SCEFL First Division Preview – 2022/23
The First Division season kicks off this Saturday with all teams involved aiming to follow in the steps set from last season by Stansfeld and Sutton Athletic and win promotion to Step 5 in great style.
We go into the new campaign with an 18-team league, with the 2 promoted sides being replaced by AFC Whyteleafe and Bermondsey Town while Westside and Chessington & Hook United move back nearer to home.
Whoever ends this Season at the top of the table will gain automatic promotion as Champions, while once again play-offs will give us an added promoted side, just as it did in last April’s thrilling end of season finale.
At the other end of the table the aim will be to stay out of the bottom three, as with demand to join us next year expected to be high, a trio of teams is likely to be relegated from the First Division and move into one of the feeder leagues.
Each of the 18 Clubs will have their own hopes and aspirations for this year so let’s waste no further time and have a club-by-club look at this year’s runners and riders, while hearing from some of the key people involved…
First-up we hear from AFC Whyteleafe, an interesting addition to the league with an interesting, albeit short, back-story too, having only sprouted up one year ago following the demise of Whyteleafe FC.
Dan Thomas, Commercial Director for ‘The Leafe,’ has been a busy man preparing them for life in the Southern Counties East League but fortunately he was able to give us an insight into the club.
“This summer has been as much about off-field matter as it has been on the field. We’ve brought the former Whyteleafe FC youth teams and women’s team into the AFC Whyteleafe family which has been an incredibly exciting journey. We’ve also had to charge entry for supporters for the first time and that comes with a little nervousness but our home pre-season friendlies got an average attendance of 125 and we’ve sold 117 season tickets at the time of writing which is a massive positive.
“The whole reason we started AFC Whyteleafe was to give this community something to get behind and to feel a part of so to have the support we’ve seen is amazing. We’re proud to guarantee every visiting team will receive an extremely warm reception and will be quite rightly applauded as they leave the pitch regardless of the result.
On the field, will the team be ready for the new challenge? Will last seasons squad cope with the step up?
“Our first priority was to retain the players who did so well for us last season and we managed to achieve that, bar a couple so that’s great news. We’ve also managed to add several quality additions in different positions to add competition for places and strength in depth which we know we’ll need if we’re to be competitive at this level.”
“Overall I think pre-season has gone well; we were ambitious with the games we arranged as they were against teams playing at a higher level than ourselves and that can sometimes backfire but we managed 3 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats whilst integrating new signings and U23s into the first team setup. Whilst results aren’t important it’s great psychologically to get a few wins in so we have to be happy with that!”
This month will see a first ever game in an FA Competition for AFC Whyteleafe but before that honour is the opening game of league this Saturday.
“It’s always nice to get a home game to start the season! Faversham Strike Force are the first team we get the pleasure of welcoming to Church Road and we’re really excited to get going. Funnily enough one of our supporters moved to Faversham not too long ago and attends their games occasionally so we know we’re in for a tough test early on.
“If you’re going to get an away draw in the cup, why not get one by the seaside! We’ve done our research on Wick as a club and we know that they’re a proud community club, much like ourselves and I’m sure they’ll be excellent hosts. It’s always difficult to predict what will happen over 90 minutes in a cup game and this will be our first ever FA Vase fixture so it’ll be a fantastic day out for our supporters who we expect to travel in large numbers for the game.
How will AFC Whyteleafe fare in a tough-looking Division?
“You’ve got to be in it to win it haven’t you? There are so many good sides in SCEFL One so it’s really difficult to predict especially as newcomers. The likes of Larkfield & New Hythe and Snodland Town will be likely favourites and for good reason. Rochester are very well supported too and I’m sure will fancy themselves. Ignoring our obvious bias it would be fantastic to see AFC Whyteleafe and Bermondsey Town in contention as new members of the league!
Bermondsey Town have made a big step up to join us here in the SCEFL.
The Club have worked very hard, not just over the past few months since the allocations announcement but for a year or more to ensure they are ready for this opportunity in the National League System.
Off the field they look to be in the right place, but on it are they ready? First Team Manager, Stuart Wilson, is happy with their progress.
“Pre-season has been good and a lot of work has been put into it. Performances have been positive and most importantly we have seen clear progression through pre season in terms of performances and development.
