Wivi have called it a day. After withdrawing from the South East Counties league midway through last season through a lack of numbers, Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield have decided not to risk re-forming – but their spirit will live on at the heart of a brand new club, Saltdean United Ladies.
The core of last season’s side – most of whom were part of the club’s previous incarnation as Wivelsfield Green – are to become part of an exciting new venture at Saltdean, under the management of Joe McTiffen, who earlier this year led BHASVIC to the final of the national colleges cup competition.
Many of his college players, along with the Wivi core, are expected to join him at Saltdean in what promises to be a powerful addition to either the South East Counties or Sussex County league.
And pitting his wits against them may well be another young manager, Jason Downer, who has returned to management as boss of another newly formed team based at an established men’s club, Worthing United.
With a number of other new sides in south Sussex understood to be preparing to join the fray, the coming season looks set for a welcome boost in team numbers – or a frantic scramble among those remaining for the available players.
Neither manager is yet prepared to reveal his playing hand, with many of the recruits expected to be leaving their current sides.
But with the BHASVIC connection at Saltdean and Worthing United under the guidance of former Lancing and Hangleton Rangers boss Downer, both sides are sure to have some top-class grassroots players in their ranks.
Wivi’s future was determined effectively by a lack of viable alternatives. The club dropped out of the South East Counties league last November after struggling to muster a basic 11 for a number of fixtures.
They had hoped to re-form or be absorbed into another club, and the opportunity to use Saltdean’s highly rated facilities under an equally highly thought-of new manager, combining their experience with the talent and enthusiasm of the youngsters he hopes to bring to the club, proved to be a clincher.
Sarah Smart, who has managed, captained and played for Wivi in its various guises, told Sent Her Forward: “I was originally put in touch with Joe via Andrea (Barnard, a team-mate at Haywards Heath and Wivelsfield), but had already heard a lot about him over the past couple of years through his work at BHASVIC – quite a few of the college girls he has trained have also passed through here, and I had only ever heard good things.
“He has sent me information regarding the pitch (which is being relaid), etc, and the facilities do look amazing. So despite the offers I had from elsewhere, I felt that this would be the most promising and secure offer for the [Wivi] ladies.”
Smart, 28, who hopes to be able to assist McTiffen but plans to focus on playing after years of combining on- and off-field duties, is obviously sad at Wivi’s demise after more than a decade in the south-eastern leagues.
But she is pragmatic – and optimistic for the future.
“I have always been keen to continue with Wivi and it was always going to be a sad day if it ended. But I think, unfortunately, the time has come for a new start and until I am in a better position to lead a team again, this is the best decision I can make for the team members who remain.”
Smart expects Barnard and around half a dozen other Wivi players to join her in the move to the outskirts of Brighton, providing a degree of experience that every young side needs.
Negotiations are continuing on whether Saltdean will play in the county league or start life at the next level, in the South East Counties, where Wivi left off.
Certainly, if the quality of young player that McTiffen hopes to attract to Saltdean does indeed join Smart and co, they will not be out of place at the higher level.
This is excellent news for me, as they have experience of playing the ladies’ leagues in Sussex – Joe McTiffen, manager, Saltdean United
McTiffen, who has an excellent relationship with the girls of BHASVIC, whom he led to new heights this season, told Sent Her Forward: “Being a teacher, I would say that I am managing players/students every day. But coaching the BHASVIC ladies over the last few years, there have been some real special moments that have developed me as a coach.
“Every year I lose five or six players who would either go off to university or get themselves a job locally in Sussex. I then started to think, what if I could keep them and have a couple of additions… what a side we could have. So after speaking to a few clubs, I decided that Saltdean FC was the best option.”
McTiffen, 27, plays for the Saltdean men’s side and said the clincher was when club chairman Kevin Ratcliffe said he would back the addition of a ladies’ side.
“The club has had some big improvements – the changing room and club house have been totally refurbished… It now has a real community feel to it.
“The pitch is being ripped up and started again… which should make it one of the best pitches in the country.”
