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This dedicated page updates daily to provide coverage on all things football in Gloucestershire, written by our Sports Journalist, Simon Parkinson.

 

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Eleven sides poised but there’s room for more to join Cheltenham Youth Floodlit action

ELEVEN teams are ready to hit the starting blocks as the Cheltenham Youth Under-18 Floodlit League gets set for a second season – and there’s still room for more, writes Simon Parkinson.

Keen to build on a promising first year, league officers are weighing up the potential to add a second division to what was a ten-team inaugural 2019-20 line-up, IF a little more interest can be generated from prospective clubs.

Secretary Dee Pates, a Cheltenham Youth League administrator for the past seven years, confirmed: “We have 11 teams ready to go so far which is one more than ended the shortened last season.

“The virus hasn’t helped anyone when it’s come to full-scale planning as I’m pretty sure we’d have had more teams registering interest by now had they been able to see the way forward more clearly.

“What we don’t want to be doing is diluting the fixture programmes by operating with fewer teams just for the sake of having two divisions.

“If we could get up to, say, 16 entrants, and have two divisions of eight, that would certainly be worth looking at.

“Then it would be a case of deciding whether we split those into north and south sections in order to help with the travelling side of things for clubs, or have a Premier Division and Division One and bring traditional promotions and relegations into the equation.”

When the Covid-19 outbreak dug its claws hard into the local game in March, Slimbridge Development had been topping the Cheltenham Youth Floodlit League table with seven wins from seven games and seemingly on their way to a maiden crown.

Anyone wishing to enter a team for the 2020-21 Cheltenham Youth Under-18 Floodlit League season, or wanting to know more about the league and its sister Cheltenham Youth League in general, can contact Dee Pates on  07958 383221 or by emailing her at cheltylsec@gmail.com.

  • Coming up here shortly on GFA Local Football News: All the comings and goings so far as Cheltenham Youth Under-18 Floodlit League prepares for the new season.

We’ve not given up hope of a two-division Cheltenham U-18 League, insist organisers

CHELTENHAM Youth Under-18 Floodlit League officials remain “optimistic yet realistic” they can attract enough teams to form two divisions for the new season, writes Simon Parkinson.

Organisers of the competition left behind a coronavirus-curtailed 2019-20 campaign “pleased and encouraged” at all they’d witnessed over an inaugural programme which saw ten competitive sides in action spanning the length and breadth of Gloucestershire, along with representation from Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

Now those behind what amounts to an offshoot of the popular and bustling Cheltenham Youth League, which provides football for all ages starting at under-8 level, are eyeing potential for adding a second tier to last term’s original and largely successful single-section format.

League secretary Dee Pates explained: “We would love to see more clubs join with a view to getting two divisions going.

“As its name suggests every team has to be able to play under lights, be it at their own facility or at a ground they can utilise elsewhere.

“Most of our member clubs have their own floodlit grounds and of course that makes sense financially if you’re fortunate enough to have one, although I understand Dursley Town will be using the good all-weather facilities at Rednock School which I’m sure will work out well for them.

“The beauty of this league is that games can be played on any evening during the week to suit clubs who no doubt have other fixtures to consider, not least for their senior first teams.

“As it stands we find ourselves in a suck it and see situation given all the uncertainty still around at this time.”

Anyone wishing to enter a team for the 2020-21 Cheltenham Youth Under-18 Floodlit League season, or wanting to know more about the league and its sister Cheltenham Youth League in general, can contact Dee Pates on  07958 383221 or by emailing her at cheltylsec@gmail.com.

Teams lined up so far for 2020-21 Cheltenham Youth Under-18 Floodlit League action: Bishop’s Cleeve, Cheltenham Town Development, Chipping Sodbury Town, Cinderford Town, Dursley Town, Evesham United Juniors, Hereford Pegasus, Longlevens, Newent Town, Stonehouse Town, Tuffley Rovers.

  • Coming up shortly here on GFA Local Football News: part two of a three-part look at Cheltenham Youth Under-18 Floodlit League hopes for 2020-21.

Ladies and under-18s such important facets of Stonehouse Town’s ambitious set-up

HELLENIC League Division One West hopefuls Stonehouse Town are gearing up for far more than the four senior men’s sides they plan to pitch into action again in 2020-21, writes Simon Parkinson.

At the time of writing the club were weighing up their options in the wake of first team boss Phil Orsborn’s unexpected departure along with his assistant Ian Logan-Giles and physio Alex Giles.

Nonetheless club secretary Mike Smith declared it business as usual where the wider picture is concerned and confirmed: “We’ll be running around seven junior teams overseen by our youth secretary Richard Brady and that section has been bolstered by a brand-new under-18 team.

“We’ve entered the Cheltenham Youth Floodlit League and although we did have an under-18 set-up when I first started playing on a Sunday back in the day, we’ve not had such a section for some 30 years.

“It’s a case of simply trying to get lads signed on at this stage and they’ll have to pay £5 match fees, just as our senior sides do in order to pay for running and transport costs.

“We’re also hoping to get enough players up together to form a ladies side again although we won’t be entering a league this time.

“Last season was our first in competitive action and it was a very difficult one. The girls took some heavy defeats on the chin in the Gloucestershire County Women’s League which was largely due to having to field depleted line-ups so often.

“For all that they still enjoyed themselves but for now it’s a case of trying to get enough interest in order to play a few friendlies.”

Of an uncertain picture all round on the football front, Smith says he and his club comrades have been grateful for some “welcome support” from the top.

“We were awarded £1,500 in FA/Football Foundation Pitch Preparation Fund grant money which was brilliant and timely,” he said.

“We have since applied for a new Club Preparation Fund grant too in order to help with costs of things like providing hand sanitisers and wash basins for the changing rooms amid the ongoing coronavirus situation.

“Affiliation fees for leagues such as ours have also been cut, so the game’s authorities couldn’t be doing a lot more to help.

“We’re back training as much as we can in readiness for the start but I really can’t see us getting going properly until after Christmas. Until paying spectators can get back in I can’t see how football down to our own Step 6 status can go ahead, although there have been chinks of light with cricket returning.”

Smith emphasised of modern day Stonehouse Town, who did reach as far as winning the Western League Division Two title in the early 1950s: “Once we do get underway the aim again is to make sure we retain our place in the league.

“Our objective last season was to get the floodlights in place and stay in Division One West which we achieved on both counts.

“We’re not considering promotion at this time: we don’t pay our players whereas there are clubs like Malvern Town and the two Hereford clubs – Lads and Pegasus - who have the resources and support to push them on. Certainly Malvern, with what they have there, should be performing in a higher league.

“Yes, a place in the Hellenic League Premier Division is a long-term objective of ours but for now it’s about taking as many points as we can off teams in and around us. And it’s great that we’ll be in the FA Vase again for the first time in a long time.

“As it stands we’ll just be content to get up and running again and see how we get on.”

Caution the key as SW Women’s League players and supporters get set for big return

SOUTH West Regional Women’s Football League officials say they welcome the promise of a potential late-summer return to competitive action – with caution a key watchword too, writes Simon Parkinson.

Clubs making up four divisions, many of them Gloucestershire FA-affiliated set-ups, are readying themselves for confirmation of the big kick-off, one that appears to be earmarked for September although member teams have already been enjoying training sessions in a “safe” environment.

“The announcement about grassroots football returning has been on everyone’s mind, it goes without saying,” SW Women’s League social media officer Adam McPherson said.

“Keen as clubs will be to get back to playing and some sort of normality, there will have to be certain things we need to get right to meet safety spec; there will have to be tweaks to normal formats, especially early into the new season.

“We’ll need to make sure everyone is on the same page as people’s safety is paramount whilst this horrible virus is still with us.

“Of course, everyone right now feels an element of excitement that we’ve been able to get full contact training underway again which, fingers crossed, will lead to friendly games and then full-on fixtures.

“It will nodoubt come as relief to everyone when it reaches that stage but we can’t be going at everything gung-ho: excitement is good but we have to be cautious too.”

McPherson, 38, is well placed to know all about the rigours and characteristics of the South West Women’s League having overseen fast-rising Callington Town Ladies’ fortunes in Cornwall since taking up the reins of the Premier Division club in his late teens.

He emphasised: “It can be so hard for women’s clubs at our level, indeed any level, to sustain their competitiveness successfully.

“I have great respect for our rivals Middlezoy Ladies (from Bridgwater), for example as they have competed in the league’s top tier for years without necessarily grabbing the headlines.

“They just seem to keep going and hanging in there without lessening standards and all credit to them too. 

“It can be tough because female football doesn’t enjoy the same sizeable pool of players the men enjoy.

“That’s not to say the ladies aren’t as enthusiastic and dedicated; it’s just that replacing players when team numbers dwindle can be harder.”

McPherson continued: “In my experience in the female game you have to keep moving forward to maintain successes; you can’t afford to stay still and admire what you have just achieved. Good players seldom simply land at your doorstep.

“Teams who do well tend to attract a steady flow of young players and it is of enormous benefit if a club can forge strong links with, for example, development clubs, schools and colleges, especially those educational establishments which are geared up for football.

“We at Callington have found that if football is not on the list of priorities at local schools and colleges, teams can quickly fall away.”

As our own GFA-affiliated Gloucestershire and Bristol-based members of the SW Women’s League - AEK-BOCO, Almondsbury, Bristol Ladies Union, Cheltenham Town Development, Chipping Sodbury Town, Downend Flyers, Frampton Rangers, Oldland Abbotonians and Forest Green Rovers - begin to think ever harder about a return to football normality, McPherson warned: “It’s important everyone follows safety guidelines as we go along.

“We have seen lately that local authorities have the power to lock down their particular areas and if that were to happen again it would disrupt everything football-wise we have been striving towards.

“As it stands, and if everyone plays ball with the safety advice, it looks as though we can start playing competitive football in September and that is great news for all of us in the South West Women’s League and no doubt beyond.”

Windsor so happy to be handed No.2 reins at “ambitious” Wickwar Wanderers

WICKWAR Wanderers’ enthusiastic new assistant manager George Windsor is adamant his recently-promoted Stroud League Division One club have the capacity to keep climbing up the local football scale, writes Simon Parkinson.

The one-time Mangotsfield Secondary School student was delighted to receive a call-up to the important No.2 role by another fresh face at King George V Playing Fields, Graham Fletcher, following the former Cheltenham Town Ladies manager’s own appointment as Wickwar’s new boss as successor to previous leaders George Whatley and Rob Banister.

Despite his relative inexperience in senior football at the age of only 23, born and bred Kingswood boy Windsor’s credentials as an aspiring coach and talented player speak for themselves.