“We are probably 50/50 now in terms of players who played for us last season and new signings. As we are coming up the divisions into SCEFL it was key that we brought in some experienced players who have been at this level before. We have also brought in some exciting younger players who I think will develop into key players during the season. There has also been some really good development of the players who were with us last season – all who are keen to show what they can do at this higher level.”
What would success look like for Bermondsey Town in this debut season?
“Every game this year will be a challenging game, however we feel on our day we will be able to pick up good points from a lot of teams in the league. We are looking to get off to a good start over the first 5 games. We have a points target over the first 5 games that we will hopefully achieve and then look to push on from there.
“We are an ambitious team but also are aware about the difficulty of this league. Even though we are the newcomers we definitely feel we will be able to hold our own in the league. The chairman has set out his target and both of the managers have their targets – all of which are in the top half of the table. I think if we can finish in the top half of the table it would be a fantastic achievement.
“There’s a lot of good teams in the league but I fancy Snodland Town to win it this year however there’s a few that could be up there challenging for the title.”
Bridon Ropes missed out on the play-offs by one position last year. Can First Team Manager Uche Ibemere lead them to another strong season and maybe climb at least one place higher this time around? He begins by covering their pre-season campaign.
“It’s hard to judge where you’re at in comparison to other teams in our Division but it’s been a good 6 weeks. We’ve been as professional and organised as we can be but people go on holidays and miss games – it’s the nature of non-league football.
“Three or four key players have moved on from the club to leagues above but it gives an opportunity for other players to step up. We have always managed to find gems within the club and long may that continue.”
“We have a new management team including Frank Shaw, Matt Drysdale and Solomon Bakare and they have been excellent for us. Sometimes we underestimate the importance of good people in football and they have been amazing so far.”
Can Bridon Ropes compete for the top honours this year? And if not who will?
“It’s hard to say anything about other clubs. Players some clubs sign are known and respected at this level of football but we operate a little differently. We have a young squad this season but we want to compete. I know how strong we are and can be when everyone’s available.
“Larkfield and Snodland look good on paper. But its football, nothing is guaranteed.”
New season, new manager for Croydon FC with Tyler Chambers now tasked with improving the Trams fortunes – and he is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s an exciting season to be a Tram as there have been a great number of positive and forward-thinking changes both on and off the pitch. A relatively new and driven board, a new management team and a revamped squad who will go into the season with aspirations of blending experience in the right places with the energy and bravery that comes young players.
“With only 3 players remaining from last years’ side that after much excitement finished in a disappointing 8th place, I have brought in a number of my former Merstham U23 players. A successful trial in mid-June proved worthwhile with a sprinkle of more experienced players that have been added to bring some wisdom and balance to the side ahead of Saturdays’ start.
“Pre-season results have been mixed with games primarily concerned with looking at new players to ensure Croydon are best equipped for the upcoming season. At the time of writing, 4 days out from the start of the season, the squad has taken shape and the management team are excited to see what they can do.
“In terms of the clubs’ goals for the coming season, the board has kept it simple – improve. Improve on last year’s finish, improve on the quality of play week in week out, improve the players as individuals through excellent coaching and S&C and ultimately the team must reflect the clubs determination to be developmental and progressive in all that it does. There’s a lot of talk about budgets flying around and we have been clear that the club will invest in infrastructure – excellent coaching, PT, prehab and physio but we will not be paying our players. The focus is on providing a premium football experience for players who want to be here, improve their performance and when the time is right help them get THE RIGHT move at the right time.
“Finally, an opinion on players to keep an eye on… We have an exciting link with Kinetic Foundation in place where a number of their gifted players will be with signed to gain 1st team experience. A lot of them have a bright future in the game and we’re looking forward to seeing how this relationship pans out. That said there’s a few familiar faces that we are sure will bring their fair share of magical moments! Get down to Croydon Arena and join the ride!”
It’s SCEFL season number two for Faversham Strike Force this year and after an excellent showing last time and a new home back in their own town there is a buzz around the club ahead of the new campaign. First Team boss Stuart Benfield is happy with his preparations ahead of Saturday’s first game.
“We have had a very positive pre-season with good results against teams in steps higher than us and player preparation has gone as we would have wanted.
“We have managed to add a few new faces to the squad for this season, in key areas, which has given us more strength in depth in all positions of the team.
