Curtailed, but not the end

After much waiting and wondering but with little expectation the FA finally released details of the Step 3-6 season for 2020/21. As commonly thought the league season is over but the use of wording leaves a lot more debate and opinion to be had.

Null and void were the words used on the 2019/20 season as quickly as the pandemic struck and in hindsight which we all know is wonderful it can well be taken as hasty given the little number of games we managed to play this season.

Void of course means it never happened, those games those appearances those goals no longer exist in the record books. The wording this time around of curtailing a season to me and others puts a different slant on things going forward.

Still correct in the fact we won’t see another league fixture in 2020/21 but there is scope for the FA to be creative or imaginative if you will. Not a lot of credit is sent the way of the FA and opinion from me is rightly so, that’s not to tar some county FA’s with the same brush.

But, by not going down the full void route I feel they will look to see if they can make this season’s results count, maybe not at all levels but if we’re following the lead from the National League of no relegation from Step 2 for a second year running then that has to be applied throughout the pyramid.

Whether they can make it work is another question, do you also call in that famous word of integrity whereby a squad of players this season has achieved eight or nine results only for next seasons squad to be different players which in non-league circles is highly likely..

The second part of this action the FA could take is to complete their restructure of the perfect pyramid which was delayed last year and in all honesty may not happen until a full season is completed.

Project Non-League (@Projectnonleag1 on Twitter) have been campaigning for the FA to reward those who deserve from the course of two part played seasons to move up the pyramid but with no relegation occurring.

There are gaps right from the National League downwards and with the creation of an extra division at Step 4 it will allow for movement and progression for some from Steps 4-6 for those who have spent two seasons trying to do just that.

Steps 1-3 is maybe a little more complicated to agree on who and how they would promote, one or two gaps with possibly the ability of four or five clubs feeling they deserve to be promoted.

I’m sure some clubs if not a lot of them are frustrated at having to play the same sides in the same division for a third year running, if it comes to that it has to be a completed season this time around, no questions.

This morning, I’ve spoken to a club manager at each of the four levels to get their reaction to the decision and what their opinion is should the restructure go ahead.

Adam Hinshelwood, whose Worthing side led the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division on both occasions when the season stopped, agrees with the decision to curtail but isn’t convinced at the proposed restructure taking place:

‘I don’t think was any other option to finish the season now especially with spectators not allowed to attend until the end of March, it would mean disturbing the start of next season which we hope is going to be the shining light.’

‘That next season we can have spectators back in and no disruption hopefully, we can then get back to a bit or normality for everyone.’

‘The potential restructure is just another sign of the inconsistency throughout the FA decisions, I saw somewhere that a member of the EFL saying they wouldn’t relegate teams if the National League didn’t and they felt that whatever decisions were being made needed to be consistent at all levels.’

‘I feel that teams who have shown ambition are getting punished the most, it’s all become a bit of a shambles now. If they had kept with consistent decisions for all the levels then there might not have been as much upheaval as we are seeing in my opinion.’

Sevenoaks Town manager Micky Collins had his side in the Pitching In Isthmian South East Division play-offs places when the season was suspended late last year and admits this is the right decision being made:

‘I think it’s the correct decision to curtail the season as opposed to null and void. It leaves the option for the league to revisit the finished totals at a later date if required, null and void would have ended that scenario,’

‘With the on-going crisis who knows what could happen in the future (next season) I think in hindsight the leagues and the FA probably wished they had curtailed last season instead.’

Richard Styles’ Step 5 Tunbridge Wells team were in the top 5 of the Southern Counties East League when the season was suspended back in November, but he agrees there was little option but for things to end for second successive season:

‘It was pretty clear the FA were going to wait for the government roadmap announcement before making a decision. It seems in all honesty they have found a new word to use instead of “null and void”.’

‘I do think it strange to continue the FA Vase at our level though and slightly unfair on players and clubs to rush to get ready to play again with a lot at stake in these games.’

‘As for the restructure I don’t think there should be any promotion or relegation, purely on the fact that not enough games were played, had there been over 50% of games completed it’s a different situation, I can’t say it’s deserved for anyone after 12 or 13 games.’

‘Again, any decision that’s made will not please everyone but it’s about doing it the right way. I think had they decided to restart when we can or continue this season in August wouldn’t be correct either. Clubs, staff and players can all look to pre-season now to prepare for a fresh start.’

