With the League Constitution confirmed and just 5 weeks remaining until the new season kicks-off now is the right time to look at the Clubs that will be new to the SCEFL and taking their place at Step 6 for the very first time.
Kennington, Greenways and Welling Town have all come through from the Kent County Leagues and each have an interesting story to tell.
First up we look at ‘The Boots’, Welling Town. A side that although only formed recently, have achieved plenty already and certainly have an interesting story to tell. This progressive club have utilised every opportunity given to them and are looking to be an exciting addition to our First Division.
Their home ground is familiar to us as they share Bayliss Avenue with SCEFL stalwarts SC Thamesmead and a look at their Team Management and Squad list reveals many names that supporters of the game at this level will be very aware of. A name that may be less recognizable though is that of Kevin Oakes, Chairman of Welling Town and a long-time supporter of Non-League football. So, in a bid to find out more about the club and the man behind it, we talk to Kevin about how they got here, where they are going and, well, all things Welling Town.
How did your love for football start and how did you come to create the club?
It started early for me when my Grandad took me to watch Welling United as a little boy and it stuck. As a teenager I got more in to football due to the introduction of the Premier League on Sky TV. I also played a bit and although not at this level, I always gave 100%. I stopped playing well over a decade ago due to injuries, work commitments and my growing family. I don’t know what prompted it to this day, but in the Summer of 2014 a few friends and I set-up a Sunday League club. It was initially a collection of some former team-mates, friends and my brother and four of that same group are still with the club now. The side did reasonably well and we really enjoyed it, playing on park pitches, socialising, and just generally having a good time. It was a “pub side” environment like most Sunday sides and nothing too serious.
How did a ‘Fun on Sunday Side’ become a ‘Serious Saturday outfit’
Two years ago I decided I wanted to take it to the next level and that meant playing Saturday football. As an ambitious person I wanted to see how far we could progress the club as a whole. We applied to join the Kent County Football League more in hope than expectation with no previous Saturday playing record. I’m told we impressed them with our background and our future plans. We were admitted for 2016/17 Season entering at Division Three West. In that first season we gained promotion as well as going on to win the West Kent Challenge Shield. Season 2017/18 was remarkable, winning all three competitions we were entered in, including the Division Two West title and both the Kent Junior Cup and defending our West Kent Challenge Shield.
I put myself through it because I love football. As I don’t play anymore, this is the next best thing. I must drive my other half Louise mad, but fortunately she likes football too which is a relief. She’s very supportive helping with the paperwork and even washing the kit. The friends I have made as a result will stand with me forever
What stages did you go through to find yourselves ending up with us in the SCEFL?
Myself and various club officials were fortunate to hear via numerous contacts as far back as January 2017 of the planning changes to the National League System for the 2018/19 Season. We had been working on our application to The FA with the support and guidance of the Southern Counties East Football League for well over 15 months. We were required to provide considerable documentation and a business plan to outline our past, present and future plans. This was not something that had been thrown together in a few weeks.
The players more than delivered on the pitch in that time for us winning two promotions and three cups in just over 12 months. Off the field we moved in to a fantastic facility at Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead which matches all ground grading criteria necessary for our new level, and even one above.
We have expanded the club with a reserve side and now a youth set-up and have demonstrated our ambition to be a growing, community-based club and not one stand-alone successful first team. When we got the call to say we were in, it made all that hard work worthwhile.
As you followed a different path than most to Step 6 there was criticism from some quarters of your journey. What did you make of that?
We have had a little criticism, but mainly from people that probably do not understand, or were not aware of, the change to the League structure and were certainly not aware of the efforts we had put in to make it through. We were encouraged by SCEFL and the FA to throw our hat in the ring and I would be amazed if there was any club out there that would not have explored it. A big point for me to get across is that we made it clear to both the FA and SCEFL that if it meant another side missing out, we would not want to progress. Taking someone else’s place would be immoral, but if there are gaps to fill after all the natural promotion and relegation had occurred, we would take it. We were wanted by the leagues and the FA wanted to fill vacancies, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t try to push the club up the ladder.