Away games at AFC Whyteleafe and FC Elmstead are followed by a home match against former landlords Rochester United. What can we expect from Strikeforce in those games and the season as a whole?
“We have quite a tough start to the season and also having AFC Whyteleafe first game, where we do not know what to expect, is always tougher, but it looks like all teams have strengthened their squads so it should be a really good battle this season.
“After finishing a fantastic 13th in our debut season last season, we have set a target of top ten for the squad this season and then let’s see where we end up.
“The biggest change for us this season is managing to secure a ground-share with Faversham Town and allowing our 1st team be playing back in Faversham for the 1st in nearly 10 years of playing out of the town. With the size of our junior section we are expecting big crowds at our home games.”
Progression in every department is the aim for FC Elmstead this season and after a strong pre-season with First Team Manager Peter Nolan keen to improve on last seasons mid-table finish by
“Pre season has been extremely positive, the management team planned pre season a few weeks after last season ended and we have stuck to that plan, players have responded brilliantly to what has been asked of them during sessions. As far as pre season fixtures are concerned it’s been on the main extremely positive, I am however a big believer in performance and good habits is more important than results. We as a management team have been looking at specifics from individuals and specifics as a collective and challenging players to implement these specifics over the pre season period.
“Our main focus going into pre season was to look to maintain continuity in the playing squad and retain as many of the squad as possible which we have successfully done. We then have looked at areas that needed improvements alongside some areas that needed added competition, we had some players in mind that we wanted to bring in and also had some unexpected talent come in during pre season to add to the group we already had.
“We also are delighted that Dean Rose, Alex White, Grant Duff have all come back to the club from a management perspective and we are delighted to welcome Paul Cook to the management team.”
What can we expect for FC Elmstead this season, in what looks like a very open Division?
“As far as FC Elmstead is concerned I think the aim is to be better than last season in every department. Progression is vital and progression for us is looking at our wins, our losses, our points per game average and trying to ensure all of these departments are improved. The league has 2 less teams in it so good runs of form and poor runs of form is going to be exacerbated this season and playoffs will ensure that teams are engaged until deep into the season.
“SCEFL 1 this season similar to last season is hard to predict and is seemingly an open division. I think there’s going to be some strong sides in the division notably Larkfield & Snodland and then some unknowns in AFC Whyteleafe and Bermondsey Town coming into the division mixed with a few new management teams. I think if we can learn anything from last seasons successful clubs, sides that can keep a core group together and use their prior experience will have an advantage in the long run.
“We at FC Elmstead would like to wish all clubs a successful & enjoyable season and we look forward to welcoming our opposition to Lower Road throughout the 22/23 season.”
Forest Hill Park narrowly avoided relegation last year but with a few personnel changes and a solid pre-season, First Team boss Darrell Queeley is not expecting to be looking over his shoulder this year.
“We have had a relatively pleasing pre-season where we have played some good sides and given a reasonable account of ourselves.
“There has been several changes to the squad and hopefully with some hard work we will be looking to have a better season.”
Forest Hill Park have another week before their first game at Rochester United but what can we expect from them in that game and the rest of the season?
“We visit Rochester Utd then Kent Football Utd in our first two fixtures, both teams have competed consistently over the last few seasons and no doubt will be strong outfits once again.
“Our aim is to not be in the tough situation we found ourselves in last season. It was a tough year but the boys gave us absolutely everything, we just couldn’t get the results we craved – ultimately was a last minute penalty that kept us in the league.
“We will push for the highest position the squad is capable of and every 8 games we will re-assess and set our bar.
“I am sure the league will once again be very close. Most teams will fancy their chances of gaining a playoff position.
“We eagerly look forward to the season and can’t wait to face old and new faces alike.”
Division entertainers Greenways are back for their 5th SCEFL season and following good preparation for the new campaign, Club Secretary Luke Turner can’t wait for the real stuff to get started.
“It’s been a good break and we can’t wait to get going again, so really looking forward to the season.
“Pre-season has been positive for us and given the last few pre-seasons have been affected by Covid it has been great to have a clear run at training and friendlies.
“Given the higher opposition we have faced we haven’t really focused on results but have been really happy with performances that we’ve produced.
