First Division

First Division Season Preview

It’s been a strange six months, a long six months, but finally it’s back and with the same format as before – the First Division will begin with the same 17 teams chasing the same 4 promotion places and boy can we not wait to see how this one plays out.

Many have strengthened, some have totally transformed, a few have tweaked and some have kept their cards close to their chest. But all want the same thing – a top four place and elevation into the Premier Division.

The fans have spoken, and out of the prediction poll it was Kennington’s name that rung loudest. They hardly needed to improve their squad, yet did so anyway, and now the fans fancy them to finish the job that they started last time.

Opinions don’t earn points though and this year more than any other those points will be hard to come by. Every win will be hard fought for. Every goal will take extra effort. Every clean sheet will be harder to keep.

Yet by May, and after 32 games played by each team, the table will show us how they have done and give us the 4 names that will deservedly take their place in the level above.

Let’s have a closer look at who it could be….

With 3 wins in March Bridon Ropes finished the last campaign strongly and will hope to continue where they left off when things get underway this weekend.

Pre-season games have gone well and contained plenty of goals, giving us the feeling that ‘Ropes’ could be an entertaining team to watch this campaign.

That should start on Day One with the trip to Greenways, another team that score for fun but can also let a few in the other end too.

There is no doubt that Croydon were the busiest SCEFL team during pre-season with the Trams seemingly having pre-season games every couple of days.

They went well though with an improvement easy to see as each match went on.

Hopes are high for a good year for the Club and Manager Liam Giles has clear aims for what he wants from 2020/21.

“Our hope and expectation for this season is to get promotion back to the SCEFL Premier, that will be our objective this season.

“Pre season has gone fairly well for us, we have worked very hard in training and feel we are ready for the new campaign.

“We have made a few changes to our squad from last time and we feel we have strengthened in the areas we needed too.”

Croydon have been handed a tricky beginning to the season with a game at FC Elmstead, a side they struggled against last year. Giles is looking forward to the test.

“Elmstead is going to be a tough first game as they did the double on us last season so we will be looking for some payback. We are looking forward to the challenge along with the rest of the upcoming games. We have been given a tough start but I feel we are up to it.”

fc elmstead

Elmstead is a tough start for any team in the Division, they were contenders last time and are sure to be in the mix this time too.

Boss Ennio Gonnella has faced a few tests during pre-season but is pleased with how his team have come through it.

“Pre-season had it’s ups and downs really as we got riddled with injuries and they were not small ones. As it stands we still have 6 injured from last years squad.

“We have mostly played Step 5 clubs during our pre-season programme to really test ourselves and some performances have been really good. Most of all players commitment and attitudes have been brilliant!

“We are lucky enough to have secured the signings of all of the players from last year that we wanted to keep, with a few additions to keep competition for places high.

“Our hopes this season is to keep the progress going at Elmstead, keep the respect levels high and to enjoy it!

“We will try our best in every game and see where we are come the end of the season.”

“We have Croydon in the first game and they were the best team we faced last season. Although results in both matches favoured us they were a very good side!

“The gaffa there has them playing a style of football that’s great to see. They have recruited well within the closed season and they really should be looked at as one of the favourites this season to go up.

With their home ground currently out of action Forest Hill Park are one of a few First Division sides that will take to the road for their early games of this new season.

That may well present Darrell Queeley with a tougher start but no doubt the FHP Manager will find positives and find a way for his team to pick up some points nonetheless.

Greenways are the first opposition for Forest and after sharing a win in their two games last season expect a tight affair but expect goals, both teams are good at scoring them!

No First Division team scored more than Greenways last year but few conceded more too, giving the Greens the unofficial title of ‘Most Entertaining Side’ in the Division last year.

Danny Lear may have moved on but they get goals from everywhere and this matter certainly didn’t change over pre-season as the Club prepared for the 2020/21 season.

Greenways finished in the top half last time and will be hoping for the same again this time but if they get off to a good start who knows where they could end up, they could even be contenders.

All we do know is that when they play there will be goals, lots of goals, in both ends.

First-up, Forest Hill Park at home on Saturday.

Holmesdale were one of the sides on course for promotion last year before football was halted they and the ‘Null and Void’ decision came along.

They go again with the same aims in mind but possibly with a stronger set-up than before.

Manager Lee Roots spoke about his preparations for the new campaign with Holmesdale looking to complete the job they started so well last time.

“We would like to continue our work from last season. I came in as the manager of the club at the start of pre-season and we were the only new management team that finished within the top six of the league, let alone having a chance to win the league title.