He explained: “I have played to a good level in both conventional 11-a-side football and five-a-side indoor futsal! 

“I spent a season with Cadbury Heath in the Toolstation Western League Premier Division whilst in futsal I have played for Bristol City in the National League and the FA Cup. I also spent three years in the England Futsal Under-19 Centre of Excellence.

“I am currently working at Mid Somerset RTC (Regional Talent Centre) coaching various age groups across their development centre while running an age group which performs regularly in the Junior Premier League.”

Given all that it would appear Wickwar, overjoyed to have been elevated to top-flight Stroud League One from their third-spot final 2019-20 placement, have a young coach to call on targeting more good things both for himself and his new South Gloucestershire set-up.

Windsor, an FA Level 2 licensed coach now chasing his UEFA B certificate, said: “I was initially approached by Ellis Cox, who is player-secretary with Wickwar, asking whether I’d be willing to get involved with the club.

“That led to me being called up as their assistant manager to work alongside Graham and straight away I could see the club was well organised and passionate about their football which grabbed my attention.

“I knew the club would be great to work with as they are ambitious in what they want to achieve.”

Almondsbury Women boss Garry calls for off-field reinforcements to boost title bid

ALMONDSBURY Women’s enthusiastic manager Garry Ford is calling on “willing helpers” in a concerted attempt to maintain their impressive momentum, writes Simon Parkinson.

The Bury, as they are nicknamed, finished up a commendable fifth in their first season of South West Regional Women’s League commitments as an Eastern Division operator following an exciting 2016-17 rise from Gloucestershire County Women’s League.

Ford’s Field fliers went on to nail fourth spot in 2018-19 before completing a shortened latest campaign topping the table of an equivalent second tier Northern section when the coronavirus outbreak intervened.

The Almondsbury supremo believes his charges are capable of even more and would welcome the assistance of a devoted No.2 to help drive his talented team to fresh heights, whilst the club are also actively seeking a coronavirus coordinator with a view to meeting crucial safety criteria.

Of that search for an assistant manager, Ford stressed: “I’ve worked hard to try and be the best I can be as a leader at my level but you never really stop learning and evolving.

“You can learn valuable lessons from someone who has been in the role for only a few months, which is why it could be an ambitious youngster is just as suited to coming in and helping as someone more experienced.

“It’s about trust and having an honest person beside you to bounce ideas off; to help make decisions about players and assist with the coaching side.

“My work shift patterns at Rolls Royce have changed so it means whoever comes in would be required to take a few training sessions and be by my side on matchdays.

“It’s naturally a voluntary role but I’m sure there are people out there willing and able to join our fantastic set-up.”

Ford recalled: “I did have an assistant a couple of years ago in Paul Blyth during my first year in charge, who was a partner of one of our players.

“He did well and I was grateful for his assistance but he didn’t feel able to continue, so I operated on my own although a couple of our girls, Zoe Hales and Georgia Adams, did their bit on the training side setting out drills etc and I was grateful too for their support.

“We’re also looking for a coronavirus coordinator to join us, a role every club at grassroots level needs to fill to meet safety requirements at this time.”

Anyone wishing to discuss the two Almondsbury Women roles available can contact Garry Ford at garryleemu@live.co.uk or on 07788 410588.

  • Coming up shortly: Almondsbury Women’s ambitious leader Ford reveals his new acquisitions for their 2020-21 mission.
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Patchway’s new all-weather training complex is “fitting tribute” to devoted Jason


PATCHWAY Town players and staff insist the introduction of a new all-weather training facility at their Scott Park home is a “fitting tribute” to long-serving clubman Jason Franklin, who so tragically died last August, writes Simon Parkinson.

The community MUGA complex, a collaborative effort involving football club, cricket club and local councils, has been welcomed with open arms by all parties,  
Patchway secretary Richard Ashley explained: “Jason, as our treasurer at the time and former player during Kevin Horseman’s time in charge, was 100 per cent behind the project from day one when we had to put a case forward as to what we wanted.

“He was a real driving force behind it from the football side spending a lot of time orchestrating things and attending many meetings.

“Jason was very motivated by the whole training ground concept and it’s still not properly sunk in that he’s no longer here. These things seldom do.

“His passing less than a year back has only made us more determined to get the training facility up and running, in his memory if you like.

“There are finishing touches to be done but when it is completed – we’re looking at October at the latest, all being well - it will be quite emotional.

“We’re hoping then to have a little gathering of players, when it’s safe to do so in current circumstances, to reflect on Jason’s valuable input and wonderful legacy.”

Horfield-raised Ashley, 52, has also immersed himself in Patchway’s rollercoaster story over some 25 years as a reserve team performer initially and then full-on committee member after an unfortunate knee injury, sustained in his late 20s, cut short his playing days.

He watched on concerned for long stretches of the latest 2019-20 Gloucestershire County League campaign as his team fought to haul themselves off the foot of the table.

Town were still rooted to that unwanted position when the coronavirus outbreak forced a premature conclusion to the season in March. The eventual decision to null and void the 2019-20 programme at least gave them an assurance they would live to fight another day in a Step 7 competition they have won three times in their proud 62-year history, the last in 2003.

Ashley, however, emphasised: “I feel strongly that we’d have escaped the drop of our own accord had we been allowed to carry on as normal.

“We were awesome in beating our near neighbours Little Stoke 3-0 at theirs in our final game before the shutdown (March 14) and I’m convinced the momentum from that would have taken us to safety.

“Still, it left a positive feel and from what I can tell from meetings I’ve been involved in there are high hopes the squad will remain intact under the joint leadership again of Phil (Vice) and Tim (Minihane).

“Clearly the goal next season is to avoid being in this position again! We’ve had a lot of Zoom meetings of late and they’re a good pair to lead us on.

“We’re intent on becoming more a community club; we want more members of our community to come and watch us, to get behind us with the sort of sponsorship which has already started happening. That is encouraging at this difficult and uncertain time.

“Everyone is working overtime to push our club forward and that old Patchway Town spirit seems to be returning after it had been lost somewhat over the past couple of years.

“We will be running two senior teams again and the whole emphasis will be on gearing the club up for bigger and better things in the years to come.”

New 3G training facility has given Patchway Town a new lease of life, Ashley enthuses

PATCHWAY Town’s uplifted secretary Richard Ashley says they have welcomed the long-awaited arrival of a brand-new training facility with “excitement and emotion,” writes Simon Parkinson.

The Marcliff Gloucestershire County League club, so keen to shake off the effects of last season’s draining basement battles, have certainly scored off the pitch thanks to the introduction of a long sought-after 3G multi-use games area (MUGA) adorning their Scott Park HQ.

The all-weather facility will benefit the community at large, including Patchway Cricket Club who share the Coniston Road sports venue with their football partners.

Ashley acknowledged: “There are finishing touches to be put to it but it should soon be up and running, hopefully in time for the new season whenever that may be.
“It’s been in the making for a long time; we’ve been talking about the potential for a facility like this for years and now it’s finally here.

“It will be of real benefit to us because we’ve never really been able to settle anywhere when it’s come to our training options.

“Although there are lots of facilities around the area, actually pinning them down to suit our schedules has been another matter altogether. It’s meant we’ve trained at Cribbs, UWE, Little Stoke, Patchway Community School and Abbeywood; anywhere we can get that’s up to scratch for a club at our status.

“As a long-established County League club and founder member in 1968 that situation has been far from ideal.”

The delighted Patchway secretary continued: “This project has been very much in conjunction with Patchway Cricket Club, whose Paul Thompson has been heavily involved, and local councils.

“Linda Squire, the town clerk at Patchway Town Council, has played an instrumental part, as has Roger Loveridge, a local councillor who used to be chairman of Patchway Sports and Social Club. We’re grateful to both for their support.

 “Our part, the football part, incorporates a fully-enclosed 3G all-weather five-a-side training pitch and floodlit too which will be put to good use by both our first team and reserves.

“Other areas of Scott Park will also benefit from new facilities as the cricket club will have new nets and we understand fitness equipment will be installed too at the site.

“Once it is all up and running I’m sure we’ll all reap the benefits of the hard work that has gone into it for years to come.”

  • Coming up: part two of Patchway Town’s brand-new training complex – and how the “late, great” Jason Franklin spearheaded the project.

We’re itching to get going, SW Regional Women’s League media man Adam insists

SOUTH West Regional Women’s Football League volunteer Adam McPherson surveyed an encouraging picture projecting an eagerly-anticipated return to action and smiled: “We can’t wait to get going again,” writes Simon Parkinson.

Stung like so many other sporting organisations by the coronavirus crisis, the popular league, which provides competitive football for a string of our progressive and ambitious Gloucestershire and Bristol clubs, was forced to cut short its fixture programme as spring sprung due to a pandemic which eventually led to league administrators declaring the 2019-20 season null and void across their four divisions by expunging all results and tables.

Since that decision was taken with heavy hearts it’s been a case of watching, waiting and hoping as league officials have kept track with government and Football Association guidance relating to “a safe return” to the beautiful game.

With signs pointing towards a September start as it stands, some clarity is evident at last. That has spelt good news for our local clubs preparing as best they can under still-uncertain climes and keen to take to the practice and competitive parks again in the bid to vie for honours once more.

While Keynsham Town Development Women provide a sole Bristol-based offering in the top-flight Premier Division, the Northern Section is rich in Gloucestershire and Bristol sides.

AEK-BOCO Ladies, Almondsbury Women, Bristol Ladies Union, Cheltenham Town Ladies Development, Chipping Sodbury Town Ladies, Downend Flyers, Frampton Rangers Ladies and Oldland Abbotonians Ladies, all Gloucestershire FA-affiliated clubs, make up the bulk of a section also containing Weston Mendip Ladies and Weston-super-Mare Ladies.

Another competing as a GFA club, Forest Green Rovers Women, will start out once more in the league’s Eastern Division.

McPherson is well placed to comment on the SW Women’s League’s current condition – he, at 38, has managed female football in his Cornish homeland since he was in his late teens!

Indeed, the successful Callington Town Ladies team he has run for nigh on two decades were pushing hard for promotion from the Prem when the COVID-19 spread prompted that early conclusion to another campaign shaping up promisingly for Cornwall’s highest-ranked adult female outfit.

Just like others jostling for supremacy, he and his team were forced to bite the bullet, keep the faith and prepare for the dawn of a fresh start, however remote that has seemed at times over a summer of uncertainty and confusion.

McPherson told GFA Local Football News: “The league, for all that has been happening, is at least looking pretty healthy again heading towards a new season which has given us all reasons for hope and optimism.

