It would mean so much to everybody connected to the Elmstead club were we to win the London Senior Trophy, says caretaker manager Fabio Rossi
FC ELMSTEAD general manager Fabio Rossi says it will mean so much to everybody at the club if they can win the London Senior Trophy for the very first time tomorrow.
There will be a new name on the silverware as two Southern Counties East Football League First Division sides clash on Barking’s recently-laid artificial pitch.
Forest Hill Park were sitting in 12th place in the table after collecting seven points from as many games, while now managerless side FC Elmstead were struggling in the bottom three, having collected four points from their eight league outings by the time that the 2020-21 campaign was halted due to the coronavirus health pandemic.
However, the London Football Association has continued with their cup competitions and games have been crammed in over recent weeks to ensure this competition comes to a climax for these amateur Step Six sides.
Forest Hill Park have beaten South Kilburn (2-0), Meridian VP (walkover), Hackney Wick (4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw) and Bridon Ropes (2-1) to reach the showpiece final.
FC Elmstead have beaten Phoenix Sports Reserves (walkover), Metrogas (3-2), Balham B (3-2), before coming back from being 2-0 down at half-time to beat AFC Cubo 5-2 after extra time at Meridian VP FC on Tuesday night.
Rossi has been put in temporary charge for the games against Balham B, AFC Cubo and Forest Hill Park after losing their manager Ennio Gonnella to his old side, Kent Football United, on 9 May 2021.
FC Elmstead are inviting applications for their managerial vacancy next season. The side hire Sutton Athletic’s ground at Lower Road in Hextable.
Rossi revealed that he has 15 players for tomorrow’s game as Forest Hill Park go into it as favourites.
“Firstly, I would like to say that it has been a whirlwind month,” admitted caretaker manager Rossi.
“Ennio Gonnella left us at the beginning of May. Contrary to popular belief, he left us on good terms. He just accepted a better offer that we couldn’t match. That’s football.
“Our thanks to him for taking us within touching distance of promotion. We had a real chance before the pandemic struck.
“With Ennio leaving us, it completely put us into disarray concerning our preparation for this final. It couldn’t have been any worse!
“I have once again taken over as caretaker manager. I have only three players from Ennio’s reign that were willing to stay on and finish the season, so basically, I’ve had to hunt down various players that have either left or players that are signed to the club.
“I’ve called up three players from our under 21s, three from our Sunday side and one goalkeeper emergency signing. My thanks to all of these players for helping us get through this cup.
“We made a commitment and wanted to honour it. We have had no real preparation, just going from game-to-game and each and every one of the players have been brilliant.
“Most of them are very young and hungry to prove their worth in football terms.
“I have quickly put together an off-field team in Ahmed Deen (coach) recalled Jack White, my old first-team coach and current head of Elmstead’s coaching system and John Sergeant has stayed on as keeper coach.”
The club were sitting in sixth-place in the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table with 45 points from 24 games – level on points with fourth-placed side Sporting Club Thamesmead when the 2019-20 campaign was declared null and void due to the coronavirus health pandemic.
The 2020-21 campaign was curtailed and the Football Association decided to promote Kennington (second-placed), Holmesdale (fourth-placed) and Rusthall (fifth-placed) into the Premier Division.
“The last couple of seasons have been difficult because of the pandemic but it’s not really much of a problem considering the bigger picture,” said Rossi.
“Football always comes first with me but under these circumstances it really didn’t anymore. Hopefully, things are getting better and we can look forward to an uninterrupted season net season. Let’s get safe first, then we can get back to playing football.”
The London FA have selected Barking to host tomorrow’s showpiece final and Forest Hill Park manager Darrell Queeley and Rossi are content with crossing over to Essex to play the game.
“My thoughts on the game being played at Barking? To be honest we are just happy to be in the final wherever it’s played,” said Rossi.
“It can be disappointing when two teams from the south end up playing a final in the east of London. We’ve been here many times before though. I have 20 youth teams and I doubt if any of them will travel across London to watch the game.
“If The London FA were more astute they would wait before making a decision as to where the final is to be played. But it’s been this way for many years now and I’ll doubt it will change any time soon.”
AFC Cubo were beaten finalists last season when they lost 5-4 on penalties to Peckham Town, the game at Cray Valley’s ground in Eltham finishing goal-less after 120 minutes of football.
FC Elmstead found themselves 2-0 down to AFC Cubo on Tuesday night before coming out on top, 5-2 winners after 120 minutes of football.
“I was lucky enough to have watched AFC Cubo in last season’s final and again 10 days ago. They were much better in the final but I knew we would still be in for a tough game,” said Rossi.
“I was confident that we could win though. They are an ageing team and I knew the longer it went, that our younger and sharper lads could see us through.
“However, I wasn’t expecting them to get two up so early but the reality of the game was that we were in control for most of it, except they somehow got their noses in front.
“The first was a bit of worldy. The second was an own goal. We didn’t double up quickly enough and allowed their player to get around the back. His cross was unfortunately struck in the back of our own net.
“However, we showed remarkable resilience to come back. All game we were producing openings and it was only a matter of time. Once we got the first, I knew we would go on to win it.
“For such a young team that only came together a few weeks ago, we produced some very good football. Some of these boys, I’m sure, will play higher up the pyramid.
“Briggs Ojemen got the all-important goal with a towering header at the far post from a corner.
“The second was an own goal after we just put them under too much pressure.
“A brilliant individual goal for the third from Beth Gboda and find dribbling leaving defenders behind him and shooting low past the keeper and Kyle Beckford finished them off with a brace.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s showpiece final against their league rivals Forest Hill Park, Rossi said: “We know a little about our opponents, two or three of them came through Weston’s Academy, which is run by Dominic Weston and our coach Ahmed Deen.
“Also Matt Fairhorn, their centre-back and skipper, is also Elmstead’s under 21s manager. Matt has coached that side since they were under sevens and is an excellent coach and a very decent centre-half. He has previously played for Elmstead.
“Alvin Turyatemba was our top goalscorer three years ago, so we know he will definitely be a threat.
“Aside from that, Clayton Walters, their chairman and myself go back a long way. Clayton played for me back in the early 90s. He’s done a remarkable job at Forest Hill Park. Almost single-handedly back in their early days in the Southern Counties East Football League so credit to him.
“It would mean so much to everybody connected to the Elmstead club were we to win.
“Paul Brook (chairman) and myself have been building the club up for many years. It would be a special day for both of us. To be champions of London at our level would be an unbelievable achievement, considering the past month's events.”
Fans are welcome to attend the game, which kicks off at 3:30pm and tickets priced at £10 (adults) and £5 (concessions) can be purchased at the turnstiles.
If scores are level after 90 minutes then the game goes to extra-time with the game being settled by a penalty shoot-out, if required, just like last season’s Final, which was played closer to home at Cray Valley’s ground in Eltham.
Forest Hill Park v FC Elmstead
London Senior Trophy Final (Sponsored by Kick Up Sports)
Saturday 29 May 2021
Kick Off 3:30pm
at Mayesbrook Park, Lodge Avenue, Dagenham, Essex RM8 2JR