Season Preview – Premier Division
168 days since the last SCEFL Premier Division games were played the League returns on Saturday and after half a year without it, we are sure going to savour every moment of it’s return.
With the disappointment of how the last campaign was decided now long behind us we go again, with the same format as before, just with two extra teams.
We welcome Balham and Tower Hamlets into the SCEFL and wish them the best of luck as they compete for position among 19 other sides in what is now one of the most respected Divisions in Non League football.
Our champions will be rewarded with promotion, second place could go up too, but who will fill those places?
Our prediction poll points us in the direction of Chatham Town, with Corinthian and Sheppey United among the fancied teams too. Beckenham Town will no doubt be in the mix and you can never write off Tunbridge Wells with their excellent support. Hollands & Blair have turned heads with one or two of their new signings while Glebe will be fielding a strike force that would be the envy of many sides from a Division or two above.
Talking about it has been fun but now it’s time for the action. Saturday will be the start of what is sure to be 35 weeks of thrilling and fascinating football, where every point will be hard-fought for and every win well earned.
Here we take a closer look at each of our Premier Division teams, hearing from some of they key people involved and looking at their hopes and aspirations for the 8 months ahead.
The Rams have been very busy over the past few months. They have added a new coach, several new players and after some decent pre-season results they may well fancy themselves for a strong season. Manager Kevin Rayner looked ahead to the opening game and beyond;
“We are looking to be competitive throughout the season and see where it takes us. Pre-season has been the usual mix of good and bad but I’m not one to get carried away with any result in a friendly, win lose or draw.
“We are progressing well. We have retained 8 or 9 players plus added 8 or 9 more and they are beginning to settle down together just in time. We have a new Assistant Manager / Head Coach in Barry Boxall and we have a good feel good factor around the club at the minute.
“Our first league game is at Punjab United, they will be ready and be tough opponents. To win any away game in this league is a tough ask but again I’m confident in our squad and I’m sure we will be doing our best to return with something on the opening day.”
Balham are one of the new boys after a sideways shift from the Combined Counties League due to their groundshare at the Mayfield Stadium. Manager and Chairman Greg Cruttwell knows it won’t be an easy year ahead for them but they go into it after a decent pre-season;
“However it was destined to go it was just good to get back to playing again. I’ve been reasonably satisfied, but it’s all about what happens when the season kicks off for real. If we start well then pre-season will have been good, if we don’t then we’ll have to question our preparation and perhaps do things differently next time around.
“We’ve added and are still adding a few new players plus have one or two returning from University. No players have left the club of their own volition.
“It’s going to be a new adventure playing in the SCEFL. We’ve played a couple of clubs from the league before in cup competitions and based on those experiences we are expecting a tough challenge. Win, lose or draw though we’ll be giving it everything we’ve got and will be aiming to finish as high in the final league table as possible.”
First-up for Balham is a home game against Hollands & Blair on Saturday, a team Greg knows little about.
“We don’t know much about them, but we will do by 4.45pm on Saturday.”
Bearsted really impressed last season. They were among the highest scorers, played entertaining football and were knocking on the door of the top six all year. More of the same this time? Manager Kevin Stevens hopes so;
“We’ve put together a really good squad for this coming season. Nine new additions which gives us a good blend of youth and experience. It’s the strongest squad on paper that I’ve had at the club so can’t wait for the season to start.
“Along with those new additions I’ve also added a very experienced GK coach Mark Irvine. Mark hasn’t been with us long but has already shown what a great addition he will be to our management team.
“The boys have all bonded really well during our pre season games, which is really pleasing. Preparations have been as good as I could have hoped from those games. We’ve improved in areas that we needed to improve in, but of course the real tests start now.
“The league is looking once again to be even better than last years. The calibre of player that some clubs are signing can only be good for the league and I know we can’t wait to get going and test ourselves week in week out. Our aspirations are to improve on last season which won’t be easy but I’m confident with the boys we have that can be achieved.
Kevin is keen to start well. First up for them is one of the new boys.
“Momentum is massive so hopefully we can get off to a good start. Our first league game is against league newcomers Tower Hamlets. As always we will do our homework on them and hopefully get the win.