“Suffice to say we can’t wait to get going again.”

  • Coming up here soon: part two of the South West Regional Women’s League’s planned return to full-scale soccer activity.

FA pitch grant a boost but Brimscombe supremo Sam predicts Westfields stroll

BRIMSCOMBE and Thrupp boss Sam Prior weighed up a “potentially encouraging” 2020-21 campaign for his team but predicted: “No one will catch Westfields,” writes Simon Parkinson.

The 33-year-old former King’s Stanley manager is gearing up as best he can under current restrictive circumstances for his sixth season at The Meadow helm where he has consistently produced high-placed finishes in Hellenic Premier Division with the backing of his ever-competitive teams.

Last season was an exception, certainly as far as the early months went, as his side slid inexorably towards the league’s basement before an impressive recovery lifted them well clear of danger.

Prior is determined to see usual business restored next term, insisting he is “100 per cent” set on fulfilling his and Thrupp’s promotion objectives with a place in the Southern League the target.

Of those chances of achieving it this time around, he stressed: “If only one team is allowed to go up again then we and others might well struggle.

“The fact is there’s a Hereford-based side in our division called Westfields and with the size of budget and resources they have they really are a Southern League outfit in Hellenic League clothing.

“They were top of our table and unbeaten when the football ground to a halt (due to the coronavirus outbreak) and they’ve not only kept the same squad but they have added to it.

“We and most other sides at our level just can’t compete with that sort of quality over the long haul.

“Can we finish in the top six? I’d certainly like to think so. I’m confident we’ll be a lot more productive this time.

“We’re unlikely to finish above Westfields but if three teams, for example, are allowed to go up as they were in 2017-18 then we’ll have as good a chance as anyone, I feel.”

As for an uncertain present, Prior did express satisfaction at the award of a Pitch Preparation Fund grant to his club as part of a pot distributed nationally by the game’s governors through the Football Foundation.

“Our pitch is looking in really good nick but we have volunteers who do a brilliant job anyway and often under challenging circumstances,” Prior pointed out.

“Because our pitch is below road level and about three feet above the water table, when it gets wet it’s tough to manage.

“It was a fantastic initiative by the FA and other organisations behind it and it’s of real help to our guys giving up their precious time daily to work on the pitch.

“We were very pleased to receive that grant and as a team and club we can only benefit from having a better playing surface.”

Asked what it would mean for him to achieve that promotion objective as Brimscombe boss, Prior smiled: “I’m massively ambitious to go up with Brimscombe. It was tough trying to lift ourselves again at the start of last season in the knowledge we’d still be going to the same places.

“I love the club; I grew up here over the first 16 years of my life and was one of the kids who would be chased off the pitch by club people desperate to protect the surface when our group of mates would go up there for a kickabout on a Sunday!

“At least we’re back training now and from the start of August we can play friendlies. It gives us something to work towards because people really are champing at the bit to get back playing properly, whenever that may be.”

Blow of promotion miss had me considering my position, admits Brimscombe boss Prior

SAM Prior admits the “shock” exit of two key assets, and the frustration of a near promotion miss, were behind Brimscombe and Thrupp’s sluggish start to their latest campaign, writes Simon Parkinson.

Although they did eventually rise to the challenge by stringing a run reminiscent of their 2018-19 runners-up exploits to stay well out of harm’s way in 17th place in the Hellenic Premier Division when coronavirus struck, Prior feels it might have been all so much better had a proposed summer 2019 of stability and potential not turned into one of discontent and upheaval.

“We’d lost a couple of quite experienced players over the close season in our captain Chris Greenough, who retired, and Jack Horrell, a midfielder who went first to Evesham and then Slimbridge,” he explained.

“They’d both been influential lads that previous season and their departures had a big effect on us.

“During the course of 2018-19 we’d been advised by outside sources that a top-two finish would take us up to the Southern League.

“Naturally we wanted to win the league but the focus was very much on going up and we felt second place, if it came to it, might just do it.

“The year before that – 2017-18 – three clubs were promoted so we had every reason to feel we’d be in with a chance.

“So it was just our luck that the one year we finished up second they decided to promote only one club, Wantage Town.

“By the time we found that out it was now late summer and well into pre-season. We’d gone all those weeks not knowing which league we’d be playing in the next season and when you’re trying to sort out your squad and pre-season games, that sort of delay makes things extremely disruptive.

“That, and losing those two players along the way, meant it was so hard to plan anything properly.”

Prior maintained: “The fact everything was so up in the air for so long also gave rival clubs more time and scope to come in and target our best players.

“It had been such a good chance for us to go up. Unfortunately it didn’t happen and we paid the price.”

Of the effect all that had on him personally, Prior confessed: “When I found out we wouldn’t be promoted I did consider whether I wanted to carry on. And then we had that bad start which didn’t help anything.

“I had some off-field problems too which had me thinking there’s more to life than football.

“Then you get a time like this when you take stock and reflect a bit on what is and isn’t important to you and it’s certainly made me feel I want to stay involved.

“Yes, they can be long days, matchdays, going to places like High Wycombe to play Holmer Green.

“Had we got into the Southern League I know it would have been hard, that we’d have needed to strengthen.

“But a lot of work has gone on off the pitch here and I’m sure the club isn’t a million miles away from having in place what would be required were we to go up.”

  • Coming up soon here on GFA Local Football News: Brimscombe boss Prior admits: “There’ll be no catching Westfields this season.”

We’re ready to build on better late form, Brimscombe’s ambitious manager Sam insists

BRIMSCOMBE and Thrupp manager Sam Prior is confident the momentum of a positive conclusion to their curtailed 2019-20 assault can be taken into 2020-21’s mission, writes Simon Parkinson.

Shaken by a testing first few months which had them spinning into the lower reaches of the Hellenic League Premier Division standings, the Lilywhites, led by their determined leader, hauled themselves to their feet over the second half of the latest programme to resemble something of the force that had swept them into second spot behind only Wantage Town in 2018-19.

Brimscombe were still third from the foot of the table when coronavirus stopped play for good in March.

Nonetheless heartened by what he’d witnessed over latter weeks, former King’s Stanley boss Prior has declared himself ready to go again and is optimistic his team can produce something more akin to that fabulous 2018-19 form which put them on the cusp of promotion.

Of that stuttering start to the latest campaign, 33-year-old Prior conceded: “We went into it suffering a bit of a hangover from a really positive previous season.

“Preparations going into this last season weren’t great for various reasons and we didn’t attack it as well as we might have done.

“It wasn’t as though we performed especially badly to begin with; we were given a tough start against top sides and ended up on the receiving end by the odd goal a few times.

“But two defeats turned into three and then four and suddenly the downturn starts to snowball.

“People talk about getting stuck in a rut and that certainly happened to us. In fact we didn’t win our first league game until December 7 when we won 2-1 at Brackley Town Saints, which was ridiculous.

“We brought in a couple of youngsters from Hartpury College in Johan Flo and Oliver Barnes, both attackers, while Jamie Bremner, who had been with us most of the season as a left-sided defender in the main, was another to give us more legs in a side that is not the youngest by any stretch.

“As soon as we got that first win we were away and ended up losing only one of our last 13 league games.

“We finished 17th but form-wise we were in the top four and I’d hang my hat on us having gone on to finish up in the top ten had the season not been cut short.”

  • Coming up shortly here on GFA Local Football News . . . Sam Prior reflects on a testing start to Brimscombe and Thrupp’s 2019-20 commitments and admits: “I seriously considered quitting.”

Fletcher aiming to take positive Cheltenham Ladies stint to men’s stage with Wickwar 

WICKWAR Wanderers’ recently-installed manager Graham Fletcher weighed up their potential as a Stroud League Division One newcomer and declared: “Northern Senior League football is the target now,” reports Simon Parkinson.

Whilst the popular South Gloucestershire club turned to Fletcher as their new first XI leader over lockdown springtime, they did so at an “exciting” juncture of a history spanning some 130 years.

Last season’s third place finish, after the points per game system had been applied to their curtailed fixture programme due to the COVID-19 outbreak, proved sufficient to earn them a place in the league’s 2020-21 top section.

And Fletcher observed: “We’re talking about one step off Gloucestershire Northern Senior League status which is fantastic and exciting.

“Getting the club there is a definite goal of mine; it’s my intention to do that and hopefully in this new season.

“Looking at what we have here I see no reason why we can’t be challenging strongly for that.”

Fletcher’s Wickwar arrival no doubt raised eyebrows in some quarters of local football given he continues to live in Cheltenham and his management and coaching expertise lie largely with the female game.

He said: “I managed Cheltenham Town Ladies between December 2014 and October 2017 in the South West Division of the FA Women’s National League.

“During this time we beat St Nicholas on penalties in the final of the GFA Women’s Trophy at Oaklands Park which was an amazing experience.

“Much of the time it was a case of trying to build and improve the strength of the squad to compete in the league, which I am pleased to say we did, before Alex Cheal took over from me and did a great job to continue improving them even further.

“It was hard work being involved at that high level and it meant for a lot of travelling but it was great to be part of all that.

“I met some really good footballers and nice people and I’m pleased Cheltenham Ladies have continued to thrive and push forward. It’s great to feel I played a small part in establishing the club and I wish them continued success.”

Not that his stint as a manager with Town’s thriving female wing was over. Fletcher explained: “I was asked to then take charge of a very successful Cheltenham Town Youth Under-18 section, culminating with promotion (in 2018-19) from Division Two of Gloucestershire County Women’s League in our first season there and unbeaten too!

“When lockdown came along we were sitting third in Division One as an under-21 side and had reached the final of the League Cup competition.

“One of my main focuses over the next few months if the COVID situation allows is obtaining that UEFA B coaching certificate, at the GFA headquarters in October if possible.

“Steve Lilley, the FA county coach developer there, has been a big help and encouragement to me and I’ve great admiration for what he does.”

Wickwar’s new manager wasn’t completely fresh to male football upon his recent call to office.

“Back in the day I’d played a lot of football at various levels, particularly in the Cheltenham League, and I always thought that when I finished playing I would get involved in managing and coaching a team,” he said.

“I am really pleased with what I have achieved to date but I want to keep progressing and Wickwar is my next challenge.

“I will bring my ‘professional’ approach to the club and I look forward to seeing us playing good football and pushing for promotion.

“Along with Everton, who I started supporting because of the collectable football cards that used to come with boxes of Typhoo Tea when I was young, I’m an avid Cheltenham Town supporter.