“Myself and my team of Mike Parker (Assistant), Tuner Bayram (Coach), Aaron Marson (GK Coach) and Platini Tshipamba (Analysis Coach) all feel that we are even stronger now as a squad and as a club. We will look to continue to grow upwards from here and hope to go on to achieve our goals and targets set both on and off the pitch and complete the job that was started last season.

“It has certainly been a different approach compared to any other year. Moving into my 9th straight season in management has allowed me to gain excellent experience in dealing with different situations, which we feel has paid off in this case. The lockdown allowed myself and my staff to plan extremely well for what we wanted to see and achieve at certain stages of pre-season and the season to come.

“A well planned, prepped & thought out pre-season has been banked and delivered by the staff and we have put together a strong squad and group of players for the new season ahead. The players have worked extremely hard both physically and mentally to be ready to kick off our new league campaign.

“Training and games have been pleasing and the players have worked extremely hard as a collective.

“We are delighted with the squad we have assembled, couldn’t be happier. As we were ending last season, we were already building the squad and targeting new players to come in to join us post promotion into step 5 for this season. When the season was made void, we decided this approach would not change. Our standards would be raised and would be now even higher, and our player targets would also remain the same.

“The players we have on board are all extremely talented, hardworking and honest, which is 3 massive factors. The new player additions we have signed have added a fresh lease of life and blood into the team, the team spirt and bond within the group is excellent and we are very happy with how everything has shaped up.

First up for Holmesdale is a tough looking encounter at Kennington. The Dale boss is looking forward to the test.

“Kennington are a strong determined opponent, who will be fighting at the higher end of the league table. We have done our homework on our opposition and we go into Saturday’s opening league game full of desire & confidence, disciplined & ready to deliver.

“I expect it to be an excellent game and advert for the SCEFL.”

Kennington were top of the lot last time so will very hard done by with the way it all played out.

Improvements have been made and results in pre-season were exceptional. ‘Ton’ boss Dan Scorer has added well to his squad and feels they are in great shape to compete again.

“We certainly feel that there is some unfinished business, after the way last season ended. The good thing is we’re coming back a lot stronger physically and mentally, so we’re in a great position to put ourselves in the hunt for promotion again. The standard of the league this year is going to be even tougher, every team in the league have strengthened really well and I fully expect every side to have the same goal of reaching the top 4. 

“The players returned from the break in great physical condition and I really believe that has helped us to prepare for the season, with our focus being on the tactical and mental side of game. That’s been clearly evident with the performances they’ve put in. We played 5, won 5 and kept 5 clean sheets, 4 of which came against higher opposition. We’ve been setting small targets as a group and it’s really helped to move us forward in our preparations for the season opener.

“The squad is in great shape. We lost 3 big players during the lockdown, but all leave on great terms and with many great memories. I’ve had to be patient in finding the right types of players, but I’m delighted with the additions that we’ve made. We’ve added great depth to the squad and a lot of quality to our attack.

“Finally I’d like to thank SCEFL officials for all their hard work in ensuring a safe return to football, with everyone’s best interests at heart. We’ve all missed football like mad, and I can’t wait to finally get started.”

Kennington kick-off the season with the visit of Holmesdale to Homelands.

Kent Football United went through a dramatic transformation over the summer with a new Management Team coming in and a new squad being formed.

The Club have made improvements off the field and now the Joint Management Team of Lloyd and James Bradley look to improve their fortunes on it.

They have a plan and Lloyd ran us through it while he also looked ahead to their first game of the season.

“As new managers of KFU myself and James are trying to develop a 3-season plan. The hope is to bring some much needed structure to the Senior Men’s football side of the club to match the work that is taking place off the pitch. Our minimum hope this season is to survive in the league, with realistic expectations of a mid-table finish. Anything above that would be a bonus in our first season and would mean we were well ahead of where we hoped to be.

“Pre-season went really well, with 1st team coach Ben Kirk working wonders in getting the whole squad very fit, as well as introducing some much needed ball work and match practice, once the restrictions started to be lifted.

“We have recruited a virtual new squad, with only 8 players out of a squad of 25 signed that have played for us previously. The boys have bonded brilliantly and created a great team spirit in a very short space of time, which bodes well for the future.

“We couldn’t have been scheduled a harder game to kick off the new campaign. An away trip to Rusthall is never easy, so I expect a baptism of fire for the team. I am sure Rusthall will be one of the sides vying for the title again this season, so anything we can get out of the game would give us a massive boost.