“All the best to everyone for this coming season and particularly Corinthian in their FA Vase game.“
Beckenham had most to lose when the season was declared null and void last time, with the Club sitting proudly at the top of the table and on course for a place in the league above.
That needs to be put in the past now though as Becks have an even bigger challenge to reach those heights with more contenders coming into the fold and regular rivals heavily strengthening their ranks.
Pre-season went well for them with promising results coming against a mix of opposition with the standout scoreline being that 15-goal madness against Greenways.
A few players have moved on but this side always had strength in-depth. Their comfortable FA Cup win this week shows that they still have their quality and anyone writing them off for a title challenge may well be left with egg on their face in eight months time.
Beckenham Town get their League season under way at Deal Town on Saturday.
Two have become one for Canterbury City over the summer with one Joint Manager departing leaving Chris Woollcott to go it along this year.
City’s boss should relish the challenge. Despite the turmoil they finished the season well last time, pre-season results have gone well and despite FA Cup heartache late on at Guildford this week Canterbury look in good shape to have another strong SCEFL Campaign.
Welling Town are the visitors to Salters Lane on Saturday for the first League game of the season.
Chatham Town were the first to lay their intentions out for all to see when unveiling the signings of Dan Bradshaw, Andy Pugh, Chris Lawal, Jordy Robins and Jack Healy at the start of the summer. They soon added Ryan Hayes and Luke Rooney to that list and in doing so installed themselves in as favourites for the title.
Almost half of all votes in our prediction poll went to the Chats but they will be fully aware that many others have strengthened their squads too and this is likely to be the most competitive season in a long time.
Manager Scott Lindsey has one main aim this year though;
“The most important thing for us at Chatham Town is promotion, we would obviously love a big Cup run also but ultimately promotion is what we want from the season.
“I have been happy with pre-season with a good blend of opponents but we seem to have prepared well and now we are ready to go.
“Our first league game is away to Erith and Belvedere, there’s been a lot of changes there I’ve been told so we not sure what expect but it’s a tough start and one where we will need to be on top of our game.”
Club Secretary Andy Bonneywell was also on hand to give us an update on all things ‘Chats’;
“It has been very difficult for all concerned since lockdown, but like many clubs, Chatham Town have not been resting on their laurels and have been preparing for the new season both off and on the pitch.
“Extensive works to our changing rooms are almost complete and our work during the crisis along with many other initiatives in the local community have seen us awarded with ‘The Community Club of the Year’ for which we are extremely proud.
“On the pitch we have not been standing still either with a number of significant big name signings throughout the squad. We have also promoted a number of youth and reserve team players to the first team and they have now been training together ever since we were allowed to do so
“We now have a squad and for that matter a management team that we feel is capable of delivering our objectives for 2020/21. Obviously promotion will be in our sights but we are still mindful that there are a good number of SCEFL sides that also have the same ambitions and capabilities.
“I expect It will prove to be an interesting and hopefully un-interrupted season that goes down to the wire.
“Lets concentrate on getting back to playing the game we love, lets get back to spectators being fully allowed in and good luck to all SCEFL teams for 2020-21”
The Hoops have a delayed league start due to the small matter of an FA Vase semi-final to play at home to Hebburn Town.
The biggest game in the clubs history will certainly be a tough one but nobody can ever write off Corinthian when they are playing at the Farm.
A strong pre-season and FA Cup victory show us they are in good shape for that match and for a league season where they will be looking to finish off what they didn’t get the chance to do last time round.
Michael Golding has brought in Louie Clarke, Josh James and Adam O’Neill to add depth to what was an already-strong squad meaning the Hoops are sure to be among the promotion chasers once more.
Following the FA Vase game Corinthian get their league season started by hosting Lordswood.
New season, new Crowborough Athletic needs to be the plan for our boys from East Sussex after a disappointing campaign last time around.
Signs are looking more promising now though with a host of new players arriving at the Community Stadium that a few of them already know quite well.
The likes of Tom Boddy, Max Carbune, Jack Funnell, Cameron Hall, Danny Powell, John Sinclair and Dom Welsh fit into a squad that looks to be the strongest one the club has had for a few years so don’t expect to see them at the wrong end of the table this time.
