Two of the best three teams in last season’s exciting South East Counties League have given up the chance of promotion as the curse of university strikes.
Worthing Minors, the Division 1 West champions, and Abbey Rangers, who finished third, have both declined promotion to the league’s Premier Division after losing so many players since the end of last season.
Only Seahaven Harriers, who finished second, missing out on the title on goal difference, from the division have elected to accept promotion, as have Division 1 East winners Ashford.
The decision not to go up will have come as a big blow to both sets of players following a magnificent season in which the top three were all in with a chance of the championship until almost the very end.
But Minors manager Andy Burling says it would be footballing suicide to have moved into the higher division shorn of at least half his title-winning side. And he revealed he is struggling to make the deadline for registering sufficient players to compete in the division they won last season.
“The players situation is absolutely dire at the moment,” he said. “I’ve lost five to university. One has gone to Brighton and another may also be leaving. That’s six gone already, just off the top of my head.”
Burling, who used 25 players (only 11 of whom played more than 10 games) in steering Minors to a dramatic championship win last season, says he could not risk takíng a team shorn both of numbers and quality into a higher division and admitted the strains of being a stand-alone club, with no support from a men’s side or youth structure, were beginning to tell.
He told Sent Her Forward: “We’re going to be struggling. We played Dorking last season with eight players [and won]. We couldn’t do that in the Premier Division.
“The girls said, ‘Let’s go for it and see what happens’, but at the moment we’ve got six [players] – and that isn’t enough.”
Burling said a new league rule this coming season requires participating teams to have 14 players signed 21 days before the start of the season, and he admitted: “We’re struggling with that.”
“Everybody’s trying to get new blood, new players, but it’s difficult, isn’t it? When you’re not part of a big set-up, like Eastbourne [Ladies and Girls FC], who have got players coming through from under-16s, under-18s… we don’t have that sort of facility.”
However, he remains optimistic that new players will arrive. “Every year we say this. Every year we struggle. But something always happens.”
Indeed, it happened in sufficient numbers last term for Minors to race to 13 successive wins before being hauled back by Seahaven and Abbey, eventually sealing the title on the final day.
He said one or two players had already shown an interest in joining, and – like so many other teams in the area – they will be looking to attract more to their club in the coming weeks.
Abbey, too, who gave Minors and Seahaven such a run for their money, are believed to have been hit hard by players leaving.
Manager Paul Johnson has not been available to explain the details, but the South East Counties Women’s Football League constitution for the coming season says Worthing Minors and Abbey asked not to be promoted “due to a loss of players”.
The exodus to university is a problem that also appears to have afflicted Long Lane Reserves, the runaway winners of the Kent Division, who have scrapped the team after losing a number of players.
With five teams being promoted into Division 1 West and three leaving, through Seahaven’s promotion and the relegation of Burgess Hill Town 2nds and Dorking, the division will expand by two this season to a dozen sides (subject to late amendments) – the largest of all the South East regional leagues.
The new-look division includes many new names – some through promotion; others through amalgamations or title changes.
Wivelsfield Green, who switched to Haywards Heath Town’s Hanbury Stadium last year, are now known as Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield.
Adur Athletic will be known as Shoreham and Adur after merging with Shoreham FC Youth, and Hurstpierpoint, one of a surprise four sides promoted from the Sussex County Women and Girls Football League, are listed on the league constitution as Cowfold, again reflecting where they play their home matches.
With three other powerful sides joining them from the county league – champions Lancing, Rottingdean Village and Crawley Wasps – and Fulham Foundation‘s reserves side also being promoted, from the Surrey County League, the competition promises to be tougher than ever this time around.
South East Counties Women’s Football League 2015/16
|Premier Division||Division 1 West||Division 1 East||Kent Division|
|Anchorians||Abbey Rangers||Anchorians 2nds||Anchorians 3rds|
|Ashford||Bexhill United Res||Aylesford Res||Chatham Town|
|Burgess Hill Town||Cowfold||Barming||Larkfield|
|Crockenhill||Crawley Wasps Res||Castle Colts||London Corinthians Res|
|Dartford Royals||Fulham Foundation Res||Charlton Ath Dev||Margate|
|Eastbourne||Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield||Cray Valley||Sheerness East|
|Hassocks||Lancing||Faversham Strike Force||Swale|
|Long Lane||Milford & Witley||Prince of Wales||Teynham Gunners|
|Meridian||Rottingdean Village||South Park||Tunbridge Wells Ridgeway|
|Parkwood Rangers||Shoreham & Adur||Thanet Colts||University of Kent|
|Seahaven Harriers||Worthing Minors|
NB Composition of divisions subject to change before start of the season
Information courtesy of L&SEWRFL/SECWFL
South Park head east
Division 1 East also expands by two – to 10 clubs – losing only Ashford, who are promoted to the Premier Division, and gaining Barming, promoted from the Kent Division, South Park, relegated from the Premier Division, and Cray Valley.
