Steve Barton writes.......
It seems apt that the first competitive game under the new regime should take place at the ground where last season the Club was at its lowest ebb. Managerless, in dire financial straits, disruptive elements at play, divided personnel, the board despondent, and the future looked very bleak indeed. The team responded well, under the caretaker stewardship of Anthony Deer and Allan Birchard, with a goal from Ronnie Sobowale and a Tahjae Anderson penalty to give a 2-0 victory, but the relief was temporary, with just one of the final five games won. Automatic relegation had been avoided but the possibility of requesting a voluntary demotion remained.
There were talks of takeovers, but they proved to have little substance, meetings were held with talk but little action, and the towel was hovering, ready to be thrown into the ring. A new consortium stepped forward, and almost overnight optimism returned. This quickly turned to enthusiasm and togetherness in an environment where those with skills to offer could flourish and contribute. Herne Bay FC is now a very different Club to the one that ended the last campaign just four months ago. Few of last season’s squad remain, but they have been joined by some returnees, a few of whom ironically played their last game for the Club at Church Road, under Sam Denly, in April 2017. Coming in are some truly impressive signings and the scene is set for a great opening spectacle.
Whyteleafe F.C. was formed in 1946, replacing another club, Whyteleafe Albion. Whyteleafe were Surrey Senior League champions on at least one occasion in the 1960s before switching to the London Spartan League in 1975. In 1981 they moved to the Athenian League and then in 1984 to the Isthmian League. In 1989 they were promoted to Division One, a level at which they played for 23 years (albeit with league reorganisations placing the team in Division One South from 2002 to 2004 and again in 2006). The 2011/12 season ended in bitter disappointment and the club’s first relegation in its history. Herne Bay, as Kent League Champions, took Leafe’s place in the Isthmian South and the Surrey side dropped into the Kent League, ending their first season in 6th position. The 2013/14 season saw a change in name for the league to the Southern Counties East Football League and an upturn in Whyteleafe’s fortunes as they won 26 out of their 32 league matches. The title was gained by 11 points from second placed Ashford United and Leafe sealed their return to the Isthmian League. A 3g pitch was installed in the summer of 2014. Last season Leafe ended in 8th place, eleven points above Bay and 14 points away from the play-offs.
The two teams share the spoils with each having won five of the 10 Isthmian League encounters with home advantage counting 3-2. Of Herne Bay’s seven first away fixtures in their Isthmian League tenure two have been won, both against Hythe Town (1-0 & 2-0), one lost (Sittingbourne 0-3) and there have been four draws, two with Tooting & Mitcham United (0-0 & 1-1) and one each against Carshalton Athletic (0-0) and Faversham Town (1-1).
Whyteleafe finished 13th last season in the attendance table with an average of 142 and there were 111 at Church Road for the visit of Herne Bay in April.
There could be a couple of familiar names on the Whyteleafe teamsheet as they have signed former Bay favourite Ronnie Sobowale who last season scored eight times in 11+2 appearances and won the award for ‘Goal of the Season’ for his solo effort at Sittingbourne. Last Saturday Ronnie scored four times in the game with South Park taking his pre-season tally to 13! Also, in the squad is Junior Aikhionbare who made 32 starts and one substitute appearance for Herne Bay in 2017/18, scoring 13 goals and left in March 2018 just before the transfer window closed to join Greenwich Borough. Greenwich subsequently made the play-offs but lost to Corinthian-Casuals; although Aikhionbare’s contribution was to come off the bench with 10 minutes left and then be sent off. He joined Hythe Town for 2018/19 but missed out on most of the second half of the campaign through injury.
Whyteleafe play at Church Road, Whyteleafe, Surrey. CR3 0AR. 61.2 miles from Winch’s Field, estimated journey time 1 hour 9 minutes. The return game is at Winch’s Field on Saturday 4th April 2020.