Friday 15th April 2005

Sullivan takes over Tonbridge

WHATEVER the outcome of tomorrow's crucial home clash with relegation rivals Dover Athletic, in years to come Tonbridge Angels fans will not recall fondly the season of 2004-2005, which has seen the club consistently struggle to impose themselves in the Ryman Premier League, writes Jez Durrant.

With a playing budget that has been dwarfed by most clubs, some of whom are full-time, it is a minor miracle that Tony Dolby's men are still in with a shout for survival with three games remaining.

But light flickers at the end of the tunnel and come what may - relegation or survival - an optimistic dawn is breaking on the horizon.

From May 1 a new consortium headed by 44-year-old Nick Sullivan is set to take over the running of the club from the present board.

Current chairman Paul Dainty is stepping down to a vice-chairman's role and former Arsenal goalkeeper Sullivan, along with a new six-strong board, is aiming to take the club forward.

After tireless service to the club Dainty and finance director Robin Apps made it clear earlier in the season they were keen to let some new blood come into the club and Sullivan, a former Angels' goalkeeper, began talks just before Christmas.

He told the Kent and Sussex Courier Newspaper: "I came back to the club to help with the youth set-up but this club is infectious.

"I started talking to Paul and I offered to get more help with the financial side.

"This club has so much to offer and it was getting too much for Paul.  I have spoken to a few business friends and supporters and we have got together a consortium that will stablise the club.  There are not too many Roman Abramovich's in this league so we will look to make the club more self-sufficient by doing things like improving the bar.

"The problem has been that too few people have been doing too many jobs."

Sullivan, who has been helping out player-boss Dolby from the sidelines this season, is hoping to generate more local interest in the club.

He added: "We need to get the feel-good factor back.  Tonbridge people have felt a bit let down by the club in the past and we want to change that.

"We will be doing things like getting into the school's to attract our next generation of supporters.  It's going to be a very exciting time as we have a local core of supporters who thanks to Paul Dainty and Robin Apps are lucky they still have a club - they have worked miracles.

"I have seen the accounts and they are the best they have been for a long time.

"Things will not going to happen over-night and we will make mistakes along the way - honest mistakes.  However, this is a people's club and at the moment there are too many sad faces.  We want to change that."

Tonbridge resident Sullivan still turns out for Arsenal's veterans team and will play in the masters tournament this summer on Sky.

His non-league credentials include spells with Sutton United in the Conference as well as Bromley, Dulwich Hamlet and the Angels.  He has worked with Barry Jeffrey on the under 18's this season and said the club has some good young talent, adding: "We have seen Tom Reeves, Michael Cramp and Matt Hollyoak appear from the first team this season and from that point of view it's very rosy for the future.

"There are others coming through and it's our job to turn potential into reality."

Sullivan could start his reign as chairman with the club playing in a lower level, if the team fail to beat the drop but he was confident Tonbridge could still pull off the great escape.

He said: "No one wants to go down but it would not be a disaster as we could restructure the club from the bottom and not be in this situation again.

"However, I think we can stay up.  The last three performances have been very encouraging and for the Dover game there will be no shortage of passion and commitment.  with three wins it is still in our hands."

Up of down, after the uncertainty and minimal resources the club has to survive on this season, fans will be heartened by the promise of stability and the chance for the club to once again move in the right direction.

Tonbridge Angels v Dover Athletic
Ryman League Premier Division
Saturday 16th April 2005
Kick Off 3:00pm
at Avavan Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, Tonbridge