Our First Division gets underway this Saturday, and following a 105 day break, we can’t wait for it to get started!
Just 16 teams enter the traps this time, with most aiming for one of the two promotion places on offer, whether that be as champions or play-off winners.
There are no new teams to the league but two sides drop into this Division from above, with Canterbury City and K Sports now plotting for a quick return back up.
In our recent Prediction Poll it was AFC Whyteleafe that most SCEFL followers fancied to lift the silverware at the end of April so we start this preview hearing from them, before working alphabetically through the rest of the pack.
There have been plenty of eye-catching signings and impressive friendly results for AFC Whyteleafe over the summer and as a result they enter this season as with the weight of expectation on their shoulders. ‘Head of Recruitment & Club Development’ at Leafe Dan Thomas is hoping that this new deeper squad can turn that promise into points;
Preseason has been very positive. Although results don’t hold much value this time of year, they’ve been good and against challenging opposition but more importantly we’ve been able to integrate players into the squad and each game has given us something to work on ahead of the competitive season.
One thing we learned from our maiden SCEFL campaign was how important depth is, so we were quick to address that. We’ve brought 7 players in with only a couple moving on, and we’ve worked hard to ensure that the new players don’t just bring quality to the squad but also the right personality. We’re really happy with what we’ve seen so far and look forward to that translating to performances on the pitch when it matters.
With a good start can Dan see AFC Whyteleafe competing for honours this year?
We have some very challenging early games – cheers for that! FC Elmstead visit Church Road first up, a side we played two highly competitive draws against last season and a team we have huge respect for. That’s followed by our longest journey of the league season to Canterbury City who we know will be a good outfit. Bank Holiday Monday is a home game against Forest Hill Park who were the only team we failed to score against last season so we’re certainly being put through our paces early on this season!
We are one of probably (at least) 8 teams who can feel justified in giving promotion a real go this season. We’ll need to be consistent and luck will play its part, but we won’t be looking further ahead than the next game at any point and hopefully that approach will help us achieve our goal.
This league is ridiculously competitive and anybody can beat anybody on their day so I’m steering well clear of what would be an awful prediction! I’m expecting close competition at both ends of the table right the way into April, some crazy scorelines and a fair few surprises along the journey!
I’ll end by saying that this week has seen some very sad news shared with the passing of SCEFL Vice Chair John Moules, as well as Grant Payne who worked with Elmstead in the past. On behalf of everybody associated with AFC Whyteleafe, I send my deepest condolences to everyone who knew John and Grant at this sad time.
At the start of the summer Richard Gent was unveiled as the new Bridon Ropes Manager. He appears to have kept the bulk of the squad from last time, plus freshened things up with some new additions. He was the right man to talk about Ropes preparations for the new campaign;
The club has obviously made a Management this season and I am delighted to be taking charge for the up and coming 2023/24 season.
We have been very lucky with many of the playing squad from last season being retained and have also added some new faces to the squad as well -players that I think will help take the club to the new levels.
Pre-Season has gone very well. We have tested ourselves in many different situations. We have played a good amount of matches against a variety of teams across Step 5-7. We have had mixed results during our preparation for the Season ahead. (12-0 win, 6-2 loss, last min 4-3 loss, 2-2 draw, 1-0 win, 6-1 win) We have learnt loads about the squad for the up and coming season, and how we will look to play in the different situations we are put in during the up and coming season.
Recent seasons have seen Bridon Ropes hover just below the play-off places, can this be the year they dip their toe inside the top 5?
I think our aim is going to be the same as many teams in the SCEFL Division 1 this season. Everyone is looking to those top 5 spots and the SCEFL Division 1 is going to be very tough this season with everyone fighting for those 4 play-off positions. The early front runners for the league could be AFC Whyteleafe and Tooting Bec FC.
We are looking forward to our first match of the season Away against Rochester United FC. Our opponents were very unlucky to miss out on a play off stop last season. It will be a really good test for our new improved squad early on. We also look forward to welcoming Tooting & Bec for our First Home match. Again another good test early on against a team unlucky not to go up last season. Playing both of these Teams early on would give us an indication of where the our squad is at early doors.
