2021/22 kicks off at the Sportsfield

Around 24 hours after England reunited the nation after a tough 15 months for everyone, I was back watching live football with a trip up the road to see Littlehampton Town take on two divisions higher Bognor Regis Town in the opening pre-season friendly for both sides.

It also marked the opening of the home side’s new floodlights, contributed by sponsorship donations from its supporters and the general public with the work carried out by Dave Wade who I know well from the repairs completed at Wick FC when I was there.

A reasonable size crowd estimated at around 200 saw the home side start in a fast manner against a Bognor side who utilised their whole squad over the course of the 90 minutes. Town certainly had the more attacking intent in the early stages as Bognor slowly felt their way into the game but chances were at a premium which maybe wasn’t surprising given it was the first action for both sides.

The home side took the lead just before the half hour mark through George Gaskin from a well delivered Mitch Hand corner on the right, Gaskin being deployed more in the number 10 role rather than the left wing he enjoyed much success on last season before it’s interruption. The striker was close to extending the home side’s lead not long after but the ball struck the outside of the post and away to safety.

As it was Littlehampton went into the break two goals in front as Gaskin pounced on a defensive mix up between keeper and defender and slotted home at the far post.

Regis made a raft of substitutions at half time and certainly began the second half much the stronger team which Littlehampton found hard to contain and it was no surprise when Jordy Mongoy fired past James Binfield in the Littlehampton goal five minutes after the re-start.

It did look as if that would open the floodgates but the home side weathered the storm and worked their way back into the game but were unable to carve out any opportunities with Bognor much tighter at the back than during the first half.

The visitors were back on level terms 22 minutes from time when substitute Alfie Lis pounced on a poor back pass to Binfield, rounded the keeper and restored parity once again.

Neither side fashioned out many good scoring opportunities in the closing stages and both sides were left to reflect on a good workout for those involved, the new floodlights shining down some fantastic light across the pitch despite the natural July evening trying to prevail.

Despite not being the biggest fan of pre-season games I can’t wait to get around over the next three weeks or so and see friends, people I know at clubs and the enjoyment being at a football match brings. If it comes home on Sunday evening, then I think it completes and heals a lot of the past few months, over to you Gareth Southgate, we still believe………..

Double dose of action

This moment had been a long time coming, live football on a pitch in front of my very eyes! My last game was back in March, a wet Tuesday night at Woking watching Barnet win 3-1. Three days later or so, we were heading towards a lockdown and that was that!

Now it’s fair to say that while for most lockdown wasn’t the best of experiences, I was lucky enough to still get out to work and had a captive audience for this blog which is still going strong months after (at the time of writing I’ve had over 3000 visitors this month after 2000 each consecutively).

I’ve a whole list of clubs to head to this season, some I didn’t get to last season and some whose managers have been very good and forthcoming during the last few months and feel it’s only fair I pop along and support them as they did me in getting these figures as high as they are.

I had it suggested to me during this period to do a regular feature on a manager with a club and thought that’s not a bad idea to be going along with, something new, something different and a commitment for the season.

Terry Dodd and East Preston FC, who play in the Southern Combination Premier Division, are that subject for the 2020/21 season. Terry, I got to know well during his and my time at Wick FC last season, he parted company with the Crabtree Park outfit during the lockdown period and not long after agreed to become player-manager at The Lashmar.

Not surprisingly as across grassroots football, the shutdown period has hit clubs very hard and Dodd is currently working without a budget until the club is able to allow mass gatherings in their clubhouse which is the goldmine for clubs at this level and similar to keep the football side running, having done my own stint as Secretary and Treasurer at Wick I fully appreciate and understand it.

With fans now allowed back in EP can now start to rebuild slowly and begin to get their club back on track. Saturday saw their first spectators back in the ground since March, 68 of the allowed 150 attended. This midweek saw the club stage two games and I made sure I was at both!

A rather windy Tuesday night in Sussex for the Under 23’s taking on Step 7 Rustington, track and trace done, plenty of room for everyone, I would say around 50 at least inside the ground, maybe a few more. EP are a very young side given the lack of budget, but there were a couple of stand out players, one of whom made his way into Dodd’s squad for the first team Wednesday night game, playing together will give these young guys some good experience and are likely to be needed throughout the season with games coming thick and fast. Like so many people, it was great to be back watching live football again, very safe, and not an issue I could see as to why we haven’t been watching games since early August!

Bognor Regis Town from the Isthmian Premier were the visitors on Wednesday night, designed to help the club gain some much-needed gate receipts with 150 maximum allowed again and a good test for Dodds’ team. The Rocks raced into a 3-0 half time lead but didn’t find the net until the final ten minutes when fitness started to tell, and three more goals duly followed for a 6-0 final scoreline.

