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The Thames Valley Premier League trailblazers – from Ascot United to Newbury

Ascot United and Newbury are amongst the local clubs who've made the leap from step 7 in the English Football Pyramid

The Thames Valley Premier League trailblazers – from Ascot United to Newbury

Our recent interview with Glenn Goudie about the hurdles clubs in the Thames Valley Premier League have to overcome to progress got us thinking about the clubs who have made a go of it.

There are to our knowledge three clubs currently in the Hellenic League with TVPL (or Reading Senior League as it was known) experience and two others who have worked their way up and returned to step 7.

Goudie rightly pointed out that ‘you need a big squad and the right type of player to play close to 50 games in the season and you also need players who have the game intelligence to play consistently at that level’ in the piece and that certainly applies to Ascot and Highmoor who have held their own in the Hellenic League Premier Division over the last few years. Here’s our look at the five clubs who have ‘had a go’.

AFC Aldermaston

Action from Sandhurst Town against AFC Aldermaston in 2016/17. Photo: Simon Bryce.

Action from Sandhurst Town against AFC Aldermaston in 2016/17. Photo: Simon Bryce.

The Atom Men arrived somewhat under the radar at the start of the 2016/17 season but enjoyed a fruitful first year in the Hellenic League Division 1 East under Kieran Jennings.

The club – who play out of the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the village jumped up after two seasons in the Thames Valley Premier League having previously been in the Hampshire Senior League.

They finished 7th in the end but endured a much tougher second season – the absence of senior players such as goalkeeper Dan Smith and full back Richard Jones would you think have played a key part in an 11th place finish out of 13.

You’d expect the club to have learned a lot in the season just gone and come back stronger for 2018/19.

Ascot United

Probably the major success story of the TVPL. The Yellamen were promoted to the Hellenic League Division 1 East in the summer of 2007 after winning the step 7 league.

The club, then under Stuart Scammell made short work of D1E, earning promotion to the Premier Division the following season after finishing second behind champions Binfield. That season was a vintage one for Berkshire clubs at step 6 – Binfield, Ascot, Newbury, Wokingham & Emmbrook and Holyport all finishing in the top five.

Since 2009 the Yellamen have been a Hellenic Premier side with additional honours including two FA Vase Quarter Final appearances as well as two third and one fourth placed finish.

Last season was arguably a tough one for the club with Neil Richard’s young side taking time to find their way but when they hit their stride all thoughts of a return to step 6 quickly disappeared.

Highmoor Ibis

Bracknell Town FC's Adam Cornell against Highmoor-IBIS. Photo: Neil Graham.

Bracknell Town FC’s Adam Cornell against Highmoor-IBIS. Photo: Neil Graham.

In terms of Hellenic League longevity, Highmoor are second only to Ascot in recent times having won the TVPL in 2011 and made short work of Division 1 East the following season.

The club certainly made a mark on the Premier Division, led by Shane Small-King they finished 12th, 4th and 3rd in their first three seasons but a bit of a decline began in 2015/16 with Ibis only surviving the most recent season thanks to a reprieve from relegation.

Their Hellenic League tenure started with a move to Palmer Park Stadium in Reading, Berkshire and they took over the defunct Reading Town’s Scours Lane ground at the start of the 2016/17 season.

Former Bracknell Town Development Team manager Andy Findlay and Rob Creech are now in charge and looking to revive the clubs fortunes.

Marlow United

Rarely out of the top eight in the TVPL since 1989, Marlow United took the step up to the Hellenic League in 2006 – ground sharing with Flackwell Heath, and were promoted to the Premier Division two seasons later after finishing second to Chalfont Wasps.

The clubs foray at step 5 was to almost prove its undoing. The clubs own website history says they were ‘tottering’ and the clubs resources were stretched to breaking point: “Having played 62 competitive matches the previous season [the clubs first in the Hellenic Premier] and knowing what was to come United entered the 2009/10 season with some trepidation. The football club, resources stretched to breaking point, simply were not equipped financially to cope with the demands of Hellenic League Premier Division football and an early away midweek draw to Almondsbury Town (Bristol) was the straw that effectively broke United’s back with an early FA Cup and FA Vase exits at home to Hallen and away to Melksham Town respectively thwarting any hopes of a financial lifeline through these competitions.”

At the end of the 2009/10 season the club took the decision to return to the TVPL.

Newbury

Not to be confused with the defunct Newbury Town, the club earned promotion in 2008 but took a little more time to make the step up to the Premier Division. They spent four seasons in Division 1 East before winning it in 2011/12.

Despite taking their time, the club found life tough at step 5  finishing 15th, 19th and 18th in three seasons before returnin to the TVPL. According to Newbury Today, the club were forced out of the league for financial reasons: “Newbury have been forced to pull out of the Hellenic League for financial reasons and will start the 2015/16 campaign in the Thames Valley Premier League. On top of that, nearly all of last season’s squad is expected to quit the club, leaving Jenner with the bare bones to build on.”

Article compiled with the help of fchd.info

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Tom Canning

Tom is the co-editor of FootballinBracknell. He has played at the lowest possible level of football. In real life Tom works for Trinity Mirror. Manager of Binfield Ladies in the Thames Valley Women's League.

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