Having suffered the ignominy of relegation for only the third time in the club’s history, the remit for Simon Colbran and his side for the 2012/13 campaign was to stop the rot, stabilise and regroup and, above all else, stay in the league! Off the pitch the protracted negotiations for the club’s new home continued to frustrate and infuriate and, on it, there was little to cheer in the first half of the season as the team struggled to find any consistency, exiting the major cup competitions too early amid a backdrop of falling attendances. Yet, by the end of the year we were sitting pretty in eleventh place thanks, in the main, to a rare successful festive period that rendered maximum points for the first time since 2007. Colbran’s confident claim that the side was ‘too good to go down’ gave little reason for doubt but a disastrous run of form, in which just four points were won from a possible forty-two, left us looking nervously at the bottom of the table, grateful for the fact that only one club would be relegated at the end of the season. Thank goodness for Three Bridges, was the common consent, as our near neighbours struggled to make their mark in their first season as a Ryman League outfit. But a sudden upturn in form by the Jubilee Field club sent anxiety levels climbing among the Hornets fans and back-to-back defeats at Bridges and fellow strugglers Walton Casuals had many contemplating a return to County League football for the first time since 1951. It took the return from injury of the talismanic Gary Charman, and the introduction of a number of new – and some not so new – faces to spark an improvement in form that saw the club keep five clean sheets in eight outings to haul themselves back up the table and an ultimate finish of fifteenth place. “Job done” one might say, if rather more fraught than would have been wished for, and there was even the bonus of some silverware at the end of the season!
After the debacle of the previous summer, when Justin Luchford was forced to build an entirely new squad, Simon was encouraged that the nucleus of the side who ended the 2011/12 campaign had agreed to stay on but it was the re-signing of club legend Gary Charman that took the headlines. Back after a season’s stint in the Blue Square Conference with Eastbourne Borough, Charman was handed the role of Assistant-Manager and he and Colbran quickly went about recruiting new talent with Matt Simpson and Billy Medlock among the newcomers. James Brockhurst and Reggie Savage returned for second spells in the amber and green jersey and the management duo’s faith in the youth set-up saw Jamie Ampleford and Harry Smith become regular squad members over the coming months.
SUMMER SIGNINGS: Gary Charman, Matt Simpson, Billy Medlock, James Brockhurst, Eddie Koboah, Reggie Savage
Sporting a new strip for the first time in six seasons, Horsham got their season underway on 18th August with a solid, if unspectacular, 1-1 home draw with Corinthian-Casuals. However, the tone for the season was set in just the second match when, having taken an early lead at Eastbourne Town, injury forced Charman out of the match at half-time leaving the hosts to take full advantage by scoring three times after the break. Although back in action the following weekend, the winger-turned-centre-half’s recurrent absence throughout the season was to become a challenge to the side who struggled to hit consistent form without his reassuring presence. Only a late spot-kick saved our blushes, and an FA Cup Preliminary Round exit, against Raynes Park Vale but a competent display in the midweek replay set up a first-ever meeting with Kent League side VCD Athletic and we went in to that tie in good heart, having maintained our incredible stranglehold over Tooting & Mitcham with a 3-1 success.
SEPTEMBER SIGNINGS: Billy-Joe King, Jeff Okirie, Darren Lok (loan), Tom Gilbert (loan)
SEPTEMBER DEPARTURES: Kery Kedze, Darren Lok, Reggie Savage
Billy Medlock’s ferocious free-kick was the highlight of that first home win of the season but it was a rather more modest tap-in from the one-time Eastbourne Borough striker that secured the narrowest of victories at VCD in the first of three successive trips to the Garden of England. Two goals down with barely a quarter of the game played, it looked as though Justin Luchford was to gain his revenge against his former employees in our midweek excursion to Whitstable Town but an inspired second half performance saw the points shared, although our understrength side was to prove no match for Sittingbourne who enjoyed a 4-0 win, and a handsome cheque, as they progressed in the FA Trophy the following weekend. A calamitous defensive mistake brought an end to our brief FA Cup run, at the hands of Premier Division Thurrock, and the players seemed to carry the burden of defeat into the next two games where Chipstead and Faversham Town both triumphed by the same 3-1 scoreline to send us to the bottom of the table after six games.
OCTOBER SIGNINGS: Glen Woodburn, Brendan Cullen, Evan Archibald, James Grant
OCTOBER DEPARTURES: Brendan Cullen, Jeff Okirie
It was something of a surprise, then, when we raced in to a four goal lead against visiting Sittingbourne three days later but the fragility of our backline was in evidence once again as two stoppage time goals gave us a nerve-jangling 4-3 win. Perhaps inspired by a season’s highest home attendance, generated by the ever-popular Kids for Free Day, we kept our first clean sheet in the league since March in defeating Walton Casuals 2-0 but the performance wasn’t sufficient to bring the masses back for our midweek League Cup tie so it was a rather eerie scene as the Hornets played host to Walton & Hersham in front of just seventy-nine spectators, although those who came along were rewarded with another of ‘Billy’s Bullets’ in a 2-1 victory over one of our divisional rivals. Once again it was time for a trio of back-to-back battles with Kent sides, with each going the way of opponents Herne Bay, Hythe Town and Ramsgate, but we managed to stop the rot with Gary’s one hundred and fiftieth goal in our colours laying the foundations for a 2-1 win against Folkestone Invicta.
