The Isthmian League boys are back again!

Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing sent their Editor, Steve Rowley, to catch up with Harry Hudson and Michael Golding to discuss pre-season and the year ahead.

Have you had time to reflect on the past season?
Harry Hudson:
Pretty much the same as during the campaign, the players were unbelievable. They had no real right to play with so much attitude and commitment to the cause as they did. Sevenoaks at the time, were a club that maybe they [the players] were coming in to help as there wasn’t a great affinity to the club with only 10 games to go. The players literally died for the badge, and that foundation is what got us the results we did. I’m so proud that I was able to play a part in that.

Michael Golding: I think the off season is always a period of reflection. With it being our first season in this league we took stock of what we had achieved and where we could improve and certainly where we can go moving forward. On the face of it finishing eighth in the table, seven points off the playoffs we had to consider that as a success. We set the boys the target of reaching the playoffs, and with the squad we had, we fell maybe short of that but with the size of our club, we’re very happy with everything we achieved.

How have things changed since you took over?
HH: I think there’s a different expectation on us, I think the back end of last season, teams underestimated us, which worked in our favour, that probably won’t be the case this year. Teams will know more about us; they can prepare slightly different. The club has moved forward with anything I’ve asked of the board to do over the summer, they’ve been amazing, with things being done straight away, such as the changing rooms, even though we’re only going to have them for one season [before the new stand will be built]. We have our first contracted player in Freddie Parker which is a real step forward. I think it’s a very exciting time for the football club.

You’ve already made a few signings this season, are there any more to come?
HH:
We have two maybe three more signings. The key for me was to retain as many players from last season as we wanted to as a first point of call in the summer, which I feel like we’ve done. I think there are just one or two players that we would’ve liked to have around but are not here. We have the core and it’s about adding improvements where possible throughout the team. I’m really happy with our business, if you had offered me the squad at our disposal in June then I would have bitten your hand off. Now it’s a case of keeping everyone happy more than anything else.

MG: It’s been a big period of transition for the club, the previous group of players had all been together for 4-6 years, with most of them playing over 200 games. Naturally it happens that people get older and they have other commitments outside of football, we’ve had the biggest turnover of players since I have been manager and we’ve lost nine players from last years squad. As a club without a budget it’s definitely been a challenge, we’ve had a number of trialists in this year who are much younger from a number of clubs. We are three or four players away from where we want to be at this stage.

Are you satisfied with what you have seen from the group so far?
HH:
We’ve had six friendlies and one in-house game, with one more match before we take on Horley in the FA Cup and players have kept themselves ticking over throughout the summer. Some of them are in better shape now than they were when the season ended. The foundation of understanding and learning is there, we are not changing much structurally from what we wanted to do last year. I think we’re in a positive position going forward.

MG: Pre-season is always difficult; we try to embed early on that we want to create that habit of winning and we believe it’s all about good habits. This year has been about ingraining the newer players into what we do with the existing players. In terms of the nucleus of players that stayed, we are happy to have retained what we did.

Where do you see your toughest competition coming from this season?
HH:
I think it will be relatively similar to last year, Ashford, Cray Valley, Whitehawk this year have invested heavily as have Sittingbourne. So I think that will be where the challenge will come from for teams trying to finish in the top six. I think it’ll be more open though this year, clubs like Hastings should have gone up years ago, I think there will be eight or nine teams who could be in the mix for the top four/five places. That’s really exciting and also comes with different challenges. If there’s a clear breakaway top two or three in the league they tend to win more games than not, whereas I feel like any given day this year any team could beat the other. Sheppey and Chatham I know well from last year, Littlehampton, they’re all good sides, they’re not coming up with small resources, in fact they will fancy their chances of getting into the playoffs. I don’t believe there will be a runaway winner of the title this year. I think it will be very tight and I expect it to go down to the final weeks of the season, possible with as many as eight teams fighting it out.

MG: I think our local side Sevenoaks are one of the most talked about teams this year, Harry has done a phenomenal job, last year if you look at their results, they were pretty much bang on for relegation and then stayed up at an absolute canter, they will be right up there. I think there are a lot of teams that have strengthened, Ashford, Sevenoaks, Ramsgate, and Haywards Heath who were a very good side last year. Sheppey who have come up have a very good infrastructure that could take them up another level or two, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re challenging at the top come the end of the season.

Have you been given a target by the club before the season starts?
HH:
The committee don’t want to be in a relegation battle. There are new developments happening at Sevenoaks, including the building of the new stand/clubhouse. I think a comfortable year at step 4 would probably be what the board would like, but not flirting with relegation.

MG: I think naturally year-on-year you always want to progress, so finishing 8th last year we always wanted to progress on that. This year we’ve set the players a target of winning the league, I think if you‘re not going into a division to try and win it, or at least make the playoffs, then what’s the point of bringing these players in twice a week for training. If that’s going to happen, it’s going to be hard, if we can go anywhere near last season then it will be a success. The committee here never put any pressure on the team, the club’s ethics are still the same as it was when we were founded, it’s about providing football for young players. We would love to have a good cup run though to showcase our wonderful club to the nation as well as the many benefits a cup run would bring.
What position would you be happy with come April?
HH: With the squad we have assembled, we want to have the most successful year we can on all fronts. We want to push in the FA competitions, we want to push for some of the Kent competitions as well and we want to win as many football games as we can. I said it will be a very open league and I think if we get a good start with some momentum there’s no reason why we couldn’t be in the mix as well. We’re in a good place, we’ve got good players, I’ve got excellent staff and an amazing board, it’s an amazing football club so I think for us we want to finish as high as we can and finish on all fronts. On our day we can beat anyone.

And finally, the fans at your club are really getting behind the team now with increases in match day attendances? Do you have a few words about your support?
HH:
The support at the back end of last season was just phenomenal, I think we hit 300 at the Faversham game and high 2’s the games before that. It makes such a huge difference to players when we have that sort of crowd and getting clapped off after the games. It’s probably worth about 10 to 12 points a year. Firstly, thank you for attending last year, secondly we hope we can get people back and lastly please can you bring a friend or family member to help us expand this great club. Your support is fantastic.

MG: We are always incredibly grateful to our fans; we have an incredible small band of supporters that follow us home and away. and attendances have risen from around 30 odd to around 120 as an average for a home match and the boys love playing in front of the fans. We’re not the easiest place to get to, to be fair, but we are working with local schools to offer free tickets to local kids to help raise the profile of our attack-minded club.