Tuesday 17th May 2005

Folkestone's ups and downs from debut season

FOLKESTONE Invicta's 2004/05 season will forever be remembered for the tragic death of Paul Sykes after the popular 28-year-old striker collapsed on the pitch during the club's ill-fated Kent Senior Cup semi final at home to Margate, writes Richard Murrill.

The tragedy was something which would change lives forever and something which no football club could reasonably expect they would ever have to deal with. It was amidst this adversity that the football community rallied round to show all the good things that the game can bring and the events of April 12th put any petty football squabbles firmly into their place in the great scheme of things.

Suddenly all that had gone before did not seem quite so important after a season in which Invicta had competed in the Ryman Premier League for the first time, had completed a memorable league double over relegated local rivals Dover Athletic, had gone out of the F. A. Cup on penalties for a second successive season and a season during which striker James Dryden had broken both the club's senior appearance and goalscoring records.

After years of tradition of playing at Southern League level, structural changes saw Folkestone's senior club switch to the geographically-more-friendly Ryman League last summer and the club made its historic entrance into the new league with a 1-0 away defeat and a 1-0 home win over former Southern League colleagues Salisbury City and Chelmsford City respectively.

First games against more traditional Ryman League opposition saw Invicta lose 2-1 at home to eventual champions Yeading and win 4-0 away to Leyton, who were to go onto reach the final of the play offs. That midweek win at Leyton showed all that is best about Invicta as an attacking force, with a three-pronged attack of John Ayling, James Dryden and Simon Glover all appearing on the scoresheet.

But unusually for a side managed by Neil Cugley, it was to be as a defensive force that Invicta were to emerge this season. The admirable Dryden weighed in with a career best 29 goals in all competitions, but finding a suitable partner for him was to be a problem. Ayling made just two starting appearances before embarking on a scholarship in the United States and the feeling was that had Invicta still possessed Allan Tait (now with Conference club Crawley Town) then they might even have gone close to winning the league.

Summer signing Simon Glover remains an enigmatic figure who divides opinion. His undoubted pace is something which sets him apart from other players, but the jury is still out as to whether his best role is as a frontman, wide player, just behind the front two or even as an effective substitute a la Ayling. A return of 13 goals for the former Dover Athletic player was no disgrace though.

Little Jamie Wood was only given a couple of early season games to prove his worth before finding his feet again at former club Cray Wanderers, whilst the loan signing of Ian Pulman from Margate was not the answer to Invicta's attacking problems.

It was to be the arrival of Paul Sykes from Dartford during November which added impetus to Invicta's attack in the run up to Christmas and the emergence of pacy teenage striker Joe Neilson excited manager Cugley.

Now the manager has put his faith in former Ashford Town striker Paul Jones to partner Dryden for the 2005-06 season.

Last term was a season during which Dryden cemented himself as a legend at the club as he was voted Supporters' Player of the Year for the third season in four. When Dryden broke the club's senior appearance record at home to Hampton & Richmond Borough during January, his achievement was overshadowed by a sensational walk off by controversial referee Gavin Hoare. But Dryden was not to be denied his moment of glory when his winning goal away to Dover on Easter Monday saw him break the club's goalscoring record in front of a 2390 crowd. Four goals away to Kingstonian on the last day of the season saw Dryden finish the season in style.

Dryden was also to start in all of Invicta's league matches over the season, whilst this was also the season during which local lad Micheal Everitt also firmly established himself as a first team regular as he missed just one league match.

It was Invicta's home form and sound defensive record which was to help them maintain their survival. Adam Flanagan was his normal unflappable self at the heart of the defence, where John Guest emerged as a centre half of real quality and wrote himself into club folklore with the home winner over Dover at Christmas. Former Chelmsford defenders Steve Norman and Kevin Watson added quality to Invicta's squad, whilst nobody at the club strikes a ball better than left back Paul Lamb who again added good balance to the side. Teenagers Will Dunlop and James Everitt also made the step up from the reserve side and neither let anybody down. In goal, Tony Kessell was once again a model of consistency and when he was injured in the F. A. Cup at Raynes Park, veteran Maurice Munden again came to the club's rescue.

In midfield, Scott Lindsey and Mark Munday both contributed experience and know how, although the years are catching up with them and the youthful exuberance of Martin Chandler was missed when he succumbed to injury. Andrew Burke added a touch of creativity to the Invicta side, although never it seems totally convinced the manager, who is now looking to persuade former Hastings player Stuart Myall to stay at the club and provide the spark in midfield.

Invicta struggled away from home despite taking points away to all four of the clubs who made it to the end-of-season play offs and it was around the Easter period that the club ultimately own its relegation battle with consecutive victories over Leyton, Dover Athletic and Harrow Borough.

Invicta went down in the F. A. Cup on penalties to Harrow and also bowed out of the Bryco Cup in a midweek quarter final shoot out at Heybridge Swifts The club also suffered a disappointing early F. A. Trophy exit against Cray Wanderers, but the events of their Kent Senior Cup tie against Margate in April were to put setbacks like that firmly into perspective.

The Ryman Premier League is a division which in many ways suits Invicta down to the ground and the club will no doubt approach the next season with good heart come the close season.

2005-06 will have some way to go before being as eventful as the season which has just gone by though.