“We have managed to keep the vast majority of last seasons squad together, which is positive for us as we had brought in quite a few players during the season. There were a couple of areas we wanted to strengthen before the start of the season, and we have definitely achieved that.
The start is a bit of an unknown but then what can we expect from Greenways this year?
“Our first two games are against the two newcomers, Bermondsey Town and AFC Whyteleafe so will be an interesting opening for us. As always, we will be hoping to get off to a strong start.
“I think once again it will be a strong and competitive season in the SCEFL Division 1. On their day, any team can beat any other team which means that every fixture is a tough one. We’ll want to be in the top-half towards the end of the season and with everything to play for in the run-in.
“A nice couple of cup-runs would be enjoyable too, especially in the FA Vase.
“Best of luck to everyone in the league and let’s hope its another great season for the SCEFL.”
Kent Football United prepared for the new season with a set of very tough friendly fixtures with the likes of Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks Town and Beckenham among the opponents for Ennio Gonnella’s men. Those games and some impressive new signings have got people looking at this corner of Dartford with an interested eye but for Ennio it’s a game by game approach before a deeper assessment in the new year.
“Preparations for the season have gone well. We chose to have a very tough pre-season and really tested ourselves against Steps 3, 4 & 5 oppositions. Results were to be expected but what you learn from them is where we are as a team and what areas we need to work on, beating teams comfortably in preseason is good for morale no doubt but also can pave over cracks that need to be worked on. I’m proud of my boys on how they have handled training and games throughout pre season.
“We have kept the majority of last years squad but have brought in 8 new additions, most of which have won this level previously with Welling Town or Erith & Belvedere for example. They have all played higher as well and bring a level of experience and maturity to the younger members of the squad.”
“For us our target is clear, we want to achieve better than last year and take it game by game. There’s always ups and downs in every season, the aim is to bounce back quickly from the lows and stay grounded on the highs. We will no doubt give it our all in every game, see where we are come Jan 2023.
“There’s certainly some big spenders this year and with the possibility of play offs again it will have even the mid-table sides thinking 5th spot is achievable – which is great for Step 6.
First-up is a trip to take on a new-look Croydon side.
“In the past and on a personal note we have always had great game against Croydon, when Liam Giles was in charge, and out of all the face to face we have had I have only lost one, which was last year. This is not something we can get carried away with this time around, as the new manager and some of the signings I’ve seen tells me its a different look at Croydon this year. We expect a tough test, but nothing new there.
“We as a club are so happy football is back, and would like to wish every club, managements & players in step 6 the very best going into the new campaign this week.”
Larkfield & New Hythe were the unlucky losers in last season Play-Off final with an extra-time Sutton Athletic goal denying them a place in the Premier Division. Can they dust themselves down and go one better this year? Manager Kris Browning hopes so but feels the league is stronger than ever.
“Yes we are all ready for our second season in SCEFL and are looking forward to it.
“Obviously we lost our play-off final last season which was disappointing but we still enjoyed our first year in the SCEFL and are now looking to get going again.
“Pre-season has gone well and we have managed to keep the majority of last seasons squad plus added some new players. I’ve also kept most of my coaching staff from last season plus I’ve been able to bring in experienced coaches Kev Brown and Mark Irvine, with Richie Butler stepping up from our reserves. Also keeping our club physio Donna Powell is a massive advantage for us.”
A couple of home games are followed by an eye-catching trip to a fellow fancied team. With a good start can Larkfield get among the mix again?
“We have Meridian VP at home first game and we’ve watched them along with our next opponents SC Thamesmead – so we know we are in for difficult games. Then we have our local rivals Snodland Town away on a Wednesday evening which I think everyone is looking forward to. They’ve improved their squad over the summer and are an established club at this level – that will no doubt will be a tough game for us.
“I personally feel the league is going to be very strong, maybe the strongest its been since it was formed and anyone on their day can beat anyone, plus the playoffs gives everyone a extra chance.
“We will as always be organised and competitive and hopefully we can do well this season.”
Lloyd Davis is looking to build on last seasons top-half finish for Lewisham Borough and during pre-season he has really pushed him team so that they are ready for all that this year will bring.
“We started our pre-season really early and the boys have worked extremely hard, we’ve really tried to raise our fitness levels.
