I think we’ll be alright and surprise a few teams, says Hollands & Blair boss Darren Blackburn

Sunday 29th July 2018

HOLLANDS & BLAIR manager Darren Blackburn says his side will surprise a few people during their Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division campaign.

The Gillingham based outfit endured a miserable start under Bryan Greenfield, winning only two league games from their opening 15 league outings and were rooted to the foot of the table and destined for relegation.

However, Clint Gooding came in and kept the club in the Premier Division
by winning nine of their last 23 games to retain their status by finishing
third-from-bottom with 31 points from their 38 league games

Blackburn has since taken over and is keen to carry on with that momentum going into the new season, which kicks off at home to newly-promoted side Fisher on Saturday.

Dean Harrison guided the Rotherhithe to a third-place finish in the First Division and were promoted alongside champions Punjab United and runners-up K Sports.

“It was brilliant! I was fortunate enough to be on the bench for a few games, played a couple of games and played a bit part so I was watching it from close up,” recalled Blackburn.

“Clint Gooding did a fantastic job, assisted by Damien Hodge, who is my assistant and Martin Bass. 

“There was a big morale issue at Christmas, the lads were all down, two points from a number of games.  Clint came in and brought a few new bodies in, a few new faces that we needed. Rob Denness was great at the end of the season. James MacDonald was great all season (scoring 21 goals), even in a struggling team.

“All we tried to do is take that momentum that we ended the season and try to bring it into this season. 

“It’s been difficult because we’ve lost a number of those players, some needed to move on for other challenges, some just couldn’t turn down the financial rewards that have been offered by other clubs and we know where we are as a club, which is why I decided to go back to our roots and just look at those players who maybe have a point to prove, maybe have been to other clubs and it’s not worked out and try to look at their attributes and see if they can do a job for us.”

Fisher arrive at Darland Avenue for the opening day of the new season and Blackburn is keen to get off to a good start.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

“I can’t wait for the season to start.  The pre-season roundabout, merry-go-round is sort of coming to an end, which is great. The rotating door is slowing down, which is great. 

“Our aspirations for the season, we have one of the smallest budgets in the league, I don’t think that’s a secret.

“We’re not fussed or frightened about that. I’ve tried to pick players that have got a point to prove.  I think if we stay organised and stay disciplined, if we keep the group of players together and we’ve got that togetherness that we had at the start of last season and the morale in the dressing room that we’ve started to build (during pre-season), a little bit of momentum, I think we’ll be alright and surprise a few teams.

“It’s going to be tough, the SCEFL Premier is difficult every year. There are probably half-a-dozen teams that fancy their chances that are investing financially to try to get in the league above and have got the infrastructure to do that.

“I would expect us to compete in every game and we won’t give anyone an easy game. We’ll be organised, disciplined and professional and we’ll surprise a few people, I think.”

Blackburn revealed he has been with the club for around 12 years as a player, assistant manager, coach and now manager.

“The thing I like and what attracts me and keeps me to the club is the traditions that we have at the club,” said Blackburn.

“Laurence Plummer started the club well over 40 year ago, he’s still secretary now.  Paul Piggott, former first team manager, he’s the chairman now.  Phil Knights, former reserve team manager, youth team manager, he’s still at the club, he’s one of the other chairmen as well.

“I’ve been at the club for well over 10-12 years now as a player, assistant manager, coach. I’ve spent a lot of time developing the youth set-up, mini-soccer. We’ve now got a team all the way down every age group.  We’re a real club now. People used to think, Hollands & Blair, who are they? Where have they come from?  But I think certainly around the Medway towns and where our youth teams play in the Kent Youth League and the Maidstone League, we’re a bit of a household name now, which is great.

“It’s testament to all the hard work that Plum and all the guys behind the scenes put in, as well as we’ve got a great committee and great support.”

Visit Hollands & Blair’s website:  www.hollandsandblair.co.uk

Hollands & Blair  v  Fisher
Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Saturday 4 August 2018
Kick Off 3:00pm
at Star Meadow, Darland Avenue, Gillingham, Kent ME7 3AN