Mark Hawthorne makes his managerial bow on Wednesday night as he takes his U23s to Three Bridges for the first match of the Bluefin (Isthmian) Development League campaign.
The former Crystal Palace and Sheffield United pro, who played in the Football League for Torquay United before going on to make over a hundred appearances for Crawley Town and captain Horsham to promotion to the Isthmian League Premier Division in 2006, was asked to oversee the new development squad earlier in the year and has spent the summer building a team from scratch after last season’s squad was disbanded just two months into the season.
“We’ve got a squad of 17 signed on at the moment, ranging between 16 and 22 years of age” revealed Hawthorne “but recruitment is very much an ongoing process and we are always looking to strengthen. Its been tough getting the players in but when you consider that we basically started with nothing, we’ve got to be happy with how far we’ve come over the last few months”.
Hawthorne happily admits that, although his aim is to produce a side that is able to compete at this level, results come secondary to player development. “Ultimately the purpose of any youth side is to help develop and improve young players and bring them through into the first team and that’s our aim. We’re conscious that that’s not happened for a number of years, although circumstances have not really been in our favour after having to drop our U18s and not having a ground of our own, but hopefully the facilities we have now should help us move forward.”
A UEFA B qualified coach, Hawthorne’s previous managerial experience has been as assistant-manager and assistant-coach with, among others, Horsham YMCA and he is assisted this season by Sam Jones, who is combining his role with that of manager of the Hornets’ U12s, and goalkeeping coach Ross Butterfill. “Mark and I have been working together on this since long before the new ground was opened and every week there’s been progress” said Jones. “We’ve had new players in every week and although some didn’t make the grade, we’re pleased with the players we’ve got together. They’ve come from different levels and have different abilities but they’re a good bunch of lads and, considering they’ve not known each other very long, they’ve bonded really well and are getting to understand how we want them to play. The important thing for us is to get them to play as one, rather than individuals, but that will come the more they play together.”
With the likes of Ashford United, Ramsgate, Sittingbourne, Faversham and Phoenix Sports in the same division, the Hornets will be pleased to kick-off the season with a local match and, for Jones, there’s more than a hint of familiarity about the fixture. “I was a youth player with Three Bridges about 10-15 years ago” he revealed “and we’ve got a number of their former players, like Joel Mann, who have come across to us this year so it’s not entirely a case of going into the unknown. I’ve had a look at how they operate and we’re prepared for the challenge, and it will be challenge as the players are all playing for their place this season.
It’s a massive step for them but we’re here to help them along the way, to help them develop. If we do our jobs properly, and the players take in what we are trying to get them to do, then trophies and silverware will be a bi-product, if you like. If we get to the end of the season and players from our squad are training with the first team then that will be a big plus for everyone because it will reduce the number of players we need to bring in from other clubs.”
The Hornets’ pre-season preparations has seen them play six matches, including a ‘closed door’ friendly with Worthing U18s last Saturday and a tough opening fixture with a strong Loxwood XI. The division comprises just eleven teams, with Horsham additionally entered into the League Cup and the Sussex County Cup, in which they will face Arundel.
The match will kick off at Bridges’ Jubilee Walk ground at 7.45pm, with admission £4 for adults, £3 seniors and £2 U16s
Horsham’s first home match in the Development League is set to take place on Tuesday 10th September, ko 7.45pm, when they host reigning champions Tooting & Mitcham United.
You can see the full fixture list for our U23s here