“We would like to thank Roy and Sam MacNeil for entrusting the reversing of the club’s fortunes to us and we hope to repay their faith in us with not only performances on the pitch, but also a far more professional overall approach both on and off the pitch. After waiting so long since we last played for points or prizes, we just can’t wait to get started now. We have worked tirelessly throughout the summer in assembling a very good squad and are now just looking forward to see, how they perform together over what should be a very exciting season.”

Lewisham Borough have kept things quiet during pre-season and will also be hoping to go under the radar once the season get’s under way.

Manager Owen Spence is pleased with the squad that he has brought together and feels that with a good start they could end up surprising a few people, and a few teams too.

“I am very hopeful that Lewisham Borough will be one of the dark horses this season that nobody will expect to be challenging at the top end of the table. We started to show glimpses of what Lewisham are capable of before COVID ended last season prematurely with results against Thamesmead SC and FC Elmstead. This season we plan to start on the front foot and take it game by game; then see what position we are in after the first half of games during the season.

“I expect the season to be an interesting journey for all involved at non-league level. Our season will be an honest and determined approach for all opposition we come against. Every game will be competitive and I believe we will hand out a few unexpected results along the way.

“We have kept our pre-season very quiet, as we wanted to focus on the team without distractions around COVID and the non-league circuit. Pre-season was a time for us to embed our philosophy and style of play we intend to bring into the new season. It also allowed us to look at new players that would fit into and improve our existing squad; and also add another dimension to our group. We have been steady and systematic behind the scenes; building the environment so the players not only develop individually but as a collective. Game by game our team principles began to flourish, whilst players having the opportunity to feature against some very good opposition.

“The squad has been fully integrated from last season. We went through a transition during my arrival in January and some signings were very new to the club. The time off has allowed such players to build bonds between each other, as well as the coaches and backroom staff. Most of the players are not known amongst the SCEFL league, but I’m sure will make an impact quite early on. I have focused on building a squad capable of competing against established players and teams in the SCEFL league and build a name of their own in the process.

First up for Lewisham Borough is a trip to Snodland Town, a team many fancy to be challenging for honours this year. Owen is looking forward to the test.

“Snodland Town has been very active during the pre-season and have posted a lot of activity in relation to their squad and results. It will be an interesting fixture as it is the curtain-raiser following the pandemic that stopped the world. I’m sure they will be going into the game as confident as we will be, so it will be an all-out affair. They have been identified as one of the promotion favourites this season, so I expect a firm-challenge to meet those expectations.

“I am looking forward to football being back on the way and this game will certainly start our season off perfectly.”

Lydd Town have been very busy over the past few months, with plenty of new faces arriving at the Lindsey Field and many pre-season games getting played.

Mickey Doyle is the man setting the standards for the Lydders and he and his squad are ready to get going.

“Pre-season has been very productive. Results have been mixed but performances have been good for long spells and I feel results have not justified how we have played.

“I’ve added to my backroom team and the squad has seen 8 new signings come in.

“This has added better strength in depth and has lead to competition for places, which has lead to the high standards I set are maintained.

“Stanfeld is a tough opener but I look at it like this, we have to play them at some point so why not the opener. They are always a good solid unit that have played together for a long time. They have a system that works very well for them and it’s up to us to break it down.

A disappointing season last time has led to big squad changes this year at Meridian VP and they go into the new Campaign ready to show their new identity and upset a few sides this year.

Assistant Manager Sean Boothe took us through recent events at Meridian and looked ahead to their opener against Sutton Athletic.

“Looking forward to the new season with the opportunity of embedding our new style and being far more competitive than we were in the second half of last season. A lot of Ground work and building of foundations have gone into the Pre-Season for us to progress. We expect to surprise a lot of teams this year.

“Though unusually short this year due to Covid, a lot of hard work has gone into pre-season from both Management and the new recruits as well as the stalwart players retained from last season to ensure we get things right this year. The results haven’t been the best but there has been a marked improvement in performance from last year. Considering 3 out of 4 opponents have been from the Division above we have played really well in all of our games.

“There has been a major overhaul of the squad with only 5 players left from last season. We have worked hard to get in hungry players with great attitudes with has been shown by all already which bodes well for the future.

“We welcome Sutton Athletic to Meridian on Saturday who last season got the better of us on each occasion that we met. So we will get a massive indicator early doors of the progression made in a short space of time.”

The Spartans have chosen the eve of the season to announce their new Management Team with Lloyd Hume coming in as First Team Boss, assisted by Steve Tremain and Glenn Cook.

They will all be hoping for the side to reproduce the same form that would have seen the club promoted last time had Points Per Game been used, with promotion sure to be at the top of the list of aims for the new boss.