Simon Hull whose Step 6 Arundel side had a slow start to the season in the Southern Combination League Division One also felt there was no other option than to finish the season here and now:

‘All things considered namely where we are with the roadmap out of Covid and the time left to complete the season it was the logical thing to do. Clubs can’t survive without generating revenue and sustainability of a football club has to be the number one priority.’

‘I think everyone would like the restructure to be completed following the standard process of a season being completed. I would defer it again until the completion of a full set of games.’

There are a few points to come out as well in the past 24 hours too, as Richard alluded to above the FA Vase is to continue and it will be interesting to see which of the clubs want to carry that on or withdraw from the competition, would we assume that it’s going to be played on consecutive Saturdays until completed ready for a May final? We know this is driven by sponsorship money to continue; we can see that higher up in the game.

I’ve certainly seen more and more leagues starting to release details about possibly holding cup competitions for a month or two. Myself I feel this is needed because there are clubs, players and staff who want to be back involved and fans who want to watch. Absolutely there should be no pressure from anyone anywhere to play in these tournaments should they go ahead, personal choice at the forefront of it all.

For all of those four sections of people listed above, its that little bit of hope and relief that’s been in short supply for a majority of the last twelve months, a brief glimmer we enjoyed in September and October.

It’s the mental health for all that does need some addressing and that’s included in all categories, it’s your own personal opinion if you feel it’s right to get some football in or it’s a wait till pre-season.

Some players might see it as an audition for the new season, getting in the shop window early, some just want to kick a ball again after so much lost time. The same will go for club staff, wanting to get an early mark in front of others, fans will be happy to see the one thing a lot of them live for week to week.

If none of above come off then so be it, but out the box thinking and discussion right from the FA down to the County Leagues should be applauded, it’s not been for the want of trying. A beer and a burger sounds good though to me alongside some football on the pitch, it’s all we’re waiting for………….

Managers have their say

Adam Hinshelwood (left) and Richard Styles (right)

It’s been a little while since there has been much else to blog about apart from the National League on-going saga and the trials and tribulations of Barnet FC! It makes for some reading I agree but the non-league game we know extends further than that.

And for that reason alone I’ve asked around a couple of managers this week to get some perspective on Steps 3-6 which operate underneath the National League divisions as it feels a little bit like they’ve all been pushed to the side somewhat, not that I disagree the NL gets its limelight it’s the full time for a lot of people.

The beauty of our football pyramid is the fact we go down to so many levels beyond the top divisions and there is a lot of opportunity to progress up the ladder.

Last season of course clubs at those step levels saw their season suspended in March and finished as null and void just a few weeks later. Now less than twelve months later those same clubs find themselves in the same situation despite having completed less games this time around.

Whilst we’re in territory we hoped wasn’t going to happen, there are a lot of ways in which things can help clubs still be in existence for a new season later in the year if the null and void does instead come into force over the coming weeks. Grants have been made available for clubs at this level which should enable them all to get through until the season starts again for 2021/22.

There is reason however to believe that just maybe there will be a resumption if restrictions are lifted in March to complete something in some form in some shape, as vague as that might be, everything is still up in the air and could be for a few weeks longer.

Earlier this week I caught up with Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood whose side were for the second year running leading the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division and Tunbridge Wells manager Richard Styles, the Wells very much in the thick of it at the top of the Southern Counties East League Premier Division. Both managers gave me their views on what might happen over the coming months and how vital funding is to keep these clubs alive.

TK: Do you feel Steps 3-6 have disappeared a bit under the radar at the moment?

AH: Yes I do. I sympathise with the leagues and the FA as we are in difficult times right now but I did feel they jumped on their decision to null and void last season a bit hastily. Maybe a two weekly update would be good just to know what they are thinking, obviously it might not work as circumstances around the country are changing so quickly at the moment.

TK: What is your gut feeling in terms of what might happen and do you think we might see a stand off for a few weeks until the National League is resolved despite it might not having a bearing on the outcome for Steps 3-6?

AH: I can’t really see fans back for some time yet unfortunately, so this would make it impossible for us to play at Step 3 level which leads itself towards another null and void season. They may wait to see what the National League decide to do in the next couple of weeks before confirming anything but as I said already I would just like to know where we stand.

TK: How welcome is it though that Step 3-6 clubs have access to funding to help them survive and be here in the future?

