Vicky Holness’s goals have played a major part in Herne Bay’s rapid rise in the past two years – yet if manager Anthony Deer had not trusted his instincts, their 100-goal star striker might have been playing in defence.
Yes, that’s right: 100 goals – and some, to be precise. In two seasons.
The 19-year-old’s incredible scoring record has helped her hometown club to five trophies in their first two seasons in existence – with the tantalising prospect of another promotion after finishing runners-up last month in Division One East of the South East Counties Women’s League.
Holness has banged in no fewer than 114 goals in 54 competitive matches – including 79 in 34 league games – at more than two goals a game.
Yet when she went to the club for a trial, she expected to start at the back.
She told Sent Her Forward: “I used to play centre-back. It wasn’t until I came to Herne Bay that I started playing up front. I played centre-midfield once, but I played centre-back.”
The precocious, prolific, talent admitted: “I’ve always been able to score goals, maybe long-distance.”
But it took a bit of managerial intuition to turn her into the sensation that she has now become.
“Deery (Herne Bay manager Anthony Deer) knew that I could score goals, so he just thought why not play her up front? I’m quite quick as well, so that always helps.”
Her manager recalls things rather differently. “She told me she was a striker!” he quipped.
‘Bit of luck’
Deer admits to knowing nothing about her when she turned up at Herne Bay, a teenager already playing at a higher level with London Corinthians but attracted by the prospect of playing on her own doorstep.
“We had open trials (before their opening league campaign in 2012/13),” he said. “Tor was playing for London Corinthians but lives in Herne Bay. She came for a couple of training sessions.
“I think [striker] is her preferred position. She had been playing in all positions as a kid, but she likes scoring goals, so I put her there.”
The teenager scored five goals on her debut, in a 10-1 win at Swale, and eight in a 16-0 victory in their next away game.
“From that moment I knew I was on to someone really good,” says Deer. “It was a bit of luck, but that’s how football goes.”
Not surprisingly, Holness won Herne Bay’s player-of-the-season and top-scorer awards in that initial season. This time, after she pipped fellow striker Harriet Chapman to become top scorer again, the club had to fork out for another award to recognise her achievement of a century of goals during only her second season.
Holness has played football since she was four. She credits her father for her early involvement after she asked him to take her to play football instead of going to gymnastics.
“I’ve been playing it ever since. He has taken me around the whole country, playing for (Charlton Athletic and Gillingham academies). If I’ve wanted to do something, and he could, he’s just always taken me to do it,” she says.
“He enjoyed watching, and obviously I clearly enjoyed it. We’ve always gone to football together.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. Even now that I’m driving, I still go to football with him, and he still comes every week.”
On alternate Sundays that now means a much shorter journey for the Holness family as the teenage talent bangs in the goals for Herne Bay – and although her scoring exploits have obviously attracted attention from other clubs (and earned her representative honours with the Kent FA women’s side), it will take some persuading to lure her away from the club that she has fallen in love with.
Goals for fun
|Debut:||Sep 2 2012 v Swale (a)||Won 10-1 (scored five)|
|2012/13:||League: 66 goals (21 games)||Total: 87 goals (30 games)|
|2013/14:||League: 13 goals (13 games)||Total: 27 goals (24 games)|
|Total to date:||League: 79 goals (34 games)||Total: 114 goals (54 games)|
|100 goals:||Feb 16 2014 v West Kent (44 games)||Won 14-1 (scored four)|
|Hat-tricks:||20 (including eight in a match; seven (twice); six; five (twice))||Average 2.1 goals per game|
Source: Herne Bay LFC/Steve Barton
She regards her switch from the London & South East Regional League to one three tiers below almost as a progressive move and hesitates before acknowledging that it was a step down.
“I guess,” she says. “But it’s got to the point now where I just want to play football because I enjoy it, and it’s something that I want to do in my life because I enjoy doing it, not because of the level it’s at.
“It’s nice to play locally and my family and friends can come and watch.”
But as Holness explains the reasons for her move, almost as if she needs to justify it, she hits upon what surely is the reason behind her incredible scoring feats.
“It’s a really nice team,” she starts. “I’ve never played for a football team where every single girl in the team is my friend. I’ve never enjoyed playing as much as I have (for Herne Bay).”
And nowhere is that more evident than in her partnership with Chapman, her fellow striker, who joined the club last summer.
The pair have terrorised most defences they’ve played against, and Holness says: “She’s an absolutely brilliant player. She only joined this season. She’s played quite a high level of football, but it shocked both of us how well we played together.
“It’s hard to find someone who can read the game in the same way as you. I feel like we know what each other is going to do. It’s really easy to play with someone who you know that well, and it helps that we get on so well.
“I’ve never had a partnership like that with anyone.”
There for the team
Moreover, she says the limelight she has earned after scoring 114 of Herne Bay’s 312 competitive goals does not attract jealousy or envy among her team-mates.
“Not at all in any way. With Harriet, we work so well together that it’s not about ourselves, it’s about scoring goals together and for the whole team.
“That’s why it’s so nice to play with the girls. None of them are about themselves. We’re all out there for the team.”
Those friendships forged and the camaraderie the team enjoy mean she is in no hurry to leave – especially as the club’s rate of progress is matching hers.
Champions of the Kent Division in their first season and winners of both the Divisional Cup and Kent Plate, Herne Bay continued to snap up the trophies in their second season.
The Plate was retained, but in what many regard as their best achievement to date, Bay also won the South East Counties Women’s League Cup, beating Bexhill United, the champions of the division above them, in the final.
Yet they couldn’t quite clinch a second successive league championship, finishing a solitary point behind Long Lane and now sweating on whether they will be promoted to the Premier Division as runners-up, or at least have a stab at a play-off.
Deer realises the interest will come, but he’s sanguine about the outcome. “Gillingham had a chat when she was playing for Kent,” he said. “If clubs come in, great. But she has to be unhappy before she moves on. ”
Holness says: “When I was younger I’d probably say I wanted to play professionally. But I think now, where I’ve done that, and I’ve played for Charlton and Gillingham when I was younger, I just want to be enjoying it.
“As long as I’m playing football with a group of girls around me that are all lovely, and I’m enjoying it, then I don’t care what level I’m at.
‘Happy where I am’
“I’ve just got through my Kent trials, so I’ll be playing for Kent next season. That’s a high level, and maybe a route… if there are scouts around. But I’m completely happy where I am.”
Inadvertently putting her finger on one of the issues that still concerns those playing a good standard of women’s football outside the Women’s Super League, Holness adds: “There is not enough in girls’ football to want to pursue it and say that you want to be a professional because I just don’t think it’s worth it.”
She acknowledges: “It would be amazing to play professionally and maybe play for your country, but as long as I’m enjoying it, then I think what happens happens.”
Time will tell, of course. If Holness continues banging them in at a rate of two a game and the scouts come knocking, maybe the lure will be just too much.
If not, who would be brave enough to bet against her scaling such heights with Herne Bay?
“It would be absolutely amazing. we’ve got a few positive things coming out of the club. Everyone’s enjoying it, and I think we’ve got the ability to be successful.”
Even thinking about the possibility of playing at a higher level again next season, Holness exudes the confidence – though most definitely not arrogance – that is a hallmark of her club.
“A few of the (higher-league) teams that we played last season, in cup ties or cup finals, they’ve obviously been a threat to us, but they haven’t, I don’t think, tested us to our full ability.
“We have obviously beaten them, so I don’t see why, if we did get promoted this season, we can’t go on and win that league.”