“It was extremely disappointing as a fan to leave our worst performance to last in losing our play-off semi-final 3-0 at home against Northampton to lose 3-2 on aggregate just recently.

“I watched it on TV and it was the poorest I’d seen Cheltenham play this season and at such a crucial time too.

“But it’s still been a great season for the club.”

  • Coming up soon here on GFA Local Football News: George Windsor announces himself as Wickwar Wanderers’ assistant to new boss Fletcher

Club camaraderie clinched it for me, new Wickwar Wanderers boss Fletcher enthuses

GRAHAM Fletcher insists club camaraderie proved a clincher when it came to his decision to take up the reins with Wickwar Wanderers, writes Simon Parkinson.
Alerted by the departures of previous first team incumbents George Whatley and Rob Banister after three progressive seasons in charge, the former Cheltenham Town Ladies leader felt an urge to find out more.

FA Level 2 licensed coach Fletcher, now striving for a coveted UEFA B badge, has already overseen several training sessions at Wanderers’ King George V Playing Fields HQ along with another fresh face in George Windsor by his side as his No.2.

The pair join at an exciting time too for the fast-rising South Gloucestershire outfit after confirmation came through they had been promoted to top-flight Stroud League Division One as third-placed finishers behind champions Chesterton and runners-up Kingsway Rovers.

Of his intriguing call to Wickwar duties given he faces a regular 64-mile or so round trip from his Cheltenham home to oversee affairs there, the new Wanderers supremo explained: “I’ve been very much involved with the women’s and girls’ game for several years and after a few chats with various people I felt it would be good for my football CV, and my own coaching development, to get involved in men’s football.

“Twitter is a great place to keep up with all that’s going on and I’d seen that Wickwar’s management team were stepping down.

“It captured my attention so I registered my interest and soon ended up having lockdown Zoom conversations with their captain John Abbott and club secretary Ellis Cox. And I spoke with the chairman Steve Sands too on the phone.

“They sent me a lot of information about the club and its players, with the enticing prospect Wickwar might be promoted to Stroud League One in the background.”

Fletcher continued: “They offered me the job and I was delighted to accept. I then quickly needed to think about potential candidates for the role of my assistant.

“I interviewed a few people myself before going with George Windsor who, like me, is doing his UEFA B licence. That helped swing it as I felt we could bounce ideas off each other well but George also coaches with Mid Somerset Regional Talent Centre which was a plus.

“I’m really pleased with the appointment of George and we have quickly established a good working relationship and have enjoyed working with the players.

“All that led to me meeting up in person with John, Ellis and George, socially distanced of course, and it was good to get to that stage.

“It was then a case of meeting the players at a first training session in which we split into groups of five to maintain as safe a distance as practically possible.”

The enthusiastic new Wickwar incumbent has wasted no time getting a routine going as he explained: “We have already had several sessions and we’ll be training twice a week now on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“With the easing of restrictions on football we are really looking forward to the friendlies we have organised in August against neighbouring sides Wotton Rovers, Kingswood and North Nibley.”

Fletcher said of his first impressions: “I could see straight away that the team spirit and camaraderie was very good, helped, no doubt, by the fact many of these lads had all grown up together in and around the village and all wanted to do well for each other.

“When you go somewhere new and you see that type of togetherness, people cleaning up afterwards rather than just disappearing, it leaves a positive impression and I found that side of things really encouraging, although it was no more than I expected.”

  • Coming up soon: Gloucestershire Northern Senior League football a chief goal for Wickwar’s new boss Graham.

New training facilities on the way for Patchway Town FC and fellow sport enthusiasts

DRIVING forces behind brand-new sporting facilities at Patchway’s Scott Park in South Gloucestershire have expressed delight at their eagerly-anticipated arrival, writes Simon Parkinson.

Marcliff Gloucestershire County League club Patchway Town are to benefit much from the project, which includes a 3G training pitch for the footballers and cricket nets for the summer sport enthusiasts.

Work was set to commence on Monday, July 20 and undertaken by Blakedown Sport and Play, said to be one of the UK’s largest and longest-established sports facility construction contractors.

The company have been enlisted to replace the existing hard training court at Scott Park with a modern 3G pitch which “will be available for the whole community of Patchway and Charlton Hayes.”

The development also includes a modern cricket net facility which, according to Patchway Town Council, will be a “real asset to the community” and is to be “completed by Exclusive Leisure while based on the ECB-approved ‘T’ Base system.”

Chairman of the town council’s Parks, Open Spaces, Planning and Transport committee, Cllr Roger Loveridge, explained: “Five years ago Patchway and Charlton Hayes Community Sports Association applied for and won a Section 106 grant to improve the sports facilities at Scott Park in Patchway.

“It is with great pleasure, with the help of Patchway Town Council, I can announce that the contract to build a state-of-the-art 3G and a fully-enclosed twin lane cricket practice facility has been signed and building will commence on July 20 by Blakedown Sport and Play Construction.

“All existing teams using Scott Park are fully looking forward to using the new facilities, which should all be completed by October 3.

“I have been proud to be part of a very committed team facing many difficult times in achieving this first-class facility for the residents of Patchway and Charlton Hayes.

“The 3G facility is for people of all ages, from schools to senior members of the community. With the introduction of walking football, rugby, and other activities, our aim is to help make our children and residents fitter and healthier.”

The facilities will be available from the autumn and come with a new booking system as well as electronic gates for ease of access.

All booking enquires should be directed to office@patchwaytowncouncil.gov.uk

  • Coming up here soon on GFA Local Football News: Patchway Town FC welcome in their new 3G training facility with “excitement and emotion.”

We finally got our man after period of perseverance, smiles Stonehouse secretary Smith 

STONEHOUSE Town secretary Mike Smith says persistence paid off handsomely after the Hellenic League Division One West club secured the services of Chris Burns as their new first team manager, writes Simon Parkinson.

Anxious to quickly fill the void left by the recently-departed Phil Orsborn along with members of his own management team Ian Logan-Giles and Alex Giles, Smith revealed to GFA Local Football News: “From the moment they all left we’d been chasing Chris.

“It took a little time and patience as he has been living in Spain for the past couple of years supporting his son who has been out there playing. But we’re absolutely delighted to have eventually landed him.

“His credentials in the game as a player and manager go without saying, not least playing for Portsmouth in an FA Cup semi-final during his days as a pro.”

That cherished appearance for the former midfielder, who clocked up 90 appearances and ten goals for Pompey during a four-year stint at Fratton Park, came at Arsenal’s famous old Highbury Stadium in 1992 against Graeme Souness’ Liverpool, who eventually prevailed in a dramatic penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw and went on to beat Sunderland 2-0 in the Wembley final.

Having also performed for Swansea City, AFC Bournemouth and Northampton Town during an eventful professional playing career, the 52-year-old also turned out for Sharpness, Brockworth Albion, Cheltenham Town, Forest Green Rovers, Gloucester City and Cinderford Town while also enjoying a stint in his latter on-field days with UD Horadada in the fifth tier of Spanish football.

Back in Gloucestershire Burns managed Gloucester and Cinderford and went on to take charge of former team Brockworth in the Northern Senior League in 2014 following a flirtation with the reins at Bishop’s Cleeve.

Burns has picked long-time associate Allan Gough as his Stonehouse assistant, who had playing spells as a centre-half with Swansea, Swindon Town, Cinderford and Cheltenham, where he went on to become a physiotherapist.

Former Shortwood United boss Gough partnered Burns at the Cinderford helm when they took charge there in 2016 before being called up as part of Evesham United’s medical team.

Stonehouse stated: “The club are delighted to confirm the appointment of Chris Burns as first team manager alongside assistant and physio Allan Gough.

“Everyone involved can see the enthusiasm Chris and Allan have to push the club on and are delighted with their appointment!”

In an interview with Severn Sport, Burns admitted: “It wasn’t an easy decision and it took a good week to think about it. But after talking to Nigel (Sanders) the chairman, the club want to go forward so we will give it our best shot.

“I think our aim is the league above. We want to play good football that the players and supporters enjoy and hopefully we can have a run in the FA Vase.”

  • Keep an eye out here on GFA Local Football News for THREE more extensive articles about Stonehouse Town and their plans for a big football return.

Lights out: How Stonehouse overcame big stumbling block in midweek hosting bid

MIKE Smith admits excitement at the prospect of installing all-important floodlights at Stonehouse Town’s Oldends Lane ground quickly turned to despair before the dream was eventually realised, writes Simon Parkinson.

Overjoyed to have been accepted into the Hellenic League for the first time in their 122-year history by football governors prepared unusually to afford a third-placed Gloucestershire County League side entry into the Step 6 competition, Stonehouse’s concerned chiefs suddenly hit an unexpected and potentially costly stumbling block.

Long-serving secretary Smith recalled: “The Hellenic League had given us dispensation up until last September to get the floodlights in place once we’d been officially granted a place in the league, so a little later than would normally be required.

“Unfortunately the contractor we’d enlisted to install the lights did such a bad job which left us in a really awkward position.

“The league did respond by saying, ‘Just get the job done when you can,’ which meant we could crack on with our fixtures as normal.

“We probably lost around £20,000 to this contractor and we were left needing another £14,000 to sort the mess out, not least where the cables had been laid and left, and finish the job off.

“It was only through people’s kindness that we managed to raise the money. We were even given a generator worth around £5,000 which was unbelievable. And because the lights are LED, they have to be amongst the best in the area.

“We’ve been raring to go with the floodlights since March when we were due to turn them on for the first time for a game, only for it to be cancelled due to the COVID outbreak!”

It’s been a busy and productive time all round at the Oldends Lane venue in recent months, despite that unforeseen floodlights episode.

“We have concreted and terraced the old stand behind the goal capable of holding around 300 people which previously had a corrugated tin roof,” Smith said. “And we have kitted out the Mike Smith Stand on the halfway line with seats.

“We’re building a new entrance with turnstiles complete with a brick pay hut and the pitch is looking the part again after the original contractors created a heck of a mess laying those floodlight cables.

“We gutted and cladded out an old works canteen, a metal container, and installed a kitchen for use on matchdays to serve tea and biscuits from. It’s certainly up to standard for Step 6 football and hopefully beyond.

“It was supplied by C & G (Training) Services in the town and came free of charge while Kevin Parsons, who is on our committee, was actively involved in the process.

“Also, as you come into the ground, we’ve provided a raised bank with a proper terracing area which had been a sloping grass embankment.

“So it all looks really impressive.”

Stonehouse town new stand

  • Coming up soon: The third and final part of the Stonehouse Town story and their hopes for a “potentially delayed” 2020-21 season.