Neither of the Kent Division’s top two are being promoted – Long Lane Reserves, last season’s champions with a 100% record, having pulled out and London Corinthians Reserves declining after losing a number of players to Cray Valley, according to the league.
Instead, Cray Valley – with a number of the ex-Corinthians players who would otherwise have been promoted – will go straight into the eastern half of Division 1, along with Barming, who actually finished fourth in the Kent Division but are promoted.
Prince of Wales, who finished second to Ashford in Division 1 East last season, chose not to take promotion, and will be among the favourites to take the title this time around – providing they are not unduly affected by the call of university.
But probably the strangest twist in a division full of them comes with the relegation of Surrey side South Park, based further west than half the Division 1 West teams, into the eastern section.
League secretary Greg Petts said the club, based close to the M25, in Reigate, who finished bottom of the Premier Division for the second campaign in a row, would actually be less affected by the extra travelling than any of the teams in the west division.
He told Sent Her Forward: “It adds an average of 32 minutes per game to their travel time, but that was far less than [that of] any of the other 12 teams in Division 1 West.”
Petts said South Park – who were spared relegation when they finished bottom two seasons ago – had been informed earlier this month and had made no comment. They were not represented at the league’s agm last week, he said.
There was no relegation from Division 1 East, which even with the addition of the three new sides still has only 10 teams.
The Kent County Division increases from nine to 10 clubs, having lost promoted Barming and disbanded Long Lane Reserves but gaining three new sides – Larkfield, Chatham Town and Tunbridge Wells Ridgeway, who won the Kent Under-18 Division last season.
Herne Bay success story continues
The South East’s top two grassroots leagues continue to flourish, as the prize for success becomes ever more attractive.
The Premier Division of the South East Counties league expands by one club while the London & South East Regional league’s Premier Division remains at 12, with the town of Eastbourne being the biggest beneficiary of the moves.
Hassocks, who won only two games in the London & South East league last season, have been relegated to the South East Counties Premier, but Eastbourne Town, whose horrendous second half to the competition meant they ended the campaign second from bottom, also with only two victories, have been spared the drop.
Emma Parslow’s side took only two points in the second half of the season, but they did the league proud on their record-breaking FA Cup run, during which they beat Premier League Queens Park Rangers before taking Derby County, another Premier League side, to extra-time.
The league constitution says only that Eastbourne Town “wished to be retained” in the London & South East league.
Their neighbours, Eastbourne, enjoyed a similar escape in the SECWFL Premier Division. They finished second from bottom, above South Park, but appear to have been spared after both Worthing Minors and Abbey Rangers declined a promotion that would surely have put one of them in their place.
Dartford Royals, whose season-long tussle with Herne Bay in the South East Counties League Premier Division and League Cup did the league much credit, have declined promotion to the London & South East league, where ground and playing requirements are more demanding.
Bay, who finished second, three points behind, are promoted in their stead – their third promotion in their three years in existence.
They were formed in time for the 2012/13 season, which they celebrated with a treble of Kent County Divison title, the Kent Plate and the Divisional Cup.
The following season they were again promoted after finishing second in Division 1 East – retaining the Kent Plate and winning the League Cup at the first attempt for good measure.
And last season, when they retained that League Cup, saw their third successive promotion, this time to the even more exacting London & South East League, just one step away from the FAW Premier League pyramid.
They are joined in the London regional league by Camden Town, who were promoted from the Greater London Women’s Football League, while champions Old Actonians – who have been promoted to the Premier League’s second tier – and Hassocks, at the other end, depart.
In the South East Counties Premier Division, Eastbourne’s reprieve, together with the promotion into it of the two Division 1 winners, mean it gains a club.
Relegated L&SERWFL club Hassocks join promoted Seahaven and Ashford, while only Herne Bay (promoted to the L&SERWFL) and South Park (relegated to Division 1 East) leave.
London & South East Regional Women’s League 2015/16
NB Composition of division subject to change before start of the season
Information courtesy of L&SEWRFL/SECWFL