The 2011/12 season was never going to be easy. From the moment announcements were made to slash the playing budget and release long-serving boss John Maggs, not to mention the departure of virtually the entire 2010/11 squad, the season’s focus was clear; to maintain our Ryman Premier Division status. Yet despite a promising start to the campaign, the combined efforts of three managers and a staggering fifty-five players were unable to prevent the inevitable, with relegation confirmed in mid-March to bring to an end a seven year stay in the Isthmian League top flight.
“That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way, is winning”
Justin Luchford was the first to accept the challenge of stepping in to Maggs’ shoes, the young manager hoping to build on the success he achieved at Faversham Town whom he took from the lower reaches of the Kent League to eighth in Ryman Division One in three years, and he immediately won over the Hornets faithful with his positive and straight-talking persona. With only Adam Hutchings, Tony Nwachukwu, Jahmahl King and Ryan Woodford remaining from the previous campaign, the new boss had his work cut out in putting together a squad capable of delivering the goods at Ryman Premier level but an exciting first half ‘friendly’ display at Conference South Farnborough suggested that his young side might make a mockery of their pre-season tag as relegation favourites.
AUGUST ARRIVALS: Matt Armstrong-Ford, Yinka Salami, Bernard Asante, Jake Jacobs, Dane Luchford, Callum Dunne, Daniel Morris, David Ottley, Tommy Youle, Shane Graham, Conor Hider, Ken Westoby, Kane Rice, Harvest Osuya, Williams Peauroux
In a stirring show of support, the fans gave the new faces a rapturous welcome as the season got underway with a home match against Bury Town on an afternoon that, although ending in defeat, produced an encouraging performance. Two days later we travelled to Kingsmeadow, a relatively happy hunting ground in recent seasons but a prospect that left few anticipating anything other than a win for our hosts and perennial promotion candidates Kingstonian. We suffered an early setback when Woodford was taken to hospital with a back injury that would rule him out for three months but what followed was to become arguably the highlight of the season as Nwachukwu struck a first hat-trick of his career, and Dan Morris the other, in a thrilling 4-3 win and, when that was followed by a 2-0 success at eventual runners-up AFC Hornchurch, we were sitting pretty in 6th place. We wouldn’t have known it at the time but that was to be the highest position we’d occupy for the remainder of the season, as our old rivals Lewes began the slide with a bubble-bursting single goal win from a surprisingly low-key Bank Holiday ‘derby’.
AUGUST DEPARTURES: David Ottley
SEPTEMBER ARRIVALS: Russell Eldridge, Oliver Poole, Calum McGeehan, Ray Freeman, Louis Hollingsworth, Chris Kiganda
“You’ve got to learn to survive a defeat. That’s when you develop character”
The return of Russell Eldridge added experience and craft to the midfield but he was powerless to prevent Margate from making it three home losses on the spin, while goalkeeper Matt Armstrong-Ford was coming in for some fierce criticism after a series of unforced errors, the latest of which saw us slip to another 1-0 defeat at East Thurrock. So full of anticipation were they of recording a first win in the town for eight years, Carshalton arrived at Goring’s Mead on the Tuesday evening without their kit but they enjoyed greater fortune on the pitch, surving a strong penalty appeal and some enterprising wing play by Nwachukwu to score to score three times, the final goal from a clear offside position. With a weekend respite from the troubles of the league (we were now down in seventeenth spot), we welcomed lowly Lingfield to Goring’s Mead for an FA Cup clash but were made to fight hard to reach the next round and pocket the much-needed £3,000 bounty. Former pros Nicky Forster and Ian Pearce played their part in earning the County Leaguers a 2-2 draw but it looked as though Horsham were heading out at the first stage of the competition for the third season running when Forster’s brace gave Ling a 2-1 first half lead in the midweek replay (again at Goring’s Mead). But a sending-off, and an injury-time leveller by the boss’ brother Dane, eventually paved the way for a comfortable 4-2 victory to set up a first ever trip to Burnham. But before that there was a visit to Wingate & Finchley where Ray Freeman’s first club goal levelled things up against one of the early season pacesetters. But, although Eldridge added a second, it was all in vain as the home side emerged as narrow 3-2 victors with Harrow bringing September to a close with their now obligatory success, 3-1 at a foggy Goring’s Mead.