“Our matches have all been positive and so far we have a 100% win record – we would’ve liked to play a few more though.
As for aims and personnel, Lloyd is keeping his cards close to his chest!
“We have made a few changes, and brought in a few new faces that we’re really excited about.
“I see the league this season being really competitive this year.”
It has been a busy summer in Lydd and not just with the increased temperatures bringing in extra beachgoers, the Lindsey Field has seen a lot of new faces arrive too. First Team Boss Mickey Doyle has spent time planning this season and overall is happy with his squad.
“We have managed to keep most of who we wanted to keep and improved on areas we wanted to improve on. We are still a little short in terms of squad numbers but I’m more than pleased with the lads retained and we have got in so far. We have a good blend and we have good characters too. We made some good signings in the likes of Kenny Pogue, Craig Calvert, H, Tom Barnes and Joe and a few others plus keeping Bradley Baker among others was really good for us.
“Overall, preparation has gone well. I decided to act early on getting things sorted behind the scenes bringing in Owen as my new assistant and Dexter as First team coach. We sat down with a couple of senior members of the squad and set a plan and actioned the plan best we could. Results are not everything in preseason, we looked at performances more then anything and working on and improving on certain areas, that was the aim. We played against higher opposition all the way through mainly and set out plans and see how they work.”
Mickey is keeping his season aims between him and his Team and is not one to worry about what other sides have been doing over the summer.
“The aim is to win as many games as possible, simple as that. We will look at things in blocks and set small goals/targets and yes we have long term targets that we have set ourselves but that’s for me and my management teams business.
Meridian VP Chairman and First team Manager Dwinder Tamna begins his look ahead to this season by firstly looking back on the last one – A season that was ultimately disappointing following a slow start to the campaign.
“The last season was one that had high hopes with an experienced manager on board, but in life you just don’t know which way your luck will turn and serve you.
“After I took over the manager’s position permanently at the beginning of December 2021 there was only one remit – to achieve the highest number of points and survive relegation.
“This was expertly carried out with an overhall of the squad immediately and an end result where we achieved our GOAL then looked to build from last season to this season.
“Pre-season has gone well, with the core of the squad from last season retained, these are the committed players, the ones with the ultimate good character and I believe loyalty too.
“An Influx of selected trialists have attended throughout since 11th June 2022 with mixed results, but i believe that MVP have the starting blocks to make a difference and improve enormously from last season. A good squad with depth, players with commitment and character prepared to work for their teammates is the only ingredient required to achieve the impossible.
“Pre-season friendlies have gone well out of six played with one defeat, scored 20 conceded 6. It’s the application and understanding that the gaffer is targeting in order to carry on the good work the squad have put in so far.”
The fixture fairies have handed Meridian a tricky beginning but with a good start what can we expect from VP this year?
“The month of August gives MVP a tough start, but we welcome this. First game Larkfield then Snodland, FC Elmstead, Faversham Strikeforce, Rochester, Forest Hill Park and so on. This month will be a benchmark for all teams with aspirations of the holy grail but here at MVP we look back at last season since December 2021 and believe we can and will aim for top 5 spot. Once in the playoffs, who knows, nothing is impossible.
“There are many teams that are aiming big. There are teams that are so-called favourites. Whatever happens it will be a long hard season and there will be early disappointments.
“We look forward to the future month by month and take each game as it comes, recruitment is key and a good cup runs in various competitions is also our aim this season.
“MVP will constantly be recruiting , always looking to strive forward so watch this space.
“We know this much whoever comes to face MVP rest assure you will know you been in a game… !
Last season Rochester United finished exactly in mid-table after not really getting going until the turn of the year.
Boss, Matt Hume, has brought in plenty of eye-catching new signings over the past few weeks, including Harry Taylor, David Latunde and Ryan Royston. They join a heavily-retained squad that will be keen to hit the ground running and learn from the mistakes made before.
First-up for The Spartans is a home match against SC Thamesmead while 7 days later Forest Hill Park are the visitors to Rede Court Road.
Following those games we should know more about Rochester United and know whether their name will be going alongside others that will be competing towards the top end of the table.
Four successive defeats from the off pretty much killed the promotion hopes of SC Thamesmead early on last year and although they rallied late in the day to finish a creditable 7th the damage was done in that opening month – a lesson keen to not be repeated.