It’s a new Division and new home ground for Canterbury City this year but there has been no change in the dugout, and Dan Lawrence will once again lead the side. There have been a few changes made to his squad and he has brought together a young crop that have been put through their paces over the past few weeks;
We have had make quite a few changes from last years squad with only 6/7 players remaining. We are a relatively young group but hopefully we have unearthed a few gems from local football that just needed a chance to show what they are capable of. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep hold of our squad for the season but with some of the potential we have in this side I anticipate it won’t be long before we are starting to fight off other teams for our players.
Pre season has been really tough on the lads, we purposely put a really difficult set of fixtures together so we could see what character we had within the squad. You can tell a lot about a person when times are difficult and things get tough so I feel we got exactly what we wanted out of our pre season.
Dan is excited for the challenge ahead, and knows that Canterbury will have to show some consistency if they are to get in the mix at the top end.
I expect a really difficult start to the season. Two away fixtures at SC Thamesmead and K Sports will be two really tough trips and we’re going to need to right at it from the off if we want a successful season.
I think the easy thing to say for a team that got relegated is that we want to bounce straight back, but we also have to understand we are in an ultra competitive league and I think they’ll be 10/11 teams fighting for two promotion places and if we want to be in that mix we need to find a real level of consistency from the off. But the message to the squad is that we want a successful season and that means competition at the top of this league.
There are some teams that have recruited really well. Teams that came close last year that have added to their squad and I think will go close. Whyteleafe, Larkfield & New Hythe, Tooting Bec, Rochester, Staplehurst Monarchs, Faversham Strike Force will all want to be fighting for promotion so I think it will go right to the wire.
I am really excited to get going, as a management team, our first pre season together and the first chance we’ve had to spend time with our squad over a longer period, and our first time at this level. They’ll be ups and downs but this will be a really exciting league to be part of.
There is usually a fair amount of expectation cast Croydon FC’s way ahead of any season, and this is no other, with pre-season results looking good and squad additions catching the eye. Could this be the year that Liam Giles finally takes the Trams up to the promised land? He is pleased how the past few weeks have gone;
Preparation has been good apart from the odd couple of injuries I’ve been happy with it so far, we had some decent results over pre-season but ended on two losses.
We managed to retain the majority of the squad who ended the season so strongly however we’ve added in key areas where we felt we needed to and we’ve certainly added more depth.
So, can we expect to see Croydon competing at the top end this year?
Our start to the season is a tough one but one we will look forward to. Larkfield & New Hythe away first game doesn’t come much harder as I think Larkfield plus AFC Whyteleafe will be tipped as the front runners – especially with their financial power at this level. It’s a very strong league this year but ultimately we want to challenge.
Pre-season was a busy and productive one for FC Elmstead, few teams were busier than them – and for First Team Manager Peter Nolan, that was all part of the plan;
Preparations for the new season have been positive. As a management team we decided to load up on pre season games this this time round and added 3 more games than normal which has meant it’s been an extremely busy 6 week period! Our performances and results on the whole have been pleasing however we all know that’s easy with 0 points on the line! I think our main takeaway from pre season is we believe players have had enough minutes through their legs and it feels like we are approaching the season organised!
Like all non league clubs at this level we have had to endure some change to the playing squad, we have however managed to keep a core which I think is absolutely critical for consistency and club identity. As far as new additions we feel like we have added a bit of everything and areas we identified that needed improvement we feel we have addressed this also!
Peter wants his side to be competitive right through to the end. But first up for them is a couple of the teams he expects to be in around it this season.
Our opening fixtures don’t get much tougher, we open up with last years playoff contenders Faversham Strike Force and then travel to AFC Whytleafe who have been fairly public with their pre season recruitment and probably go into the division as favourites to win it! We do however have to play everyone twice throughout the season, so we will take every game as it comes in isolation and go into every game with confidence and belief.
