Holyport FC begin a new era of Combined Counties League football next week with the club eagerly anticipating a first season at Step 5 since the 2014/15 season, having earned a deserved promotion following a couple of consistent campaigns under Derek Sweetman during this COVID-disrupted period.
Sweetman’s side won 19 and lost just 5 of the 32 Hellenic League matches they were able to play over the past two campaigns and the ‘Port gaffer welcomes the move across to the Combined Counties League: “We know a bit about it because there are sides we have played in previous times. In football, there are different managers you can talk to pick up information. But from what I understand the Combined Counties is slightly more physical and the Hellenic is perhaps a bit more of a ‘footballing’ league. Having said that though it changes every year and it will be a completely new experience for the group of lads we have got together but we’re looking forward to it!”
The Holyport manager is also grateful to be placed in a league constitution which has a new look this season with Berkshire sides such as Reading City and Wokingham & Emmbrook also moving across. “It is better than having to travel to Gloucestershire or Wales on a Tuesday night! Instead, we’ll be going to the likes of Burnham.”
The more ‘local’ feel to the division may have helped with played recruitment, however, Sweetman confessed: “I won’t lie, it is a case that we are still looking. Until we’ve played a few games in the division we won’t really know what we need to improve on.”
Sweetman has however already supplemented his squad with the arrival of Fabiene Etienne and his brother Jean Claude, described by the manager as “two big and strong players for us”. Former Chalvey and Burnham man Richard Jeffery has also joined, as has youngster Matt Sullivan.
“We’re not just concentrating on the first team, we are recruiting for the reserves too” explains the boss, with the Port’s second string fielding a side in the Thames Valley Premier League once again, with Sweetman keen to point out the importance of the young players being able to compete against men.
Before the Combined Counties League kicks off for the Port at Summerleaze next Tuesday night 10th August when Egham visit, there is the small matter of an FA Cup tie at Ascot United on Friday night.
“We know lots about Ascot and we’re in for a really easy game!” Sweetman jokes. “I know Jamie (Tompkins, Yellamen manager) and the boys really well. It will be a tough game, they are a really good footballing side with some great players. It is one that we’re looking forward to, there is no pressure on us.”
Holyport have also strengthened their backroom staff with the arrival of Mark Walters from Cookham along with Emlyn Hill, with Sweetman keen to involve local talent at all levels to make for a “family feel” at the club. That family unity will be important to the Port for the new season as the club adjust to their new surroundings