New kits, new sponsors, new hopes, new Crowborough Athletic.
First-up, Fisher at home.
With an impressive FA Cup win during midweek confirming what many are thinking, good things are expected of Deal Town this season.
Luke Biggington appears to be the most notable absentee from the Charles Ground going into this campaign but with Kane Smith taking the armband and Luke Biggington and Toby Greenfield being added to the squad another memory making year could just be about to begin.
The FA Vase run provided the highlights last time but after a good start in the FA Cup they could be looking at multiple avenues to provide their ‘Binfield’ moments this time around.
First up for Deal Town is the visit of Beckenham Town on Saturday.
Regulars to the Erith & Belvedere side of Park View Road will not believe the transformation that has occured on that side of the ground when they return to watch the ‘Deres’ in League action this weekend. The Clubhouse looks outstanding and the improvements haven’t stopped there as the whole ethos of the Club has changed creating a buzz around the place not seen there for many years. Throw in a stunning the new home and away kit design and Erith & Belvedere are clearly getting things right off the pitch. Now First Team Manager Del Oldfield is tasked with getting things right on it and here he spoke about the aims for the Club this year.
“Hopes and expectations for the season are simple, and that’s to do better than we did last season. Not just as a team, but as a club in general. We aim to be as competitive as we can, but we also have to be realistic. Considering we’re operating with no playing budget, we’ve managed to put together a squad that has a nice mix of youth and experience, and one that we believe will only get better as the season goes on. This squad has only been together for five weeks, so we’ve still got a hell of a lot to learn and a lot of work to do.
“Pre-season has gone well, and we’ve utilised the opportunity to make sure that every squad member has had as much playing time as possible to ensure that they’re ready when called upon. The difference in the quality of the opponents we’ve faced has given us a chance to see what we’re doing well, and the areas we need to improve, so all in all it’s been worthwhile and a great learning curve.”
Erith & Belvedere have been handed a tough start to the season by the fixture computer. Games against AFC Croydon and Beckenham Town follow an opener against title favourites Chatham Town. Yet Del is not ready to just hand over the 3 points without a fight.
“What is there to say about Chatham. They have a forward line and midfield that is the envy of many in the league, but that doesn’t mean that we’re just gonna roll over and let them tickle our tummies. You can’t go in to games fearing any opponent, but you can respect them. We just have to make sure that we don’t respect them to the point that we come away from what we’re all about.”
The Dockers’ pre-season campaign was dominated by their London Cup semi-final at Griffin Park against the Brentford B side.
The expected ‘good-hiding’ never materialised as Erith Town put on an excellent display in a 6-3 defeat in front of over 1000 viewers watching live online.
Adam Woodward’s side will now look to create further memories and history for themselves with a strong showing in the league while off the field they will continue to grow the club within their local community with which they do so much to help improve.
First-up at the Erith Stadium is the visit of Sheppey United on Saturday.
Fisher were one of the form teams in the Division when the season ended abruptly last time so will be hoping to find that same form when they get this campaign under way at Crowborough Athletic on Saturday. There have been a few ins-and-outs at St Pauls since March which Manager Ajay Ashanike ran us through, while also revealing his aims for the year ahead.
“What a shame last season finished too soon as we started picking up some good results towards the end. Offers then came flying in for some of our players, which was no surprise and we lost many of our first team, including Ade Owolu who went to Chelmsford City.
“We then had to rebuild and I feel we have done a great job, with the likes of Peter Ojemen, David Popoola, Ade Cole, Adam Smith, Josh Biddlecombe and Michael Sarpong all arriving, giving us a good mix of youth and experience in the squad.
“Pre-season been good and we have played some really good teams. They gave us a great work out and to be honest I couldn’t have asked for more. The boys are buying into the system and playing style which is great to see.
“Our hope and expectation for the season firstly is to beat the points tally we had last season and after that we will take it game by game and see where it takes us.
“I’m not a big one to give targets to my players. I’ll take all the pressure off them – but for myself I know what my target is come the end of the season.
“I am really looking forward to the year in this great league. The last one was a good lesson to us all as we did not think the level would be this high.
“This time we should be more than ready to showcase what we can do.”
