We know where we need to improve so if the coaching staff can address those areas, then we should be ready and be challenging again next season, says Tooting Bec chairman Steffan Wells
TOOTING BEC chairman Steffan Wells says the club will once again the challenging for promotion from the Southern Counties East Football League First Division next season.
The club switched from the Combined Counties League to their new surroundings last summer and Matt Hancock’s side finished their maiden campaign in fifth-place in the table, having collected 67 points from their 38 games.
Tooting Bec’s promotion hopes were ended, however, losing 3-0 at Sutton Athletic in the play-off semi-finals, before Daniel Kelly’s side beat much-fancied Larkfield & New Hythe 2-1 after extra time in the final to join fellow amateur side, champions Stansfeld, in the Premier Division for the first time next season.
“As you know we were disappointed with The FA’s restructure last summer, which left us and other Surrey and South London club’s scattered across a number of leagues,” reflected Wells.
“We felt we needed to appeal that in the hope The FA would at least consider Step Six clubs in the future, otherwise Step Six for us and many other amateur clubs is not sustainable.
“The move in leagues subsequently meant we lost our FA Cup place and it was handed to Kensington Borough, who finished below us.
“It was a further kick in the teeth to be denied promotion despite finishing in the top four due to The FA deciding due to Covid not to relegate any clubs from Step Five.
“But onto the positives – the Southern Counties East Football League committee and member clubs have been very welcoming and we enjoyed our day out in Lydd’s sunshine and come the end of the season our away record surpassed our home record.
“As for the standard, it’s hard to know. We were told it was a tougher league. It is tough, however, we had Walton & Hersham, Jersey Bulls and Farnham Town in the Combined Counties League last season (2020-21) and two of those are Step Four clubs in reality, so nobody in this league are their level but there were no easy games as the cliché goes and I think that’s shown.
“We’ve beaten every side, other than FC Elmstead, Fabio (Rossi) owed me that but at the same time we failed to beat some of the struggling sides that made life difficult for us at ours in particular.
“Our form was consistently inconsistent!
“Like a lot of clubs, we feel we threw away a lot of points and didn’t turn up in too many games, including the play-off game at Sutton Athletic, where we didn’t do the basics.
“Ultimately though, we didn’t deserve to go up and it was a fair reflection on the season that the top two went up in the end.
“Other than Stansfeld, who were the standout team, I personally felt Lewisham Borough are a great side and have everything to be up there next season.
“We know where we need to improve so if the coaching staff can address those areas, then we should be ready and be challenging again next season.”
Hancock’s side clinched the London Senior Trophy for the first time when three extra-time goals sealed the victory against AFC Cubo at Carshalton Athletic’s Colston Avenue last Wednesday.
Wells described their Cup success as “the silver lining.”
“The game itself was a tight affair with Cubo’s game plan to contain us and try and hit us on the break,” said Wells.
“Alvin Turyatemba missed a sitter in the first half but Cubo kept it tight and hit the bar with a great strike that our stand-in keeper 16-year-old Jack Powell swears he got a fingertip to so that was a massive moment.
“Their legs started to go in the second period and it was attack-against- defence more as the game went on but they didn't give away many clear cut chances from open play and our skipper Chris Thurbon probably had the best chances with four headers point blank that were either blocked, saved on the line or missed before Ali Wilshire had two headers saved a yard out by their impressive keeper.
“Up the other end Cubo had a couple of chances from deep free-kick’s themselves that tested the nerves a bit, especially as we got close to the 90!
“Extra-time was a lot more straight forward as Cubo couldn't keep up with the pace and runners eventually and three quick fire goals finally killed them off and saved us from a shoot-out.”
Tooting Bec’s first goal came from a corner that was only half cleared and Ed M’Bangno swung it back in for another 16-year-old Eoin Bolger to head back across goal for substitute Sodike Anyadike-Thompson to hook home the bouncing ball at the back post.
Ali Wiltshire flicked on a through ball to his striker partner M’Bango, who beat his marker before slotting home under the goalkeeper who got a touch but the ball trickled over the line to score his 21st goal of the season, joining Wiltshire on the same number of goals for the season.
Cubo then had a man sent-off for a second bookable offence before Jack Martin curled a free-kick over the wall and into the corner to seal the deal.
“Credit to Matt and the team for job well done after a long season, picking up our first London FA Senior Trophy and first bit of silverware since we came up to Step Six four seasons ago,” said Wells.
Tooting Bec are on the move next season, playing their home games at Chipstead’s High Road ground in Surrey, which will be the clubs fourth groundshare deal since its formation back in 2004.
“Next season we head to Chipstead for our home games which is great news as we only found out about Kingstonian’s moving into Tooting & Mitcham at Christmas,” revealed Wells.
“Heather Armstrong (Chair) and the committee at Chipstead have been very welcoming and we are looking forward to playing on an excellent surface in the hope it will help us play a bit more but we'll see!
“We will still train at Tooting & Mitcham and our other seven teams will still play on the 3G pitch there so it’s not a huge move for the club, although it does mean we are not in and around the place and bar as much on match days.
“We are looking into options to try and get a few spectators to games from Tooting as public transport can be a challenge.
“Overall though we are happy with the move that we have agreed for two years initially and can’t wait to get started for the new season.
“Despite losing a lot of money travelling and due to gates being well down since we joined the SCEFL, it won’t impact Matt’s budget. After all, you can’t take it away if it isn’t there to start with!
“The sponsorship and fundraisers we can secure over the next few months will be critical as always to see us through to next summer.
“We've had a core of lads since we were a Step Seven side and none of them play for the money and if any of them decide to hang up their boots, hopefully, we can keep attracting players of similar talent and character to keep competing with the big boys.
“It would be nice to get a few more volunteers involved and as a young club sometimes it feels like faulty towers on a match day!
“Matt, Gav and Reece are used to working without a budget, so it doesn't faze them and it won't stop them improving on this season and targeting promotion.
“Our pre-season schedule is just about finalised, we are just waiting on some pitch confirmation and hopefully a fixture with our new landlords before we publish it.”
Visit Tooting Bec’s website: www.pitchero.com/clubs/tootingbecfc