AH: It’s a massive bonus to all clubs, I think so many would struggle and local clubs can be the real hub of the community and a place where the whole area can meet and socialise when safe to do so. These clubs are a big part of so many people’s lives so to keep as many of them going as possible is a massive positive.

Styles is also concerned at the lack of communication coming from above and like Hinshelwood feels null and void is the likely outcome to the season:

TK: With the National League fiasco taking centre stage, do you think the rest of non-league has been pushed to the side and almost forgotten about?

RS: The National League has gotten a lot of media attention lately which is right as they are at the top of the pyramid and have a lot of full time members in the divisions. Filtering down there hasn’t been a lot of movement nor communication recently from the FA through the league’s leading to a lot of assumptions as to what is going to happen.

Like anything we’re waiting I think for the National League to sort themselves out and it will then filter down to the leagues below.

TK: Despite the difference in what happened last time around do you think if the National League continues there is a chance Steps 3-6 will do the same or do you feel null and void is set to happen again?

RS: The National League seem to have a financial complication which is causing part of their issues in continuing or not. In terms of steps 3-6 there is already a financial grant I believe we can apply for. Given the time away clubs, staff, and managers have had away from football I can’t see anything other than null and void happening at steps 3-6 to be honest.

TK: If we do go null and void once again would you hope that there are better plans put in place should the game ever find itself in this position again?

RS: It would be helpful for everyone to have a plan or protocol in place for the future should anything like this ever happen again for sure. It’s difficult for the FA to decide how to complete the season in these situations and you’ll never please everyone.

The fairest way possible is with as much communication and guidance as they can give rather than the area of the unknown.

Whilst the National League situation is descending into a farcical situation on a daily basis the FA remain quiet on where they are up to currently, we can only presume they have all the information into them now, you can just hear the silence however……………

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.’

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.

Rebels made to work hard for points

The end of September and a fruitful month for football. Eleven games watched since the 1st September in total, bearing in mind I normally get to about 20-25 games in season it appears I’m on a bit of a mission!

To finish off the month I was at Lewes vs Worthing on Tuesday evening to see Adam Hinshelwood’s side for the second Tuesday in a row and hopeful of a better result than the previous week. Standing in their way were Hugo Langton’s Lewes side, looking for a first league win of the season in an East vs West Sussex derby.

Roco Rees, on loan from Premier League Brighton, was back between the sticks for the Rebels whilst Dajon Goulding started up front against his former club no doubt eager to find the back of the net.

The Dripping Pan was split between ‘FRIES’ and ‘PIES’ to keep to social distancing rules, Pies where I was situated with Rebel Yell co-commentator and fellow PNLP podcaster James Easton, took in the terrace behind the bottom goal and the sideline stand.

The Rebels made the early running, Golding having an effort cleared off the line while Jasper Pattenden was inches away from opening the scoring, curling the ball just beyond the far post. Soon after, the hosts were reduced to 10 men, Golding sent clean through, Lewes’ keeper Nathan Stroomberg handled outside the box and the referee had no alternative to send the stopper off. When it’s not going for you, it’s really not and currently for Langton and Lewes that is definitely the case.

Despite the man advantage, Lewes made Worthing work hard across the pitch and there was a struggle for the Rebels to get any fluid passing movement going although they were getting joy down both flanks with the pace of Pattenden and Reece Meekums giving the full backs the runaround.

On the half hour though Worthing made the breakthrough, Golding received the ball outside the box, jinked inside and after shifting the ball to his left let rip blasting the ball past substitute keeper Gary Noel.

The lead however was not to last long, a short back pass from Danny Barker left Rees with little opportunity but to slam it against the onrushing Jude Arthurs and the ball ending up in the back of the net for the equaliser which sent the sides in level at half time.

The second half bizarrely opened up with Lewes’s third goalkeeper of the night, Noel replaced by Nic D’Arienzo. It also came with more purpose from The Rebels to spread the play across the pitch to try and stretch the one man advantage, something they didn’t manage to do too often in the first half.

Ricky Aguiar, a first half substitute for Jesse Starkey, almost embarrassed the new keeper from the kick-off, his 50 yard lob only slightly off target. To add to the attacking firepower on the pitch, Hinshelwood sent on Tom Chalaye for Leon Moore to try and press home the advantage the extra man was starting to bring.