Much is expected from Glebe this season with some serious additions being made to a squad that is starting to look very impressive on paper.
The stand-out recruits, Charlie MacDonald and Frankie Sawyer, will join Jamie Philpott in a strike force that should be more at home a level or two above.
Others have arrived at Foxbury too and if they gel quickly then Gary Alexander may well see his side among the title contenders this year.
The Glebe boss just can’t wait to get going….
“I’m looking forward to the season ahead after a real tough six months. Credit has to go to the people that have kept their clubs afloat .
“At Glebe we are all looking forward to playing again and hopefully being able to compete, be more consistent and see where that will take us.
“We know its going to be tough with the quality of the players that are now playing in this league. The standard is very good and has certainly gone up over the year.
“Stay safe everyone and enjoy the season – It will be an an exciting one I am sure!”
Glebe start their League season with the visit of K Sports to Foxbury.
Many SCEFL Clubs drew plenty of attention to themselves over the summer with their recruitment activity but none more so than Hollands & Blair who shocked the Non-League world when announcing that Danny Kedwell would be joining the Club this year.
‘Keds’ is used to life higher up the pyramid but he feels that now is the time to be closer to home and fortunately for Blair fans that home is near Star Meadow.
Simon Halsey’s side were a top 6 team last year and he has strengthened well since then, and not just with Kedwell. Joe Kane and Fjord Rogers are among others to also join the Club and hopes must be high of a strong campaign. Halsey is happy with his lot, whilst also impressed with the work that others have done too;
“I looked at the squad at training this week and we’ve got a good squad there. We had a good season last year and so with the additions that we’ve made, it’ll hopefully make us even stronger and perhaps we’ll be able to see out the games that we couldn’t last time. It means that we’ll have a lot more strength in depth now.”
“There are really some great players in SCEFL this season. You’ve got the likes of Freeman, Bradshaw – who’s gone from Sheppey to Chatham, Denness, Pugh and Hayes dropping down from Dartford, Evans, it’s never ending… SCEFL is certainly inviting some very talented players at the moment.”
Hollands & Blair begin their League season with an away trip to Balham on Saturday.
First Team Manager Paul Atkins is the first to admit that this will be a tough season for his new-look side.
Their has been a bit of an exodus at Cobdown but Atkins has now managed to bring together a new group of players and he is itching to see how they get on.
“There have been a lot of changes over the summer. Once players found out that the club were not in a position to pay we lost them to teams who were.
“We now have a new team with some very good players. Pre-season was all about learning to play with each other and I’m happy with the lads.
“We know this will be a hard season for us. We have two extra teams added to the league and a squad of 18 so we will use the 23s this year and work with some of the young lads.
We are all looking forward to the new season. – Up the Sports!”
Glebe host K Sports on Saturday in the first game of the League season.
Another side to go through a bit of transformation over the Summer was Lordswood.
Neil Hunter has taken over the reigns at Martyn Grove and quickly brought together a squad that he hopes will be ‘competitive’ this season.
“Our aims for the season are simply to compete in every game and amass as many points as possible – A nice Cup run would be good too!
Pre-season was tough playing mainly Isthmian sides and we’ve learnt alot through those games.
As we’re a totally new squad from last sesson we’ve had alot of work to do and that work is still ongoing.
Fortunately my managment team are second to none and have done a great job . There is a great vibe about the place.
Former Lords boss Richard Styles returns for the first game this season with his Tunbridge Wells side. Hunter knows it will be a challenging opener.
“Tunbridge Wells at home for our first match. All games are tough and this is no exception. They will be a good side but I believe we are too and with a decent crowd expected I’m looking forward to the game.”
A tough season last time was followed by a tougher summer for Punjab United as they lost one of their own, a man well loved by all at the Club and beyond. Chairman and Manager Chipie Sian explains recent events at the Club;
“It’s been a tough few months with the passing of Steve Cook it really hit us hard, he was a key member of our club having had a day to day presence at the ground and to lose someone close to us was a big blow. The squad did take a backward step as we wanted to get the ground ready for Steve Cook’s Funeral which was most important.
“Pre-season wasn’t the easiest as we played some higher league teams. However, we held our own in games and I am pleased with the performances. I’m now looking forward to the new season ahead.