Determination to progress paid off handsomely, Stonehouse Town stalwart Smith insists

STONEHOUSE Town stalwart Mike Smith says he is “thrilled” at the progress on show both on and off the field at the club’s revamped Oldends Lane HQ, writes Simon Parkinson.

Buoyed by their 2018-19 elevation from Marcliff Gloucestershire County League despite finishing third, the Magpies produced plenty of competitive performances last term to pitch up 11th in the 16-team Uhlsport Hellenic Division One West standings when the coronavirus outbreak called a premature halt to the competition with no going back.

Despite the recent sudden departure of manager Phil Orsborn, his assistant Ian Logan-Giles and physio Alex Giles, Stonehouse, and the rest of a bustling Gloucestershire club neighbouring Stroud, are clearly in the mood for more once football restrictions are lifted, boosted by impressive facilities they believe would grace semi-pro stages above their current Step 6 status on the non-League circuit.

Smith has been very much part of the rollercoaster Stonehouse Town story, as his 36 years as secretary alone amply suggests.

The Magpies celebrated clinching the first-ever Gloucestershire County League title up for grabs as proud founder members in the 1968-69 season, a high point amid a 122-year history packed with the sort of ups and downs all football operations of their ilk experience.

As active and enthusiastic behind the scenes as ever, 61-year-old Smith said of their coveted spring 2019 maiden promotion to the Hellenic League, which fittingly arrived 50 years after that inaugural County League success: “Despite finishing third we knew we had facilities in place to make the step up aside from the floodlights.

“Lebeq United were league champions and promoted to the Western League on the back of it while the County League insisted their rules stipulated only one team could go up.

“We presented an argument to the FA that to be progressive more opportunities should be afforded to ambitious clubs such as ours and in the end the Hellenic League accepted us, even though we still didn’t have floodlights.

“The big difficulty for us at the time was we could only access a grant to help fund the lights once that promotion had been confirmed.

“Thankfully the Hellenic League gave us a little more time, until September 2019, to get the lights up and running although that proved a whole separate and challenging saga in itself!”

  • Coming up soon on GFA Local Football News: Lighting up time – how Stonehouse Town overcame adversity in order to install those requisite floodlights.

Action at a standstill but GBG enthusiasts power on regardless with off-field fun!

GOALS Beyond Grass players and supporters are refusing to allow lockdown to get them down!

Like so many sporting enthusiasts frustrated and concerned by the coronavirus pandemic, usual activity has had to be put on hold for participants of the popular and inspirational Gloucester-based not-for-profit powerchair football service as a safety first approach continues to be observed.

Goals Beyond Grass, affectionately known as GBG, has, since 2016, provided powerchair football sessions for disabled people at educational establishments such as schools and colleges along with care homes and day centres.

Founder of the inclusive organisation and chief executive, Brian Dix, admitted: “We have all greatly missed powerchair football, pan (disability) football and our frame football sessions during lockdown.

“However, we have engaged service users, both as individuals and families, through various programmes.

“Our Get Talking programme is still reaching out to many and our quizzes and competitions have really taken off.

“Friday night has become quiz night for many. On average our ten quizzes have had 56 teams enter each week, engaging over 228 per quiz.

“It’s given families an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company in a fun environment, which even has a £40 Just Eat voucher at stake!

“The quizzes will continue even as lockdown eases so keep a close eye on our social media channels to stay up to date.”

Brian, who is vice-chair of the Wheelchair Football Association and director of European Powerchair Football Association, continued: “We have also facilitated eight FIFA competitions during lockdown with a minimum of two more to be played.

“Many of our usual football participants have taken to the game and have been practising to try and get their hands on the Just Eat voucher available!

“More than 200 games have been played in what has been a really exciting series of competitions.”

Meanwhile Goals Beyond Grass ambassador Brad Bates is running a new project under the wing of GBG.

Throughout the course of a question and answer series, Brad will interview a “wide range” of powerchair football internationals from all over the world.
GBG urge anyone interested to “keep an eye on our social media pages for updates.”

Gloucestershire County League status a target once more for ambitious Sea Mills Park

SEA Mills Park are gearing up for life in Bristol and District League’s second tier this next season – whilst “patiently” keeping an eye firmly trained on retaining Marcliff Gloucestershire County League status as a longer-term objective, writes Simon Parkinson.

The Millers last competed in the non-League Step 7 competition in 2007 and say they are set on a return there over the next few years.

A long and winding road lies ahead still. Despite the surprise of being elevated this summer from a final fourth from bottom position in Division Two to Division One of a District League entering a restructuring phase, Tim Seymour’s team still have promotion to the Senior Division to accomplish as a first requirement.

Should they progress still further from there, the Kingsweston outfit face next considerable challenges posed by the two-division Bristol Premier Combination, where they were still engaged in combat over the first half of last season before voluntarily removing their ailing first team from the league’s top section around Christmas time.

Bullish boss Seymour confirmed: “The long-term plan is to play County League football again.

“We are happy to be patient with this but we will have everything in place once we can reach the appropriate level, including some great sponsors behind us.

“The upgrade to our facilities at Kingsweston Sports and Social Club have been completed with brand new changing rooms including heated floor, new dugouts, pitch improvements, a larger car park and of course a friendly bar.

“They are just some of the benefits of playing our football there.”

The Millers supremo revealed too: We plan to reintroduce a reserve team to the lower division of the Bristol and District League for the start of season 2021-22 while also looking to build links with youth football clubs in order to attract more young players to us.

“Any local youth clubs looking for a pathway for their young players to move into the adult game should please get in contact with us as we are very keen to develop young talented lads and help them into the world of senior football.

“If I can play my own part in young player development then I’ll be delighted. I have a lot of coaching experience having also qualified as a UEFA B coach last November.

“I have ambitions to coach at as high a level as possible and ideally I want that to be with Sea Mills Park.

“This is a long-term project that the club and I are embarking on and our long-serving former manager Ikie Greening, who is very well known within the local football area, is still very much the heartbeat of Sea Mills Park.

“We all want to achieve our ambitions, not just for ourselves but for Ikie too as he deserves all the success he gets.”

Sea Mills ready to set out on road for Premier Combination return, insists Seymour

SEA Mills Park say they are determined to exploit their promotion fortune by making a concerted push for a place back in the Bristol Premier Combination, writes Simon Parkinson.

Park took the “tough decision” to pull their deteriorating first XI out of the league’s top section at the back end of 2019 in favour of entering the weekend fray with only their existing second string side, who themselves were fighting to stave off the threat of Bristol and District Division Two relegation.

Tim Seymour’s relieved and heartened team managed to put the brakes on the slide by losing only two games in seven before the coronavirus outbreak had football across the board shuddering to a halt.

Having found themselves pitched in a more respectable fourth from bottom spot once a points per game system had been applied by District League chiefs to ensure clarification could be administered to their own curtailed season, life got even better for surprised and delighted Sea Mills Park staff and players.

Seymour explained: “Amid a recent reorganisation of the league as a whole we discovered we had been promoted to Division One!

“The aim now in the short term is to get the club back up to the Premier Combination as quickly as possible.

“But whilst we do have a very strong group of lads we are far from resting on our laurels.

“We’re still looking to add to the squad so anyone new wishing to join us on our journey forward can feel free to get in contact with me on 07743 667893 or by emailing me at timjseymour@tjsbs.co.uk.

“We believe we are heading in the right direction again as a competitive yet very sociable club with big ambitions and that includes striving for a return to Step 7 County League football as fast as is humanly possible.”

  • Stand by for the third and final part of Sea Mills Park’s appetite for the new Bristol and District League season – and an ultimate craving for a big Gloucestershire County League return.

Commitment is prerequisite in drive to boost Chipping Sodbury fortunes, Jeff demands

JEFF Roberts has warned Chipping Sodbury Town’s performers he expects nothing less than full-on commitment and application now he is overseeing operations there, writes Simon Parkinson.

The former Highworth Town manager was handed the position at the Ridings this spring in the wake of Justin Bishop’s decision to step down after one coronavirus-curtailed campaign in charge battling successfully to keep them safely out of harm’s way in the Toolstation Premier Division’s basement.

Casting an eye as far forward as possible at this uncertain time with football at large still easing back to normality amid ongoing global health concerns, Roberts stressed: “One of the selling points about going for this role was Chipping Sodbury’s clear aim to progress.

“For now it’s a case of stabilising and seeing where it takes us. But I also feel we’ll be competitive, that we’ll not be there simply to make the numbers up. I’m confident we’ll not be in a position of struggle.

“Yes, it will take a bit of time to assess what we have and for things to settle down but I am confident we’ll not be battling it out at the wrong end of the table.

“Mid-table would be good to put us in a strong position to go into the Hellenic League the following season, which is more mine and my coaches’ domain; it’s a league we have a lot of experience in.

“We know we’ll be in for a tough first season ahead. I don’t want to oversee a massive transition but one thing I do know is we won’t be playing a direct game.

“My management teams and I like to play on the ground but we do demand discipline, application and high levels of commitment.”

Of those trusty former colleagues who will once more be accompanying him at the helm, Roberts confirmed: “I will again be working alongside Drew Youngsam, who served alongside me at Highworth a few months before our promotion and also at Calne and Corsham. Drew was on Fulham’s books as a youngster and played for Wealdstone too.

“With Tom Jones, who had been due to join me at Chipping Sodbury, having decided to stay local to Swindon by going to Wootton Bassett Town, I have now enrolled a very good friend of mine in Nick Vitalie.

“He has been back a year after coaching in the States for almost ten years with a club attached to Salt Lake City. I have known him for nearly 35 years and he, like Tom, has a UEFA A coaching badge.

“Nick and Drew will be part of my Sodbury coaching team and both will assist me.

“Talks are ongoing at the moment about the prospect of bringing in another coach too.”

New boss Roberts hoping experience can prove key to Chipping Sodbury Town success

NEW Chipping Sodbury Town manager Jeff Roberts hopes his vast experience as a player and manager on the semi-pro stages can lift his team to fresh Toolstation Premier Division heights, writes Simon Parkinson.

Roberts, 50, flirted a little with the professional scene too as an aspiring youngster, recalling: “I played for Swindon in my youth days which tended to be mainly as a central midfielder although I did play on the right wing at times too.

“I also had trials with Colchester United and Swansea but I never got to turn professional.

“I played for Swindon Supermarine in the Hellenic League and Devizes Town as a young lad, and I had spells too with Westbury United, Cirencester United and Purton where we won Hellenic Division One.