I caught up with Terry on Thursday morning to see how he felt the game went:

‘I was disappointed with four of the goals, felt they were avoidable, but they are a particularly good team. We had a game plan and we wanted to stick to that as much as we possibly could, but the level they play at with the players and movement they create, it’s always going to be tough. For us though it’s about getting our boys to a good fitness level and playing minutes, hard minutes is the best way to do it.’

‘Considering seven of our starting eleven could still play Under 18 football I thought everyone worked really hard and all I want is for them to take this as a massive learning experience in their development and keep pushing to be better every game.’

‘I’m hopeful we should have a couple of players back from injury before we take on Chatham Town in the FA Cup next Tuesday at home (KO 7.30pm) and one or two others available as well.’

Lots more to come throughout this season from Terry and East Preston from hopefully a reasonable campaign.

What’s also been crucial in happening is to get a game in to host 150 allowed spectators, that has meant the club can now host 300 people on Tuesday evening having ticked the box on the first exercise. If all goes to plan clubs should be able to increase beyond 30% by the time October comes around and with games happening at such a pace it won’t be long before the winter nights come rolling in.

Guest series: Jimmy meets….

In the final part of what has been an excellent guest series from Jimmy Langton, the final player in focus is former Rock Jimmy Wild:

JL: Which club have you felt most at home with?

JW: I enjoyed my time at Bognor and have some great memories of the promotion year and playing at the Amex, as well as having a good relationship with the fans who made me really welcome. But I think Chichester is where I would say I felt most at home. Having been there since the age of 11 and then playing for every age group up to the first team, and having been around the club for so long I’ll always look out for their results.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

JW: The one that knew me the best and definitely got the best out of me was Miles Rutherford. Right from the moment he took over at Chichester he was great to me and always looked after me. He gave me a chance to play week in week out, which some managers didn’t, and always wanted me to progress to a higher level. 

JL: Which club are you with now?

JW: Around Christmas time I got given the chance to go and play in New Zealand which was a great experience. Most people know I love travelling and usually go off around the world when the football season finishes so I couldn’t say no. I was playing in their Premier League so I was flying around New Zealand playing football and travelling at the same time. I would recommend to anyone who has the chance to try it, it was a great experience. Unfortunately, the season finished early because of coronavirus but I managed to get home just in time!

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

JW: Peter Crouch is a personal favourite as I have been compared to him by opposition fans for being just as lanky! Being a Tottenham fan I love watching the likes of Bale and Kane and how they play the game. They’re exciting to watch and love scoring goals so they’re good role models to have.

JL: What was the reason for coming to Bognor?

JW: I always wanted to test myself at a higher level so when Bognor asked me to go there when I was only 17 it was a good move for me. Living in Chichester it was local for me to travel to and I already had a couple of connections with the club so it worked out well. 

JL: What’s your favourite football club?

JW: As I mentioned above I am a Spurs fan and have been all my life, all my family are Spurs fans so it’s past through the family. I’m moving to London this summer so I’m hoping to get to watch them a bit more. 

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most in your career?

JW: I’ve always had a good relationship with Dabba (Darin Killpartrick). He believed in me when I met him at college and then he helped me develop as a player at Bognor too. It was also good to see him at Chichester last season where he definitely helped a lot in the FA Cup run. When I first met him, I never thought I’d be sharing a hotel room with him in Tranmere all these years later! 

JL: Why did you choose to be a forward?

JW: I never really saw myself as a forward as I played centre midfield until I was 17. Then Jim Yeo who managed Chichester Under 18’s at the time put me up front for a couple of games and I did okay, then the first team manager at the time Darren Pearce saw me playing and put me in the first team the following week and I have been a forward ever since. 

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

JW: I’ve always played for teams that play in green and white so maybe I’d have to say that!

JL: Who’s your best player you have played against and why? 

JW: Out in New Zealand I played against Auckland City who usually do quite well in their Champions League and even ended up at the FIFA World Club Cup so it was a good experience to play against top level players and test myself against them. It was always good to play against teams like Portsmouth and Brighton in pre-season, it was fun chasing Christian Burgess’ shadows!

JL: Why did you choose football?

JW: There’s no better sport! From the age of 4 when I first started playing for a team run by my Dad, Andy, right up until now, I’ve always loved playing football. I’ve played quite a few sports to a decent level, cricket being one that I enjoyed too but it got to a stage where I had to choose one or the other and I definitely made the right call.

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

JW: I went to school with Joe Ralls and even from an early age you could tell he was a player. He’s gone on to play in the Premier league with Cardiff so he’s done alright for himself!

JL: What made you choose to move to Chichester from Bognor?

JW: I’ve always wanted to play the highest level possible so when the opportunity came I had to give it a go. Dabba was the one that made it happen. I had played at the college with him for two years and he told me how he really wanted to get me to Bognor so I have to thank him and Jamie Howell for giving me that chance.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2