NOVEMBER SIGNINGS: Ryan Woodford, Scott Tipper
NOVEMBER DEPARTURES: James Grant
We enjoyed rather better joy on our sorties across the border in to Surrey, first showing terrific character to overcome 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to take a point against an impressive Merstham and then, inspired by the returning Ryan Woodford and new signing Scott Tipper, victory at Leatherhead for our first away win in the league for fifteen months. Dumped out of the Sussex Senior Cup in a fairly one-sided affair at Eastbourne Borough, a youthful Horsham side then acquitted itself well against a near full-strength Worthing who reportedly upset one of their own officials by winning through to the fourth round of the much-maligned League Cup with a last minute winner in front of another sub-one hundred Goring’s Mead audience. December began with a bang, and a hat-trick from Billy Medlock, to see off a first-ever league challenge of Three Bridges but we were no match for a dominant Dulwich Hamlet who were well on top even before the second half dismissal of Ryan Woodford and thoroughly deserved their four goal margin of victory. Ex-Hornet Pat Harding returned to score the only goal of a scrappy pre-Christmas encounter with Burgess Hill, capitalising on another defensive blunder, but the players returned after the festive break clearly none the worse for their Yuletide excesses as they battled both Worthing and the torrential rain to take the points and then again, three days later, with our obligatory success over Tooting.
JANUARY SIGNINGS: Aaron Scott
JANUARY DEPARTURES: Billy Medlock, Wayne Clarke, Evan Archibald
The New Year began not so much ‘out with the old and in with the new’ but quite the reverse as we welcomed back our former boss John Maggs, his assistants Rob Frankland and Ian Payne, and a host of ex-players as we entertained surprise high-flyers Crawley Down Gatwick. New signing Aaron Scott gave us hope when he halved our two goal deficit on the stroke of half-time but it would prove to be a winning return for Maggs, whose side went on to record a comfortable victory to remain in the chase for the play-off places until falling away dramatically in the latter stages of the season. A visit to Sittingbourne brought praise in defeat, with Charman labelling the players ‘magnificent’ after threatening to pull off a remarkable result despite playing much of the game with only nine men following the dismissals of Medlock and Tony Nwachukwu. Another satisfying performance followed against promotion hopefuls Maidstone United, with Ryan Marriott proving there was life after the departure of Worthing-bound Medlock by ramming home an equalising free-kick but a late missed opportunity by Tom Gilbert meant the Stones were able to return home with a somewhat fortunate point. It was third time lucky – though only just – as our match at Walton & Hersham finally got the go ahead after the weather had curtailed our two previous visits to Stompond Lane but, this time, it was probably ourselves who felt relieved to emerge with a point after Glen Woodburn’s late header got the better of the home ‘keeper on a treacherous, icy pitch.
FEBRUARY SIGNINGS: Jahmahl King, Jordan Clarke
FEBRUARY DEPARTURES: Scott Tipper
We threw open our doors of hospitality to another of last year’s managers, Hugo Langton, whose out-of-form Herne Bay side ended a ten match winless run with a 1-0 victory and things got little better for the Hornets who crashed 4-1 on a wretched afternoon at Burgess Hill before the season reached its nadir with excruciating defeats at two of the division’s poorest sides, Walton Casuals and Three Bridges.
The encouragement of a goalless stalemate with Walton & Hersham that preceded both games was a distant memory as we shipped another three goals to Eastbourne Town, who repeated their early season victory with the help of another dismissal, new signing Jordan Clarke marking an ignominious home debut with a red card. In a match that neither side dared lose, neither did as our visit to Corinthian-Casuals ended goalless but our first home win of the year continued to elude us as Faversham Town made it a league double with a fairly untroubled 2-1 win and, with Ramsgate and Dulwich Hamlet enjoying an equal share of eight goals in the next two outings, we went in to the crucial Easter programme just one place off the bottom.
MARCH SIGNINGS: Trevor McCreadie, Karly Akehurst, Chamal Fenelon, Billy Dunn
MARCH DEPARTURES: Aaron Scott, Adam Hutchings
But we were given a lift, ahead of the local derbies with Crawley Down and Worthing, when new arrival Trevor McCreadie scored after just five minutes to set up a 2-0 win over Whitstable that finally ended our home drought and the teenager was at it again, producing the equalising goal against Maggs’ men on Easter Saturday. But it was Charman’s return from injury that was making the difference at the other end, with another stalemate against Worthing the second of five shut-outs in eight matches that would ultimately lead us to safety.
APRIL SIGNINGS: Ray Freeman, Ryan Waterman
APRIL DEPARTURES: Jordan Clarke
Another McCreadie goal earned the points against a Merstham side who had fallen away badly after making such a fine impression early on and the striker was also on target in the truncated Brighton Charity Cup, where a quick return to Crawley Down saw us return victorious, before the run was ended somewhat harshly at Folkestone Invicta. McCreadie became the second player to bag a hat-trick for the Hornets this season in a 4-1 triumph over Chipstead and the home campaign ended with two contrasting scorelines as, first, Leatherhead were downed 1-0 and then Hythe Town survived our late fightback to win 4-3. Despite the difficult season, the Hornets fans helped produce a party atmosphere at Premier Division-bound Maidstone as our league campaign drew to a close, although there was to be no divine intervention for the travellers despite the presence of Jesus Christ and an abomination of monastic followers as the hosts ran in three unanswered goals. The season was to end on a high, and provided an encouraging glimpse of the club’s future, when teenage ‘keeper Lewis Blaney was the star of the show as we retained the Charity Cup with victory at Worthing.