SEPTEMBER DEPARTURES: Harvest Osuya, Jahmahl King
OCTOBER ARRIVALS: Craig Davies, Ian Varley, Helge Orome, Liam Wright
A disputed late penalty by Nwachukwu gave us a second chance of despatching Evo-Stick Burnham but another calamitous defensive display put us out of the FA Cup and brought to an end the brief Horsham career of Armstrong-Ford, whose two costly slips helped the Buckinghamshire club to a 3-2 win. A morale-sapping 3-0 home reverse to fellow strugglers Concord Rangers made it six league defeats in a row but the prospect of a not-so-magnificent seven was seen off when we picked up our first Goring’s Mead point of the season against Met Police. Yet in keeping with our string of on-the-pitch misfortunes, we were left to rue a poor refereeing decision that prevented us from taking a surely unassailable three goal lead against the Blues who fought back to level with fifteen minutes remaining. Two humiliating cup exits would signal the end of Luchford’s three month tenure when, first, Folkestone Invicta thumped our understrength travellers 5-0 in the League Cup and that was promptly followed by an identical scoreline at Chesham where the Lardy Army’s enthusiastic support was arguably our only highlight of the FA Trophy tie. Coach Hugo Langton was promoted as Luchford’s replacement, himself having been a strong contender for the managerial role during the summer, and he enjoyed instant success as we saw off our landlords 3-2 after extra-time in an eventful Senior Cup tie. But the bad habits were there for all to see when we returned from Hastings with an highly flattering 5-0 defeat, our case not helped by the dismissals of Helge Orome and Calum McGeehan.
OCTOBER DEPARTURES: Matt Armstrong-Ford, Russell Eldridge, Liam Wright, Dane Luchford, Chris Kiganda, Conor Hider
NOVEMBER ARRIVALS: James Brockhurst, Tomasz Krol, Nicky Humphrey, Seny Diedhiou, Delando Smith, Craig Wilkins
“It is inevitable that some defeat will enter even the most victorious life. The human spirit is never finished when it is defeated…it is finished when it surrenders”
Unsurprisingly we were given little chance for our midweek trip to North London, and a meeting with sixth placed Hendon, but youth striker Dean O’Keefe came off the bench to grab his maiden senior goal to give us a deserved late leveller. We continued to show signs of recovery and the fans of promotion-chasing Lowestoft were generous in their applause as the players left the pitch having restricted the hosts to a single, yet ultimately match-winning, goal. Defeat in Suffolk sent us to the foot of the table but history suggested that a trip to Tooting was always going to give us hopes of picking up at least a point and that’s exactly what happened as first half goals by Nwachukwu and Tommy Youle saw an early Tooting strike cancelled out. But an 87th minute equaliser left us downhearted once more, with our bad luck continuing when Seny Diedhiou struck a post in the final minute. What should have been an ideal opportunity to pick up our first league win since August, and make up points on the teams above us, ended in more disappointment when struggling Aveley scored twice in three minutes to take the points and, three days later, an impressive display by champions-in-waiting Billericay Town sent us crashing to our heaviest home defeat of the season in the first of three successive fixtures at Goring’s Mead. The referee took centre stage in our return match with Kingstonian, awarding the visitors a disputed penalty opener and then ruling out a Freeman equaliser, as the Surrey side avenged their earlier defeat but there was to be no blaming the officials when Cray Wanderers scored four times in the final twenty-nine minutes to record their biggest away win of the campaign.
NOVEMBER DEPARTURES: Tomasz Krol, Nicky Humphrey, James Brockhurst, Delando Smith
DECEMBER ARRIVALS: Michael Hunter, Liam Flanighan, Gareth Sanashee, Kery Kedze, Tommy Murphy, George Landais, Marvin Roberts
In a season of ever-increasing lows, the nadir was to come in our Senior Cup trip to Littlehampton Town, a side who sat mid-table in County League Division Two. Two penalties for the hosts, and one for us, left Langton fuming and prompted him to issue an apology to the club’s officials and supporters for his side’s ’embarrassing display’. A reaction was called for and we came close to producing one, only to suffer heartache as a controversial stoppage time goal saw us return from Canvey Island empty handed, and we certainly deserved better than to fall to another defeat, this time at Carshalton, where we had only Freeman’s late headed goal to show for a hard-working display. Any hopes of a Christmas tonic were extinguished by relegation rivals Leatherhead, who surprised everyone by winning 4-1 in the Boxing Day clash at Goring’s Mead to bring to an end a dismal 2012.