I’d be shocked if you didn’t have 16 Managers that said they want to compete for playoffs. I won’t sway from that rhetoric however my main aim every season is to ensure we are going into the final game of the season playing for something! If we can play until the final whistle on the final day then something has gone right!
This division is always very tough to predict, I think majority will say AFC Whytleafe to comfortably win it but this league isn’t easy enough to just turn up.. they will have to earn it! I personally quite like the Larkfield approach this season compared to the previous two, they have gone quite under the radar and have a good management team down there, I see them being right in the mix come April.
Good luck to all teams for the upcoming season!
Faversham Strike Force made the play-offs last season, and were only denied promotion by eventual winners Lydd Town. Can they learn from that experience and take the next step this time around? Gary Axford is eager to get going with his new improved squad;
The coaching staff and I are really pleased with how the squad is coming together. We have played 5 games and mostly against step 5 sides and the results have been very positive. We have added some real quality to the squad, I cant wait to get started…
A change of playing surface at Salters Lane means that Strike Force play their opening games away. First-up it’s FC Elmstead, then Staplehurst Monarchs and Croydon. With a good start can his side beat the highs of last year?
The side did well last season, reaching the playoffs, but we now need to go one better. Our performances are important and we need to keep improving. The season will be very difficult to call, some teams start on fire and other take a while to find the gears… lets wait and see, there will be some surprises as always!
There are always early pace setters, but this year I feel it will again be very competitive in the top half. Tooting Bec were good last season and probably should have gone up, they should be strong again.
We are looking forward to playing some good football on our new pitch in Faversham. The pitch should be ready around mid August – fingers crossed!
Forest Hill Park had a strong end to last season and First Team Manager, Darrell Queeley, is sure to want to start from where he left off. For the first time he has been able to retain some of his key players, and that could be vital when trying to continue this clubs progression;
We have kept a strong core from last season, which is key. Previous seasons we have been forced to start from scratch, which is very difficult. We have lost a few, which is to be expected. We have added strength to the squad and feel we have arrived at a stable position and now believe we are building something.
We have a reasonable pre season, played some strong teams with each game providing the necessary challenges to prepare us for the season. Results mean nothing at this point, it’s all about what have you learned.
Forest Hill Park begin their campaign on the road, but Darrell will not be betting on how things could end up in the First Division this year.
We face Rochester away again, repeating last seasons first outing. I think most teams would agree its one of the toughest places in the league to go. They finished just outside the playoff positions last season and I’m sure will be looking to go one better.
Our aim is to build bit by bit, slowly improving every aspect in the club, on and off the field so we see progression.
I can only see this season being tough once again. Last season was unbelievably close. Most teams only a good 3/4 wins away from the playoffs, I can’t see any change in that this season. You expect the teams with the better resources to be there abouts, but I won’t be placing any bets.
First Division entertainers Greenways always provide great value for money from their games with plenty of goals sure to go in at either end of the pitch. With a settled and loyal squad we are hopeful of more of the same from them this year but what does Club Secretary Luke Turner hope to see his team achieve this season?
On and off the pitch, we always look to progress year on year so that’s the main aim. Despite finishing 11th last season, we were in the play-off picture with only a few games to go so bettering that would be great.
We’ve been really pleased with how preparations have gone this season. Results have been a mixed bag as always, but that’s to be expected with pre-season. Performances have been positive which has been really pleasing.
We have had no major changes in terms of personnel. We were keen to add quality in the right areas which we think we have done.
Croydon away next week follows a home start against Tooting Bec.
Tough opening fixtures, but there are never easy games in this league. We’ll be looking to get off to a positive start and kick on from there. It’ll be nice to start at home on Saturday and hopefully capitalise on that advantage. Tooting Bec are always a tough opponent and we expect nothing different on the opening weekend.
So, who wins the First Division title Luke?
Who knows?!? This league is so competitive, you see everyone beating each other. I have no doubt it will be just as tight as the last few seasons and most teams will fancy pushing for promotion. It will certainly be an entertaining season.
We want to wish all the teams the best of luck for the season and our thanks to everyone at the league for everything done so far and the continued great work throughout the year. We can’t wait for another great season in the SCEFL.
