The powers that be within the game have a duty and responsibility to support and encourage grassroots clubs a lot more if they show appetite and desire to progress, says Forest Hill Park supremo Clayton Walters
FOREST HILL PARK supremo Clayton Walters says The Football Association should grant ambitious grassroots clubs like his the chance to gain entry into the Kent Invicta League.
The south-east Londoners have been playing their home games at Ladywell Arena for over ten years and have received more than one set-back in their bid to play Step Six football.
But the club secretary didn’t give up without a fight and is now celebrating as the club were finally accepted into the Kent Invicta League on Wednesday.
Gillingham-based Hollands & Blair were awarded promotion into the Southern Counties East Football League after claiming back-to-back Kent Invicta League titles.
But due to Woodstock Sports folding and Lingfield switching from the Southern Counties East Football League, there was no relegation from the league above, which left a big decision to make.
APM Contrast, who finished in fourth-place in the NRG Gym Kent County League Premier Division, were awarded promotion into the Kent Invicta League.
Phoenix Sports, who sealed promotion into the Ryman League Division One North, have found a loophole in the rules to field their reserve side in the Invicta League next season.
The club’s reserve side finished last season in eighth-place in the Kent County League Division One West.
FC Elmstead, who finished runners-up in the Kent County League Division Two West last season, have sealed a three-year deal to play at Holmesdale’s Oakley Road ground in Bromley, have, like Forest Hill Park, won an appeal to improve their league status.
There will also be an unknown quantity in Crystal Palace based AC London.
Forest Hill Park’s secretary Mr Walters is naturally delighted that his patience has now paid off.
“The final decision from The FA to allow Forest Hill Park to progress and gain membership to the Step Six Kent Invicta League was welcoming and refreshing news for all concerned,” he said.
“Our application was comprehensively supported by the Kent Invicta League management committee as we fulfilled and met the necessary entry criteria on all levels.
“On that basis the recommendation to join the League was put forward to The FA.
“We truly believed we would be accepted at the first level, so to receive the initial news from The FA that our application was unsuccessful was extremely disappointing to say the least.
“Their reasons for the refusal – non-support from London FA and Kent County League objections – were unfounded and categorically not within the guidelines of the National League System regulations.
“The powers that be within the game have a duty and responsibility to support and encourage grassroots clubs a lot more if they show appetite and desire to progress.
“It’s a shame when obstacles are put in the way that stifle honest ambition.
“We were not prepared to accept The FA’s decision on this occasion so the club exercised its lodge a notice of appeal.
“The Kent Invicta League were extremely supportive in our appeal application as they were also disappointed in The FA’s decision.
“Fortunately for us – before going to The FA appeal hearing at Wembley – The FA revisited our application and revoked their decision.”
Mr Walters was stunned when the club’s initial application to become founder members of the League was rejected – despite playing at the same venue as current members Lewisham Borough.
He said: “In fact, we applied for the newly proposed Kent Invicta League in the inaugural season in 2011-12.
“Strangely enough, neither Forest Hill or Lewisham Borough – both club’s equally share the ground – were accepted to join on ground grading issues, which I found quite bizarre at the time, as Ladywell Arena already had floodlights, also Grade H status in place.
“However, Lewisham Borough did get a reprieve after their appeal, as movement in the league constitution allowed for one more team, so they were invited to join.
“At that time, the Invicta League was filled with membership clubs from all divisions countrywide from the Kent County League, providing they reached ground criteria, not many clubs had lights at their grounds at that stage, so back then it was a disappointment for the club not to be a part of the new founded league.
“Ladywell Arena has been our home ground for over ten years, since playing in the early days of the South London Alliance League, steadily through the Kent County League and now the Kent Invicta League for the coming season.”
The Kent Invicta League title has been won by Bly Spartans (now Rochester United), Phoenix Sports and Hollands & Blair (twice).
But when the new season kicks off on Saturday, 8 August 2015, there will be 20 member clubs – the highest number in the League’s history.
Mr Walters is relishing the Battle of Lewisham next season.
“The new league constitution of 20 teams will mean a lot of games to get through, including against fellow groundshare users Lewisham Borough,” he said.
