Sunday 27th March 2005

Please credit this article to Stephen McCartney - www.kentishfootball.co.uk

Sittingbourne up for sale

SITTINGBOURNE chairman Andy Spice is willing to step down if the club can find someone who is willing to provide the financial and practical support for the struggling Southern League Division One East club, writes Stephen McCartney.

The Bourne Park outfit, however, have the second highest average attendance in the division with 196 fans flocking through the turnstiles.  Kent rivals Dartford, who groundshare Gravesend & Northfleet have the highest (250) with Chatham Town in third place with 182.

However, performances on the pitch - the club are fourth from bottom in the table, has forced Spice to put the club up for sale as the club are struggling to make ends meet.

There is, however, a potential for the club to return to their successful years in the mid 90's.  Saturday's game against Chatham Town was watched by their highest crowd of the season with 306 flocking through the turnstiles to watch the 1-1 draw.  That means, if the team are successful then local people are willing to watch them.

After eight and a half years away from the club, Steve Lovell was given a warm welcome by Brickies fans, in his first game back as manager after replacing Steve Nolan at the helm.

"This past couple of weeks has been rather hectic starting with the resignation of one manager and ending with the appointment of another," admitted Spice.

"I would like to thank Steve Nolan sincerely for the contribution that he has made to Sittingbourne Football Club over the past three and a half years, both as first team coach and more recently manager.

"I am grateful that having decided that he could not continue as manager next season he told us in advance so that the club could appoint someone else with time to assess the present player situation and start preparation for next season.  I am sure that you will join me in wishing Steve all the best for the future."

Lovell was the fans favourite to land the job and was appointed last Wednesday.  However, the club is a lot different from the days when they played at the adjacent Central Park Stadium with money to burn.

Supporters Club chairman Steve Davies added: "A special welcome goes to our new manager and cult hero Steve Lovell.  Steve takes charge of the team for the first time in his second stint as manager.  Steve is of course the last manager to bring silverware to Sittingbourne when he took us to the league title in the mid 90's.  Oh what we would give for that sort of success once more! I know he's a popular figure amongst the fans."

Spice added: "I am delighted to welcome Steve Lovell back to the club as the new manager.

"Things may be slightly different on a somewhat smaller scale that he was used to in his previous time here but he is enthusiastic about the challenge."

The chairman pointed out the current financial situation at the club.  "Steve Lovell will finish the season with the same financial constraints at Steve Nolan.

"That is to say that the players will remain on half pay until the end of the season and Steve has already been advised that his weekly players budget for next season will be reduced from that given to Mark Beeney at the start of this season."

This step has had to be taken despite the fact that the club have the second highest average attendances in the league and that everyone involved running the club and bar does so on a volunteer basis.

Although, Spice, the club's committee and even supporters have put in their own money into the club, expenditure still vastly exceeds income.

Spice revealed: "At the beginning of this season expectations were high and in anticipation of a successful season we took a risk increasing the players budget by approximately 25%.

"It was felt that this would be easily offset by the cut in travelling costs and increased gate/programme/bar revenue.

"Unfortunately a disappointing season has led to a quite dramatic decrease in income all round.  We have carried over a growing debt from season to season, which although a fraction of what it was when the present committee was formed, must be significantly reduced this year."

Spice admits its time for new blood at the club but asks fans to do as much as they can to help them out of their current financial plight.

"We urgently need your help," he said.

"If anyone out there is willing and able to provide the required financial and practical support I will willingly step down as chairman.

"If not, why not join the committee - new blood could bring new ideas and enthusiasm, to be honest all of us are pretty exhausted!"

They ask fans to bring their family and friends to their matches, and more people to purchase programmes (the club have only covered the printing costs three times this season) and more people to join the club's lottery and to hire the club's social facilities - a major source, along with sponsorship and advertising at non-league football clubs.

However, the club have decided to re-introduce a youth system, which will help blood their own players into first team football as well as increasing the attendances at Bourne Park.

Spice added: "We are to re-start the youth sides and recently the gates have been slighted boosted by a number of youngsters.

"This is just what we want, we need to attract more supporters of all ages, especially the youngsters.

"We still believe that this club has a future.  Steve Lovell obviously believes this club still has a future.  The question is - will you help ensure that it has?"

But Lovell is excited with the challenge facing him.

When asked if he was glad to be back, the 44-year-old, Welshman, who lives in Rainham, Kent and is also the Gillingham youth development officer beamed: "Yes.  No hesitation really when I was asked to do it.  I am pleased to be back and involved with football on a Saturday afternoon again."

The former Hastings United manager added: "I wanted to get back into non-league football again.  I've spent many a good year down here.  I know a lot of the people and I had good times down here before.  I am hoping to have more good times here again in the coming years."

Lovell, however, admitted his side should have beaten Chatham Town in Saturday's local derby at Bourne Park - his first game back - but revealed his intentions for the remainder of the season.

Sittingbourne have won only three times in their last nineteen league games and although they should be playing Southern League football next season - they are 12 points clear of the drop zone with seven games to play, Lovell is using the remainder of this season to prepare for next.

"I am looking at the players seeing what they can do.  Hopefully they will continue to improve with the seven games of the season to go.  And working through the off-season to bring in players if I need to for the start of next year."

Despite the financial problems at the club, Lovell is relishing the challenge and is searching for players that want to play for him instead of a big brown envelope at the end of each week.

"Most non-league clubs will have financial problems but you've just have to get on with it," he said.

"There's no good moaning about it.  You have to make do with the money you've got and hopefully bring in players that want to play for you rather than money.  If we can do that we will have a good bunch of lads."

Lovell faces a stern test in only his second game back at the club.  He takes his side to league leaders East Thurrock United on Easter Monday.

"Very tough as they are top of the league and I believe they've only lost four games all year," he said.

"It will be a challenge for our boys but if they perform like they did on Saturday and work hard like they did, we will do ourselves proud and we might get something out of the game.

"It's just a matter of going out and seeing how they cope with a good side."

Lovell appreciated the welcome he got on his return against Chatham Town but predicts the future is good at Bourne Park.

"The support has always been good down here.  They've always been very loyal and they are craving for a bit of success.  Hopefully we can bring a bit in the next one or two years and bring the crowds back."

Words Brickies like to hear!