From the pen (or keyboard rather) of Kevin Anderson.
Retour du Roi
A very warm welcome, for our opening home fixture of 2018-19, to Welling United and their new manager Steve King. But not new to us. Steve lives a short hop from the ground and he hops in now and again, with or without a particular team in tow. One of the family, almost – well, almost.
Sorry, no long biographies of SK tonight – I wrote him one of those last time out, and he thanked me by scraping a highly fortunate win over Borough with four freak goals… Best of luck for the season, Steve, but not until after tonight!
Those we have lost
Serious words now, and from the heart. 2018 so far has been a truly awful year for losing Borough folk close to our hearts. In the New Year we were railing against the Almighty (that’s allowed by the way – it’s a part of being human) when Mike Spooner was snatched from us. Then right at the end of the season Mary Turner lost her dear husband, and Borough stalwart, Mark. And during the summer we have again had to take the path to the Crem (and back to Priory Lane for the wake) to say goodbye to Eric Lockwood – an absolutely wonderful Sports loyalist. Most of you will know the story: nine years ago, Eric literally almost died through a heart attack on the car park at the Dripping Pan turnstiles. Very prompt medical action – including by Borough supporters in the queue – saved Eric, albeit at the expense of his precious Borough shirt, which the paramedics had the nerve to cut off during the small process of saving his life! Eric had earned himself another nine seasons of stoppage time, sitting in his personal seat in the main stand, before the Great Referee blew the whistle. Bless you, Eric. I hope you have a better view from up there, of all the dodgy offsides and missed open goals.
And then also during the close season, Eastbourne football lost another very special lady. I say Eastbourne football, and not just Eastbourne Borough, because Adele and Anthony Patterson were frequent visitors not only here, but at the Oval or the Saffrons, or anywhere they could catch local football. We all have our loyalties, and it’s pretty unusual to find football enthusiasts who genuinely enthuse about all our clubs without being the slightest bit one-eyed. If you pressed him, I think Anthony would put Eastbourne United at the top of his list, but he and Adele also travelled far and wide with the Sports.
Adele passed away on May 14th, and we offer Anthony our sincerest sympathy. They had been together for some thirty-one years, and married for twenty-seven of them. His beloved wife had been increasingly wheelchair-bound. You can’t have missed them. There they would be on the touchline or terraces, Adele from her wheelchair either berating the linesman or admiring the player’s legs… That isn’t my judgement, by the way, it’s what Anthony said to me when we caught up for lunch last week. Now he’ll be supporting our teams on his own – but not alone, because the non-League family is huge, unbreakable and it never lets you go.
The strongest division ever?
That is the widely held view of the new season’s National South, as Eastbourne Borough look to hold their own against an array of big-spending opponents.
Frankly, you have to run to stand still. Jamie Howell’s playing budget is modest, but not bargain-basement. Yet all around him, opposing clubs pitching for glory are outspending him. This could be a season for strong nerves.
What’s in a name? Torquay United are the latest former Football League club to fall from grace. Defeated by Borough, back in the Conference Premier days, in one of the great performances by a Garry Wilson side – and with Ashley Barnes netting twice – the Gulls have stayed full-time and will be desperate for success. It may be tougher than they think. Woking, relegated on the final day of last season, are nursing injured pride, and canny Geordie Alan Dowson will not have been persuaded to join the Cards without the promise of significant resources.
And then the newer names. Billericay have got rich very quick, rising from the Bostik League on Glenn Tamplin’s massive funding. Some estimates put his wage bill at between £25k and £30k a week last season, but the word is that this season it is slashed to a “mere” £10k. Journeymen they may be, but well-paid, experienced, and capable of a second promotion. Dulwich Hamlet, hugely supported and highly regarded as a proper non-league club, may be too preoccupied with ground ownership issues but they will comfortably hold National South status.
Add to the mix Dartford and Chelmsford City, both thwarted in last season’s play-offs, and our visitors Welling United, with fresh funding to support Steve King. Throw in ambitious Wealdstone, dark horses Slough Town and persistent under-performers St Albans City, and the battle for those seven play-off places already looks like a funnel of kids clamouring at the ice-cream van.
But it cuts both ways. Some of those competing clubs will be elbowing each other, taking points off each other, and frustrating each other. And from mid-table to play-offs may be no distance at all, for the perennial mid-tablers such as Bath City, and Hemel Hempstead. Hampton will also have their ambitions, but rebuilding after Dowse’s departure may be a challenge. And even traditionally smaller clubs like Chippenham, Concord Rangers and East Thurrock are raising the budgets and raising their sights.
But every season brings fresh big-spenders – who don’t always stay the course – and fresh surprises. What is lacking this year is a bunch of obvious strugglers. It is not negative thinking, on Borough’s part, to look to maintain National South status as a minimum target. That means taking points, and plenty of them, against the more modest opponents: Hungerford, Truro, Weston and Gloucester City. It started with Saturday’s opponents Oxford City – and no, that one wasn’t really a six-pointer…..
Martina Navratilova has a mantra which she fondly – but correctly – repeats again and again to players, coaches and media alike. You don’t play the tournament, the occasion, the crowd or the weather. You don’t even play the opponent. You play the ball that the opponent hits at you across the net.
And Saint Martina is not wrong. Eleven against eleven may be a cliché, but it remains true. Opponents do not score goals against you because they are famous/lavishly paid/drive a Maserati/have an agent who talks them up (delete as appropriate). They score if, and only if, you let them through.
Eastbourne Borough have never been starry-eyed or star-studded. But Jamie Howell has a squad, slightly short on bodies, but not short of either experience or ability. The team that started at Oxford City was a couple of notches stronger than the team that finished the Lewes friendly: a week is a long time in pre-season. They are fighting fit and desperately eager to win for the cause – and, who knows, to prove a few doubters wrong.
Enjoy the game, everyone – oh, and look out for one of those very special Priory Lane sunsets. In the deathless words of a certain BBC Sussex reporter, the washed-out Barcelona shirt is back….
Image credit - Michael Hulf
Updated 21:00 - 6 Aug 2018 by Lee Peskett