“The squad has improved this season having bought in some fresh faces. I feel we have a team which will be harder working than before. This has been reflected over the pre-season in addition to the attendance at training.”
First-up for Punjab United are the ‘Rams’ at the Clubs newly-named home.
“It’s always great to get a home game for the first league game and with AFC Croydon coming to us it’s going to be tough one. As we all know well, anyone in this league can beat anyone on their day, but we should have a big crowd in so what better way start to play at home at the Steve Cook Stadium.
“On a separate note I want to take the opportunity to thank all the Management Committee at Punjab! It’s not been an easy few months but everyone has worked so hard on and off the pitch to get us ready, especially Navin Pal who never really gets a mention but the work he puts in behind the scenes is unreal we wouldn’t be where we are today without members like Navin.”
Sheppey stood back patiently and watched others unveil their new signings before finally revealing their own last week, and in doing so quickly putting themselves among the favourites for the Premier Division title. They were right in the mix last time and are sure to be in a similar position this time with the squad that they have assembled. Pre-season has gone very well for them in terms of results and Head Coach Marcel Nimani is proud of the efforts of all at the Total Power Stadium, both on and off the pitch.
“We started pre-season six weeks ago and I am extremely proud in the way that we as a whole club have conducted ourselves since the return of football. All staff have worked extremely hard in preparing for the safe return of people into our ground while the players have all returned to us healthy and in good spirits.
“Last weekend we concluded a very productive pre-season which has included some outstanding performances away to Margate, Sittingbourne and Ramsgate.
“We have retained the nucleus of last years squads which I feel that it is a great achievement. We have also managed to strengthen further with the additions of Jack Midson, Warren Mfula, Junior Aikhionbare, Matt Bourne, Corey Holder, Alfie Bates, Adam Molloy and Tommy Taylor.
“Above all though, I am mostly pleased with the cohesion which we have created amongst ourselves.
Could that togetherness result in some silverware for the Ites? Marcel revealed two aims for the season;
“We are all looking to create history for the club and memories for the fans. They have been extremely supportive all over the social media and their support is felt wholeheartedly in our camp.”
Tower Hamlets come into the SCEFL as one of two new boys and will definitely be a bit of unknown quantity for many of us.
The former Essex Senior League club make the sideways move due to relocation to Phoenix Sports with their Mile End home now quite being suitable to stage games at this level.
First-up for Hamlets is a trip to Bearsted on Saturday. The Bears may not know too much about their visitors just yet but come 4.45pm they will have got to know them a little better, and so will we.
Tunbridge Wells have kept things close to their chest over the summer giving out little indication whether they fancy themselves to be among the contenders again this year.
Behind-closed-doors friendlies have not helped with that mystery but with their first competitive game going their way in the FA Cup maybe it would be unwise to rule out the chances of the Culverden boys in the promotion race just yet.
First-up for Wells in the League is a trip to Lordswood followed by a home game against Bearsted a few days later.
By then we should know a bit more about them and their excellent fan base will once again no doubt be looking forward to an exciting season ahead.
The ‘Boots’ had an enjoyable first campaign at Step 5 last year and were heading for a top half finish before things came to an early end. Familiar faces have returned to the Club and new ones added, with Richard Jimoh and Ryan Golding among those catching the eye in their pre-season games. There have been changes made behind the scenes too at Bayliss Avenue but Chairman and Manager Kevin Oakes is hopeful of further progress this year.
“As novices to the SCEFL Premier we’ll be looking for steady progress on last season’s top half finish, and maybe with a strong start, to shock a few and break in to that top 6 – another good Vase run would also be a welcome bonus.
“Pre-season has deliberately been tough as we test abilities, fitness and attitudes, and ignoring the results, all of those first three have been achieved. We’ve learnt, and we’ve acted, moving on some, and securing others, to build what I’d consider the strongest squad the club has ever had.”
They start the League season at Salters Lane and Kevin remembers their last meeting.
“Canterbury City are first up and we expect them to be a tough test but welcome the challenge. We look forward to avenging a defeat against them last time up.”
All Managers or Clubs were sent requests for input.
Fixtures for this season are available here
The First Division Preview can be seen here
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