We are still involved with the KCFL through our reserve side so I was a little disappointed with some of their recent comments at functions and their AGM. We did not expect them to take the news positively, as they lose a club and it creates a problem for their League Officers with additional work answering queries from other member clubs who are unhappy. However, we have always been very complimentary of the KCFL, without exception, in any statement we have issued. Without their support we wouldn’t have been able to do this. We are very grateful for our time with them and I would prefer they wished us well and used us as an example to follow for those clubs that are ambitious like us rather than single us out negatively – especially as we are still members of their league. The FA ultimately make the rules and decisions, and they advised that our business plan was the most professional and thorough they had ever seen from our club at our level and made the call to elevate us upwards.
I would also like to say thank-you also to the numerous clubs that offered their congratulations and support. We thank them for doing so and trust they too would want their clubs to move forwards wherever possible. After all, why would anyone be involved in sport if not to progress and to win.
Who are the Management Team and do they share your vision for the Club?
Richard Dimmock the manager and Mike Jones his assistant are as ambitious as me. I know they are keen to move forwards and prove the jump was worth the effort and that we can do well at this level. It was bloody hardwork getting them to the club but I knew “Dimmo” through his time at Welling United in the late 90s and having been to school with his now wife. There was a link there I could tap in to and once I outlined my plans to them they were as excited about the potential as I was – then they just had to convince a lot of players to feel the same!
They know what I expect given the time, effort, and of course finance, that has gone in to this, but they are up for the challenge, as are the lads, and we fully expect to have a positive impact at the upper end of the First Division fairly quickly.
Outside of the First Team we have two new academy/development sides and youth system being implemented. Growing the club away from the First Team is now my main aim and we already have a fabulous team in place to make this happen and to ensure we offer a pathway, sustainability and build a support network and fan base for the future.
Will the players cope with this Level of Football?
Almost all of our side have played at Step 5/6 before. We have players that have played for Meridian VP, Corinthian, Erith & Belvedere, Thamesmead Town, Lordswood, and have come through academies and been well coached/developed. It isn’t a step up for most. It is a return to their natural level.
As a club that has rarely had to charge for Admission, what sort of support do you expect to get?
We have a reasonable support base for the level already. We’ve had 30-40 at most games. It is a lot easier with the facilities we have to get people along. At our biggest home game last season versus Sydenham Sports there were well over 150 so it shows what can be achieved.
Yes it was free, but I hope with our facilities, some of the recent PR and future plans we have, we can get a comfortable attendance of 40-50 every home game which is good for this level. We will ensure our links with the youth set-up mean all members of the club, parents and other contacts, are all dragged in to the family and provide a wide network of people all wanting to promote and support the club to its fullest.
Talking of PR, your Social Media is excellent and your website is as good and up-to-date as I have seen in our League. Do you put a lot of effort into this side of the club?
I don’t think we, yet, do anything different to what should be the norm, and we have a few other things up our sleeve for when the season starts. If there is an opportunity to promote our club, we’ll take it. Social media is free, it would be foolish not to use it to exploit it. If other clubs do not do that it is up to them, but I am happy to dedicate the time to do it, if it helps us progress. It is hardwork, and time consuming, but ultimately, if you want to be successful, that is what it takes. We are a bit different, but there is nothing wrong with that. I’d like to think that is part of the reason we have managed to retain almost the entire playing squad from last season, not just with the first team, but also the reserves, and have other sides interested in getting on board and playing under our umbrella.
With the fixture list coming out in a few weeks which ones will be catching your eye? SC Thamesmead?
We are good friends and rivals with SC Thamemead and our relationship is very good. We’ll be working together to ensure we promote fixtures and both clubs as best we can to appeal to the local community. Other than that from a personal point of view I will be looking forward to Erith & Belvedere away. Not because of a rivalry so much, but as a Welling United fan since the 80s, our club playing a competitive game at Park View Road will be a proud day.