“The chairman of Lewisham – Ray Simpson – and I have been a key part in the development of football within the London Borough of Lewisham, through the Lewisham Football Partnership organisation.
“Over the years many players and even past managers have had links with both clubs, namely Fabio Rossi, now the general manager of FC Elmstead – another new team in the league – has managed both clubs within the last decade.
“We surely look forward to playing both sides throughout the season. Knowing these gentlemen as I do, ultimately we will want to win the matches we play against each other, but we’ll certainly have a drink after the games, that’s for sure!”
Plans are now in place to ensure Forest Hill Park are ready to compete in their new surroundings.
Mr Walters said: “Our manager Canturk Yanpar was overwhelmed when he got the news that we got into the new league and is surely looking forward to the new challenge ahead, with pre-season due to start soon.
“We have a lot of talented players in the club in my opinion, good enough for this level and hopefully we will adjust well to the new competition.
“It will be interesting without a shadow of doubt. Our catchment area is relatively vast, so I’m sure we will attract new players of good standard too.
“Based on a few fixtures I saw in the Invicta League last season there were some reasonably average teams.
“I believe there were some good sides in the Kent County League Division One West last season that would hold their own in this league.
“We also played two sides from the Invicta League last season in cup competition and the Forest Hill lads didn’t disappoint and played extremely well on both occasions.
“Hollands & Blair looked strong when I saw them play. It was no surprise to me that they won the league quite emphatically.
“Apart from them, and maybe one or two other teams, I don’t necessarily think there is a vast difference in footballing standards between the majority of the Invicta League teams and County League, Premier, One East and One West divisions, but essentially, this level is about club entry criteria and facilities.
“Nonetheless, we look forward to playing in the Kent Invicta League this season ahead.”
AC London, were only formed in July 2013, but the club are relishing the chance of making their mark in their new surroundings.
A club statement, which was published on their website www.aclondon.co.uk said: “The club has overcome many hurdles and obstacles to achieve this since the date of the application, however, with the help of John Moules and Denise Richmond from the Kent Invicta, the club finally got the breakthrough.
Prince Choudary, the club’s manager and chairman, told his club’s website: “It was a long time coming but the waiting game is now over, we got there in the end!
“A massive thank you to John Moules and Denise Richmond from the Kent Invicta League who supported our application, the club would not be participating at Step Six if it wasn’t for them.”
FC Elmstead are also delighted to be accepted into the division next season.
“We are pleased to announce that The FA National League System Committee have made a U-turn and accepted us into the Kent Invicta League for next season,” said their club statement.
“Thanks to the committee of the Kent Invicta for backing our application with the help from Denise Richmond and John Moules.
“We would like it to go on record that jumping through leagues was not our desired our preferred route. We feel all teams should win their way through. However, if others can do it around us, then no point in watching it go on.
“We will be making a point to the National League System committee that current rules and guidelines are vague.
“Our membership of the Kent County League will continue and we hope to be adding a team into the Kent County League Division Three West subject to the League rules.
“So it’s no goodbye to the Kent County League. We hope to see you all in September.
“Finally, we can now move on and plan ahead.”
Alf Levy, the secretary of Phoenix Sports, added: “We did not find a loophole, just knowledge of The FA rules, which state that a reserve team of a member of the National League System can play up to Step Six as long as the first team are two steps above.
“Having applied for promotion for the first team, I took a chance and applied for Step Six for the reserves.
“Both teams had the same chance, but were dependant on the first team.
“We were announced as accepted before the other teams were announced, originally, as not accepted was because our application did not have to go to FA Leagues Committee as did theirs. Ours was a rubber stamp from the League.”
Kent Invicta League 2015-2016 Constitution:
AC London, APM Contrast, Bearsted, Bridon Ropes, Crockenhill, Eltham Palace, FC Elmstead, Forest Hill Park, Glebe, Gravesham Borough, Kent Football United, Lewisham Borough (Community), Lydd Town, Meridian VP, Orpington, Phoenix Sports Reserves, Rusthall, Seven Acre & Sidcup, Sheppey United, Sutton Athletic
Visit AC London’s website: http://www.aclondon.co.uk/club/Home
Visit Forest Hill Park’s website: http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/foresthillparkfc/
Visit Phoenix Sports’ website: http://www.phoenixsportsfc.com/