One team hoping for a less stressful 2022/23 campaign is Holyport. The Summerleaze side avoided relegation in their first ever season in the Combined Counties League Premier Division North by goal difference on the final day of the season.
The Port faced promoted Southall on the final game of the season, going down to an early goal by Anthony O’Connor. It looked for much of that April afternoon that ten-man CB Hounslow would survive the drop at Holyport’s expense but a four-goal salvo for North Greenford United inside the final ten minutes saw the Londoners demoted instead.
Job done, experienced manager Derek Sweetman stepped aside to allow his assistant manager Sam Lock to take the reins this summer. Lock enjoyed serious success with cross-town neighbours Maidenhead United, firstly coaching the club’s very successful youth set up which has seen the likes of Max Kilman move into Premier League football and Josh Kelly recently sold for a large fee. Lock then stepped up to assist Alan Devonshire with the Magpie’s first team, the duo leading Maidenhead to the National League South title in 2017. A short and less-than-sweet spell in charge at Bracknell Town followed for Lock who has re-discovered his mojo with the Port.
And Lock has been busy in the summer. “We have brought in pretty much 60% of a new squad with a blend of experience and youth” Lock told Football In Berkshire. “I do want to work with players who are going ‘up the ladder’ rather than those on their way down, but you do need a bit of experience to blend it all together and organise things.”
“It was a great achievement for all at the club to keep this team up last season. Holyport were a step 6 side playing step 5 football. We made ourselves difficult to beat and put ourselves in a position where we gave ourselves a chance. Our results really did pick up after Christmas.” Lock is not wrong – Holyport won 4 and drew 2 of their 16 league matches played in 2022, having won just once in the division in their opening 15 matches.
Lock looked back with Football In Berkshire on that final day drama. “On the game day I knew that we had prepared correctly and done everything we possibly could to go to Southall and get a result. It was the two or three days before that where I was feeling sick and not sleeping! I was worrying about what sort of a team North Greenford would put out, you hear rumours and this and that. We had to remain focused on us and stick to our game plan against a Southall side who were probably the best team in the division at that time. We did brilliantly, we lost one nil to a goal from a setpiece which should be our bread and butter. But ultimately in the end we had done enough in the weeks leading up to the Southall game.”
Again the Port will be perhaps punching above their weight against some comparatively big budgets this season and Lock is looking forward to it, despite losing some players to rival teams. “There are some big sides in the league this year with some big budgets. I would expect Flackwell to be right up at the top of the table, Ascot have recruited well in the summer and have some talented boys who have played at a much higher level. I expect those two to be at the forefront of things but there are some other strong sides such as Edgware and North Greenford.”
“Our aim is to be competitive every week and to put a performance in, sticking to a game plan and being organised, show heart and work hard. There will be nothing better for me than to see some of these boys progress perhaps to a higher standard of football at the end of the season and I am looking forward to seeing their progress.”
First up for the Port is the small matter of big spending Risborough Rangers in the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup on Saturday – a tie which Lock admits is “a big ask” – but given Lock’s track-record who would bet against his side springing the first surprise of the new season?
If you are a Holyport fan, maybe you’d like to join our 2022/23 Supporters Panel and share an opinion or two. Details on how to apply here.