DECEMBER DEPARTURES: Tommy Youle
JANUARY ARRIVALS: Ahmed Jahar
“If you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
If the old year was to end in disappointment, so the new one would begin in elation when Kery Kedze’s ninety-third minute equaliser gave us a share of the spoils from our trip to Lewes. However, there was little cheer to be had when Lowestoft’s 2-1 win saw them move to the top of the table with a performance that left a wholly unsavoury taste in the mouths of the home faithful. After that late goal at the Dripping Pan, our fortunes appeared finally to be on the up and Sean Cronin put through his own goal to earn us a point from the visit of high-flying Wealdstone but our annual wasted journey to Harrow this time returned a 2-0 loss. Michael Hunter was the Hornets’ hero, sparing our blushes with two saves in the penalty shoot-out success over Southwick as our Brighton Charity Cup run began in unconvincing fashion but our failure to turn possession in to goals continued to hamper our chances of escaping the drop as Hendon showed us the way with three unanswered goals as the home drought continued. A treble from Tony Stokes saw Concord to an emphatic league double, registering their seventh win in ten matches with a 5-0 thrashing before the freezing temperatures gave us almost three weeks to gather our thoughts.
JANUARY DEPARTURES: Gareth Sanashee, Tommy Murphy, Ahmed Jahar, Seny Diedhiou
FEBRUARY ARRIVALS: John-Paul Collier
Just thirty-eight paying spectators were there to witness our return to action with a 2-0 win at Pagham, where a brace of goals from George Landais put us through to the Charity Cup quarter-finals, but our league form continued to suffer with Hastings enjoying a 2-1 success, helped by a stunning save from Kedze by ‘keeper Armstrong-Ford who was now sporting the colours of the East Sussex club. A 4-1 loss to the Met Police, in the Imber Court sunshine, heralded the end of the amiable Langton’s time as manager, with former Worthing boss Simon Colbran appointed as the club’s fourth manager in ten months.
FEBRUARY DEPARTURES: Liam Flanighan, Calum McGeehan
MARCH ARRIVALS: Charlie Farmer, Wayne Clarke, Scott Harris, Ciro Donadio, Femi Akintunde, Adrian Butler, Ryan Marriott, Andy Atkin
As with his predecessor, Colbran would enjoy immediate success when Tooting provided us with our long overdue (and only) home win of the 2011/12 season but our hopes of achieving back-to-back league successes for the first time since August were dashed when Aveley scored three times in the opening twenty minutes, in a match in which Kedze became the seventh Horsham man to see red during the season. The watching Billericay manager would, then, have been surprised when we went to New Lodge the following weekend and took a point from his powerful side in a 2-2 draw but our overworked squad were visibly exhausted when they took on Wealdstone, three days later, and came away on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline. Inevitably, our stay in the Isthmian top flight was finally brought to a close on seventeenth March, with seven games still remaining, when we conceded another three goals without reply as Bury Town maintained their six month unbeaten record at Ram Meadow. A rare glut of goals found their way in to our opponents’ net when we overcame a potentially tricky Charity Cup tie at East Preston, with Freeman, Nwachukwu and Wayne Clarke each bagging a brace of goals in a 6-3 win, but defeat at home to AFC Hornchurch made it a third successive 3-0 Ryman loss for the Hornets. Beaten 6-1 at Margate last season the score was a little more favourable this time round, albeit the result the same, as the hosts edged home by 2-1 and there was no let up at home where our woes persisted as East Thurrock became the seventh different club to put five goals past us.
MARCH DEPARTURES: Williams Peauroux, Femi Atinkunde
APRIL ARRIVALS: Abedimi Bolaji
APRIL DEPARTURES: Adrian Butler, John-Paul Collier
“Defeat should never be a source of discouragement but rather a fresh stimulus”
Still, we spent Easter Monday at Leatherhead ever-optimistic of chalking up an elusive victory until a bizarre refereeing decision gifted the Tanners a winning spot-kick that kept alive their own slim (and ultimately fruitless) hopes of avoiding the drop.Wingate striker David Laird had the ‘honour’ of scoring the one-hundredth league goal against us in his side’s 2-1 victory on Grand National Day, but Freeman and Clarke followed up their goalscoring exploits at East Preston with the goals that set up a Charity Cup semi-final triumph at Colbran’s former side Crowborough Athletic to earn us a crack at ending a dismal campaign with some silverware. Canvey ensured that our home campaign would end as it had started, and generally persisted, as we threw away the advantage of Ryan Marriott’s tenth minute opener and the eleventh minute dismissal of the Gulls’ Matt Game to lose 2-1 and we were grateful to be able to put a lid on the 2011/12 Isthmian League season after a 3-1 defeat at Cay Wanderers. There would be just the one final match to be played, the final of the Brighton Charity Cup and an early opportunity to gauge the likely strength of next season’s opposition. In an entertaining finale, a well matched contest was decided in dramatic circumstances when Kedze’s last gasp strike sparked unbridled scenes of joy from the Horsham contingent who ignored the downpour to cheer as captain and Player of the Season Callum Dunne lifted the trophy, at last bringing some modicum of pleasure at the end of a difficult campaign