With so many changes being made it was no surprise that pre-season saw mixed results but with the real stuff ready to start Rochester are sure to once again be in a place to challenge at the top end of the table.

First-up is the visit of Forest Hill Park to Rede Court Road.

More of the same should probably be the message for Rusthall after a strong season last time led them to the edge of promotion, before they had it cruelly taken away from them.

Despite their top scorer departing replacements have been added and in Danny Lear, Jefferson Aibangbee, Cameron Gyeabour and Jake Beecroft the incomings at Jockey Farm look to have improved an already impressive squad.

Jimmy Anderson’s side are fancied to do well and probably will if their pre-season form is anything to go by. They gave themselves some tough tests but came through them well and that is sure to be the ideal preparation for another push for promotion and a return to the Premier Division.

Competition will no doubt be more fierce this year though and coming from increased directions so Rusthall will need to start well and first-up they host a Kent Football United team that will be far different to the one from last year.

After a strong showing last time a managerial change should have been the last thing that SC Thamesmead would have wanted to do but by promoting from within it looks like they have avoided any negative impact and will now go into the new season confident of having another good one.

Aaron Jeffrey was assistant last year but now has the reigns in his hands and has led his side through an impressive pre-season campaign.

Unfortunately odd numbers and a tricky landlord mean there will be no opening day game for the Acre but they will be visiting Rochester United in a weeks time to get a season under way which could well be a rewarding one.

It was all-change at Snodland Town over the summer with Luke Wallond coming in as Manager and the cream of the crop in the Kent County League following him.

Luke has used his knowledge of that league to form a squad at Potyns that is tipped to perform very well this year.

If pre-season is a guide then that could be very, very well and with Snodland winning 6 and drawing 2 of the 8 games played, warming them up nicely for the visit of Lewisham Borough and the season ahead.

Luke and his new Management Team reflected on pre-season in their programme notes for the Borough game.

“After a fantastic preseason undefeated, we look forward to the first game of the season today and welcome Lewisham Borough FC to Potyns.

“Expectation’s are high within the squad, management, the board & supporters. However, we are all aware expectations doesn’t deliver results! But, beating two premier sides and drawing another has definitely given us confidence! Hard work, desire and passion are what we are trying to install.

“We would like to thank all the clubs we played preseason and wish them well in their respective leagues. Also, we would like to thank the support we received at those games.”

With a fully retained squad Stansfeld will be looking to have another stab at promotion after being in the hunt for it last time before things were brought to a close.

A good pre-season led into their first ever FA Cup tie this week, which could not have been more dramatic if it tried.

Hosting Punjab United a poor first half showing led to a 2-0 deficit but a gutsy second 45 performance in front of a record Foxbury crowd saw them level the game before taking the tie in the penalty shoot-out.

That should be just the confidence booster needed ahead of 32 league games from which they will need to consistently perform at that second-half level if they are to achieve their aims.

First Team Manager Billy Hamlin gave us an update ahead of the first League game.

“We hope to have another good season; we finished last season very strongly; and like always we will just try and win as many games as we can and see where it takes us.  

“Preseason has gone well; a lot of the boys were doing their own thing during lockdown; so, they come back quite fit. But since being back everyone has worked hard, and the boys are ready to go; we’ve had some good tough preseason games and this should put us in good stead.  

“The squad is pretty much the same as last seasonas we have been lucky not to lose anyone. We added Ollie Milton just before lockdown and we have also added Stefan Kempton and Aaron Walker to the squad during the summer.”

Satnsfeld visit Lydd Town on Saturday and if they have recovered fully from Wednesday’s exertions then they will be expecting to make the long journey home with a point or three in tow.

“Lydd is always a tough place to go; I’m glad we are going down there early in the season but with every side in this league they have a big turnaround of players so you don’t know what to expect but we have to make sure we are ready.”

Unlike Stansfeld, Sutton Athletic’s FA Cup dream ended at the first hurdle this time but reports suggest they were unlucky to find themselves as losers against a very strong Sheppey United team.

Cup runs were them main positive in an average season for the Sutts last year but with them in short supply this time they will now be able to focus fully on their League position.

On their day Sutton can beat anyone in this Division, with their entertaining style and hunger for goals a visual plus in what can be a very physical league.

Their day now needs to come more often as there will be many sides fancying themselves for one of the four promotion places on offer, and Sutton should be one of those.

First-up for them is a visit to Meridian VP on Saturday before hosting favourites Kennington at Lower Road the week after.

All Managers or Clubs were sent requests for input.

The Premier Division preview can be viewed here


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