It’s a new Division and a new style of attack from K Sports this year, with youth given the chance and success measured in more than just points. Joint Manager George Batten explains;
Our aim this season is to create an environment where every player enjoys playing for our club. We haven’t got aims for the season in terms of finishing places. If we can develop players and push them on in football or bring a players love back for the game, that’s good enough for us. Usually when players enjoy their football the results follow, but let’s see, there’s no pressure for us to make any ambitious promises
Our preparations have gone really well. After the disappointments of last season, Ian and myself have decided to do things differently at the club. We are now focusing on developing young talent in Kent, giving them important game time at step 6 level. We lost our youth teams at the end of last season so we have been loaning youth players from clubs at levels above. Our aim is to develop those players and form relationships with those clubs. Of course we need experienced players at the club, but those players have to buy into what we are doing and appreciate the club for what it is.
We have 3 players from last season, apart from that it’s an entire new squad. But we are happy with our squad and are looking forward to the start of the season.
That start of the season comes in South London this Saturday, before two quickfire home games against SC Thamesmead and Canterbury City. Following that, how will K Sports fit into the make up of the league?
We have Meridian VP away first and I’m expecting a tough game. We are not looking past that and will prepare the lads the best we can.
Looking at signings and squads I expect Larkfield & New Hythe, AFC Whyteleafe, Rochester United and a couple of others to be up there.
There has been plenty of change at Larkfield & New Hythe this summer, both on and off the field, and the new Management Team now need get things to quickly settle things down so that they can focus on a promotion charge. Danny Lye is tasked with leading the Club to the next level and alongside him is Michael Phillips, the man charged with the important job of running us through the Larks preparations and plans;
Pre season has been a little frustrating as we haven’t had everyone available at the same time, so it’s hard to work on things in training. This is always the way because it’s the time of year when everyone goes away on their summer holidays with their families, so it is what it is. Saying that, the boys have worked really hard and starting to look fitter ready for the first game next week.
We’ve had some tough games against higher opposition, and apart from the Lordswood game where we had quite a few younger boys and trailists playing we matched all of them for quality and fitness. So it’s been a really positive pre-season, especially as we are a new squad of players where hardly any of them have played together before.
There have been a lot of changes to the squad. We have retained about 5 players from last year and all the rest are new boys we have brought in. We have some very exciting new players with lots of experience as well which will be critical in us achieving our goal. I won’t tell you who they are as you will find out as the season gets started!
First up for Larkfield is the visit of Croydon to the Eden Park Estates Stadium.
This is a new league for myself and Lyezy, so apart from the last few games of last season when we took over we don’t know too much about our opponents. We do know we will be up against some strong and physical teams though. I’ve heard AFC Whyteleafe are looking pretty strong, and the likes of K-Sports, Canterbury and Tooting Bec also. We will take each game as it comes and will have the mindset that we can beat anyone on our day, but we will always stay positive and enthusiastic even in defeat.
And the aim for Larkfield & New Hythe?
To win the league. We’re not thinking about other teams, we are just concentrating on ourselves and staying focused on our goals.
We are really looking forward to the season ahead and hope we can make our home ground a fortress and the fans come in their numbers to cheer on the boys and enjoy watching their local team.
Up the Larks
For much of last season Lewisham Borough were not far off the play-off mix, before dropping away later in the campaign. Lloyd Davis is sure to be aiming for his side to remain competitive right through to the end this year and has warmed them up accordingly;
Preparation in terms of training so far has gone really well. Using a new facility has allowed us to work on alot of new things. Friendlies have been a brilliant test for us playing higher opposition. We’ve also played 8 friendlies I believe which, is new to us.
We have managed to keep a few familiar faces and have added some new faces in essential areas.
The season starts later than most for Borough but August sees away games at some other South London Clubs.
Meridian VP and Croydon are relatively close to us and players often know each other, so the dynamic in these matches will be interesting to see how games play out. Myself and their management teams also get on and games are normally competitive.
And an aim for Lewisham Borough?
