Goals galore at the Sportsfield

Friday night football. It’s not too often it comes around so the chance to squeeze in an extra game is always welcome and even better when it’s within walking distance from home.

Before null and void kicked in last season Littlehampton Town had won 20 of 22 league games and on course for promotion and well placed to lift the Southern Combination League Division One title. They were five points clear of AFC Varndeanians with two games in hand and a massive 16 points clear of local rivals Wick who occupied the final promotion spot.

Promotion never came as the season was wound up early and the Golds find themselves like many others having to do it all over again. You can imagine there is a steely resolve amongst these clubs to achieve this time around what they felt they are deserving of and it will be interesting to see which clubs can repeat themselves.

Littlehampton have been very quiet over Twitter this summer, so trying to find out if they managed to keep all of last season’s players or even sign a few further additions was very hard to see! Their first team sheet of the season last Saturday at Hailsham Town gave the first clues and in all honesty was pretty much as I expected.

Their opening two games both yielded 6-1 wins, the latest side put to the sword were Midhurst & Easebourne in midweek, but Worthing Utd having won their opening two games as well were expected to provide a bit more of a sterner test for Town.

As it was, Littlehampton went for the jugular right from the kick off. They were in front in less than two minutes, a superb first time ball from George Gaskin found Harry Russell to slot past Aaron Relf in the visitors goal. Less than a minute later Joe Benn took full advantage of a defensive mix up to make it 2-0 with under five minutes on the clock.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised with the fast start, Benn had them in front on five minutes at Hailsham whilst Dan Hegarty hit the target in midweek even earlier and in both games Town were three goals to the good by half time. Worse was to come for the visitors as Benn capitalised on some more lacklustre defending to fire past Relf for 3-0 and only 15 minutes of the game had gone.

Utd certainly looked quite shell-shocked at the way Littlehampton had approached the game and struggled to get any kind of momentum going across the pitch, Golds having a lot of joy with Lucas Pattenden’s direct running down the right flank. Benn completed a first half hat-trick on 34 minutes with the simplest of tap-ins for the hosts fourth goal before the break. The visitors had a glimmer of hope just a couple of minutes later after being awarded a penalty, but James Binfield was equal to the well struck spot-kick to keep his clean sheet intact.

To Worthing’s credit, they came out in the second half with some more purpose but still unable to force Binfield into any save of note and with a 4-0 lead Town were comfortably in control of the game. No more goals arrived until the final ten minutes of the game, Benn adding his fourth with a well executed chip over Relf and Jordan Layton the sixth from the penalty spot three minutes from time to make six goals in three games running for the home side.

Worthing know they won’t come up against sides like Littlehampton every week and for the hosts this is a side very capable of repeating last season but this time finishing the job. Both sides now take a break from league action as the Golds head to Beckenham Town in the FA Vase next weekend whilst Worthing host Greenways in the same competition.

Next up for me a Saturday double header for the first time ever and double FA Cup action, Langney Wanderers vs Harrow Borough and Newhaven vs Corinthian my destinations for what should be two great games.

The dream begins

This week sees the beginning of the 2020/21 FA Cup for non-league clubs just 31 days after the 2019/20 final took place. The Extra Preliminary Round kicks off with the first of the 737 teams taking part, 366 start this week in total.

For the winners there’s £1,125 up for grabs whilst the losers of each tie will pocket £375, much reduced levels due the impact of Covid-19 on FA finances. For any club at Step 4, 5, or 6 money from the FA competitions is a small godsend to help with club finances and much has been made of the fact that in the very latter rounds of the competition we still see levels of prize money that Premier League clubs and in some cases  Championship clubs too are merely a drop in the ocean.

Non-league has suffered horrendously since the lockdown began in March and I feel we are incredibly lucky not to have seen more clubs go under than we have lost recently. Maybe that is still to come during the season, time will tell on that score and I sincerely hope no-one loses their club during the upcoming year.

£1.8 million for the winners, a mere piece of pocket change for a Premier League chairman, but for non-league club chairman extending that first winners pot to £3,000 does make a big difference up and down the country. The argument against? The top clubs will treat it as an Under 21 competition apparently, but they’ve all been trumping the ‘squad’ game card for many years now, that’s a poor line to be trotted out from the FA in Sunday’s non-league paper column.

People won’t forget the campaign that clubs had to undertake to get their own fans back into grounds in August, that the FA didn’t do enough to help their member clubs and now once again they’re not doing their utmost to get a little more cash into the right areas of the game.

The FA Cup still means something across the world, it still means something to a non-league player to go into work on the Monday morning (Wednesday or Thursday this week) knowing they’ve played in the greatest cup competition of all. This year it kicks off the non-league season before league competition begins for most this coming Saturday.

Either 150 or 300 fans will be allowed in grounds depending on whether you’ve managed to host a home friendly at the 150 fans level prior to Bank Holiday Monday. That amount for most clubs at these levels will be enough and being the professional game hasn’t yet kicked off, yet a few clubs might find their average gate slightly inflated but with still enough room to fit everyone in socially distanced.

Having watched two games so far in the last week, I haven’t any issues yet in watching and don’t expect to find any when I venture to Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday evening as they take on league rivals Erith Town, ko 7.45pm. The Wells manager Richard Styles was good enough to give me his time for a blog interview over the lockdown period, as were quite a few, and in return I’m planning a visit to them all to support them and their clubs in return, least I can do I feel.

Ironically, the last time I saw the Wells in action was in last season’s FA Cup, an early season visit to Littlehampton Town saw them cruise past the hosts 4-1 on the day.  There should be a decent size crowd inside the Culverden Stadium and this despite the last few years times not being so good for the West Kent outfit although last season they sat in the top ten before null and void came along.

If you find you have a spare evening tomorrow, have a look at the following link (https://www.thefa.com/competitions/thefacup/fixtures) and see if you can pop along and support your local club, they’ll all be grateful to see you.  Also, check out the wonderful @FACupFactfile on Twitter, full of great stuff and of course facts and figures about each tie. Wherever you head to, enjoy it, keep the distance and before you know it we’ll be back at maximum capacity once again up and down the country, you never know we might even have fans into National League grounds before they kick off in four weeks’ time………