— Saltdean Ladies FC (@Saltdeanladies) April 29, 2017
McTiffen was made aware of Wivi’s plight by Barnard, one of his former players who has matured into one of the top young talents in Sussex.
“She wasn’t at a club due to the folding of Wivi, but I knew she had a group of girls who were still keen to play,” he said. “After discussions with her and [Smart]… I told them my aims for the season, the way I work and what we would have to offer at Saltdean FC.
“They both liked what I said and have decided to come over with a number of their players.
“This is excellent news for me, as they have experience of playing the ladies’ leagues in Sussex, and it is important to have a good number of ladies to work with throughout the season.”
Smart, too, believes the experience of the more senior players could be invaluable.
“The age and experience that – however few – we may bring may be a real asset to the young and determined girls he will be bringing into ladies football,” she said. “It can be quite a leap from girls’/youth football – especially in terms of physicality and the mental aspects of the game. So hopefully my 20-plus years may be of some use to him.”
Both parties also believe Smart’s knowledge of the leagues and players could prove useful.
Smart added: “I have definitely missed football as it has always been my outlet for all the things that happen in my life, and to not have had that has been a very difficult time for me.
“But I have new boots and they are polished and ready to go.”
First pre-season friendly: August 27 v Kent Football United
Open trials 12 noon, July 16, Saltdean FC
Contact Joe McTiffen on 07912 992479
Another young coach returns to the game after a couple of years out of the front line.
Jason Downer made a big impact at Hangleton Rangers, where he led a superb under-18 side to an ultimately unsuccessful title play-off in 2013/14 before setting up Lancing Ladies the following season.
Lancing roared to the Sussex County Women’s League title in their debut season, losing just one game all campaign, before Downer took a back seat following their promotion to the South East Counties League.
Life in the higher league proved a bit of a nightmare for a team who not only lost their manager early in the campaign but also many of the players who had helped them get there, and their stay in the South East Counties league lasted a single season.
Last year, with Downer as chairman, the club stabilised again, missing out on the league title to a fine Oakwood side. But Downer has now left and Sent Her Forward understands the club is unlikely to enter a team next season.
Senior women’s sides in Worthing
- Worthing Ladies
- Worthing Town
- Worthing United
But Downer, 26, whose work and family commitments are now slightly more flexibile, is keen to get back into management – and Worthing United is his chosen destination.
He told Sent Her Forward: “I got in contact with [chairman] Steve Taylor about the possibility of getting involved with the male teams… and Steve asked if i would be interested in the Ladies team he and [former Lewes Development coach] Jordan Lucas had been talking about starting at the club.”
Downer added: “If I was going to get back into management I wanted it to be with the right club. Worthing United have a great set-up. We have a brand new stand going in next month, pitch works taking place to improve the playing surface and most of all are really supporting equality with the men’s and ladies’ teams.
“Steve is really backing the ladies’ side, which is fantastic to have.”
Worthing United – the town’s third women’s club – will begin life in the Sussex County Women’s League, and Downer expects to have some familiar players at his disposal.
He declined to discuss them publicly for much the same reason as McTiffen, but given his Lancing links – and those of his player-coach, Lucas, with Lewes – it would be surprising if some from those two clubs were not among his signings.
But Downer and Taylor are looking beyond the immediate term to create the sort of foundations that might avoid the sort of boom-and-bust cycle that afflicts grassroots clubs – Shoreham and Adur, Rottingdean Village, Lancing and, of course, Wivi are among many local clubs who have seen successful teams disappear virtually overnight through waning interest, work, school, college and university commitments.
“The short-term aim will be promotion to the South East Counties league while creating a solid platform to grow on,” said Downer.
“The long-term aims will be to progress through the leagues. We will look to strengthen our relationships with Worthing United and Colts, who are now looking to introduce girls’ football to, hopefully, start developing players from a younger age.”
The club held their first open training session on Monday and plan to hold more.
They have already announced their first pre-season friendly – against Luton Town on July 23 – and they are currently seeking an assistant manager.
Contact: Jason Downer on 07834 376181 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org