“Unfortunately my playing career ended early at 29 due to persistent knee problems but that took me on to an eventful managerial career, starting with Calne Town where I spent three seasons and won the Wiltshire Senior Cup in my second year.

“I had spells in charge with Wootton Bassett Town and Corsham Town before going on to take up the role with Highworth Town.”

And successfully so as in his second season at the rudder – 2017-18 - Roberts steered the Worthians into Southern League Division One South from Hellenic Premier Division and was there in charge until as recently as Boxing Day 2019 when he and the Wiltshire outfit suddenly parted company.

“All I’d say is the club and I seemed to be heading down different paths and I felt it was time to depart,” Roberts, who is currently targeting a UEFA B coaching qualification, said.

Asked whether he intended introducing some of his own familiar fresh faces to Chipping Sodbury, Roberts replied: “I’m looking at bringing in five or six players, potentially. I don’t want to bring too many in as I want to give the local lads here a chance.

“Levi Cox is a lad on our radar. He was banging in the goals for Shortwood United before picking up a serious knee injury.

“There’s also my own lad Jordan Roberts, who had been at Highworth with me over the four years and has also played in central midfield with Supermarine and Chippenham Town. There are others we’re talking to.”

  • Coming up soon: the third and final part of Jeff Roberts’ new challenge with Chipping Sodbury Town – and why high levels of discipline and commitment are musts.

Now our hard-pressed clubs can claim Club Preparation Fund grants to aid safe return

GLOUCESTERSHIRE FA has welcomed more financial aid football’s governors are offering hard-pressed grassroots and semi-professional clubs amid ongoing testing times.

Almost 800 teams operating at all levels of the local non-League game in Gloucestershire and Bristol recently benefited from a £7 million national distribution overseen by the Football Foundation to help clubs prepare their pitches for the upcoming season.

Gloucestershire FA has itself taken steps to ease the cash burden on clubs it serves, including the waiving of affiliation fees, supporting the submission of small grants for essential ground maintenance and offering clubs free entry into all its 2020-21 county cup competitions.

With the coronavirus situation still striking hard at the heart of football across the amateur board, the Football Association, backed by Premier League, Government and Sport England through the Football Foundation, is now parading a fresh £2.19 million national pot that is sure to benefit more of our local clubs and their devoted volunteers.

This latest initiative, the Club Preparation Fund (CPF), has been designed to help football clubs and community organisations prepare their buildings for safe reopening in line with Government guidance pertaining to hygiene and social distancing.

Grants of £500 are being made available through the scheme and more than 4,000 grassroots and National League System clubs and organisations across the country will reap the benefits.

With COVID-19 still prevalent the money will help them pay for and install vital hygiene facilities such as hand sanitiser and soap dispensers along with paper towel dispensers and waste bins.

That is just the start as Gloucestershire FA football development manager Matt Boucher explained: “This new Club Preparation Fund will help our football clubs and community organisations prepare their buildings to safely reopen in line with Government guidance around hygiene and social distancing.

“The grants will cover areas such as safety screening, contactless payment systems and signage along with important maintenance work to hand basins and hot water provision as examples.

“The money can also be used to help fund professional inspections that may be necessary due to a prolonged period of closure resulting from the pandemic, including inspections of water quality, gas and ventilation.

“The Club Preparation Fund is part of a mission from the top to support clubs who have lost out on normal revenue streams during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Matt highlighted: “Here in Gloucestershire 795 teams, which is a fantastic number, will benefit from grants to help with pitch preparation and we’re sure many more will benefit from this latest CPF initiative as people continue to ready their club buildings for football’s full return.”

Anyone wishing to apply for Club Preparation Fund grants should review the full eligibility criteria before applying via the Football Foundation website – footballfoundation.org.uk – no later than Sunday, July 19.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham stressed: “We are committed to getting all levels of football playing as soon as the Government decides that it is safe to do so.

“This fund will be critical to helping clubs prepare facilities and carry out essential maintenance work. We want them to be ready to welcome players back, which hopefully will be very soon.”

New Chipping Sodbury ‘home’ feels just right, latest Ridings recruit Roberts enthuses

JEFF Roberts cast an experienced eye over his call to Chipping Sodbury Town’s hot seat and declared: “It feels like home already,” writes Simon Parkinson.

The ambitious 50-year-old replaced Justin Bishop following the latter’s decision to step down from the Toolstation Premier Division club’s helm at the climax of the latest shortened season, having unexpectedly found himself taking up the reins deep into Sodbury’s summer 2019 warm-up programme alongside Scott Gibson amid a period of upheaval at the Ridings.

In an early June article with GFA Local Football News club boss Gibson hailed Roberts as their new “mystery man” given much of the new supremo’s football career had taken place outside league and area.

Gibson also welcomed the arrival of “strong coaching back-up” in the shape of Drew Youngsam, like Roberts an FA Level 2 certificate holder who assisted Roberts at Calne Town, Corsham Town and Highworth Town, and 55-year-old one-time Swindon Town and Reading midfielder Tom Jones, who parades impressive UEFA A credentials.

Jones has since opted to “stay local to Swindon,” according to Roberts, by instead joining Wootton Bassett Town.

However, the recently-appointed Sodbury manager moved quickly to call upon the services of “very good friend” Nick Vitalie, himself a UEFA A-licensed coach currently coaching too with Swindon Town, as his co-assistant to operate alongside Youngsam.

Roberts knows all about the burgeoning Wiltshire town – he was born and bred in Swindon and continues to live there.

He insists the regular commute along the M4 into South Gloucestershire “won’t be a problem” and said of his decision to try his hand as Chipping Sodbury Town’s new leader: “It’s a really likeable little club who clearly have a desire to move up to Step 4 football.

“I felt very comfortable with them straight away; it felt right and I felt at home. I quickly saw that the people here care about the club. They seemed a nice, honest bunch who spelled out what they wanted and expected from us.

“It won’t happen overnight but I’m confident we can make it a lot better. We need to look at reasons why they conceded so many goals last season (92, the most in the Toolstation Prem).

“We also need to assess the players already here and the good ones we want to keep. The club isn’t flushed with finances but we came here knowing that and what we will have to work with.

“I’m working at trying to attract more sponsorship and I want to introduce older heads to work with the younger lads.

“It’s a case of if they’re committed I’ll give them an opportunity.”

  • Coming up soon: how Jeff Roberts’ vast experience as a player and manager can help lift Chipping Sodbury Town in 2020-21.
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Out on the manager search again as Michael stuns Cinderford with switch to Yate 

CINDERFORD Town find themselves casting the net for a new manager - after their latest incumbent left to leap aboard Gloucestershire rivals Yate Town, writes Simon Parkinson.

Paul Michael, who sat in the opposite dugout to Paul Britton as the recently departed Bluebells boss steered Yate to a memorable Southern League Division One South play-off final success with a 3-1 victory over his Cinderford team in 2018-19, has now taken up the reins at Lodge Road along with his trusty assistant Andrew Smith.

UEFA A-licensed coach and PE teacher Michael had joined The Foresters in November 2016 following a successful spell as player-boss in charge of his home town club and Welsh League outfit Risca United in Newport, which began when he was aged only 25.

Prior to that he’d performed in the Welsh Premier League and Southern League with Haverfordwest County and Clevedon Town respectively as a central midfielder.

Michael steered Cinderford to the brink of a Southern League Division One South play-off spot at the time the coronavirus crisis prompted an early end to the Forest of Dean side’s potentially-exciting challenge in March.

Club chairman Stuart Tait, who had so eagerly welcomed Michael and his No.2 Smith, the former Monmouth Town manager, into the Causeway Stadium hot seat with open arms back in late 2016, is now spearheading a recruitment campaign once more after admitting: “It’s with a heavy heart that I have to announce that Paul Michael and Andrew Smith have stepped down from their management roles with immediate effect.

”I thank them both for their professionalism over the last three-and-a-half years.

“From a personal perspective they will both be hugely missed and I have no doubt they will be successful in their future endeavours.

“Whilst I’m naturally disappointed there are no sour grapes. He’s a friend and he’ll remain one for years to come.

“I have a lot of time and respect for Paul and firmly believe that he can go on to manage at an even higher level than Yate because he’s a quality coach.”

Premier Division competitor Yate believe Cinderford’s loss is their gain ahead of more big and no doubt testing 2020-21 challenges, while their new leader himself stated in an interview on Yate Town’s official website: “Polly (Paul Britton) has put a really good base down for someone to come in and move the club forward and I thought it was a really good opportunity.

“I don't want to put a limit to it; we are here to set new goals and challenges which we will work out when we get the group together.

“I have managed against Yate on a couple of occasions and the pitch is first class. I like my teams to pass the ball and attack and with the club being a level up it was a no-brainer to apply.”

Of his departure from Cinderford, Michael emphasised: “I’d like to thank everyone at Cinderford Town for the support you have given Smudge and I over the past three-and-a-half years.

“I’m very proud of the job that we have done, all together, as a club, on and off the field over that time with so much hard work. We have had some great moments and good times; I leave with very fond memories.

“I’d like to make public a special personal thanks to Stuart Tait with whom I’ve worked closely throughout my tenure.

“Our relationship has been very positive and I have always felt supported. Stuart and the committee gave me the opportunity to manage Cinderford Town, an opportunity I have thoroughly enjoyed and a role I will always be proud to have held.”

Applicants have until Friday, July 17 to register their interest in the Cinderford vacancy and can do so by emailing chairman Stuart Tait at stuart1.tait@openwork.uk.com

More teams makes new Bristol Premier Combination campaign a potential cracker!

NEXT season’s Bristol Premier Combination programme promises to be a bigger and more challenging competition – once the football green light can be given, writes Simon Parkinson.

When the 2019-20 campaign ended early in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, 11 teams in each of a traditional two divisions were competing to varying degrees, led by a relentless Cribbs Reserves side once more heading the charts and in undefeated fashion too at the Prem summit as reigning 2018-19 champions.

Reinforced by a raft of clubs making the leap from Bristol and District League’s top-flight, next season’s Combination competition is poised to kick off with 14 teams in the Premier Division and 13 in Division One.

The move to establish vital outcomes via a points per game method has spelled delight for three of the second tier’s leading lights last term, runners-up Nicholas Wanderers, third-placed Hallen Reserves and fourth-spot AEK-BOCO Reserves, all promoted with the latter two overjoyed to be back in the Combination league’s top bracket following their 2018-19 relegations.

The dramatic shake-up has been welcomed by no fewer than SIX clubs happily taking their places in Division One – St Nicholas, Wick Reserves, Cribbs A, Oldland Abbotonians Reserves, Nicholas Wanderers Reserves and Mendip Broadwalk Reserves – after being elevated from the District League Senior Division.

