Penshurst Park FC were founded in 1895 and have recently celebrated 125 years of existence. All their home games are played in the picturesque village of Penshurst and have done so since being founded.
On a day-to-day basis the club is run by Nigel Loring and his two sons Brandon and Kyle, with Nick Byrne taking care of secretarial tasks. Both Nigel and Nick have been involved with the club for a number of years, with Nigel starting out as a player at the age of 14 some 37 years ago.
Neither however, have faced a scenario quite like the one that Covid brought to the club and other grassroots teams up and down the country at the start of 2020.
With the 2019/20 season postponed in March 2020 due to the outbreak of Covid, Penshurst, then in the Sevenoaks & District League Division Three were awarded the league title on a points per game basis, having won nine and drawn one of their 10 league games to that point. It also put an end to the two cups they had reached the latter stages of, these were to be resumed during the 2020/21 season.
When football began to return, so did Penshurst. Initially holding training sessions in small numbers at their pitch in late May 2020, this continued into June and July until the resumption of competitive matches was allowed once more from August. Having already followed several guidelines in order to get back to training, the club had to consider even more.
Access to changing rooms were limited to toilet usage only, players were instructed to keep distanced as often as possible, with set pieces encouraged to be taken with minimal delay. Regular use of anti-bacterial hand gel was encouraged, team celebrations discouraged and spitting completely banned [This should have been banned a long time ago. Ed]. All of these changes created even more work for the three Loring’s, who already volunteered several hours a week on pitch maintenance, providing training sessions and general club administration amongst other tasks.
However, despite the increased demands, the Loring’s were keen to keep players safe and out on the field and in order to do so came up with a few ideas.
Firstly, anti-bacterial hand gel was purchased in its litre’s, placed pitch side on tables and brought to the attention of the players present. Goalposts were sterilised before the game, as were the footballs. The most difficult issue that social distancing presented for Penshurst was the distribution of kit, the FA’s guidance was for players to arrive changed where possible.
As those that play and particularly those that run grassroots clubs will know, this would provide several issues, not least with player commitment from week to week at an all-time low.
Brandon did some research and found a website that sold small mesh wash bags for heavily soiled clothes to be kept in. These came with labels and allowed the kit to be divided up individually, labelled and distributed to individuals by one person, avoiding the clamouring over one bag. This is something the club have continued with to the current day and will be continuing to do so going forward.
With Covid matters taken care of and some off-season pitch maintenance too, the club were ready to embark on their first season in Division Two.
A club spokesperson commented: “There was real optimism heading into the season off the back of a league title and back-to-back promotions that the club could challenge at a higher level”.
“This was quickly realised with a 4-0 win away to Kings Hill Reserves in the first game. From there and up until the break in football at the beginning of November, we had won seven, drawn one and lost just one of our nine games.”
This run of form included a victory in the Quarter Final of the 2019/20 Fisher Shield, and with lockdown lasting for several months, the players had to wait until the end of March before kicking a ball once again.
The club spokesperson added: ”Despite the long break, things could not of gone much better for Penshurst post lockdown, embarking on an eight match winning streak, which formed a run of 14 games unbeaten pre and post lockdown. This run of form took Penshurst to a place in one final, a victory in another, as well as the league title all before the end of May had been reached”.
With just a few games remaining Penshurst would be forgiven for letting things slip, but with just one of the remaining three league games ending in defeat they were in great form once again heading into the final game of the season.
Their final game would be the Tunbridge Wells Charity Cup Final, a competition Penshurst had finished runners up in the season before. Eccles Reserves were dispatched one nil despite an incredibly dominant performance from Penshurst with the post being hit no less than five times.
With this victory Penshurst had completed a remarkable treble winning season, with the Division Two title joined by the Fisher Shield and Tunbridge Wells Charity Cup, the Loring’s hard work behind the scenes and players hard work on the pitch had paid off.
Over the course of the nine month season, Penshurst had played a total of 21 competitive games winning an impressive 18, drawing one and losing only two, a staggering 86% win rate.
Penshurst’s spokesperson added: ”With the last game being played in the first week of June, the club have planned for a short break of just three weeks before resuming training on June 30th ahead of their preseason games in August. Heading into Division One having been promoted for the third season running, it is hard for the club to predict how things will go from here”.
“One thing is for certain, the Loring’s will continue to put every effort into keeping the club stable financially whilst ensuring the safety of its players remains a priority during the continuingly difficult times.
“Most importantly of all, they wish for the team to remain competitive and for the players to continue enjoying their Saturday’s and the friendships that have developed throughout the clubs recent success. Without the commitment of the players, the hard work behind the scenes would amount to nothing, it is this mix of dedication both on and off the pitch that the Loring’s believe is the key to the clubs success.”
• As many grassroots clubs will testify, Penshurst Park FC rely solely on sponsorship and player involvement for funds to keep the club running on a day to day basis. If any individuals or businesses would be interested in talking to Penshurst Park FC regarding sponsorship etc. they can email Brandon at email@example.com.
• The club would also welcome any new players that believe they could improve the talented squad to contact them via the same address.
• For regular updates on how Penshurst Park FC is getting on next season, you can follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by searching for Penshurst Park FC.