Heybridge Swifts FC
End of season report 2016/17
I thought I would take this opportunity to provide an update report now that the season is over and our safety in the Ryman League Division One North has been secured. I am pretty sure all there would agree, that the final game at home to Phoenix Sports was traumatic to say the least. From being 2-0 down after only 25 minutes and seemingly dead and buried, to grabbing a memorable 3-2 victory, thanks to 2 goals from Lewis Godbold and a cracker from George Cole, pretty much typified the attitude and character in the squad. The lads turned it round for the fans and it gave me so much satisfaction to see the celebration of fans and players alike at the end of a long and at times frustrating season.
Our division seems to be ever more competitive and there are literally no easy games. An example of how competitive it is was that with 51 points normally this would keep any team safe. Last season’s relegated team went down with 37 points. The RL South third from bottom have 31 points and 4th from bottom only 38!
We actually lost 16 points from conceding goals late on in games. Who can forget the 2 conceded at Romford in the 92nd and 95th minutes or the equaliser by Wroxham with the last kick of the game? Seeing out those matches would have seen us with around 67 points which would put us in 11th position. But it is pointless in thinking what might have been. It is what we learn from those experiences that really counts.
There were some very good performances also, such as the victory over Maldon on Boxing Day, the 3-1 victory away at Dagenham & Redbridge in the Essex Senior Cup, or the 3-0 away win at Ware which ultimately proved crucial in staying up.
We have often been seen as a club who “punch above their weight” and I guess this has some merit when considering our location and comparing the town of Heybridge with those of many of the clubs that we compete against each week, looking at the few examples below:
Population of Heybridge 8,000
Bury St Edmund 40,000
Brightlingsea is only 8,000 but when your manager wins the Lottery I guess that helps! Congratulations and good luck to them as they have achieved so much in recent years as they have progressed up through the non-league pyramid.
So we are certainly a club who have traditionally “punched above our weight”, mainly as a result of exceptional commitment from local people like Mick Gibson, John Knight and Andy Barber who provided significant funds as well as blood, sweat and tears to get the club into the Isthmian Premier and then keep us there for a number of years.
We did of course nearly make it to the Conference South back in 2006 when we were beaten on penalties in the play offs at Scraley Road by Hampton and Richmond and I often wonder what would have happened had we won the match that night. It seemed to signal a decline for the club and 3 years later we were relegated from the Premier to League One North where we have been ever since, even flirting with relegation in recent years of course.
Being where we are geographically it is always difficult to attract players and we are very grateful to the lads we do have, many of whom travel a good distance home and away to represent proudly the black and white stripes of the Swifts. Just looking at our current squad and where some of the players live is a good example of this:
Ade Yusuff, Simon Glover and Reece Grant travel in from North Kent.
Phil Anderson and Alie Njie travel from Dagenham.
Lewis Dark commutes from Chigwell
Glen little actually travels a good deal further than those!!!
In terms of performances this season it has given me great satisfaction to see young players learn and develop, gaining great experience along the way and improving both as players and people. Jody is very strong at improving young players and creates an environment where they are given opportunities early and can rise to the challenge.
Young players like Riley Baker, Alieu Njie, Marley Andrews and Harry Morgan have thrived and developed alongside more established and experienced players like Lewis Dark, Lewis Godbold and Phil Anderson.
If we go through the squad starting from the back, Danny Sambridge, at his second spell at the club is now the leading appearance maker and was ever present until being side-lined with a back injury back in March and with Lewis Moore joining us on loan from Dagenham & Redbridge to provide excellent cover.
At the back all season virtually we have had Guillem Ramon who has starred at both right and left back and who moved up from the reserves where he started the season. Marley Andrews also starred at full back on a number of occasions.
In central defence we have had Riley Baker most of the season alongside the highly experienced Phil Anderson who has had another good season. In more recent weeks Jack Cawley has been there and performed extremely well, moving across from left back where he started. Jack joined us right after Christmas from Stanway Rovers.
