seemingly to send the points back to Sussex.

The hosts did finally find the net, Ezekiel Bademosi’s shot squirming through the hands of Rees in the Worthing goal but too little too late and the Rebels kept their place on goal difference at the top of the table.

A pretty convincing win for the visitors and having strengthened the squad in recent weeks shows Worthing really mean business once again and with games in hand already and only one defeat in the first seven games they could well be the side to beat once again this year.

More midweek action for me, 21 games so far and topped up this week by Wick vs Selsey and hopefully more Pitching In Isthmian Premier Division action with Cray vs Merstham.

Otford in seven heaven

For the second week running I managed to double up on midweek action, as much as I would love that every week going into the winter months it’s going to be few and fair between. Once again it was a trip back home and to Kent but this one had more about it than most.

I grew up for eighteen years in a village called Otford just outside of Sevenoaks. I played for the junior section from the age of twelve and by fifteen I was playing for the senior club’s 3rd team. Before that time, I was a spectator and a helper as my late father was heavily involved from tea making on a Saturday afternoon to being the groundsman as well for so many years.

However, he never tended the pitch Otford Utd now play on, the first team having moved quite a few years ago with a car park extension and subsequent cricket pitch moving occupying the space where I saw so many games.

I never made it into the first team, although I believe both of my brothers did, the youngest certainly did and went on to play for Tunbridge Wells in the Kent League.

Going ‘home’ always has so many memories for me, however close I get to Kent, I’ve spent thirty years of my life there, things you don’t forget. I even stopped off at the fish and chip shop we always used in Dunton Green, still tasted as good as they did before!

Its fair to say that there have been a lot more lean times than success for the O’s in recent years, local rivals Sevenoaks have moved onwards and upwards into Isthmian League football, Otford went the other way and only in recent years have they started to move in the right direction.

A new chairman in Stuart Cunningham, a guy I know well from the old days, a returning manager in Ricky Tompkins who started the move upwards before leaving for FC Elmstead, but is now back at the helm after a poor curtailed season last year left them looking down again rather than up.

Whenever you mention Crockenhill to anyone of course the story comes up of Gillingham boss Keith Peacock signing striker Tony Cascarino for a set of tracksuits and various other items it is believed! Those days of me growing up they were a Kent League side until the rules became more stringent and without lights down they went into the Kent County League.

They did have a spell back in what is now the Southern Counties East League Division One but relegation sent them back to where they are now and no sign of any lights yet.

Being I don’t watch a lot of football at this level but follow the results weekly I wasn’t sure what to expect on the pitch, a pitch which looked in very good condition and ready for a night under lights.

What I got was unreal! The intensity from the off from the hosts was pretty breath-taking, although it was the visitors who should have made the breakthrough two minutes in shooting wide of Tommy Hobson’s post. That was pretty much as good as it got for the visitors with the hosts providing a storming masterclass in attacking.

Two minutes after that chance, the O’s were in front, Artur Lechowicz who was a constant menace all evening for the Hill back line cut in from the left and fired past the keeper. Not even ten minutes were on the clock and the hosts were further in front.

The extremely impressive Harry Brown was the scorer on the volley in the left hand corner giving the keeper no chance at all and Otford had certainly shell-shocked their visitors so early on.

It was about to get worse on 13 minutes, a penalty awarded for handball and up stepped Brown, but crashed the ball against the crossbar and back out to safety, Hill not really knowing which way to turn in this game.

Every time Otford broke they looked likely to score, playing with three up front certainly caused Crockenhill no end of problems with every attack and on 26 minutes Brown scored his second and the hosts’ third, leaping highest from a corner and guiding his header into the far right hand corner.

Brown was again denied by the bar on 35 minutes, an absolute smasher of a shot beat the keeper all ends up but not the woodwork, however it wasn’t long before Brown did complete a first half hat-trick.

Another penalty awarded to Otford for handball on the line, defender dismissed, visitors down to 10 men and already 3-0 down. This time Brown made no mistake and the O’s took a 4-0 lead into half time.

Could the second half get any better? Well it matched the first half for goals, Brown came close early on but for a fine save from the Crockers keeper before being replaced by Toyeeb Babatunde who wasted no time in marking his mark on the game, robbing a defender of the ball and slotting home just after the hour mark for 5-0.

His second arrived on 75 minutes, a fierce shot taking a deflection on its way past the keeper and six for Otford. Hill then scored themselves, a very decent looping strike over the top of Hobson for a consolation goal three minutes later.