Just a minute after the youngster’s introduction, Worthing were back in front, Meekums dancing his way through the hosts defence and the ball was turned into his own net by Leon Redwood with Ollie Pearce waiting to pounce behind him.

Chalaye thought he had extended the lead on 67 minutes, but D’Arienzo was equal to it, pulling off a fine save but was unable to stop Golding scoring his second and Worthing’s third a couple of minutes later, a delightful finish from Pearce’s cross to put the gloss on a much improved second half performance.

There was a very good chance for Lewes to drag themselves back into the game just before the final ten minutes, but Rees was equal twice to the efforts and the points headed back up the A27 with the Rebels and three league wins out of three to start the season.

You feel there is much more to come from Hinshelwood’s side, they haven’t yet hit their stride but still unbeaten, you can’t argue with that and if there is much more to come the Rebels are definitely going to be in the mix once again this season.

Credit must go to Lewes however, they made Worthing work hard for the points across both halves and if they can get that bit of luck going their way to match the hard work shown in this match that first win surely won’t be too far away for Langton and his team.

Rebels stung by Wasps

Tuesday night was FA Cup action once again, so far I’ve managed to watch a game in all three rounds which again is another first for me this season, creating quite a few of those so far in the early days of the 2020/21!

It was also the first chance to take a look at Adam Hinshelwood’s Worthing as they travelled to division lower East Grinstead in the first qualifying round, the Rebels not changing too much from last season’s squad as they attempt to win promotion into the National League South.

This was also a first visit to the home of The Wasps for me and it’s a nice tidy little ground, well set out for social distancing inside the bar and around the ground as you would expect for a Step 4 club, temperature taken on the way in and off you go!

The Worthing starting eleven had a familiar look to it for me with the likes of Jesse Starkey, Joel Colbran, Jasper Pattenden and Reece Meekums to name a few added to by newcomers Mo Diallo, Leon Moore and Sam Keefe whilst the unavailable Rocco Rees saw the return of Jack Fagan between the sticks.

It was the hosts who started the brighter despite Worthing keeping most of the possession and moving the ball quickly across the surface into feet, as it was though a peach of a free kick from Starkey from 25 yards out gave the Rebels the lead.

Standing in line behind the free kick, it was easy to note the wall was not far enough over given the potency of Starkey’s left foot and the ball was bent around said wall and into the top left hand corner.

Both sides then traded chances as Worthing tried to settle the game down while their hard working opponents battled hard going up the slope. The visitors went into the interval two goals to the good, a strong run and shot from Marvin Armstrong was spilled by the home keeper and Diallo was on hand to tuck in the rebound and appear to put Worthing well in control a minute before the break.

The hosts came out with good purpose in the second half and Worthing initially struggled to get a measure of the game resulting in Grinstead pulling one back early on through Theophanous after a fine save from Fagan but couldn’t drop on the ball.

The game then swung from end to end with good chances for both sides, the home side thought they had equalised just past the hour mark, but Uwezu was ruled offside to keep Worthing in front.

A double change for the visitors saw Diallo and Pattenden depart for Dajon Golding and Shaq Gwengue just before Wilson rattled Fagan’s bar with the ball coming back out to safety.

Worthing thought they had made the game safe in the 73rd minute, a breakaway from Gwengue saw the striker slip down the right hand side and crossed low for Golding to drag the ball back and past the keeper for 3-1.

At that point the visitors looked home and dry but what I believe was the wrong substitution made with Ollie Pearce coming on for Gwengue, following a disagreement between the striker and Hinshelwood, instead of a midfielder to shore things up a bit allowed the hosts to get themselves back into the game and that they did in fantastic style.

Theophanous added his and the home side’s second goal ten minutes from time and while the Rebels were reeling from that blow, Thompson broke away past the Worthing backline and levelled the scores with six minutes to play.

With no more goal scoring action it went to penalties and the first four dispatched from both sides all went to the keeper’s left and into the net. At 2-2, Armstrong went down the middle to find his shot saved whilst The Wasps went 4-3 in front and it was left to Ricky Aguiar to send the 5th Worthing penalty over the bar and the hosts into the second qualifying round.

East Grinstead certainly deserved the win following their second half performance but Worthing would have felt at 2-0 and 3-1 up they were in control of the game, but that’s cup football for you, a great game for the neutral but hard if you were wearing the red of the Rebels.

Town come good despite windy battles

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!