Reflecting on a shortened last season and the implications now for so many Bristol Premier Combination and Bristol and District League members, leagues secretary Ralph Pratten remarked: “We lost three Premier Combination clubs as the latest season unfolded, finishing up at the end with 22 sides.

“On a positive note we have moved several clubs up from the Senior Division of the District League with the appropriate playing facilities to bolster both divisions.

“This will mean that having decided to reshuffle the B&D League there will be a lot of changes resulting in two (Premier Combination) divisions for the forthcoming season with 14 and 13 sides respectively.

“It is hoped that by increasing league numbers this will provide regular football to all sides and hopefully help keep the interest going for the clubs of the league.

“We have not lost Cribbs Reserves from the Combination (to Gloucestershire County League) after all so we welcome them back to the league.”

One successful 2019-20 team missing from the new-look line-up is Bristol Manor Farm Reserves, the First Division champions who have disbanded that second string in favour of offering the club’s emerging talents on-loan places with Toolstation Western League outfits in a bid to ready them for the higher level stages.

Farm first team boss Lee Lashenko explained: “We want to make sure we have players who can potentially cut it at Southern League level and beyond.”

Bristol Premier Combination’s 2020-21 constitution as it stands; Premier Division: Cribbs Reserves, Winterbourne United, Olveston United, Seymour United, Shaftesbury Crusade, Totterdown United, Highridge United, Pucklechurch Sports, Chipping Sodbury Town Reserves, Lebeq Saturday, Longwell Green Sports Reserves, Nicholas Wanderers, Hallen Reserves, AEK-BOCO Reserves.

Division One: Hambrook, Bradley Stoke Town, De Veys, Iron Acton, Shirehampton Reserves, DRG SV Frenchay, Greyfriars Athletic, St Nicholas, Wick Reserves, Cribbs A, Oldland Abbotonians Reserves, Nicholas Wanderers Reserves, Mendip Broadwalk Reserves.

League management committee:  C Barron, M Fox, M Gill, R Hetherington, L Walker, R Hudd, K Swift and M Smith.

Sea Mills Park so determined to drive on from 2019-20 frustrations, says boss Tim

SEA Mills Park manager Tim Seymour weighed up a rollercoaster recent period in his club’s proud 95-year history and declared: “We’re ready to push for greater things again,” writes Simon Parkinson.

The Kingsweston Sports Ground outfit felt forced to take a sizeable step back down the local football pyramid midway through the latest shortened season, a bitter blow after Ikie Greening’s first team had shown themselves to be a true Bristol Premier Combination force throughout the previous 2018-19 top-flight campaign.

Not only did they finish runners-up behind only all-conquering champions Cribbs Reserves, Sea Mills Park reached the final of the GFA Senior Amateur South Cup and semi-final of the Combination League Cup, beaten on both occasions by unstoppable nemesis Cribbs.

Instead of building on the base of such a promising season Sea Mills’ fortunes hit serious decline, to the extent they took the “disappointing” decision to remove their once successful first XI from the Combination league and continue to operate with one existing reserve side experiencing challenges of their own battling it out deep inside the Bristol and District Two basement.

Seymour had been manager of that troubled second string but admitted of the Millers picture of the time: “Obviously last year was a massively disappointing one for the club, with the previous season’s talented first team leaving and our reserve team trying to fill the void that was left without much success.

“From my point of view the opportunity our younger players had to play at Premier Combination level came a season or two soon for them; they weren’t quite ready for the physical challenges that league presents. I believed the ability and potential was there but physically we were caught short.

“After an extraordinary committee meeting over the Christmas period the club felt the only option to ensure we continued was to withdraw the first team from the Premier Combination and fulfil all of our remaining fixtures in Bristol and District Division Two where the reserve team played. So the club, sadly, went down to one team.

“However, once we started playing again the team spirit soon returned as the players felt able to compete at that level.

“We gained some good results and were finishing the season strongly prior to the premature end brought about by the coronavirus lockdown.”

  • Coming up soon here on GFA Local Football News . . . Sea Mills Park slowly but surely start to rise again from the ashes of their Bristol Premier Combination setback.

New director of football Thompson steering well clear of vacant Yate Town boss job 

RICHARD Thompson cast experienced eyes over a raft of applications for the vacant Yate Town manager’s position and insisted: “You can certainly count me out of the equation,” writes Simon Parkinson.

The recently-appointed successor to Nigel Hawkins as the Southern League Premier Division club’s director of football has unexpectedly found himself overseeing a managerial change in the wake of Paul Britton’s announcement he had stepped down as first team supremo.

Asked in an interview with GFA Local Football News whether he would be putting himself in the frame for hot seat duties, Thompson responded unequivocally: “Absolutely not and that’s 100 per cent certain.

“As people know, this is my home town club and maybe the only club I’d take up this director of football role for. Even Polly (Paul) himself said these latest changes could give us a fresh start.

“I was manager here for nearly ten years and people know how gutted I was at losing my job here 11 years or so ago.

“But I’m only here to support the manager, whoever comes in. I’m here to consider club affairs as a whole which includes acting as an intermediary between manager and chairman if required.

“The chairman Colin Pick has given me full autonomy of the football side which means all applicants for the manager’s job are coming to me.

“That’s where my strengths are, on the football side. But I’m totally ruling myself out of the manager situation.

“If the new man wants me to help him at any point, going into the dressing room and giving talks, then that’s fine. But the manager is the manager and should be left alone to run things as he sees fit.”

Thompson, with two Yate promotions behind him, left the Bluebells in 2009 after nine years at the helm and went on to steer now-defunct Almondsbury Town into the Southern League’s second tier where he then served three years as Mangotsfield manager until 2015.

Since then he has been content to help close friends and fellow former managers and players Gary Owers and Peter Beadle “with some scouting work” at Bath City and Hereford respectively, opting to stay clear of full-on football commitment – until now.

At the time of this interview on Wednesday, July 1 he had already sifted through no fewer than 18 applications for the Yate manager post, enthusing: “There’s certainly some quality amongst them. I’ve not stopped for several days now and it’s shown me that I’ve missed the involvement.

“I like to think I have that bit of experience and know-how from all my years in the game. But I wouldn’t want all this on my hands too often going forward!”

Potential contenders to fill the vacancy had until Sunday, July 5 to register their interest to Thompson at richardthompson5@blueyonder.co.uk or richard.thompson05@justice.gov.uk

The 51-year-old emphasised: “When you look at who we’re up against in the Southern Prem, clubs like Merthyr, Poole, Salisbury, Taunton, Tiverton and Weston-super-Mare, I can’t help feeling Yate are where they should be, as a Step 3 outfit one step away from Conference football.

“We’re not anywhere near ready for that standard if we’re honest with ourselves but it has to be a long-term goal of ours.”

Yate, meanwhile, have been awarded a £1,500 Football Foundation Pitch Preparation Fund grant as part of a national initiative to help clubs with essential maintenance work ahead of the 2020-21 start.

Thompson: Why Polly’s Yate Town manager exit came as a major shock to me

YATE Town’s new director of football Richard Thompson admits the recent resignation of Paul Britton as first team manager came as “a major shock,” reports Simon Parkinson.

“Thommo”, a familiar face at Lodge Road having managed them successfully for nigh on a decade between 2000 and 2009 following stints as a versatile player upfront and at the back, barely had his feet under the desk when word came through that the man who had been so influential in his appointment ‘upstairs’ only days prior was now heading for the exit door.

The 51-year-old performed professionally in his early days as a forward with Newport County and Torquay United before going on to feature at high levels of the semi-pro game with, among others, local club Yate, Yeovil Town, Forest Green Rovers, Mangotsfield United, Tiverton Town and Taunton Town, for whom he claimed a prized FA Vase winning medal.

Of that recent bolt from the blue Britton departure after four seasons in charge of the Bluebells, culminating in their memorable 2018-19 return to the Southern League Premier Division via the play-offs, Thompson told GFA Local Football News: “It was all really strange because a few short weeks ago Polly (Paul) called me and asked whether I’d be interested in coming back to the club to help out behind the scenes.

“It had long been in the back of my mind to go back there; in fact 18 months to two years ago I had discussions with Nigel Hawkins, who I have just replaced as director of football, about rejoining them in some way.

“One thing I always made clear was that I would never join a club in a director of football capacity if the manager, whoever he may be, didn’t want me there. I myself was a manager for many years and I know and appreciate what that might be like.

“Anyway, I spoke with Polly and the chairman Colin Pick and I was impressed with what they had to say; it looked like the chance was there to push the club forward.

“So when you consider those recent discussions it came as a major shock to us all when Polly stepped down.

“I offered to hand in my resignation straight away as I was concerned it might look awful that I’d just come in and Polly had promptly headed in the opposite direction.

“At that moment I felt I couldn’t stay as my reputation in this area is important to me and I didn’t want to compromise that.

“I offered my resignation to Colin – it must have been only ten days after I’d taken up the director of football position – even though I really didn’t want to.”

Thompson continued: “Colin told me to hold my horses and have a rethink. I was also aware that Polly had been brilliant about the whole thing; it had me thinking that if every transition involving managers and clubs was this simple football life would be a whole lot easier!”

  • Coming up here on GFA Local Football News: Richard Thompson speaks candidly about his prospects of a return to first team management with Yate Town.
 

GFA survey can help establish how diverse football is in Gloucestershire and Bristol 

GLOUCESTERSHIRE FA is putting diversity in football at the forefront of its service to member clubs and individuals – and YOU can be part of important information gathering.

The county association has drafted a straightforward yet detailed survey targeting the area’s entire local soccer spectrum.

It’s all part of an effort to ultimately establish better how people who serve and support the game in Gloucestershire and Bristol feel about their personal participation in the sport and status in their communities.

The survey is open to anyone involved in local football in the region aged above 16 and from all backgrounds, be they players, committee members, helpers and even spectators.

With racial inequality dominating headlines globally, the appraisal is a timely one. Every person submitting information about themselves and their role in the game will be entered into a prize draw which presents the chance to claim £50 worth of kit and equipment.

The survey can be found via a link from the news button accessed via Gloucestershire FA’s home page or by clicking here.

GFA Inclusion Advisory Group chair Suzette Davenport explained: “Gloucestershire FA celebrates diversity on and off the pitch and wants to ensure everyone, from staff and players to fans and the wider community, feels welcome and valued across all areas of participation in football.

“As part of this we’d like people to fill in our short survey which simply asks questions about who you are.