Babatunde was to cap his impressive second half with a hat-trick of his own two minutes from time with another smart finish after the O’s once again broke the offside trap for his side’s seventh of the evening.

Afterwards I caught up with O’s boss Ricky Tompkins to get his views on the game:

‘I felt it was a long time coming, it’s been fine margins in not winning a lot more games recently. Tonight I felt we were ruthless in front of goal and two strikers, two hat-tricks, top stuff.’

‘We defended as a team and our work rate was second none, credit to all the boys this evening.’

Stuart Cunningham also gave me a little insight into the club:

‘During lockdown of course all training and matches stopped so we spent time redecorating the pavilion, preparing for a return to football and working hard behind the scenes with the updating of polices. We were able to start small group sessions during June and these were particularly tricky for the younger players as they love the mini matches and they weren’t able to.’

‘The club has some long term plans regarding the size of the club, facilities and progression of youth players into our first team. We are aiming to provide teams every season from our coaching school which currently has over 50 attending every week. This is proving to be an excellent feeder for the club and will guarantee our future.’

‘Being new to the chairman role this season has taken a lot of time and energy from the start due to the merger between the senior and junior teams. The club however has settled down with so much good work done during the summer. I coach, manage, referee and support our players so as chairman I get to see the wider picture of the club.’

‘I can see the club developing strongly over the next few years as we have a dedicated committee.’

Quick mentions must go to Brown and Babatunde, quick efficient, lethal and excellent work-rate, the other player who stood out for me was Darrell Thompson in midfield, always available, simple balls and great at winning back possession.

Lions find their bite

Getting to a game every Saturday and Tuesday at the moment is like a little god send, not just for me but for many others up and down the country in what are still very difficult and uncertain times.

Having picked up the Non League paper this morning to read that the Northern Premier League have quite rightly drawn up plans in case their season is curtailed or at the very least suspended for a few weeks, it makes me more determined to get around as much as I can and enjoy every ounce of it just in case, although the fear factor is a little less down here on the South Coast.

The weekend trip took me down the road to Pagham, staying local as I needed to work in the evening. The Lions have had a solid start to the season with just one defeat in seven league games whilst their visitors had also just a single defeat having played nine Southern Combination games.

Before the season ended prematurely in March, Lions boss Kerry Hardwell had begun to turn fortunes around and the club were comfortably heading away from the bottom six and with the quality of summer signings they made this time around I was expecting them to be comfortable top ten this time around, no pressure!

This definitely had the hallmark of a decent game to watch but the hosts in all honesty were rarely troubled throughout the ninety minutes, indeed the first quarter of an hour should have seen them in front and out of sight, Jazz Rance denied by the legs of keeper Jason Tibble followed by Jack Barnes blazing over unmarked from six yards out just moments later.

Uckfield were using the counter to try and get something going and were working hard to try and fashion something in the final third, but Pagham were making sure keeper Connor Kelly had little to do whilst Tibble at the other end kept the Lions strikers at bay with some superb goalkeeping.

The breakthrough came finally on 42 minutes, ex-Wicker Sam Connolly let fly from fully 25 yards and the ball squirmed through the hands of Tibble above his head and dropped into the net for the Lions to have the half time lead.

The second half began in similar fashion to the first and Pagham should have increased their lead 52 minutes when a mix up between Tibble and one of his defenders almost allowed Joe Clarke to lob the ball into an unguarded net.

It wasn’t a surprise to see the Lions extend their lead, Rance netting from the penalty spot after an Uckfield defender fouled Grant Radmore in the box on 62 minutes.

Uckfield then to their credit seemed to find more purpose in the attacking third but were still unable to penetrate the Pagham back line, marshalled superbly by Jack Williamson. There were times the game threatened to boil over with a few challenges the referee enforced with a free kick but no yellow card to follow, all twenty-two players stayed on the pitch, just.

That win moves Hardwell’s side into sixth place in the table while Uckfield remain in third place two points behind the leaders Horley Town having played two games more.

Pagham have certainly continued on from last season’s late form and I fully expect them to be in and around that top ten this season, Hardwell has a good balance across the pitch and with three or four of his squad with experience of playing two levels higher it bodes well for the rest of the campaign.

However, still a lot of football to be played as we’ve only reached October and after this month there is a lot less midweek football to fit in too, the pressure comes off a little bit but the intensity has to remain.