Time will tell. With the league being so small this year in terms of the number of teams and the bottom team last year dropping out and obviously the top getting promoted I see this year being very competitive and tight.
Uche Ibemere has switched between clubs at the Meridian Sports & Social Club for this season, with last years Bridon Ropes boss now the new Joint Manager at Meridian VP. He ran us through his new teams 2023/24 preparations;
Pre season has been good. We have seen a lot of new players as we have managed to rebuild the squad. Results have been up and down but that’s expected with pre season.
There’s always changes to squads at our level of football, we now need to get everyone working in the right direction, as its going to be a competitive league.
Meridian VP start with home games against K Sports and Lewisham Borough. What is the expectation from those games, and the season?
I can’t really comment on other teams, pre season is pre season. You find out how strong teams really are when the season starts. Names on paper don’t mean a lot unless they are pulling in the same direction.
The plan is to be competitive. We have underachieved a little over the last few years. Hopefully we can push on a bit this season.
It looks like there will be a lot of teams thinking of playoffs and promotion but FC Elmstead might be a dark horse in the title race.
Rochester United were one win away from a play-off place last season and are doing all they can to ensure of getting inside the top five this time around. Paul Bowden-Brown has been brought in as Operations Director & Company Secretary and gives us the lowdown on his arrival at the club and their aims for the near future;
As you may or not know, a New Board was appointed at the end of last season when I was asked to join as Operations Director & Company Secretary by Lloyd Hume, who was a previous Manager of mine when I owned Maidstone United FC.in the 90s and 20s
I was given a large remit by the Rochester Board, the first being to change the structure of the Club from a Member to a CIC (Not for profit ). The FA and the League have now agreed to this. Then I agreed to the long-term tenure for the Club that will allow the Club to be a greater part of the Community, and also, the board will be able to spend monies on updating the ground and the buildings that all need updating if we are to support the First Team and the thriving Youth Set up which hopefully we will add a ladies and disability sections to the Club.
With regard to the League, I can only speak of the time as the owner of Maidstone United and when we played through the Kent League until we gained promotion to the Ryman, in those days, now the Isthmian, but at all times, I learned one thing; without volunteers we would not be able to play our lovely game of football, and in all cases, you need a strong league presence. I respect all volunteers that take up the roles within the league, as I have done myself in the past but since joining at this level I am advised that the current SCEFL is a strong unit led by Denise and my old friend John Moules who sadly passed away this week, all the good old guys are leaving us I personally send my personal condolences. John taught me all I know in Football and he will be a large pair of shoes to fill. I hope they find a suitable person to carry on the good work John did representing the league therefore as long as the league represents the wishes of the member clubs you will have my full support and if anytime they want support give me a ring. I have decided to retire in five years when I will be 81.
This season We are planning that the First Team will be challenging for the title outright or promotion, and on the Youth side, we hope to increase this by 50% and start our own Academy.
Our preseason has gone very well, giving players the opportunity to prove to our Manager that they are good enough to put on the club shirt and represent the Club, especially now the money that is being thrown around for players’ wages – I thought it was bad in the 90s, but this is worse.
But I look forward to visiting and welcoming our opponents within the League. I know what must be done to ensure a match can be played, so I respect them all, although on match day, I want to beat them, be assured.
SC Thamesmead will want to qucikly forget about last season, with this club far more at home battling away at the top end of the table. A new management team has been brought in to make them more competitive and that includes First Team Coach Danny Hill, who is pleased with how things are going at this stage;
We have a whole new squad along with a new management team this season. The management team has been together for several years, but this is our first season at SC Thamesmead. We have a great blend of youth and experience within the playing squad, with players experienced at the Isthmian level and others making the step across/up to the SCEFL level. A whole new set-up and one we hope gets the SC Thamesmead fans excited to come each week.
Preparations have gone well during the pre-season. We have focused on squad development and are very happy with the progress. We aimed to play against teams that have played together for a few years to be a test for us. Overall, we are prepared for the new season in the SCEFL Division 1.
