Three more South East sides with no little pedigree have gone to the wall even before the grassroots season has kicked off.
South Park and Seahaven Harriers have pulled out of the South East Counties Division 1 East and Premier Division respectively after failing to attract sufficient players.
And Kent side Anchorians, who only last season introduced a third team, giving them representation in all three South East Counties divisions, have withdrawn their senior side from the Premier Division.
The triple blow to an exciting and enterprising league that featured some of the most entertaining games I watched last season comes only a month or two after another SECWFL manager spoke of the difficulties of sustaining an adequate squad when college and university calls.
Andy Burling, manager of last season’s Division 1 West champions Worthing Minors, said his side had reluctantly elected not to take promotion after losing a number of key players to higher education and to bigger clubs.
He said Minors were struggling to build a squad, although Sent Her Forward understands things are now looking rosier for the Worthing side.
The same cannot be said for their title rivals Seahaven, who missed out on the championship on goal difference. They opted to take promotion, even though their own manager, Andy Ring, had expressed doubts about the size of the squad to Sent Her Forward.
They have informed the SECWFL that they will not be taking part in this year’s Premier Division. League secretary Greg Petts said both Seahaven and South Park had cited lack of player commitment.
Sent Her Forward understands that Ring has stepped down and the Division 1 West runners-up in each of the past two seasons have reluctantly called it a day following the departure of a number of players, including star striker Lauren Smith, who has joined Premier League Lewes.
As well as a couple heading for university, Sent Her Forward understands a couple more players are due to go travelling.
No-one at South Park was there to stand up for us – Charley Thorne, South Park LFC
Meanwhile, Surrey side South Park have also folded following their relegation from the Premier Division. But their demise appears to have less to do with education than in-house squabbles and neglect.
Just over two years ago the Reigate-based side narrowly missed out on promotion to the Combination after finishing second in their first season in the league, following a dramatic rise from the depths of the Surrey County League, whose cup they won along the way.
But after finishing bottom two years in a row – escaping relegation in the first of those – and being moved to Division 1 East of the SECWFL – which features largely Kent sides – for the coming campaign, they, too, have folded before the season has begun.
Run by the players
Long-serving player Charley Thorne explained to Sent Her Forward that a disastrous combination of circumstances had led to the club’s demise.
“Last season we didn’t really have a manager,” she explained. “We were self-running.”
Having fallen out with the previous management regime, the players also asked the replacement to leave after a disappointing start. But with no natural successor, things went from bad to worse, she said.
“Because we had no manager, there was a lack of organisation and leadership within the team. We didn’t really get much support from the [men’s] club in helping us to find a new manager. We didn’t have any linos, we didn’t have any physios. We didn’t even have a medical bag.”
The 21-year-old added: “We were pretty much running ourselves, which the players got fed up with. They wanted to just play football. They didn’t want to have all the stress of having to run a team, put training together and all of that.
“That led to players leaving, which led to us having a shortage of players, which led to us not doing very well, which ultimately led to us being relegated.”
Moved in their absence
Thorne’s father, Rob, a former coach of the team, had offered to step in temporarily this season to keep the side running. But with fewer than the requisite minimum of 14 players committed to continuing by the league registration deadline, they decided to call it a day.
Thorne added: “It’s very frustrating, especially because I’ve played for South Park for so long. I’ve never played for another football team in my whole footballing life, so I very much wanted to keep South Park going.”
With communications between what was left of the senior ladies side and South Park officials close to non-existent, the final straw came when they failed to attend the league agm because notification of the meeting had not been passed on to them – and discovered that in their absence they had been put in Division 1 East, which is full of Kent sides, rather than Division 1 West following their relegation.
“No-one at South Park was there to stand up for us,” said Thorne. “There was therefore nothing that we could do.
“And the fact that we got put in that division meant that girls who were coming along, interested in joining [the team] were finding out that we were playing an hour and a half away from our ground on a regular basis – obviously, we would have to fund our away travel – and said it was just too far.”
Ironically, the call of university would not have been a problem – the majority of the side that had been so successful over the past five years have finished their higher education, and those who were due to step up from South Park’s under-18 side – which has also now folded – are too young.
Those emerging from the sad chaos that has cost the league a fine team are now looking elsewhere, with many joining either Crawley Wasps or Burgess Hill Town.
But the news has stunned many of those with connections to the former team.
Millie Spencer, their former vice-captain, said: “It’s a shame to see all the long-standing players leave a club they were very passionate about. Some of the team still remain friends and are looking forward to the opportunity of moving on to other clubs.”
Charlotte Barnham, a former captain, who had also played a big role in the development of the Surrey side – and in raising their profile – before spending the past two years at college in the United States, said: “I’m truly devastated to hear that South Park have withdrawn from the league.
“Being a part of the club from the age of 11, I’ve seen so much hard work, passion and commitment go into building and developing a fantastic ladies’ team.
“We were successful in previous years, but unfortunately things did not continue in this way. I wish all the players the best of luck for the future and I hope to see a ladies’ team back at Park as soon as possible.
“I hope the remaining female teams from the younger age groups continue to grow and make the most of the outstanding facilities that South Park has to offer.”
Anchorians scrap first team
As if that double blow was not enough, Sent Her Forward understands that Anchorians, a long-standing member of the Premier Division, have also disbanded their senior side, although the second and third teams are understood to be continuing.
League secretary Greg Petts said: “Anchorians had very few first team players left at the club, with most either retiring after long football careers or just finding commitment to another season too demanding. As a result, they would not be in a position to field three teams in the coming season.”
He added: “They requested that they be allowed to keep the Seconds’ and Thirds’ league positions and give up the Premier Division slot held by the Firsts, as they do not have enough players strong enough to be competitive at that level or that wished to commit to the higher travel demands of the Premier Division.”
He added: “Many of the players that had left the squad had played over 160 games in the SECWFL for Anchorians.”
With the South East Counties season due to start on September 6, there are now just nine sides in the Premier Division.
With Worthing Minors and Abbey Rangers both declining promotion, Division 1 West has a healthy-looking 12 teams, while Division 1 East is now down to nine, too. The Kent County Division also has nine.