You have an impressive line-up of Pre-Season Friendlies to prepare you for the August the 4th onwards. How did they come about?
Between the Management Team and I we have a nice range of contacts within the game and that is why we can look forward to going up against clubs like Heybridge Swifts, Cray Wanderers, Leyton Orient and Chatham Town. We have some kind of personal attachment to all of those clubs. We also have SC Thamesmead which we intend to make an annual Charity Cup game in conjunction with our landlord Peabody.
Thanks for your time and for letting us find out more about the club!
Not a problem. We are excited to be in the SCEFL and can’t wait to get started. It is as a result of the hard work of all players and staff, with them all buying in to the club over the past few years, and for the support of Derek, Denise and John, so thank you again. I am very grateful to all of them. We’re looking forward to testing ourselves at the new level and making some new friends and rivalries along the way.
To find out more about Welling Town and track their progress through their debut Season in the SCEFL feel free to visit their website here and follow them on Twitter at @WellingTownFC
Now it is the turn of Kennington FC. Champions of the Kent County Premier Division last term but first timers at Step 6 this Season.
How long have they been around? How did they get here? How will they get on?
The perfect person to talk to to find out more about Kennington is their Chairman, Jon Lancaster, so we did that and this is what we found out....
Thanks for your time Jon, Firstly, how long have you been involved with Kennington and how did that come about?
My involvement with Kennington FC began over 50 years ago. My father Ray Lancaster (now our Honorary President) moved the family down from London to Kennington and started out as a player before fulfilling various management roles which culminated in him becoming secretary for over 20 years. His passion was apparent early on, washing all the kits weekly for 3 football teams and making sure every player across all the teams knew where they had to be every Saturday. This proved some feat as we had no mobile phones or email and he used to pay me to deliver postcards through player’s doors every week.
I started playing for the club at U/12 level and then progressed with mates into the Senior sides at 15 where I managed to play over 700 Saturday games before retiring due to family commitments. Although I wasn’t involved in an official capacity I used to still watch every week finally getting involved in management and then picking up the mantle of Chairman when our old Chairman Graham Oxley emigrated. Both my brothers have also been involved with the club, as both manager and Chairman so the club is well embedded into our family.
The club is around 130 years old and in all that time this will be the highest level the club have played at. How does that make you feel as Chairman?
As Chairman I feel very proud as to what we have achieved. We are a relatively small club compared to others but I’m pleased for everyone connected with the club that we have finally found a way to progress.
Previously you seem to have been held back by your home grounds but then this move to Homelands came about. How did all that happen?
We moved to The Julie Rose Athletics’ Stadium In Kennington several years ago with the hope that we could finally apply for promotion into the SCEFL. However we soon encountered many problems with the pitch in that the damage from hammer and shot putt meant we were forever repairing the surface sometimes for 2 hours before every home game. The pitch was also too short by 5 metres and although we had plans to increase it we weren’t supported by anyone at The JRS and it soon became clear that for the money we were being charged we were never going to progress. Luckily ‘Sandyacres’ took us back and it became our home for the last 2 seasons. There were no lights or stands so we were never able to think of promotion and were faced with the very real possibility that the team we had built on the pitch would become a victim of their success in that the players were very ambitious and we couldn’t match this off the field.
When we were approached by an intermediary about ground sharing with Ashford United we were both surprised and excited and knew we had to take the next step in order to preserve all the hard work on the pitch. After having several meetings with Ashford it soon became apparent that they were all for supporting us and giving their local club an opportunity at playing at a higher level. Although we had missed deadlines we advertised our groundshare with Leagues and The FA in case circumstances changed but were still shocked that we were given the opportunity. Our thanks and gratitude go to Don Crosbie and Denise Peach at AUFC and we look forward to a lasting relationship.
I have been used to seeing you at the top end of the Kent County Leagues for the last few years, is the expectation to challenge for honours in the SCEFL or to just survive and hold your position?
