They forsook promotion after winning a thrilling championship on the final day because of a player exodus, but Worthing Minors have no doubt that come next May, when they look almost certain to be celebrating another title, this time they will take it as they begin a seemingly inevitable march towards the big time.
Worthing’s fortunes have fluctuated dramatically in the past few months: after a brilliant season in South East Counties Division 1 West, which they led for virtually the entire campaign before almost being overtaken on the line by Seahaven Harriers, they were then plunged into panic after losing a number of key players, including top scorer Danni Lane to Premier League Lewes.
Manager Andy Burling claimed just two months ago that he wasn’t sure he would find enough players to meet the league’s registration deadline, with Lane’s sister, Hannah, also leaving, Hayley Bridge joining Brighton and a number of others heading for university.
But in a turn-up every bit as stunning as some of their performances last season, Minors have not only made up the numbers but added genuine quality to their squad, making them an outstanding bet to repeat their title triumph.
They have exploited unrest at league rivals Wivelsfield Green (now Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield) by signing five of their former players, and have added Angharad Hills, who kept goal for the now disbanded Seahaven last season.
And – in what could be the biggest coup of them all – they have snapped up talented winger Naomi Robinson from Premier Division Burgess Hill Town.
Burling told Sent Her Forward: “The last time I spoke to you I was dreading what I was going to do. But it’s all looking good now. Our squad is now stronger than last year.”
The addition of Hills and Becky Simmonds has eradicated one of Minors’ perceived weaknesses last season when they were so desperate for a goalkeeper that outfield players regularly donned the number-one shirt and Burling’s wife, Sarah, also played a number of games there, having never played competitive football before.
Burling has signed again this season as Minors scrambled around to register enough players in time for the deadline. But her husband doesn’t envisage her playing this time.
Since those doom-laden days of late June, Minors have been transformed, and if anything look considerably stronger than the side that won the league, scoring 83 goals last season.
And Burling said: “They all fit in really well. There’s a good team spirit. If we win [the league] again, I think we’ll take [promotion] this time.”
All change at Worthing – key moves over the summer
- Danni Lane (Lewes)
- Hannah Lane (unavailable)
- Hayley Bridge (Brighton)
- Caz Hodgson (university)
- Phoebe Thorpe (university)
- Brooke Marshall (university)
- Emma Chrimes (Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield)
- Kim Hughes (Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield)
- Claudia Vogel (Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield)
- Katie Lambert (Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield)
- Hayley Moore (Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield)
- Naomi Robinson (Burgess Hill Town)
- Angharad Hills (Seahaven Harriers)
- Becky Simmonds (unattached)
But Minors’ fortune is another team’s suffering, and Wivi find themselves without five crucial personnel on the eve of the new season.
Star striker Emma Chrimes and Kim Hughes have both left the club following an internal disagreement.
Claudia Vogel, Chrimes’ strike partner, and Hayley Moore have also followed, as has Katie Lambert, one of the finest defenders in the division, although her loss is tempered by the fact that her limited availability meant she played only eight times for the Mid Sussex club last term.
Wivi, who have changed names after developing a closer relationship with Haywards Heath’s men’s side, whose Hanbury Stadium they now use, have a reasonably large squad, but are especially short of a regular goal supply following the departure of both Chrimes and Vogel, who scored more than half the team’s 75 league goals last term.
However, they specialise in defying the odds, and will undoubtedly approach the new season with as much enthusiasm and determination as they have each preceding one.
But Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield, Abbey Rangers – who finished third last season – and the influx of teams promoted en masse from the Sussex County League will need more than those qualities if they are to deny Minors a second successive title.
And with no worries about losing players to university next year, promotion this time could really be a watershed moment for Worthing.
- Minors start the defence of their title tomorrow against Milford & Witley at Northbrook recreation ground, their new home. Haywards Heath & Wivelsfield visit Shoreham & Adur. Sent Her Forward will bring news of both these plus all the other local and Premier League games in the coming days.