We are also excited to see the progress of our SC Thamesmead U23’s, competing in the SCEFL Development League this season. Barry Charlton has been appointed to the role and bringing across his crop notable young talent.
SC Thamesmead host Canterbury City on Saturday before visiting K Sports next week. What are the hopes from those games and the season as a whole?
All matches at this level are going to be difficult and we will treat every opponent with the respect they deserve. The standard at SCEFL Div 1 has been rising, with notable performances from newly promoted sides to the SCEFL Premier Division, we are under no illusions that players will need to be 100%, week in, week out to compete.
We do not have any specific targets, other than ensuring our spectators and fantastic board get to watch competitive, entertaining football each week. We view this as a long-term project for us at SC Thamesmead and aim to ensure annual progress on the pitch.
We know many of the teams who performed well last season will be eager to produce top performances again. Tooting Bec, Larkfield and New Hythe, Faversham Striker Force and Rochester will be hoping to go one better. FC Elmstead has had a noticeably impressive pre-season and no doubt hope they carry that form into the new season. Our first two matches are against relegated Canterbury City and K-Sports respectively, who will also want to bounce back at the first time of asking
Staplehurst Monarchs have made a solid start to life at Step 6 but now two years in what can we expect the former Kent County League Champions? Nicola Stonebridge is Chair at the Club and gave us an overview of their preparations and hopes for the year ahead;
We are delighted that our management team have remained with us, and been strengthened by the addition of Ben Ashdown as coach, who has made an instant impact with the team. Talking of the team, we have brought in several new players whilst retaining the core group from last season which will help us to compete in the league this year.
It will be a tricky year with fewer fixtures but we are looking forward to the challenge. Every team seemingly has been building during the summer and there are a lot of fantastic players around which is great news for the league.
Sadly we have had to postpone our first game, so our opening fixture will see Faversham Strikeforce travelling to the Jubilee – always a tough match but one which we are definitely looking forward to.
This will probably be the tightest season for SCEFL Div 1 and every point will count – we can’t wait to get started!
Tooting Bec were the unlucky losers in the play off final last season a disappointment that will be hard to overcome. But get over it they must as Saturday brings a new chance of promotion but are the Club in a place to challenge for it once more? Chairman, Steffan Wells, gave us an overview of their preparations and aims for the year ahead;
The lads put themselves in the shop window last season reaching the play-off final and outplaying and beating all the top teams on route, unfortunately this meant the big budgets from leagues above came in and picked off half the squad from last season with some crazy offers. Therefore, pre-season has been a rebuild starting with a good core of 8-10 lads who stayed and then looking for some good characters, willing to play for free, to come in and replace those that have left. We will find out on Saturday where we are at, we don’t really take much from pre-season results.
Away visits to Greenways and Bridon Ropes start the season for Tooting.
Greenways away, one of the toughest fixtures of the season on the 3G, they play well between the lines and score for fun so will be a really tough start as we look to see where we are, especially with holidays and injuries already a headache for Saturday.
How about an aim for Tooting Bec for this season and away from Bec a prediction for the league?
A bit like last season it will take us a bit of time to gel the new lads, finding the right lads to improve the squad and get past the holiday season. If we can click by October then hopefully we can make a run for the play-offs but with only 30 league games we can’t afford to drop as many points early season as we did last year if we want to trouble the big boys.
AFC Whyteleafe and Larkfield should run away with it based on resources, Staplehurst, Rochester & Canterbury should complete the top 5 but the great thing about football is you just never know and we have the best management team in the league working wonders so lets see what magic they can conjure up this season. Lewisham Borough should be right up there too, still the best team we’ve faced in the SCEFL.
The time for talking is over this Saturday, when the time for points takes over. The recent addition of play-offs to Step 6 has meant that our past few seasons have gone right down to the final day and this coming campaign is sure to be getting more of the same again.
We thank all contributors for their time for this preview and wish them and their teams the best of luck over the coming 9 months. This is the first time in doing these previews that we have had 100% of responses and for that we are grateful.
But now it’s GO time – play hard, play fair, and may the best team win!