In midfield, competition for places was fierce and we started the season with Calum Leahy who was looking good before being enticed away by Bowers & Pitsea. Lewis Dark and Lewis Godbold have played almost every game for us and Lewis Dark has also slotted in really well at centre back and right back when required. Who can forget his superb display at home against Maldon on Boxing Day when we won 1-0. Also with the quality of skipper George Cole’s deliveries from moving and dead balls, we were certainly not short of quality balls in for people like Ade Yusuff and top scorer Reece Grant, who with a 27 goal haul really did deliver for us this season and seemed to get better as the season went on. We were short of fire power in the earlier part of the season with Jack Barham initially being injured and then as soon as regaining fitness, leaving us for Tilbury. Also in midfield and the back 4 we had the highly experienced Simon Glover and Glen Little who belied their advancing years with some great displays. In Simon’s case his season came to an end in November with a broken leg sustained away at Hornchurch, characteristically saving a certain goal.
Glen of course had a glittering professional career as a winger, with around 800 matches played at Reading, Burnley and Portsmouth, including the premier league. His performances, often from the bench were, for a 41 year old at this level, remarkable and his distribution and technique was amazing and a great example again to younger players often 20 or more years younger!
One major negative was our disciplinary record, in particular with regards to dissent, where we amassed the worst record for dissent related bookings in the Ryman League. Although this may be a reflection of the frustrations experienced over the season it is something we are very embarrassed with and Jody and the lads will work hard on this side of things during the close season and the season ahead. The tradition at our club of being a friendly, welcoming and sporting football club has to be regained and this will be a major priority going forward.
Volunteers at the club:
Of course non-league football is not just about players and fans, there are the volunteers also and we are very lucky at Swifts to have some of the finest servants to the club that anyone could wish for and I would just like to take time now to thank a few very special club servants who have gone beyond the call of duty once more this season:
Firstly in club secretary we have Chris Daines who is literally Mr Swifts these days having also been treasurer and who without we would literally be lost! Chris has over 30 years of service to the Swifts and is a highly respected secretary in Ryman League circles.
I would also like to express my thanks to Nikki Ponder who is also a great asset to the club and has been with the club 4 years and works very hard to make the bar the envy of many clubs at this level. The net profit over the bar is vital to us as a club and having looked closely at this over the past 2 financial years I can confirm that the contribution it makes to the costs of this club is significant and rising all the time thanks the her efforts. The functions and events Nikki hosts here are vital so please support them when you can.
Our first team manager Jody Brown makes a massive commitment in running the first team here. He rarely switches off from football and I have often text him at 11 or 12 at night and have had an immediate response. Jody has masses of experience now as a young manager literally at all levels of the non-league game and his ability to find and nurture talent is immense. One of the biggest compliments I have heard of him was a player here with over 12 years’ experience of playing non-league said he really wishes he had played for Jody 10 years earlier as his career would have been much better as a result. Managing a club at this level takes huge commitment and is certainly not for the faint hearted or someone lacking energy or drive.
Melvin Hancock, club physio. Saturday afternoon is just part of it when you consider everything required to get 11 men out there to compete at our level around 60 games a season at least. Mel travels in from Westcliffe 3 times a week and has done a sterling job this season as we have done very well injury wise in my opinion.
Also as a key part of the coaching team is Ricky Clarke, who has been part of the set up as goalkeeping coach and sometimes also physio for around 20 years I believe. Ricky is a great servant to the club and a popular figure.
Thanks to Stewart Clark for huge commitment in providing food after every game and for manning the tea bar and being a great all round servant to the Swifts. It is people like Stewart that make the non-league game what it is and without them it just would not exist! Stewart’s son Matt Clark also combines his role as being a keeper for the reserves squad with also regular assistance in keeping the pitch at Scraley Road one to be proud of and one of the best in the league, across all 3 divisions. Matt assists Rob Bowyer in these groundsman duties and Rob’s skills and commitment are both well-known and also much appreciated.
Thanks to Steve Spreadbury and Debbie Hill for their work in making the junior Swifts football club one of the best around. Not only do they have 17 really good competitive sides but new clubs are enquiring about joining all the time, such is their reputation for being a club which helps nurture young talent and provide an enjoyable and sportsmanlike environment for young people. Sundays are a hive of footballing activity at the club and it is always a pleasure to go along there and watch junior Swifts in the making. The unity in the club between the junior and football sections is the best it has been for many years, possibly ever, and this augurs well for the future as youngsters can hopefully see potential progression from junior to reserve, to first team football. We are also of course very grateful to all the coaches involved at junior level who are great ambassadors for the club and a real credit to the Heybridge Swifts brand.
I personally would like to thank Steve not just for stepping into Craig Riches’ shoes but also assisting me in the vice chairman role, attending every 1st team game home and away and helping to create unity and a one club mentality which has simply never existed in the past.