We are definitely not in it to just survive, we’ll compete and see what happens. Last season we ran away with the KCL but realise that the SCEFL is a huge step up and we will need to improve. I know our Manager Dan is ambitious but I feel we can finish top half and then look to continue to progress. We are definitely ready on the pitch and will improve off the pitch as the season progresses as hopefully more people look to get involved in the Football Club.
Your Management team, Dan Scorer and John Ovard, have strong links to your new Landlords, but what are your thoughts on the jobs they have done for Kennington?
Can’t really praise them both enough. When I asked Dan to get involved 4 seasons ago the club was struggling. Our old manager had walked away having been badly let down by the players at the time. Since then Dan has assembled a squad who have grown as a team and are close both on and off the pitch. The majority of our side are in their early 20’s and have come through our very successful Junior set up, Dan included. Most of the team have played at a higher level since leaving the Junior set up so it’s gratifying to see them return to the club where it all started. Dan was a good footballer until a knee injury forced him to stop playing. Both him and his brother Tommy played for AUFC so it’s good to see the relationship continue with the club. John Ovard was the assistant manager at AUFC when Paul Chambers was in charge so the step up is nothing new to both of them having proved themselves at a higher standard.
How has squad assembly been going this Summer? Can we look forward to seeing that impressive strikeforce in our First Division form August?
We are hopeful that everyone will commit for this season, they are a close knit group. We’ve had 20+ at all our pre-season training sessions with a few new faces to freshen things up. It will be exciting watching our forward line of Carlum Mcleod, Tommy Scorer and Sam Conlon perform together at a higher level.
Your new home ground is a 3g surface which is different from what you have had in the past. Does this bring any concerns?
No worries about playing on a 3G, in fact I think it will suit us. People tell us we are a footballing side and the huge surface at Homelands will hopefully suit our style of play. We’ve been training on 3G surfaces for several seasons now so it’s nothing new.
Greenways have made the move up as well and as you have competed closely against them for a while now is there a rivalry there?
Greenways are a fantastic club. We’ve always had exciting games against them and I’m pleased that we can go up together and test ourselves at a higher standard.
What is the biggest thing you are looking forward to in this coming Season? Is there a certain side you are keen on meeting?
We are looking forward to playing against different sides and playing at different grounds. We’ve been in the KCL for a long time and made some good friends but it will be nice to venture out at some new grounds. Obviously we will get to play Lydd Town who I guess are our nearest rivals. A lot of our side duel signed with them last year and both sets of players know each other well. Dan and Lydd’s manager Liam Smith are good friends and I’m sure they are looking forward to playing us just as much.
A big difference you will be encountering now is the change to Ground admission for fans. Do you have regular support and will they be following you now you have moved ground and they will have to pay an entrance fee?
We have supporters that have been coming to watch us for years so asking them to suddenly pay an entrance fee will be difficult, but they understand that we want to progress and look upon an entry fee as helping the club move forward. We are keen to attract supporters to watch us play, especially when AUFC are playing away as we can now offer football at Homelands for those that don’t travel. I hope they come and take a look and what we are trying to achieve. I’m also keen to continue our relationship with the 26 kid’s teams that we run at Junior Level. We trained weekly last season with our Under 18s set up and 3-4 of them proved decent additions to our squad last season. From management to players we have all come through the set up so at last the kids have a team to aspire too and hopefully we can continue to push them through into our first team.
Off the field you will see no doubt have to become more professional and see workloads increase. Will you cope with the extra office duties like Social Media and Programmes?
This is the unknown part of it. We are relatively small behind the scenes with people carrying out multiple tasks, so we are on the lookout for some willing volunteers. Kevin Hayden our Secretary for over 20 years handles the paperwork seamlessly so that takes a lot of pressure of others. The programme is in its infancy but I’m sure as we get going and see how other club’s do it, will only get better as the season unfolds. The media side is shared amongst us, I think with the younger element in the club it’s something again that we will look to progress.
Well, thank you for your time Jon, you certainly have a club to be proud of and one that all of us SCEFL fans will be looking forward to seeing and visiting this coming Season.