But the start to the 2022/23 season looks like a tough one for The Acre.
Saturday brings a tough-looking trip to Rochester United before Larkfield & New Hythe are the destination in week two. A third road to to Bridon Ropes is then followed by the visit of AFC Whyteleafe to Bayliss Avenue, with Croydon the visitors following an FA Vase date with Tooting Bec.
Pre-season results look impressive but little else is known of the preparations of Aaron Jeffrey’s men. By 5pm on Saturday may have a clue as to whether they can be among the promotion contenders – by the end of August we should know much more.
Snodland Town go into this season as one of the favourites for glory this year with a strong showing last time and impressive incomings meaning many have predicted this could be their year. Manager Luke Wallond is hoping to better 2021/22s play-off finish and believes that with a good pre-season behind them they are well placed to do just that.
“Preparations for the new season have gone well on and off the pitch.
“On the pitch we have played Erith and Belvedere (5-1 win), Canterbury City (5-1 win), Hythe Town (3-0 loss), Crowborough Ath (3-2 win), Glebe (2-0 loss), Lordswood (3-3), Kings Hill (2-2).
“Off the pitch we have had work carried out to improve the playing surface, new dug outs have been constructed and other works throughout the ground to improve the facilities.
“We have made a few changes to the squad bringing in Rob Deness, Josh Froggatt Regan Corke, Chris Webber, Harry Main and Kieran Rufus among others. We have also managed to retain all of the players that were in the squad last season that we were hoping to keep.”
It’s FC Elmstead at home, Meridian VP away then an interesting looking match against Larkfield & New Hythe for your opening trio of fixtures.
“Happy to get a home game first fixture of the season. We have a tough local derby 3 weeks into the season. I feel that most games this season will be fairly evenly matched, as looking at other sides pre season preparations/ signings, they are all making improvements.
“I think all managers will be aiming to finish as high as they possibly can. After experiencing the play offs last year and having that as a target to aim for through the season, I think it’s great the league has kept that for this season. After losing in the semi, I’d like to go one better and avoid them this year if possible. With all the improvements as mentioned previously, the club is hoping for us to finish as high as we possibly can and gain promotion, so we will do our best.
“I’d also like to give a quick thank you to everyone behind the scenes at the club for all their efforts to help with the push this season and hopefully if results go our way, our attendances will improve which will make for a great atmosphere when playing at home. I also hope the loyal supporters that travelled with us to away games last year will continue to do so.”
Staplehurst Monarchs enter their second campaign in the SCEFL with a new manager on board and some exciting times ahead.
Chair, Nic Stonebridge looks ahead to a big year for the Club.
“The start of the 22/23 season sees a new management team, led by Paul Atkins, take the helm at Staplehurst to move us forward into what promises to be an exciting time. Preseason has brought some great results, and our opening fixtures against Bridon Ropes and Croydon will certainly be challenging, plus we look forward to hosting Pagham in the FA Vase later in the month.
“Looking ahead, we are also excited to be part of the inaugural SCEFL Groundhop weekend in October.”
“Another exciting development is our U23 team, led by Lee Mackelden, entering the SCEFL Development League. This gives our club a real pathway between the flourishing Junior Section and the First Team, and Thursday nights under the lights will, we’re sure, be fantastic.
“We also hope to develop our home ground by adding a clubhouse to provide the best matchday experience and benefit the wider community. Plans for this are underway, as are those for a 3G pitch.
“All in all, we hope to take our experience of last season and build on it to achieve our targets!”
An impressive first SCEFL season saw Tooting Bec finish in play-off spot and although they couldn’t capitalise from there that 5th placed ending and the lifting of the London Senior Trophy has set a benchmark as to what we should expect from them this year.
Bec have a new home.
Imperial Fields has been swapped for the NRT Stadium, Chipstead with the hope being that the settling in period is a quick one that does not set them back.
First-up for Bec is a trip to the coast where Lydd Town await before the banks of the Thames is destination number two and a date with the Bermondsey Boys.
Croydon visit for Tooting’s debut home match of a season that they hope will end in glory and if last year is anything to go by, that could well be the case.
The League Season begins on Saturday 6th August with all fixtures being found here
All Managers or Clubs were sent requests for input.
The Premier Division preview can be viewed here