“We call this equality monitoring and it helps us to understand more about the diversity of those involved in football across Gloucestershire and the areas of Bristol we serve.  We want to ensure everyone who takes part in football or the survey feels welcome and included and the results will help us to think about what we can do to encourage diverse communities to take part.

“The survey is part of our work through the Equality Standard for Sport and we ask that people share the survey with their own club members, volunteers, parents and any others involved within the sport and their respective club or league.”

Anyone submitting their details through the survey must be 16 years old or above. Questions relating to it can be sent to support@gloucestershirefa.com.

Equality Standard for Sport was launched by UK sports councils, such as Sport England, in November 2004 to help address inequalities existing within the sports sector.

It is a framework to guide sports organisations such as governing bodies of sport, county sports partnerships, sports councils and national sports organisations towards achieving equality.

FA pitches in to help Gloucestershire clubs produce surfaces to be proud of

GLOUCESTERSHIRE FA staff say they are “delighted and encouraged” by the wealth of clubs they serve now benefiting from a football pitch preparation pot available nationally.

It comes at a time when the beautiful grassroots and semi-professional game across the board remains in limbo no thanks to a coronavirus outbreak which has left so many wondering and worrying about the futures of their own cherished clubs and organisations.

Eager to press on and plan unabated with a view to ensuring football’s dedicated volunteers have their own backyards in shipshape condition ahead of a big kick-off which will seldom have been more eagerly-awaited given these surreal and uncertain times, national football’s driving forces have produced a funding pot of £9.56 million – and a raft of clubs in Gloucestershire and Bristol are benefiting from the handouts.

The application window opened on May 7, 2020 and closed on May 25.

Named the Pitch Preparation Fund (PPF), the scheme is based on teamwork involving Football Association, Premier League and Government through the Football Foundation charity, which has provided more than £1.5 billion to back community and grassroots sports projects the length and breadth of the UK over the past two decades.

Whilst county FA’s across the country received Pitch Improvement Fund grants totalling £6,963,340 to be distributed to respective successful applicants, £237,250 of that money went to 104 clubs operating under Gloucestershire FA’s auspices.

It means an eye-watering 795 football teams in the county and parts of Bristol are reaping the riches of the national pot, enabling 326 pitches in the region to be given overhauls in readiness for the 2020-21 start once the safety flag is dropped.

The Football Foundation issued 2,902 grants to county FA’s nationally, 104 of which came Gloucestershire FA’s way. Seventy-nine grants, out of a countrywide sum of 2,196, headed the way of its grassroots clubs while 25 clubs performing on higher FA National League System stages (steps one to six) received welcome PPF funding locally where 706 clubs at those levels were aided nationally.

Gloucestershire FA football development manager Matt Boucher said: “Like those who run football from the very top, we at county association level are anxious and determined to see our member clubs given the help they need in such difficult times.

“The challenges those who work so hard for their clubs and organisations, and local football in general, can’t be underestimated and pitches fit for purpose are vital, it goes without saying.

“We all remain committed to supporting our hard-pressed volunteers during this uncertain and testing climate which is why the FA has joined forces with the Premier League and Government to create this new and welcome initiative.

“Our successful applicants can now benefit from funding to assist them with essential maintenance works to their surfaces, from vertical decompaction, slitting and over seeding to fertilising, weed killing and more routine works such as grass cutting and marking out.

“Those clubs with artificial pitches are also benefiting from the initiative.”

Gloucestershire FA pulling out stops to offer cash-strapped clubs breathing space

FOOTBALL continues to power through an unforeseen period of its rich and rollercoaster history that is testing the resolve of every devoted club volunteer – which is why the game’s governors are pulling out all the stops to help out.

Recognising the need to ease inevitable increased financial burdens on those it serves, Gloucestershire FA (GFA) has announced annual affiliation fees have been waived this summer in a move that enables clubs to keep some valuable cash back as they strive to plan as well as can be expected in the current climate for 2020-21 action.

The county association has already distributed £237,250 of Football Foundation money to 104 semi-professional and grassroots clubs in Gloucestershire and parts of Bristol to aid all-important pitch preparation.

Since the beginning of May, 17 applications locally have been made to the Football Foundation with a total grant value of £114,172. The grants have been awarded for projects ranging from new goalposts to new pitch maintenance equipment.

Far from stopping there, Gloucestershire FA has also informed its member clubs that signing up for extensive and ever-popular county cup competitions, which take place annually north and south of the region, will also be exempt of a fee this time around, as will Bluefin Countycover Legal Liability Insurance purchased through GFA.

GFA chief executive David Neale confirmed: “We are pleased to say there will be no affiliation fees required from our many clubs ahead of the coming season.
“Of course, grassroots football remains on hold for now and will continue to be until COVID-19 restrictions are further relaxed.

“We’re also well aware that clubs and their volunteers need to plan ahead as much as they possibly can and we’re hopeful that enhancing our club support package, which includes eliminating some affiliation costs, can help Gloucestershire grassroots football recover.

“Our package of support generally will be broadened over coming months as our focus for the new season will be to help rebuild grassroots football by working closely with affiliated leagues.

“We will also be looking at ways to support referees, coaches and volunteers as they are the driving forces behind making grassroots football tick.”

Chris Lucker, GFA football services manager, added: “County cup competitions are important to local football and in this period of financial uncertainty we are offering teams free entry for 2020-21.

“When we have a projected restart date for grassroots football the viability of running the season-long cups will be assessed following current FA COVID-19 guidance.

“If this is not possible the good news is we are still intending to complete the men’s and women’s 2019-20 county cup competitions finals at some point.”

Race on as Yate Town declare Sunday, July 5 as cut-off date for manager applicants

YATE Town will enter the new Southern League Premier Division South programme with a new manager after promotion-winning leader Paul ‘Polly’ Britton handed in his notice, reports Simon Parkinson.

Bluebells chiefs, braced for a second season in the non-League Step 3 competition, are giving would-be successors only until this Sunday, July 5 to register their interest in the position, with a warning “enquiries after this date won’t be considered.”

Britton, a well-known manager already on the local football circuit with the likes of Bristol Rovers Under-15s, Mangotsfield United Reserves, Bitton, Oldland Abbotonians and Longwell Green Sports, claimed Yate’s top job in spring 2016, raising a few eyebrows in the process, and had to dig deep at times during testing early months at the Lodge Road helm.

Then director of football at Yate Nigel Hawkins, who recently stepped down from the role citing “personal reasons” and was swiftly replaced by the club’s long-serving former manager and player Richard Thompson, said at the time of the appointment Britton had been “made for the job,” adding: “We want to get back to what the club is about and to work with the youth and under-18 teams.

“Polly fits that perfectly and we will look at a young team strategy and look for a two or three year plan to have these as the nucleus of the team to grow organically.”

After an improved second season at the helm Britton’s meritorious perseverance paid off as, accompanied by other trusted members of his management team John Lester and Martin Cutler, led the South Gloucestershire club, a founder member of the Gloucestershire County League in 1968, back to the Southern League’s top-flight in 2018 after an absence of nine years via a dramatic play-off final success over Cinderford Town.

Few expected last season’s first adventure at the higher level to be anything other than challenging, as their position perched on the brink of the drop zone suggests at the point the coronavirus crisis took a grip and the campaign declared null and void.

By hook or by crook the battling Bluebells live to fight another day at their lofty level. Just how they fare in times ahead will be determined by the capability of brand-new hands at the rudder and resources he’ll have at his disposal.

A Yate Town statement this week read: “Polly’s philosophy of embracing young talent matched the club’s development policy and created strong connections with professional clubs in the area and aided us with some excellent loan signings.

“The club will now search for a new manager to take over from Polly and continue to develop a resilient squad, offering opportunities to exciting young talent and secure our position in the Southern Premier League.”

Britton’s departure comes at a time Yate have lost influential players to rival competitors, including captain Nick Peare, to Cirencester Town, and fellow midfielder Joe Guest, to Taunton Town.

The Bluebells have also been appealing for financial help through a Crowdfunder appeal amid difficult times for all clubs across the area and nationally.

Upon his Lodge Road exit, Britton emphasised: “Our task was to maintain Southern League status with limited resources which we all achieved.

“In our third season we managed to gain promotion into the Southern Premier Division which was an incredible experience. To then maintain that position was a fantastic achievement.

“I hope you all agree we now leave the club in a much better position on the pitch than when we arrived.”

Anyone wishing to apply for the vacant manager position can do so by emailing new director of football Richard Thompson at richardthompson5@blueyonder.co.uk or richard.thompson05@justice.gov.uk no later than Sunday, July 5 2020.

On the up: District League clubs galore enjoying promotion feeling thanks to the maths

THE move to complete the Bristol and District League season in mathematical manner has been welcomed by a string of clubs across the spectrum able now to celebrate title and promotion successes, writes Simon Parkinson.

That certainly applies to an unstoppable St Nicholas side who were declared Senior Division champions in unbeaten mode and happily elevated to the Bristol Premier Combination on the strength of it.

Following them triumphantly into the same higher-status league, runners-up Wick Reserves, Cribbs A, Oldland Abbotonians Reserves, Nicholas Wanderers Reserves and Mendip Broadwalk Reserves all gained a place in next season’s Combination competition.

Stapleton, eagerly heading in the right direction once more, claimed maximum points from their 11 outings to rightfully secure a berth in the Senior Division along with Highridge United Reserves, Real Thornbury, Lawrence Rovers, Chipping Sodbury Town A, Longwell Green Sports A, AFC Mangotsfield, Totterdown United Reserves, Seymour United Reserves and Greyfriars Athletic Reserves.

Another enjoying a magnificent shortened season were Old Sodbury, champions of Division Two with a maximum 48 points ahead of second-placed Hambrook Reserves, who will both duly compete in Division One next term along with others promoted from their section.

Roman Glass St George A and undefeated Winterbourne United Reserves have been waved into Division One and Division Two respectively next season, an exciting two section leap for both on the strength of their formidable form.

Another completing their fixtures at the summit and crowned champions without loss were Thornbury Town A in their very first season in the league as a successful Division Five operator.

The Bristol and District League was founded in 1892 – the same year as Liverpool FC were introduced to the football world – following a suggestion, history says, by a Gloucester City player named Percy Stout.

Three years later the league became known as Western Football League before Bristol and District League was given its long-familiar name.

The league has provided a platform for a whole raft of local clubs to propel themselves to the heights of the semi-professional game, including Bitton, Roman Glass St George, Cadbury Heath, Hallen, Longwell Green Sports, Mangotsfield United, Oldland Abbotonians and Yate Town.

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