A great success has been with the reserves who have had a strong season, finishing 2nd in the table and a huge improvement on the previous season in the Essex Senior Reserves League. Only 2 games were lost all season and manager Gary Monti gets along to first team matches whenever he has no game and that is always great to see. Progression from reserves to first team is now a regular reality and our Spanish import Guillem Ramon is proof of how this can be done successfully. Guillem is looking to get more Spanish footballers over to hopefully emulate what he has in the English non-league game.
This project is looking promising now and although it has been a long process, we can see it now becoming reality, with the planning application due to be discussed at the June or July hearings of the Maldon DC planning committee. This project has to be right for the Swifts financially as well as for Bloor Homes, who are proposing to build over 100 homes on the existing site. I met with regional chairman of Bloors recently and was very pleased with the open and co-operative approached adopted. If we can pull this deal off it will be a major step forward for the club and give us a great facility for senior and junior community football for many years to come. I am also determined that it will give us financial strength and security that will be the envy of many clubs at our level.
We were delighted with the contributions made by Texo and Coco this season and really hope they continue in the future.
We are also very keen to boost the playing budget in the year ahead in order to be more competitive and much greater exposure now guaranteed with excellent new photographer Paul Simpson plus create media input from new committee team member Adam Drew via his company 354, as well as James Colosanti via his on line media platform JC Non-League. Do check out our web site every Sunday morning as there are great photos there and feel free to share out on your social media channels so we improve the club’s reach and also the traffic through our site. Paul’s camera work is amazing and you will be impressed with the quality of the photos there.
I feel it is not unreasonable to target us doubling our sponsorship budget for the season ahead and that will mean really engaging the local business community and ensuring that if local companies do sponsor us, they get a good return on their investment.
Another way of ensuring this is by always looking to put business the way of sponsors who get involved at the club. Keeping it in the family so to speak and we are in the process of setting up a profit sharing arrangement with 1 new sponsor next season where they will contribute 50% of the profit they make on each piece of business referred by the club back into the football club. I am hoping to tie up a number of similar arrangements and would be happy to pledge this in respect of any business my new company Aspen Waite White generates via such means.
So there really is a good deal of positivity among the club given our very strong and debt free financial base which is a massive plus. You only have to look at rival Essex-based clubs in recent years to appreciate how well we compare. Just consider the following:
Chelmsford City. Over £1m in debt and a recently failed takeover. No stadium freehold as Melbourne is rented. They have had a great season but their financial future appears uncertain.
Braintree Town. Great to be in the Conference (at the moment) but one of only 3 part time clubs. Crowds of only 500 means they are probably one of the poorest in the division and run at a loss, although they appear to manage their finances well.
Billericay Town. Massive recent investment but all from 1 person and is this a sustainable model? A fine club and we wish them well. Crowds have exceeded 1,500 recently which is good to see.
Romford. Used to get 1,500 fans every game in the 1970’s, now groundless and get 80.
Hornchurch. Went bust a few years back and came back as AFC in the Essex Senior League and worked their way back. No stadium freehold.
Canvey Island: In the Conference 10 years ago and now relegated back to our division following financial pressures.
Grays. FA Trophy winners 10 years ago now just relegated to RL North and lost their stadium, ground sharing with Aveley.
Harlow Town. Now £800k in debt and do not own their stadium.
Finally Dagenham and Redbridge. A great club (date back to only 1992) as we saw when we won there in the Essex Senior Cup. Reality is they are a collection of 4 old clubs, 3 of whom who sold stadia along the way in
There is just 1 club left therefore to represent 4 old clubs in a highly populated areas in East London. Dagenham & Redbridge also got to League One in the Football league before dropping 2 levels since in 6 years.
So to have a football club which is debt free and with land with a significant development value is no mean feat and is something for all here, members and committee past and present to be really proud of. It is my job along with that of the committee here to make sure in the weeks and months ahead that we maximise the value of the club’s assets and get a new stadium deal which meets the needs of the club for the next 10,50 or 100 years so that fans and members have a lasting legacy.
I am confident we can do that and enter again a very exciting and successful part of the Swifts history once more. I have enjoyed every minute of being chairman of the Swifts so far, despite the ups and downs, which are all part of football really! It is a great honour and privilege to be in this position.
Thank you to all of you for your help and commitment to this fine club throughout 16/17 and look forward to really exciting (and hopefully less stressful) times ahead for us all!
Updated 18:13 - 28 Apr 2017 by Gary White